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Alexander Brook
Alexander Brook
The Hard Way:  The Odyssey of a Weekly Newspaper Editor
ISBN: 1882593375
The Hard Way: The Odyssey of a Weekly Newspaper Editor
Mr. Brook, former publisher of a weekly newspaper, and Mr. Phillips, former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, discussed Mr. Brook's new book, The Hard Way: The Odyssey of a Weekly Newspaper Editor, published by Bridge Works Publishing Co. The book recounts anecdotes from the career of Mr. Brook, whose newspaper circulated in southern Maine. Mr. Phillips discussed his new career as a book publisher and the mechanics behind a small publishing house.
The Hard Way: The Odyssey of a Weekly Newspaper Editor
Program Air Date: August 1, 1993

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Alexander Brook, when you had a daily newspaper or, I mean, a weekly newspaper, you had on the masthead "THWTB." What did those initials stand for?
ALEXANDER BROOK: They stood for two things, depending on the questioner. One was "The Hard Way Is The Best," from which the title of the book is taken, and the other was "To Hell With The Bastards." And the story was that a couple of of aging spinsters who lived in a very wealthy sort of estate in Kennebunk, called to find out why their pug dog had not been in the paper as being best of breed, and one thing led to another and I didn't like it, and so people started canceling. First the lady herself canceled her subscription and then other ladies whom she had just called started doing it, and I just thought, "Well, to hell with the bastards." And so I wrote it in the smallest Gothic type I could find on a Ludlow machine, which was a hot metal machine, which is the way we started. So I put it in the banner over "Price: 10 cents" and it stayed there for the rest of my life with the newspaper.
LAMB: This book is about what then?
BROOK: This book is about my experiences with a weekly newspaper and 20 years of owning it.
LAMB: In what community?
BROOK: In Kennebunk, Maine.
LAMB: Is that the same as Kennebunkport?
BROOK: No, it isn't. It's the major town. Actually, Kennebunkport is the rich town but smaller. In the summertime, it's bigger.
LAMB: What 20 years did you publish it?
BROOK: It was '58 to '78.
LAMB: Why did you want to write a book about it?
BROOK: Well, what do you do when you stop writing a newspaper? You decide to write a book, I think. And if you have had very little other experience that would make a good story, you write a book about what you've done.
LAMB: Who owns that paper today?
BROOK: The New York Times owns it now, but they didn't buy it from me. The Washington Star bought it from me, or Joe L. Allbritton, and then he sold it about 11 months after he bought it.
LAMB: Go back to 1958. You lived where?
BROOK: I was living in New Jersey, a place called Basking Ridge, and I was commuting to New York daily and going to a job. Didn't like it.
LAMB: What were you doing?
BROOK: I was assistant to the president of a Francisco sugar company. It a diversified company and had sugar mills, of course, and other things, a lot of other things. And I just hated what I was doing and I hated where I was living, which was New Jersey, and decided that I ought to get out, and so I did.
LAMB: How?
BROOK: I told my wife that I thought we ought to move and that I might be able to find a little weekly newspaper somewhere, and I did. And a friend of mine came with me, a fellow named John Cole who later was the editor of Maine Times, one of the owners. And Maine Times got to be quite an important paper in Maine. It was a weekly, too. It was an environmental paper, and he stayed with me for two and a half years.
LAMB: Had you ever been a journalist?
BROOK: No, I never had, and I'd never been a printer either, so I learned them both ...
LAMB: How much did ...
BROOK: ... the hard way.
LAMB: How much in 1958 did that newspaper cost, and specifically did you buy?
BROOK: Well, I bought the goodwill and assets of The Kennebunk Star, for $30,000 and its annual gross was $23,400 the year before I bought it. So when you borrow $30,000 for that kind of a gross figure and you come in with four employees instead of two old guys and a couple of employees and you find out that the $23,400 gross figure really wasn't that much -- and it was about $8,000 for the newspaper and about the same for printing, and the rest was upstairs rents and things like that. So you didn't have much of an operation.
LAMB: What was the circulation in those days?
BROOK: They sent out about 1,200 and some-odd, but about 300 or 400 were -- were sent free to various people.
LAMB: Here's a picture of a group of people. Recognize anybody in that picture?
BROOK: I recognize them all.
LAMB: Now you're back right here.
BROOK: Yes, right there.
LAMB: Who's this older gentleman here?
BROOK: Well, he's one of the former owners. He's Pearly Watson, and he and Willis, who was the older brother who was the publisher, owned the newspaper and inherited it from their father, who was a newspaperman before that, before The Kennebunk Star actually.
LAMB: So you bought the paper for $30,000. You had a circulation of a little bit over 1,000. You sold it 20 years later to The Washington Star people and Joe Allbritton, who lives here in this town and runs the Riggs Bank, among other things.
LAMB: And we'll talk more about that later, but what was the circulation when you sold it?
BROOK: About 14,000 ...
LAMB: And what did you sell it...
BROOK: ... a little more than that.
LAMB: What did you sell it for?
BROOK: A million and six hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Somebody -- two other people owned a third of that, so I didn't get it all.
LAMB: And in the beginning, you had how many employees?
BROOK: Three, counting John Cole.
LAMB: In the end?
BROOK: About 70 -- not all that many, but it was a good-size operation.
LAMB: As you know, a lot of people dream about that newspaper in Maine ... that weekly newspaper in Maine, and I'm going to show the map you have here and show you where York County is. Would you recommend -- and we'll talk more again about the whole experience -- would you recommend that somebody do that today?
BROOK: I would, but not in the same way. I would if it had a little experience, number one, and if he didn't pay quite as much in terms of the product itself. And I guess it's a lot easier today to buy or even start a newspaper because you're doing it electronically and you don't need the printing business that was the bane of my existence up there. It was ...
LAMB: In the book, you call yourself Sandy. Where did you get that name?
BROOK: From Alexander. The Xander part of Alexander is Sandy. That's why so many Scotchmen are called Sandy -- not that I got it from a Scotch ancestor or anything but ...
LAMB: Seated ...
BROOK: My father was Alexander Brook, too.
LAMB: Seated across the table from you is a gentleman that some people in our audience will recognize, the former chairman of Dow Jones & Company and publisher of The Wall Street Journal, 1978 to 1991. This is kind of a crass question, but what are you doing here? Can you tell us how you fit into this picture?
Mr. WARREN PHILLIPS: Well, I retired from The Journal when I hit age 65, and my wife and I started Bridge Works Publishing Company, which is a small independent press, and Sandy's book was the first one that we published. It came out in May and we're doing four books this year, our first year.
LAMB: Where did you get the idea of publishing books?
PHILLIPS: Well, I've been in the word business as a newspaperman, journalist all my life. My wife is a writer, and this was something that we shared not only a common interest in but a shared enthusiasm. We would be dealing with words, we would be dealing with the world of ideas, and just as in journalism, we're dealing with very lively people, one of whom is sitting across the table there.
LAMB: Is this your first book, "The Hard Way"?
PHILLIPS: This is the first book.
LAMB: How many have you published so far?
PHILLIPS: We've published a second, which is out already, and we've got in production a third and fourth in the fall. The second book, "Goodbye, Friends," is a collection of short stories. The third book comes out September 15th. This is a bound galley, and it's a novel by an Englishman, Simon Lane, and it's called "Still Life with Books." And the fourth is a collection of essays called "Lost in Cyberspace," and it deals with the challenges that our rapidly advancing technology and computerization pose to our own humanity and human values -- a very serious subject, but treated with a lot of wit and irony.
LAMB: Where did you get the name Bridge Works Publishing Company?
PHILLIPS: Well, we live and our company is based in Bridgehampton, which is in New York on Long Island. We live on Bridge Lane in Bridgehampton, and we live next to a bridge -- the Sagg Bridge, which is an old, small bridge which my wife and I and our neighbors fought successfully over a 12-year period to save from being replaced by the county Public Works Department, being replaced with a monumental, wide, federally funded highway bridge on this small, one-mile-long road.
LAMB: By the way, if you got in your car and drove to your old offices, Wall Street, how long would it take you?
PHILLIPS: Two and a half hours.
LAMB: From where you live now.
LAMB: Did you live there while you were chairman of Dow Jones?
PHILLIPS: We did. We did. I stayed in the city several nights a week, as you can imagine, but our home was in Bridgehampton.
LAMB: How long did you work for The Wall Street Journal company?
PHILLIPS: Well, if I were a woman, I'd say that's a politically incorrect question. Forty-four years.
LAMB: You started as what?
PHILLIPS: I started as a proofreader and then was a copy reader and copy editor, rewrite person. Then I quit and went overseas, worked for Stars and Stripes, and rejoined The Journal as a correspondent in Germany.
LAMB: What was the best time you had as a corespondent during your tenure with The Wall Street Journal?
PHILLIPS: Oh, there were a lot of good times. I was a correspondent in Germany during the period after World War II when the first German government -- democratic German government was being formed. That was exciting. I was London bureau chief after that when Winston Churchill returned to power, having defeated the Labor government, and there were big changes taking place in Europe: the Marshall Plan, Reconstruction, NATO, Truman Doctrine -- all of those things.
LAMB: What was the first year you went into management at The Journal?
PHILLIPS: I became managing editor in 1957. That certainly was a management and journalistic job. I had been, for the two years previous to that managing editor of the Midwest edition, working out of Chicago. I guess that was a managerial job of sorts also.
LAMB: When you left the job as publisher and chairman of the board, how many people worked for you in the company?
PHILLIPS: Ten thousand.
LAMB: I ask you both now -- you know that people watching this -- approximately your age -- are saying, "These two guys are having a lot of fun and they're retired. One's writing a book, the other's publishing books as a job." What would you say about retirement?
BROOK: It's a lot easier than working. That's one thing I'd say about it. I've had fun being retired. I've never felt that I was retired, but writing is not necessarily retirement either. I've written a couple of novels, too.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
BROOK: I live in two places. One is in North Haven, which is right across from Sagg Harbor, which is not far from Bridgehampton, and the other is Sheepscott, Maine, where we just bought a place.
LAMB: You say in the book that you couldn't continue to live in Kennebunk after the experience of the 20 years. Why?
BROOK: Several reasons. I have an ex-wife there, which is one reason.
LAMB: And this is a woman that you married, divorced, married and divorced.
BROOK: Right.
LAMB: But she was very much involved in -- she's in this book.
BROOK: She is, and I hope she enjoys the book. Maybe she hasn't read it yet, but I think she ought to enjoy it. I think she comes off pretty well in it.
LAMB: What's her name?
BROOK: Onica, originally Waggonar, which was "little Ann" in Dutch.
LAMB: Where's this picture from?
BROOK: That's on our porch in Cape Porpoise, where we lived for most of these years.
LAMB: And what other reason can't you go back there or live there?
BROOK: It's become pretty commercial and pretty crowded, and I didn't want to go back. The things that I had hoped would not happen to Kennebunk and Kennebunkport have happened now, and so Sheepscott is much nicer.
LAMB: Do you know the former president?
BROOK: Met him once.
LAMB: Did he ever figure in any stories that you wrote for that area?
BROOK: I didn't write any, no. He came in, really, after I had left the paper, but Ed Muskie lives in Kennebunk, and he was a presidential candidate and a nice guy and still does live there. I knew him. He used to drop in.
LAMB: Where did you get the idea of publishing this as your first book?
PHILLIPS: Well, you know, as strange as it seems, Sandy and I were in the same business -- the newspaper business. I had never met him, though. It was my wife who discovered him, so to speak. She heard him doing a reading of his work at a writer's workshop, and she, you know, immediately realized that this fellow can write and he has lively stories to tell. He's a great storyteller, and the reviewers have certainly said that also, and she came home and said "We should look at his manuscript," which we did. We liked it. We showed it to a few friends and a daughter whose judgment we respected, and all of them were very, very enthusiastic.
LAMB: By the way, this book here is written by B.A. Phillips. Is that any relationship to you?
PHILLIPS: Yes. That's my wife. She's written for magazines -- New York Magazine, Vogue, Connoisseur; for newspapers -- Christian Science Monitor and others; mostly non-fiction, journalistic-type stories, and in recent years, she has turned to fiction and had stories published in literary magazines and elsewhere, and this is a collection of her stories, which deal with contemporary women and their relationships, the difficulties of sustaining relationships in an age where sometimes the traditional expectations of friends, family and society clash with one's own needs in this day of greater choices.
LAMB: Mr. Brook, why did you go with Mr. Phillips?
BROOK: Well, I'd just like to add that those stories by Barbara Phillips are fine stories and very good reading. I just preferred to do it because I was 70 years old and I didn't feel like having an agent and then waiting around for another six years to get published. I wanted to get going pretty well, pretty fast, and I couldn't have found anybody better than Warren and Barbara who have promoted it, pushed it, edited it well, could sympathize with what I was saying and everything. It's a good relationship. I'm very happy with it.
LAMB: Now from the moment that Mrs. Phillips first said to you, "Let's do a book," to today, how long has that been?
BROOK: Oh, gosh, I don't know. Today or the publication of the book -- what would you say, Warren? Four months, five months?
PHILLIPS: I think we first talked, like, last August or September, and we had copy at the end of September, so you're talking roughly nine months, a period which is fast for the book-publishing industry. Often it takes a year or more.
LAMB: What's your favorite thing about the book? Is there a story or a chapter or something that you learned in this book that you enjoyed the most?
PHILLIPS: Well, you know, I'd say two things. One is that many articles and many books have been written about the role of the press in our society, and in our democracy, and they almost all focus on the Washington Post, The New York Times, the TV networks. It's always the national press and the big city press. Very, very few people have written about the role of the grass-roots press in our country and in all of these smaller communities that make up the bulk of America, so I liked that focus, and Sandy tells a story very, very well. In fact, The Baltimore Sun said that "he has a gift for character -- characterization more often encountered in fiction." I mean, he's a great storyteller, and his story is how good, truthful, ethical, independent journalism, even in the smallest town where it's sometimes quite difficult because you're living so close with the community -- that it can prevail, and he was a determined guy and he had a lot of struggle and a lot of hardship, but I think it's a story of good journalism, well-practiced and successfully practiced.
LAMB: "Hello, Dean," you're saying -- somebody on the other end of the line. "Sandy" -- meaning you -- "you remember once you told me that if I ever got dissatisfied I should fire you? Well, I'm firing you." "I said, 'Allbritton, not you. Is Allbritton firing me?' "I'm firing you. I want you off the premises by five this afternoon." "I see. I think I want to hear it from Allbritton so I'll call him." "The anger was taking hold." What are we talking about here?
BROOK: About nine months after Allbritton bought the paper, I was kept on as the editor, and I the man who was in charge, I suppose you would say, of the newspaper was Dean Singleton, who was a very young Texan, about 23 years old, and we had not hit it off after he started.
LAMB: How old were you at this process?
BROOK: Oh, I was 55, 50 -- you know, 55.
LAMB: You were 55. You were the editor of this newspaper. You had sold it to Joe Allbritton, and Dean Singleton was 23 and was technically your boss.
BROOK: Yes. He called himself my boss and I said, "No, you're not my boss. I'm just here to carry the thing forward until you guys know what you're doing." And I said, "And any time you don't like it, you fire me." So he got pretty exercised about that and kept wanting to see profits, and there weren't any profits, but he did happen to sell it for a half a million dollars more than he bought it for, so in a sense, he got profits out of it.
LAMB: At this particular point, I mean -- and I'm going to read some more. "The other thing I've been thinking about, you have a serious personal problem, Dean, and it's got a name," although you don't name it. "I think you ought to see somebody about it." I mean, these are pretty strong words. How do you remember all that? This...
BROOK: I remember it because I thought about it a great deal afterwards. I hope that's all you're going to ask me about it. But he had several things that I thought were personal problems, one of which was that he was trying to be my boss.
LAMB: Well ...
BROOK: So ...
LAMB: The reason why this may be interesting to others, Dean Singleton today has a couple of other major publications.
BROOK: Oh, yes. He became publisher of Allbritton's newspapers, and there are about seven of them, I think, at the time, including The Washington Star. And today he owns several of them, The Houston...
LAMB: Post.
BROOK: ...Post.
PHILLIPS: Houston Post, Denver Post.
LAMB: Denver Post.
BROOK: Denver Post and another one...
PHILLIPS: He's a major, major figure in the Oakland Tribune. Now back at that time when he -- did he fire you?
BROOK: Yes, he did.
LAMB: Were you gone?
BROOK: I left that afternoon, but they called and got me back later when everybody quit at the newspaper; and just said, "OK, we all quit if you don't get him back." So...
LAMB: When you came back -- and what year was this? '77?
BROOK: '77.
LAMB: You came back and at the end of that day or a couple days later, how long did you stay then?
BROOK: Oh, just a couple of months. I waited, and they had brought someone else in and he was obviously being groomed to take my job, but I didn't think he was good enough to run the newspaper. He didn't care much about journalism. Dean and others also decided that he wasn't good enough, but then they also decided to sell the newspaper, which they did.
LAMB: Why would The New York Times want this newspaper?
BROOK: They bought it as a package. I assume they wouldn't have bought it if they didn't want it, but I think it's their only weekly newspaper, and it was the only newspaper they owned north of the Mason-Dixon line, except for The New York Times. So I think they felt that it was a feather in their cap to have the best weekly in America, which I think it was.
LAMB: How do you publish a book?
PHILLIPS: How do you publish a book.
LAMB: I mean, do you have an office?
PHILLIPS: We do have an office. It's...
LAMB: Do you have a staff?
PHILLIPS:'s not as big as your office here, but it's an office.
LAMB: Do you have a staff?
PHILLIPS: We have a woman who helps us part time with bookkeeping and assists us, and I have a secretary in New York City who's a tremendous help, but otherwise, it's a mom-and-pop operation.
LAMB: Do you have a printing plant?
PHILLIPS: No, we don't have a printing plant. We farm the printing out to a printer in Vermont -- the composition and the printing. We have a free-lance woman in Boston , Susan Hayes, who was a production director for Little, Brown, and she helps us find the best quality printers and compositors at the best prices, and we do that through her on a free-lance basis.
LAMB: After you decided that you wanted to publish this book, what happened then?
PHILLIPS: We arranged the printing through Susan Hayes. We also had arranged for distribution through an organization called National Book Network, which represents a number of small presses, and because they represent a number of us, they can afford to put a sales force into the field which calls on wholesalers and on individual booksellers, so we made final the arrangements with them, and then we sat down with Sandy and went over some editing suggestions we have, and since I had been an editor in my earlier incarnation, I had some ideas on that score, and my wife did also, and Sandy occasionally agreed and more than occasionally was as tough with us as he was with some of the people he took on in his campaigns in Maine, but we wound up friends and it worked out fine.
LAMB: Now you wrote this where? What location?
BROOK: Well, originally, I wrote it in Maine after I'd sold the newspaper, or after I got out of it, but it was a long process. It was about 1,100 typewritten pages at first, after Warren and Barbara's final editing, it got down to about 400 typewritten pages, so it was a gradual whittling down all the way along the line. It had been seen by a couple of publishers at its original size, but, of course, that's far too big a book. It would have been two and a half times as thick as that one, and that's a pretty good size book.
LAMB: So you've got the manuscript, and did you-all sign a contract?
LAMB: How do you do that? I mean, do you have a lawyer involved in all of this? Does this get very technical, from your standpoint?
PHILLIPS: We took contracts from a number of large and small publishers, and rather than have one of their normal 13-, 14-page contracts, we took out what we thought was the essence and put it down on about four pages. It was not drawn up by a lawyer, and Sandy -- you did have your lawyer ...
BROOK: Yeas.
PHILLIPS: ... look at it, and we didn't have any problem on the terms.
LAMB: Now you take the manuscript and what do you do? Do you ship it off to these folks and ...
BROOK: Yes, they had it.
LAMB: ... let them read it and ...
BROOK: They had it and ...
LAMB: At what point ...
BROOK: Oh, you mean -- OK.
LAMB: You know, you're finished with this whole product and you've got to get it down to a final manuscript. What's the process there? Do you get together physically and ...
BROOK: Yes. Warren and Barbara both had ideas about what would make the book better. Some of them I thought had merit; others I sort of fought against. That book ...
LAMB: Can you give us an idea of what are the kind of points that people disagree about?
BROOK: Well, OK, there were a couple of chapters in it that they wanted me to condense into about six pages. I said, "Give me nine pages," and it turned out that I came within that close of being nine pages, and I think it's better for it. There was another story, another campaign that we ran in the newspaper about the schools. It was rather a complicated story, and I really wanted it in the book because it was the only thing we had to do -- the only thing that had to do with the schools, which is about 50 percent of the tax rate of any small town and -- and a big part of the -- the town's business. But I think probably it's better without that story even though I kept whittling it down and offering it to them again and hoping they'd take it, but finally, Warren said, "Hey, we've cut it out. We've already decided this is out." So we took it out.
LAMB: This book is $19.95. Who makes that decision?
PHILLIPS: We make that decision.
LAMB: And on what basis did you charge $19.95 for this?
PHILLIPS: Oh, we talked with the distributors, with the sales staff, with others who are more knowledgeable about the book business as to what would be a good pricing level, and most thought that it should be priced a couple of dollars above that level, but we thought since this was our first year, we didn't want to cause any price resistance that would interfere with the introduction of this -- our first book, which we thought deserved a wide audience, and it is getting a wide audience and it is getting, you know, really wonderful reviews. It's a great tribute to Sandy. What these reviewers are saying -- the Washington Post called it "easily one of the best books ever written about journalism." New York Times called it "an important book." The Los Angeles Times called it an "almost mythically perfect tale." It's been very well-received.
LAMB: How much of that -- I don't know which one to ask this question. I'll start with you. How much of that is the fact that this man is known by everybody? Have you picked up the phone yourself and called these people and said, "Look at this book?"
PHILLIPS: Well, you know, one thing I'd say about that is that the people that I've known through my life in the newspaper business were the old-timers, the editors and the publishers of a number of papers, and if you go to the editor and you go to the publisher and ask him or her to take a book down to the book review department and it comes from the boss from the front office, I think that's a kiss of death. That's going to boomerang on you. Most journalist -- almost all journalists and certainly people of an artistic leaning, such as book reviewers, they're very independent and they're going to resent being leaned on. So what we did primarily was to go and call on the book reviewers themselves with whom we had not met and tell them about our new company and tell them why we thought this book and the others we were doing this year had merit and that we hoped they would consider it.

And they have certainly been very generous in giving these books good consideration because we're very pleased and proud that not only Sandy's book received these wonderful reviews, but the second book was wonderfully reviewed also, and the third, which doesn't come out until September -- that novel, "Still Life with Books" -- the newspaper reviews aren't out yet because that won't happen till September, but the trade -- the book trade press publishes weekly reviews in advance for the benefit of book sellers and for the book reviewers, and they gave the review of this novel a star, which is what they reserve for books of special merit and interest, and they called this "an often witty, always beautiful novel," which, you know, we're very proud of.

LAMB: Mr. Brook, on the back of this book, praise for "The Hard Way," Seymour Topping, former top official -- still is, I guess -- with The New York Times Company.
BROOK: Right.
LAMB: He's still there.
BROOK: Right.
LAMB: Frank Daniels, chairman of the Associated Press; Michael Gartner, former president of NBC News; and James Russell Wiggins, former editor of The Washington Post and co-owner of the Ellsworth, Maine, American. Why did those people endorse this book? Do you know?
BROOK: Well, I think because Warren asked them to read it, but I don't think they had to endorse the book. You know, I'm sure there were other people who were sent the book, Senator Mitchell, Senator Cohen -- other people who liked it, so who knows?
LAMB: All right. Who's the biggest character in your book ...
BROOK: Well, I'm afraid ...
LAMB: ...besides you?
BROOK: Character -- OK. You mean an unforgettable character.
LAMB: Character -- someone that you'll never forget.
BROOK: I imagine Herman Cohen is the guy, and partly because he covers about four or five chapters in the book.
LAMB: Who was he?
BROOK: Well, he was an inventor. He had once worked for a big oil company. He had moved to Kennebunk for some reason. Nobody could figure it out, but he wanted to start a big laboratory there -- a scientific laboratory and one thing and another. He had big ideas, and he had big ideas about himself, and he was turned down for a bus -- school bus pickup of his granddaughters, and from there, he just went on and criticized everything in the towns. He becomes a kind of a hero for the book because of his guts and because of his kind of trueness to stated purpose, as I say in the book -- things like that. You know, not worrying about what people thought about him and just going after things. Well, he got a following and -- with my help, too. He relied on the newspaper.
LAMB: Who got the maddest at you?
BROOK: I would say the selectmen who are the town kind of trustees in Maine -- they're called selectmen -- and the town lawyer, the town counsel, and just about everybody on every committee in town.
LAMB: What did you do when they came to you and screamed at you?
BROOK: Well, I just said that, "I'm sorry. That's the way it is," you know. "That's the way I feel about it." And ...
LAMB: There's a letter -- I've got a letter here under the Yellow Journalism chapter, and the letter reads like this. "The peoples of Kennebunk High School, under their present principal, are treated as prisoners and have no freedom. They can't do this or that. I say they should have a chance to live a little. The dances are poorly attended as he always is making the rounds. Why does he have to attend when they have parents always at these dances and help out? As a taxpayer, I'd like to know what can be done to remove him from high school, which he's not capable to handle? Please withhold my name as I have a future pupil of KHS, and I know he would make it hot for her." What is this letter you've printed?
BROOK: It's an anonymous letter that a lady's son asked me to publish. She said, "Would you dare publish this letter?" It was about the high school dances and the high school principal who happened to be there policing the high school dances, and she thought that was too much. They had parents there and whatnot. And so I published it, and this is not supposed to be good journalism to publish unassigned letters to the editor, but I felt that it served a purpose so long as -- you know, even the purpose of getting something out in the open where it could be shot down.
LAMB: What happened ...
BROOK: Well ...
LAMB: ... after this letter was published?
BROOK: ... the principal, Andrew Peterson, got very angry and came in the night it hit the stands, on Thursday night. It was dark, and he and his wife came in and started threatening me, and I started threatening them, and they got out, and then they got together with the other school principals then and school board and what-not, and they stirred up quite a ruckus about it.
LAMB: But you had a lot of letters to the editor.
BROOK: A lot of letters to the editor.
LAMB: How many did you end up publishing before it's over?
BROOK: Well, I don't really remember how many, but I think it was 94 people signed them, and it was a kind of a shocker to see that many people get upset about it -- a rather mild letter to the editor. After all, it was obviously written by a crank. And so I didn't think it should get that kind of reception from these people. So...
LAMB: What would be the principal difference between being the editor of this paper and the managing editor, chief person in charge of editorial for The Wall Street Journal?
PHILLIPS: I think that at Sandy's paper and at any paper in a small town, it's very much more personal. You are writing about people you see every day, people who are among your friends, people who are among your advertisers, and when you write things that they find objectionable, it's not just a professional protest. You run the risk of ostracism, of advertising boycotts and so forth. At a large newspaper, you're governed by your own set of inner standards and journalistic principles and certainly by the principles subscribed to by your staff, your peers in the business, and you meet objections in a professional but much more impersonal way.
LAMB: Let me ask you a very simple question. Go back to both of your roles. You're the top person at Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal and you're the top person at The Kennebunk Star. In the end, what was the paper called?
BROOK: It was called the York County Coast Star.
LAMB: Because you had bought...
BROOK: Yeah, other newspapers.
LAMB: Purchased a bunch of other newspapers. Could you always be reached by phone ...
LAMB: ...or in person at your paper till the end?
BROOK: Yes, the door was always open to my office, and whoever wanted to come in, came in.
LAMB: So anybody in town, screaming and yelling, could have seen you?
BROOK: Yeah. They would come in and scream sometimes.
LAMB: How about you?
PHILLIPS: In most cases, yes. In some cases, when it seemed more appropriate, we would ask the managing editor to return the phone call if it dealt with a news story. Some of those calls I took, but most of them, we asked the managing editor or the executive editor to respond and to investigate the complaint.
LAMB: What I was getting at is -- compare your life now compared to what it was before with 10,000 employees and now with a couple. Do people get right to you now when they call you directly?
PHILLIPS: Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. Yes.
LAMB: Now -- where were you the happiest? Where did you get the most satisfaction?
PHILLIPS: Well, you know, it might sound trite, but I enjoyed both jobs, both careers. I wouldn't do something I didn't enjoy. You know, the old statement, "This life is no dress rehearsal." You either have fun or you do something differently, and working at The Journal as a reporter, as an editor, later as publisher, was exciting and a continuing education process. Every story that you write or edit causes you to learn something new about another subject, and the same thing about this book publishing. You're dealing again with people with lively minds and the subject matter is always new, and your education and, one hopes, mental alertness and growth continues to expand. So they're both terrific.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
PHILLIPS: I grew up in New York City.
LAMB: Manhattan?
LAMB: Queens. Where did you go to school?
PHILLIPS: I went to a public school on the border of Brooklyn in Queens. I went to one of the New York municipal colleges, one of the city colleges, called Queens College.
LAMB: And when did you first get into journalism? First time you can remember saying, "I want to do that. I want to write for a living?"
PHILLIPS: I've always been attracted by journalism. When I was a 12-year-old, on a mimeograph machine, I put out a little newspaper at home, and then I was on the high school paper, and I was on the college paper when I was in college. When I got out of the Army, I was a copy boy for the old New York Herald-Tribune, and I was a stringer or a campus correspondent for both The Times and the Tribune. I've always found writing about the events that influence our society and people's lives, on a small scale as well as a large scale, very exciting, educational and a front row seat to what's happening around us.
LAMB: Where were your parents from?
PHILLIPS: My mother was born here. Her parents had come here from Germany. My father had come here at the age of 5 and had grown up in New York City and had been in the Army Air Corps in World War I as an airplane gunner.
LAMB: And the audience should know that Leslie Phillips, who's sat at this table many times, is a correspondent for USA Today.
PHILLIPS: Absolutely.
LAMB: Are you glad that she went into your profession?
PHILLIPS: Yes, I'm very pleased and proud that she wanted to, and she does a great job. She covers Congress for USA Today. She covers many of the political campaigns, and so we have a lot of things of mutual interest to talk about. And we have two other daughters who, in one way or another, are in the world of images and communication. One is a curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and another scouts out properties for a film producer. So there's a link there. None are in science or other fields beyond communication in different forms.
LAMB: Mr. Brook, where were you born?
BROOK: I was born in Woodstock, New York.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
BROOK: Oh, I started out in a little country school up in Cross River, New York, and I went to Friends Seminary here -- or in New York City, and from there, I went to The Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, and then to Yale University in New Haven. And I spent a couple of years there and then went into the Navy, and when I was finished with that, I went back and finished up half a year. They gave me the rest of it.
LAMB: Where are your parents from?
BROOK: My mother was from Ridgefield, Connecticut originally, and my father was from Brooklyn, New York.
LAMB: What did they do for a living?
BROOK: They were artists. My father was an oil painter, and my mother did everything else including oils later, but she was an illustrator, caricaturist and what-not.
LAMB: Do you remember where you got your first inkling that you wanted to do a weekly newspaper?
BROOK: I think the day I saw John Cole in New York and I suggested that we either do something in the fishing line or in the newspaper line, and he said, "You'd like to do something in the newspaper line?" And I said, "Well, gee, that sounds pretty good." I used to write, because I had written before ...
LAMB: Look at this ...
BROOK: ... and I liked it.
LAMB: Want to look at this cover. It looks to me, with the naked eye, that that is a tint. Is that an old black and white photo?
PHILLIPS: Yes, right. It is a black and white photo that has been tinted.
LAMB: What was the reason? Why did you choose this photo, and did you choose it? Do you get into the details of it like this?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, we chose it in collaboration and agreement with Sandy. We thought it would make a great cover jacket photo, but it happened to be in black and white, and we decided to improve on the photographic technology of that period.
LAMB: Is it hard to get a book into the bookstores? You said you were part of the National Book Network.
PHILLIPS: Book Network.
LAMB: How does that work? I mean -- what does it feel like being in the business and, all of a sudden, walking in a bookstore and seeing your book sitting there? I ask both of you that.
PHILLIPS: Sandy could certainly answer the second, what it feels like. Getting books in the bookstore is difficult because there are so many books being published each year. It's very competitive. The sales force of the National Book Network does a great job interesting individual bookstores -- independent bookstores and the chains in our books, and many of them place orders. But larger orders are placed by the book wholesalers, so that if a bookstore that has not stocked one of our books should get an inquiry from a customer, within about 48 hours, they can have that book from the wholesalers, who are very well stocked.
LAMB: Do you have any particular sensation when you walk in a bookstore far away from home and you see your book sitting there on the shelf?
BROOK: Yes, I haven't done it very often, but I occasionally looked for them, and it's very pleasant. It's kind of warming to see yourself up there. Yes.
LAMB: You write in the book about phony stories -- that you used to write phony stories in your newspaper. What kind of phony stories?
BROOK: I only wrote a couple of -- well, more than two maybe, but two of them were in the same issue, and they had to do with a thing I called the Gumdrop Inn on a very famous elm-lined, beautiful street in Kennebunk, and the other one had to do with a kind of an arcade that was going to be on a stretch of riverbank in Kennebunkport, and they were there to make people aware of the problems that they might have if they didn't get some zoning. I was promoting zoning at the time, and in them, I said, "See editorial," at the end of each first paragraph. But people didn't read the "See editorial"or they didn't read the editorial immediately, and they started to complain to the authorities about it, so it served a purpose. It's not good journalism. I'm not terribly proud of them. I just -- it got people thinking, that's all.
LAMB: You write, `But objectivity pursued too rigidly deprives the weekly journalists in the thick of community affairs of the involvement required for insight."
BROOK: I think that's true.
LAMB: What's that mean?
BROOK: Well, for ...
LAMB: Let me read it again...
BROOK: Yes. All right.
LAMB: ... for the audience to hear it. "But objectivity pursued too rigidly deprives the weekly journalists in the thick of community affairs of the involvement required for insight."
BROOK: The weekly journalist is affected by everything that is reported in his newspaper, everything that affects taxes, everything that affects the schools. His kids are in those schools. He owns a house maybe. Everything that's done about the roads affects him. He drives those roads. So that he cannot really be objective about any of these things. And when I say objectivity pursued too strictly deprives him of the ability of getting involved, I mean that he's writing editorials and columns all the time about these things, and people know how he feels. So to try to be objective about it and say -- you know, not take a stand even in news reports is very difficult for him.
LAMB: Mr. Phillips, if I were to change a couple words and you were back at your old job at The Wall Street Journal and somebody, a reporter in your shop wrote the following, "But objectivity pursued too rigidly deprives the daily journalist" -- and I'm changing "weekly" to "daily" -- "in the thick of national affairs of the involvement required for insight," what would you say?
PHILLIPS: I would probably take a more old school position than Sandy does in the sense that even if pure objectivity is not always possible, it should be a goal. A certain amount of detachment in writing the story should be a goal so that the reader, in my view, does not know whether the reporter is for or against on the issues that he or she are writing about. So we ...
BROOK: ... comment on it, too.
PHILLIPS: ... so we can duel over that one.
BROOK: I would say, let's say you're writing about education. I think the reader can assume that the writer on education subjects is for good education or that the crime reporter is against crime or the person who's reporting on drug sales is against drug sales. You have to assume these things, so that when you write a story about them, the reader assumes that this person takes a stand on it and the person who's writing it assumes that his readers are with him. So that to be objective about drug sales or crime of any kind or even a horror story or -- yes, you can do it with national affairs. You can report on what the Congress is doing, and you can be quite objective about it, but objectivity in a news report is only possible when you take down every single happening in the order that it's presented itself to you and quote everybody that you've interviewed to everything he's said in the order he's said it and so forth and so on. That's the only pure objectivity. So as soon as you decide whom to quote, how much of it to quote, you're becoming subjective about these things.
PHILLIPS: I think my only point on that is we're all for good education, we're all against crime. But when there are specific solutions proposed, I would hate to see a reporter say, "The administration's education bill is the best way to solve the problem and that's a great bill and everybody should vote for it," or "This crime bill is flawed and Senator John Jones' alternative is a better bill." We can be for virtues ...
BROOK: Oh, I agree totally, totally.
PHILLIPS: ... but the question of how to achieve solutions to national problems, I wouldn't want to see ...
BROOK: I agree. I agree.
PHILLIPS: ... the reporter's view in that.
LAMB: Let me ask you both a final question. What's your biggest surprise in being a book publisher?
PHILLIPS: The biggest surprise in ...
LAMB: What were you not prepared for?
PHILLIPS: In being a book publisher. Well, I was not quite prepared to see the first three books all receive such wonderful recognition and reception by reviewers and people who have read it. And I think to do that well on three in a row out there is a great tribute to the authors and we're fortunate to be working with such talented people. And my wife gets the credit for that because she's been the one who has really scouted them out and spotted them.
LAMB: Your biggest surprise about writing a book?
BROOK: I would say the same. The fact that it's been almost universally well reviewed seems to me to be a pretty lucky thing, and it's surprising because so many people have so many different ideas about what's been written.
PHILLIPS: Of course, in Sandy's case, this is a book not just about an unusual man and his newspaper. It's also the sociology and politics of small-town America. It gives a wonderful profile of small-town life anywhere in this country.
LAMB: Here's what the book looks like. We have here at the table both the author and the book publisher. Alexander "Sandy" Brook, the author, and the co-publisher ...
PHILLIPS: Co-publisher.
LAMB: ... along with his wife Barbara, Warren Phillips of Bridge Works Publishing Company. We thank you both for joining us.
PHILLIPS: Thank you, Brian ...
BROOK: Thank you.
PHILLIPS: ...for having us.
BROOK: Very good.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1993. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.