In 1959, when I went to work for Newsday, on Long Island, the paper had a managing editor named Alan Hathway, who was an old-time newspaperman from the nineteen-twenties. He was a character right out of “The Front Page,” a broad-shouldered man with a big stomach that looked soft but wasn't. His head was shiny bald except for a monklike tonsure, and rather red—very red after he had started drinking for the day, which was at lunch. He wore brown shirts with white ties, and black shirts with yellow ties. We were never sure if he had actually graduated from, or even attended, college, but he had a deep prejudice against graduates of prestigious universities, and during his years at Newsday had never hired one, let alone one from Princeton, as I was. I was hired as a joke on him while he was on vacation. He was so angry to find me there that during my first weeks on the job he would refuse to acknowledge my presence in his city room. I kept saying, “Hello, Mr. Hathway,” or “Hi, Mr. Hathway,” when he passed my desk. He'd never even nod. Ignoring me was easy for Mr. Hathway to do, because as the low man on the paper's reportorial totem pole I never worked on a story significant enough to require his involvement.
At the time, Newsday did not publish on Sundays, so as low man on the totem pole I worked Saturday afternoons and nights, because if a story came in then I could put the information in a memo and leave the actual writing to the real reporters who came in on Sunday.
Late one Saturday afternoon, a telephone on the city desk rang, and when I picked it up it was an official from the Federal Aviation Agency, calling from his office at what was then (because John F. Kennedy hadn't yet been assassinated) Idlewild Airport. Newsday had been doing a series of articles on Mitchel Field, a big Air Force base in the middle of Long Island's Nassau County that the military was giving up. Its twelve hundred acres were the last large open space in the county, so what happened to it was important. The F.A.A. was seeking to make it a civilian airport. Newsday, however, felt that it should be used instead for public purposes—in particular, for education, to allow Hofstra University to expand, and to create a campus for Nassau Community College, the only general-education public college on Long Island, which was then being housed in temporary quarters in the county courthouse in Mineola. The rooms there were already too crowded to accommodate the students, many of them from the large low-income community in nearby Hempstead. Public education for the poor: that was something worth fighting for.