the ghost of post past
Ken Hoffman looks back on the biggest media shutter in Houston history
The 25th anniversary of the Houston Post closing — the biggest paper ever to fold in Texas, one of the biggest anywhere — was marked over the weekend. More than 1,600 employees lost their job that day. I was one of them.
Each of us has our own memories of that day. Here are mine:
Sometime around 10 am, the Post editor stood on a desk, might have been a chair, in the middle of the newsroom and said, and I think I have his words pretty close here: “The Houston Chronicle has bought the assets of the Houston Post. As of this moment, the Houston Post is closed. I suggest that you gather your belongings and leave the building.”
An unceremonious end
The end came suddenly. The Post did not get to publish a goodbye edition. Police in uniform were there to escort us out. Hurry it up.
I didn’t have any belongings at the Post to gather. This was Tuesday, April 18, 1995. Two days before, I bumped into Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale at a tennis tournament at Westside Tennis Club. He said, “I’m sorry to hear about the Post closing."
Sorry about … wait, huh? When? Mack said, "Tuesday."
So I had a heads-up that Tuesday would be doomsday. I figured, if anybody would know, Mattress Mack was that anybody. The next day, I cleaned out my desk. A co-worker in the features department asked me what I was doing. I told him, it’s over, the Post is closing on Tuesday.
He said, “How many times have we heard that? It looks bad when people see you cleaning out your desk.”
He was right, we had heard the bell toll for the Houston Post many times in recent years. I said, “I think this time it’s for real. Mattress Mack told me.”
When Tuesday morning’s announcement came, the Post newsroom looked like the Running of the Brides at Filene’s Basement. The pillaging that went on would have made Genghis Khan and his Mongols proud. People were stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down. I didn’t care about expensive photography equipment or computers. I snuck into the newspaper’s library and jammed the 1995 Editor and Publisher Yearbook down my pants and walked out.
Editor and Publisher is the bible of the newspaper industry. The yearbook listed the names and addresses of every editor at every newspaper in America. I knew I would be applying for a job and I needed those contacts.
"Would you like fries with that?"
As I left the building, a couple dozen TV and radio news reporters were waiting in the parking lot. Because my photo appeared over my column, they ran at me for comment. Looking back, I was probably in shock or panic, but when reporters asked what I would do next, I said, “Do the words ‘Would you like fries with that?’ mean anything to you?”
Truth was, I was frightened, I don’t exactly have a lot of marketable skills. The Post closing made national news. A friend from Chicago called and said, “I’m listening to the radio. They said that the Post closed. Did I just hear you ask if I wanted French fries with that?”
Fun note from earlier that morning. Back then, a Channel 2 sports anchor had a contest. Each week, he would show a photo of the viewer who caught the biggest fish. I’m not an outdoorsman, but I knew the guy behind the fish counter at my local supermarket. I asked him to let me hold the biggest fish he had. This thing was enormous, like you see on Saturday morning fishing shows.
My friend Reg “Third Degree” Burns snapped a picture and took it Walgreens to be developed. About an hour before the Post closed, Third Degree was downstairs in the lobby with the photo of me and the fish. I never got my moment of glory on Channel 2.
True story: I drove home that day, and as I unlocked the front door, I could hear the kitchen phone ring. I picked it up and heard, “This is Charles Cooper, I just heard about the Post closing. Promise me you won’t accept another job until I can get back to you with an offer.”
“Coop” used to be the managing editor of the Post. He left to become managing editor of the Newark Star-Ledger. I had a Star-Ledger paper route when I was a kid. The Ledger was the largest newspaper in New Jersey. Things suddenly were looking up. I thought, I’ll move back to Jersey and buy the house I grew up in. Pretty cool. I promised Coop that I would wait for his offer.
I’m still waiting. Coop died last year. I’m starting to think the Star-Ledger isn’t going to happen for me.
A little later, the phone rang again. This time it was Dean Singleton, the guy who sold the Post to the Chronicle, which shut it down. He was not Mr. Popularity at 4747 Southwest Freeway that day. He said a few nice words to me and promised that he would find a place for me at one of his other newspapers. He said his sister would get in touch with me and arrange things. I remember thinking, sign me up for the Denver Post.
A few days went by, the editor of the Denver Post called. He said that Singleton had indeed called him on my behalf, but he didn’t have room for another columnist. “I already have six columnists and I only need four — if I added you, that would be three too many. I’m sorry, but I can’t hire you.” The Denver Post wasn’t going to happen for me, either.
In the meantime, I sent my clips to newspapers around the country. My main criterion was, where would I like to live? Nice weather topped the list. One by one, I found rejection letters in my mailbox. There were hundreds of newspaper people looking for work.
The rejection that hurt the most was from the Anchorage Daily News.
Why? I never applied to the Anchorage Daily News.
I wrote back, hey, I feel bad enough without you piling on my depression.
Eventually, Singleton did come through for me. I could go work for his newspaper group based in Oakland, California. I really wanted to stay in Houston, though. I did not want to pack up and move to California like the Clampetts.
While this was going on, I had applied to the Houston Chronicle. I endured four separate interviews with the same two people, which was frustrating because they would ask the same questions each time and I would give the same answers each time.
They were playing games with me. They did not want the Chronicle to hire me. This went on for three months, long enough for me to paint the inside of my house... and long enough for me to hire professional painters to fix my lousy work.
However, the big boss in the newsroom finally told those two, look, we’re hiring him, get over it. One of them did accept it, one didn’t. Didn’t matter, the one who didn’t was gone is short order. I wound up staying home n Houston and working the next 22 years at the Chronicle, best newspaper job I ever had.
And, now I'm at CultureMap. Things worked out okay.