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Whelan, Cleveland's longest-running an
For more than 14 years, readers of Cleveland Magazine have grown accustomed to the work of Edward P. Whelan, which has appeared here in the form of more cover stories than any other writer can boast. That contribution is unlikely to be duplicated.
Whelan has written and reported on a myriad of topics, but some of his best work has dealt with organized crime. His chronicles of the Mafia constitute a contemporary history that no doubt will be a standard of reference for years to come.
This summer, after 20 years in Cleveland journalism, Whelan resigned from the magazine to embark on a new career in public relations. For those of us who have worked with him, it was a surprising decision, but, as he says, it was a choice based on the need to do something different in life.
Whelan and I worked together for 17 years, first at The Plain Dealer. He drove competing reporters to distraction with his tenacity and his ability to develop sources. There might have been better writers and occasionally a better reporter, but no one possessed more zest for journalism. No one worked harder.
One of my best recollections of Whelan at The Plain Dealer was when Ralph Perk was the newly elected mayor. In those first few weeks of the new government, Whelan scored so many page-one beats against The Cleveland Press that its editors complained to Perk that he was favoring the morning paper.
Perk asked PD Publisher and Editor Tom Vail for an unusual favor. Would Vail allow the Press to break a story? Perk was about to name Richard Hollington his law director, and Vail agreed with the mayor that the afternoon paper could have the story.
The only problem with this manipulation of the media was that Whelan had not been consulted. Of course, he got the story a day before it was to be announced. At the city desk we were pleased, because once again we had a page-one beat on our rivals.
But that evening the word came from Vail's office: We were not to publish the story. As city editor, I was in the middle. My choice was either to endure Whelan's wrath or argue with Vail — if I could get an appointment to see him. I chose the lesser of the two confrontations, and ran the story.
Not long afterward, both Ned and I departed The Plain Dealer for a new publication in town, Cleveland Magazine.
Ned did much to help set the standards for the kind of stories Cleveland Magazine publishes. He was always near the major stories in town, delving and probing, testing this politician or that issue. As a journalist, Whelan embraced every article he worked on — regardless of its significance — as if it were the most important story in the world. This passion was the key to his success.
I cannot count the number of stories we worked on together in those I/years, the weekends that went into them, the late nights, the famous "one last phone call" pledge Whelan would make, which would translate into a new lead and another 1,000 words, and the inevitable arguments over the direct ion of the story. Or the late calls I got at home, with the standard Whelan greeting, "Mike, you won't believe this."
They were the best of times, heady stuff and essentially an addictive kind of existence. One more cover story for him became a dozen more, and a dozen more. The stories began to flow together; only the names changed, and a sense of deja vu took hold.
Journalism, like everything else, has its drawbacks: the hours, the working conditions, the cynicism, and finally, the pace. A lot of writers kid themselves and begin to talk better stories in bars than they write. They dwell on the old days, and charge that younger people will never be as good.
Ned never dwelled on past triumphs. Instead, he began to look toward other challenges — a little television work, some civic involvement — and to pursue his desire to look at another side of professional life.
It is not a unique thing in our business. There was a play written in the 1920s called The Front Page, in which a newspaper's star reporter quits journalism for marriage and a career in public relations. It is a wonderful play, full of truths that persist. In the final act, the editor smiles and wishes the reporter his best as the train departs for New York and the new life.
With the goodbyes made, the train lunges forward and the editor cries out to a policeman that his watch has been stolen by his former reporter. He demands that the man be arrested at the next stop and returned. Presumably, given time, the reporter will come to his senses and go after one more of those great stories.
And, see, Whelan's got this watch, and on the back is engraved Cleveland Magazine. He thinks we gave it to him out of appreciation.
But there's a good story working over at City Hall with George Forbes, Whelan's Darth Vader, and the October cover is open, and I think that watch is really the property of the magazine. Hmmmm...