For more than a century, The Cleveland Press served the town as the very soul of the city. Dedicated to covering criminal misdeeds and mischievous government, its 104-year span left a mark on the town well beyond its 1982 demise.
Once touted by Time Magazine as one of America’s 10-great newspapers, it gave to its readers like few papers. It often did good, but occasionally bad, as well. The paper was embraced by hundreds of thousands of followers.
The force behind the paper was a diminutive man with a broad reach and understanding of Cleveland’s fractured community. In his day, Louis B. Seltzer and The Cleveland Press were the most powerful of entities here.
Using the newspaper, Seltzer elected public officials at all levels, drove a public agenda that changed the face of the town and waged war against crime, corruption and municipal incompetence. It championed the country’s largest urban renewal program, the Erieview district, only to see it fail miserably.
In wartime, it treated readers like family, encouraging their faith and consoling them through tragedy.
Seltzer had a keen sense of what Clevelanders wanted in their afternoon newspaper, and that revolved around its neighborhoods and the ethnicities of the people who dwelled in them. Cleveland, having never amalgamated into a city, was dominated by a patchwork of ethnic communities. The question for politicians and for The Press was how to unite these communities for their own purposes. Seltzer figured it out.
Each year, The Press sent a reporter to Europe to visit the villages and towns where readers’ relatives resided. Published accounts of these trips yielded a loyalty that motivated Cleveland’s ethnic communities to support the paper’s political candidates and civic ventures.
The Press was outstanding in its day-to-day coverage of the news. It left The Plain Dealer and the then-Cleveland News bewildered and behind in trying to compete for news stories. Press sports writers were the best between New York City and Chicago. And so as not to leave anything to chance, Seltzer employed a dog editor, not to mention a science editor who won the Pulitzer Prize. It left a war memorial on Public Square. And it crippled the political party system.
Michael D. Roberts is a former city editor of The Plain Dealer and a longtime editor of Cleveland Magazine. He recently published a book, Cold Beer, Hot Type and Bad News about his experiences as a journalist.