The View from Writers Roost
by WILLIS WEBB
Sep 06, 2012 | 661 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ED WATSON was one of the best news reporters I’ve ever known. He was an old-timer when I was a young editor-publisher. His stories, as the headline suggests, covered such huge events as the New London school disaster in the 1930s up to the revelation that a new city, The Woodlands, was being built in Montgomery County, just north of Houston in 1972.

Ed probably got cheated out of more very important bylines and photo credit lines than anyone I’ve come across.

On March 18, 1937, Ed was in his usual spot in the back room of a Beaumont funeral home, playing cards with the ambulance drivers. Ambulances in Texas were owned and operated by funeral homes until after the mid-1900s. Ed was the photographer for Beaumont Enterprise, a morning newspaper. Its sister publication was the afternoon Beaumont Journal.

Their card game was interrupted for a call for all ambulances in the area to go to New London in East Texas where an explosion had destroyed a new school and killed more than 295 students and teachers, the worst catastrophe to take place in a U.S. school building.

Ed grabbed his camera bag and jumped in the ambulance with the driver and his assistant. He shot photos and called his newspaper for more film which was delivered by a single-engine plane to a field near the New London school where Ed gave his exposed film to the pilot and a photographer for the afternoon Journal.

A week later, when Ed emerged from the officially isolated New London school site, he found his photos with the afternoon edition photographer’s credit line and a copy of Life Magazine with one of his pictures on the cover and several pages filled with his shots, all credited to the other photographer who went on to work for Life.

In the early 1950s, Ed became the editor of The Conroe Daily Courier, which became a twice-weekly publication in the early 1960s, under the ownership of the Owen family.

ED LACKED much formal education. His spelling and grammar left something to be desired, but he was an outstanding reporter with a “natural nose for news” that we editor-publisher types seek.

In the early 1970s, I went to Conroe in a management position with the Courier under new ownership and inherited a staff that included Ed. There was a managing editor (ME) in place that was very bright and wrote very well. However, he had a low tolerance for someone who couldn’t write proper grammar. I explained the difference between a reporter, a writer and an editor to the managing editor but he quietly pursued his own agenda.

Ed, being the inquisitive type, spent much of his time digging through county courthouse records. Since Montgomery County was beginning a growth boom, those records were filled with daily land transactions, some of great significance. Ed noticed scores of small land transactions with one common denominator, the name of George Mitchell, who developed The Woodlands. A call to Mitchell’s headquarters with our revealing to Mitchell’s public relations director what we’d found, brought Ed another scoop: a new hometown, one the first of its kind in Texas.

The ME rewrote the story and put his byline on the scoop.

HE AND I consulted and he decided to take a job as the “communications director” for a newly-elected congressman.

But, Ed had been shortchanged again.

In an announcement story about a new ME and the old one’s resignation, which I wrote, the outgoing editor went to the composing room and changed the story up a bit crediting himself with the announcement. Those announcements ALWAYS come from top management, certainly not from the departing employee.

I confronted him and gave him a little earlier “vacation” than he’d planned, and told him he could think about the damage his egomania had created. And, oh, by the way, a bad reference if anyone should ask.

Ed stuck around a while and helped the new ME get off to a good start.

Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at wwebb1937@att.net.
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