CLEVELAND - Cleveland is a gutsy town. Someone once told me there was so much controversy generated in Cleveland, a news reporter needed only to walk out the door and spread wide his arms and the news would tumble into him.
That was an exaggeration, of course, but Cleveland has long been a news reporter's town.
One who knows that perhaps better than any other journalist is Dick Feagler, television host, newspaper columnist, contributing writer to magazines, former radio broadcaster and television news anchorman. After 50 years working in all those media -- some of them simultaneously -- Feagler is calling it quits. He retired the other day, saying goodbye on his last show, "Feagler & Friends," which has been a mainstay of WVIZ-TV25, public television in Cleveland for many years.
"I got in the news business because I wanted to write and I wanted to get paid for writing," said Feagler, as we sat in a room just off from the studio where he would record his last interview show. He was a kid who grew up in southeast Cleveland and who went to Ohio University to study journalism.
"The only way I could figure out how to do work like that was to do something for a newspaper," he said.
Feagler talked of his yearly years as a newspaperman, working for The Cleveland Press, where he began in 1963 writing obituaries. However, he quickly moved up the journalism ladder.
"Everyone could see he was a star," said Brent Larkin, a friend who worked for years with Feagler after the latter moved to the Plain Dealer.
Larkin, Cleveland journalist Mike Roberts and I sat with Feagler on his last "Feagler & Friends." In front of a live studio audience, we told stories. Feagler, who spent a career asking questions, tried to ask us our opinions. That did not last too long on the broadcast. Larkin interrupted Feagler at one point and said the show was about him, not us.
It was then Feagler began to recount many of the significant stories he covered over the years. Among those he cited was the 1967 election of Carl Stokes as mayor of Clevaland, marking the first time in the U.S. that a black person was elected mayor of a large metropolitan area.
"I remember that night," said Feagler. "Eveyrbody ran into the streets and you would have thought we won World War II," he said, his mind racing back over the decades to that moment which was covered by reporters from around the world. "I guess it was a little like people felt about Obama when he got elected."
I worked with Dick at two television stations -- WKYC-TV3 and WEWS-TV5. During both stints I was the news anchor and Dick offered nightly commentary on the various events in Cleveland or throughout the world. It was a treat to watch him craft his commentaries. He has the ability to take complicated subjects and boil them down to their essences, enabling the viewing or reading public to readily understand the issues.
Feagler said it had been interesting watching the ins and outs of Cleveland politics. Certainly, the city has provided much fodder for his columns and commentaries.
"We went through a period of time when they were inventing things in town that never happened," he said, his face turned into a grimace that he made popular for television cameras. "On the front page of the Press, they would build all these things -- the bridge to Canada and the peoplemover that would take you around the second story of all the stores," he remembered. "They put artist renderings of these plans in the paper that never happened."
However, what did happen was Feagler's view of thousands of events in Cleveland, northeast Ohio and much of the world. His commentaries and columns were sometimes humorous, sometimes biting, but never dull. He was blessed with an ability to use the English language and to ask the kinds of questions Mr. and Miss Public would ask were they granted the opportunity to sit down with the newsmakers.
Before his appearance on television, which began in the early 1980s when there was a strike at The Press, a television producer at WKYC-TV3 called him to write the commentary.
"It was a temporary job," Feagler said, "but when I got off the air the producer told me I was good." He stretched that gig into many years, even to the point where he became the primetime newscaster, replacing me in that position at WKYC in 1992.
A few years later, Feagler left TV3 and found a commentary job at WEWS-TV5, where he worked for several years before leaving WVIZ-TV25 to hold his popular "Feagler & Friends".
Through the years, he has won two dozen local Emmys and beeen granted the prestigious Peabody Award and the DuPont-Columbia Award, both in 1991.
Fifty years is a long time to work one's profession, but Feagler did it and did it on his own terms. I, for one, will miss hearing his voice and seeing his image on television. I already have missed his regular commentaries in the Plain Dealer. Journalism has changed over the years and in recent times the changes have been
earth-shaking for some.
The Plain Dealer is not printed for home distribution on a daily basis. It is tossed on front door steps only a few days now, but is available online every day. Feagler offers comment on that.
"It's carrying us to the point we're not going to need print anymore," said the veteran newsman. "Old people like me die out," he said, his face grimaced as if it were made of rubber. However, he understands though times change, the need for journalism is still there.
"The kids will pick it up," said Feagler.
He's right. He has seen journalism evolve over the years. After all, he was one of the kids who picked up the business in 1963 -- 50 years ago -- and carried his profession to some of the highest levels.