Veteran reporter to celebrate 74 years in print

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Photo by Christie Rotondo/Jake Schaad, now 91, says he may be the oldest working reporter in the United States. Photo by Christie Rotondo/Jake Schaad, now 91, says he may be the oldest working reporter in the United States. Jake Schaad looks back at a lifetime in journalism

As Jake Schaad Jr. sits at his kitchen table in his quiet Del Haven home, he peers over photos and news clippings on a Friday afternoon and says he remembers the sounds of presses roaring, telephones ringing, and copy boys rushing stories to city desks.

Those were the sounds he heard for 30 years at the Paterson Evening News, where he started his career in journalism 74 years ago. He hasn’t stopped yet.

Now 91, Schaad is still writing. He contributes the weekly history column “In Another Time” to the Wildwood Leader and covers happenings at the Middle Township Performing Arts Center. Occasionally, he also offers his opinion on a news development, like when Wildwood weighed implementing beach fees earlier this year.

He says that at his age, he may be the oldest working journalist in the United States.

“I don’t say that to be boastful,” he says. “I say that because I’m proud of it.”

When asked why he never retired, his answer is simple.

“Because I like what I’m doing.”

Schaad says he fell in love with writing when he was about 10 and his parents bought him an Underwood typewriter for Christmas. Earlier that year, his mother, a singer, had pushed him to sing in the church choir and play piano. Schaad says he wasn’t very good at either.

“I was a lousy singer,” he said. “And the director of the church choir said I would turn the Presbyterian congregation Catholic if I sang.”

Piano didn’t work out well, either. His teacher said Schaad had “good, long fingers, but no idea what to do with them.”

So, his mother figured Schaad could practice typing. She instructed him to write her a letter each day, which he did, reluctantly. But soon the letters became longer, and he started reading newspapers.

Throughout his teen years, he contributed to the “Junior Page” of the Paterson Evening News, where kids could submit their writing in hopes of winning movie tickets. He also became a fan of a reporter at the New York Evening World, Albert Payson Terhune, who also wrote a number of books about dogs. Schaad wrote Terhune a fan letter, and told him he wanted to be a writer.

In a short note, Terhune told him to keep writing every day, and to read whatever he could. Schaad said he cherished the note, but it eventually it was lost. Schaad says he offers similar advice to cub reporters today, along with “Be curious.”

Instead of going to college, Schaad started as a copy boy at the Paterson Evening News Sept. 2, 1939  the day after Hitler invaded Poland. The position was unpaid, he remembers, a practice that is still common for new reporters. He would run finished stories from reporters to editors in the newsroom, manage the newspaper’s “morgue” (the library and archive) and write obituaries.

When he got lucky, he would be sent out on assignment to get a photo or a quote from someone in a crowd during a political rally.

Eventually, Schaad was taken on the staff of the Patterson Evening News, where he would stay for 30 years. For a little over three years, though, he was drafted into the army during World War II, where he served in Puerto Rico, writing for the military.

“I tell my kids I was sent to Puerto Rico to fight the mosquitoes,” he jokes.

After the war, he covered the courts in Paterson for the Evening News writing about some high-profile murders. He was able to interview Harry Truman after his presidency, and thrived in what he calls journalism’s “golden age.” He would later “get sand in his shoes” and come down to Cape May County, where he wrote for the Cape May County Herald, freelanced for The Press of Atlantic City and Philadelphia Inquirer, and became part of the Gazette-Leader staff.

“I like to think that everybody has got a good story,” Schaad says.

Today, Schaad rarely sees the newsroom at the Gazette-Leader. If he did, he may be disappointed. There are no more typewriters, and the phones are quieter. The papers aren’t printed here, either. Even on a Wednesday, when the staff rushes to put the papers to bed, sometimes there is silence as paginators build pages and editors read over copy. 

Schaad works from a home office that was converted from a bedroom, typing away on a computer. He admits that without the Internet, he probably wouldn’t have been able to keep writing.

But technology isn’t the only thing that has changed journalism, he said.

“There’s no more competition,” Schaad said when asked about the differences between then and now. “There aren’t that many papers around, and a lot of stories aren’t being covered.”

He said that in sports, better competition makes for better teams, and that the same goes for journalism.

He remembers a time when the competition between the Paterson Evening News and the Paterson Morning Call was so fierce that he planted fake copy at the court house’s press room to catch a reporter he thought was stealing his stories.

The fake stories were ridiculous  a woman who was divorcing her husband because he was a Nazi and made her do a Nazi salute each morning; the county freeholders had decided to turn the jailhouse into an ice rink.

But he was right about the other reporter lifting his stories, and the Call ran them. He remembers his editor questioning in a fury why the Paterson Evening News didn’t have the stories, which Schaad knew were false.

“See, everything wasn’t always better back then, especially with ethics,” Schaad said.

As newspapers like the Press of Atlantic City are sold, and print readership declines, many question if the death of printed news is upon us. The Pew Research Center cited that print advertising fell for a sixth consecutive year in 2012, and not by just a little – it dropped $1.8 billion, or 8.5 percent, in a slowly improving economy. It also reports that newsrooms are continuing to use skeleton crews to cut costs.

Schaad said he doesn’t know what the future holds for print journalism.

“I don’t know whether or not it’s dying, but it’s definitely hurting,” he said. “It’s not as profitable as it was.”

But even in Schaad’s prime, journalists were rarely rolling in it. His first job he started at $10 a day.

“I always say you don’t get rich in journalism, but you get rich in experience,” he said.

While Schaad, like many reporters, didn’t become a Bob Woodward or a Helen Thomas, he said that the “bird dogs” of journalism  the ones who spent late nights at zoning board meetings and covering fires – should be proud.

“I like to think that I’ve made a contribution of some sort,” he says.

Schaad will celebrate his 92nd birthday Oct. 22, and says he will continue to keep writing as long as he can. A few years ago, he wrote about his experiences in a book called “No Time to Retire.”

“If I’m still around in five years, I’ll write a sequel,” he said. “And I’ll call it ‘Still No Time to Retire.’”

Jake Schaad, fourth from the left, takes notes during a press conference in Puerto Rico during World War II. Jake Schaad, fourth from the left, takes notes during a press conference in Puerto Rico during World War II.
While Jake Schaad was in the Army, he helped create The Daily Peep daily newsletter for soldiers to give them an update on what was in the newspapers. Here, he works on a typewriter. While Jake Schaad was in the army, he helped create “The Daily Peep” a daily newsletter for soldiers to give them an update on what was in the papers. Here, he works on a typewriter.

 


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