There is a nice interview with Larry Merchant over at The Ring. I wish that Joseph Santoliquito, the interviewer, went deeper into Merchant’s memorable career as a newspaperman, but hey, at least he touched on it. Good job:
The Ring: What led you to journalism?
LM: My parents didn’t understand why I went to journalism school, and they tried to figure how you make a living out of that (laughs). But what I think helped me was my senior year at Oklahoma, I was sports editor and editor of the school daily. My senior year, I wrote a piece for Sport Magazine on Billy Vessels, who was becoming the Heisman Trophy award winner. I got paid $250, which was a lot of money at that time, and my parents took a deep breath and maybe they thought I could make it (laughs). But my first job was as sports editor of the Wilmington News, in Wilmington, N.C. I wrote a lot about fishing, what they caught and what they caught it with. I’d go fishing with Captain Eddie for sailfish. That sort of stuff (laughs).
I was 23, a one-man sports staff. I have vivid recollections of that time. Then an interesting thing happened. I was there for just three or four months, because I used a photo of a black second baseman in the sports section. When I picked up the newspaper later that day, where that photo had been was a blank space. When I went into the office the next morning, the managing editor took me aside and said, “If Jackie Robinson hits five home runs in a game, you can put his photo in the paper, otherwise we do not have photos of Negroes in the newspaper.” When I went back to my apartment, I got a big jar and started to fill it with my change every night. When it was filled a few weeks later, I bought a tank of gas and left town. That was it. I went back home and got a job at The Associated Press, and went from there to the Philadelphia Daily News as an assistant photo editor around 1955.
The Ring: Your big break came soon afterward, right?
LM: There was a lot of transition going on at The Daily News. I was in the generation that looked at sports differently. The Daily News was housecleaning for financial reasons, and they made me sports editor. I was 26 and reflected a newish sensibility, heightened by TV — we assumed that fans knew the score when they picked up the newspaper. We wrote about the sports scene and what was behind it, about the athletes as personalities and people as well as athletes. My column was called “Fun and Games” to convey the idea that it isn’t life and death for us, that it’s entertainment we are passionate about.