William J. Keating – a man remembered as a giant in Cincinnati’s political, publishing and legal professions – died Wednesday at the age of 93.
Mr. Keating was a former congressman, editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the first name on the door of Keating, Muething & Klekamp, a prestigious Cincinnati law firm. In 2007 he was named Great Living Cincinnatian.
I worked at the Enquirer from 1982 to 2012. and Bill Keating was always in the papers, even when he was no longer a publisher.
He and I became friends even though I was president of the Newspaper Guild’s Enquirer Unit for a number of years.
The following column was published on WVXU.org in February 2018. It tells of the day my friendship with Bill Keating began, when he performed an act of kindness to a nervous young reporter I will never forget.
If you look back on a long time working in the same place, this is usually the first day at work that you remember the most.
The nervousness. The overwhelming desire to impress. The first time you have to go to someone and ask where the toilet is.
In other words, your general imbecility.
That first day is something to remember.
But for me, it’s the second day I’ve worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer that I remember most.
I had this job for 29 years, six months and two days before I retired early. I was “retired” exactly 13 days before working for Cincinnati Public Radio and 91.7 WVXU.
I remember my first day here very well – April 25, 2012.
But at the Enquirer it was my second day – October 12, 1982 – that stuck in my mind.
I had come to Cincinnati from the Troy Daily News, an 11,000-copy daily in Miami County, about 75 miles north of Cincinnati on I-75.
I was there for five years – at the time my longest stay ever – and I honestly loved every minute of it. Great city, great people to work with. Even though I had around 15 different titles (typical of small town newspapers), I studied every day.
But like most young reporters, I wanted to work on a bigger stage for a bigger audience. And a bigger paycheck – my income rose 250 percent the day I moved from the Troy Daily News payroll to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Besides, it was Cincinnati.
When I was a little kid growing up in Dayton, our family went to Cincinnati for only one of three reasons – to see a Reds game at Crosley Field, go to the Cincinnati Zoo, or spend a day on Coney Island.
We stayed at a Sharonville motel on a magical weekend and did all three!
When I was a kid, I really believed Cincinnati was a place for everyone to have fun! Red baseball! The zoo! An amusement park!
Cincinnati was my happy place.
So of course I worked like Dickens to get a job there.
At the time, it was rare for someone from a non-Gannett newspaper to be hired by the Enquirer. The first time I was passed over.
But Jim Delaney, the subway editor, told me to sit tight and he would call me the next time he had an opening.
This happened about eight months later when a reporter volunteered to switch from local news staff to business staff.
Success! I got into another round of interviews and Delaney called me a few days later to say I was hired!
I went to happy place!
After a Friday night farewell party at our editor Jim Morris’ and a weekend move with my father and brother-in-law dragging my newly bought furniture to Cincinnati, I showed up (in the mandatory suit and tie of a newly hired male employee) and left on Monday morning to work.
I was told my regular shift would be from 2pm to 11pm with a lunch break. And I was told that one of my jobs would be to handle the controversy over the construction of the Zimmer nuclear power plant in Moscow, Ohio, since regular reporter Ben L. Kaufman was on leave.
I was named the Enquirer’s Immediate Expert on Nuclear Power. Funny, I didn’t feel any smarter.
Two of my colleagues, David Wells and Marilyn Dillon, were kind enough to walk up to me at my desk while I was arranging my pens and notebooks and asked if I would like to go to lunch with them. Chinese. Hunan’s house on Seventh Street.
They both became good friends of mine, but I don’t think either of them probably remembers the kindness they showed the newbie that day.
Does not matter. I do. Will always.
I went back to the office and found David Lowery, the assistant city editor, who ran the day counter and was waiting for me with a press release from the Miami Valley Power Project, the group leading the case against the Zimmer plant.
I read the legal report the group filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, tried to reach Cincinnati Gas & Electric, the main company building the facility, and couldn’t get any comment.
I knocked out a short 12 paragraph story and named it a day.
The next morning I picked up the newspaper and was amazed.
My story was on the front page!
True, it was at the bottom of the front page. But it was on the front page and a brand new reporter who had a front page story on his first day at work was as rare as chicken teeth.
It just didn’t happen.
I couldn’t wait for my afternoon shift to start. I remember strutting into the newsroom, hoping everyone would notice the only local message on the front that had the line Howard Wilkinson that day.
The headline was banal: Group Movements to Hear New Room.
The lead was even worse: The Miami Valley Power Project (MVPP) released on Monday what it sees as “new evidence” of a cover-up by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in its investigation into William H. Zimmer Nuclear Power.
But it was on the front page!
I was sitting at my desk basking in my own splendor and dreaming of what new worlds I would conquer when I saw Lowery storm onto my desk.
Lowery was a good guy and a great editor. But he played the role of a tough guy in the newsroom. He didn’t talk to young reporters; he barked at her.
Suddenly I found him yapping at me:
The publisher wants to see you in their office!
What? I felt like I had been hit in the head with a rubber mallet.
Not tomorrow. He wants to see you NOW! Go!
I got up and went to the elevators. Suddenly I was sweating bullets.
What have I done? Did I screw something up? Oh no it is! I am fired! My second day at work!
I went to the field office of publisher Bill Keating, one of the most influential men in Cincinnati. Former City Councilor. Former US Congressman. Great lawyer. A powerful, powerful man.
His assistant Marty smiled when I walked in and I introduced myself.
Mr. Keating will see you now, she said.
I shivered like a leaf and went to his wood-paneled office. He was sitting behind his huge oak desk with a faint smile on his face.
How do you like it here, Howard?
Oh, I said it’s wonderful, everyone is so nice; It’s so easy to work with everyone. And I think that’s a strange way of firing someone.
I read your story this morning.
Here it comes, I thought.
Bill reached behind his chair and pulled out a metal plate like the one used for printing newspapers. It was the plate from the front page of that day.
He gave it to me and told me he had called the press people at the print shop and asked them to mail it.
I thought you should have this, he said. It’s not every day that a reporter gets a cover story on his first day at work. In fact, I can’t remember it ever happened!
I wanted to fall on my knees, grab his ankles and cry. Thanks for not firing me!
But I stayed cool and thanked them profusely before going back to the newsroom with my front page sign.
I could see Lowery sitting there with a big grin on his face. He knew all along why I was being called to the publisher.
And Bill Keating? A true gentleman. He was doing something he didn’t have to do to make a young reporter feel wanted. I admired him and have considered him a friend ever since. Even when he was a publisher and I was the president of the newspaper union.
Incidentally, I worked at the Enquirer for about 11,700 days.
I think I must have passed parole.
This story first appeared on February 17, 2018 and has been updated.
Read more about “Tales from the Trail” here.