It was a bit of a dump, really. And it was near the Edgeboro landfill, so it sometimes smelled like a dump if the wind blew in just the right direction, especially for the smokers who prowled outside.
But the Home News Tribune office in East Brunswick was a special place, and all sorts of things would happen there.
The office closed Tuesday as the Home News Tribune, which has been in Middlesex County since it was established in 1879, moved to the Somerville office of its sister Gannett paper, the Courier News. As our June 11 Grapevine column reported, it would not have been possible to fit both newsrooms at the Somerville location just a few years ago. But times change.
I used to be an accountant, and if I had heard one of those offices was closing I'd say, “Eh. Whatever.” Frankly, the most vivid memory I have from any of those offices is sitting at my boss' desk one day and telling him, “Hey, I'm quitting because I'm going to grad school for—get this—a journalism degree.” But it's almost like a wedding vow to run through the memories in that Home News Tribune building, and maybe that's appropriate as some former colleagues remembered entering that newsroom as a young single kid and leaving, years later, married and with kids. There are in sickness and in health memories of colleagues (or their young children) facing major illnesses—and those staffers still helping to crank out a paper each day. You remember the for richer or for poorer stuff, ranging from the heady days when colleagues were leaving (and their positions were actually refilled!) for those new dotcom journalism jobs and they would “let it slip” how much more money they would be making, to the layoffs and furloughs that followed too few years later as everyone realized it wasn't so easy to monetize news on the web.
People have swapped stories, memories and general lamentations in the week or so since the move was announced. But here's the thing: we did this mostly on Facebook. I guess if it was way back in the 70s or something, we'd have met at a diner and pointed to a newsroom-closing story in that day's paper, which had landed in the driveway with a thud (and back then it was a thud instead of a soft swoosh). But now people are reading their news feed, not their newspaper.
I was in East Brunswick last night so I went by the office to take a picture of the building for this blog post. I had only been back two other times since I left the paper five years ago. I ran into someone who let me in to look around, escorted, one last time. I came upon a desk stacked with multiple copies of about 15 special projects the Home News Tribune had done. I was horrified that they had been left behind, seemingly forgotten: the 9/11 special edition, the Elias series by Jerry Barca, the special ed features on page 1 by Arielle Levin Becker (now Arielle Harrison because of the Rick Harrison she met in that newsroom), the 12/31/99 special sections, and more. In those piles were two special sections about New Brunswick I had worked on with my best boss ever, Todd Bell. I held the one covering the 2001 implosion of the New Brunswick Homes public housing towers, and remembered the project from start to finish. How I had naively asked, “Maybe we could do a special section” about a week before the implosion (it was only after it published that Todd told me how utterly insane an idea that was, and that you just don't decide to do a 10-page special section a week ahead of time). And finally how we sat there on deadline at 10 p.m., after starting the day's live coverage at 6 a.m., our brains fried, trying to come up with the lead headline—the last thing we had to do on the section—with me throwing out a string of any word I could think of that was semi-related to the implosion and Todd, as always, pulling it together and making it work.
I stood in that deserted newsroom, by that stack of special projects, holding that newspaper, and I remembered.