"JSC engineers face mass transfers," the lead headline read on the Tuesday, April 18, 1995, edition of The Houston Post. Not many would know that, on that very day, the paper's 1,900 loyal employees also faced job disruptions. Yes, it was 10 year ago that we, the Post Toasties, abruptly learned our beloved 111-year-old morning newspaper would be killed off by out-of-towners who cared nothing about Houston and everything about money.
I had been awakened at 8:50 that morning and told to be at an executive meeting in 10 minutes. I arrived after the meeting was over and found a letter from the publisher on the conference table saying The Post was out of business. Armed guards watched over the staff as we vacated the building with our belongings. We were told that guards were also posted at the Houston Chronicle, so not to go there looking for jobs -- they would contact us if they wanted anyone. I went back to the building a couple of days later to clean out the rest of my office under guarded supervision. When I asked for my mail I was told not to bother. I even went back to the paper again to see if I could sift through the mail and pick up my letters, including a check for $1,400. I was not let through the door. Then, after more than 27 years at the paper, I was paid 16 weeks' salary plus three weeks for unused vacation.
Ever since the paper's folding in 1995 there has been the rumor The Post had gone bankrupt. Wrong. Each Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m. I attended an executive meeting where we would go over the paper's finances. Unless our owner, Dean Singleton, was cooking the books, we had made $10 million the year before and had posted a profit 12 of the 15 preceding months. So Hearst, the Chronicle's New York-based owner, has always been careful to say it bought the "assets" of The Post. To have purchased the competition and closed it might have raised questions with the Justice Department, which issued a statement saying the deal was just fine. We are suppose to believe that on the very day The Post ceased operation, Hearst whipped out a pen and signed a check for $120 million to Singleton, who promptly got on his private plane and left for his home in Denver. A lot of newspapers run a last edition, their own obit, when they cease operations whereby the staff bids farewell to its readers. Singleton said such a gesture would be "useless."
Today we have the sound of one hand clapping. This should still be a two-newspaper town, but if any good came from the closure of The Post it is that all those businesses which had refused to advertise in my paper were suddenly - like the next week - hit with a huge increase in ad rates. Hey, when you've got a monopoly, you name your fee. The second change for the better is - wait, let me back up for a moment. As a daily columnist and editor of the editorial page of The Houston Post, I had the best job in Texas. Each morning I would go to work and on my desk my secretary would have neatly assembled a pile of yellow-colored phone message tabs and my mail, opened. Roughly 99 percent of it was hateful, even those signed "Love, Mother." My paper and I were guilty of everything from low morals to high treason. Today those readers have the very same problems and I only wonder who they blame.
At its demise, The Post (The was part of the name) was one of the oldest businesses in Texas. It had been The Daily Post, The Post-Dispatch and had gone bankrupt a couple of times as The Houston Post. But we traced our heritage back to the Telegraph and Texas Register in San Felipe, and in our library I could read old microfilm copies of the paper's news, ads and legal notices sprinkled with names like James Bonham, Stephen F. Austin and William Barrett Travis, who wrote a letter to the editor ending with, "God and Texas -- Victory or Death!!" The paper ran the Texas Declaration of Independence signed at Washington-on-the-Brazos. But its most famous edition was news of the fall of the Alamo. The same issue ran a report about Col. William Fannin and his men being ready to face Santa Anna at Goliad. As Sam Houston's army passed through San Felipe, the publishers, Gail and Thomas Borden, loaded their presses on ox carts and joined the escape. They dumped their presses into Buffalo Bayou and fled to Galveston. Another version has it that Santa Anna's soldiers did the dumping. The April 14th issue of the paper was still inside the presses when it was dumped, and the move caused the Bordens to miss what could have been the paper's biggest story -- the Battle of San Jacinto one week later.
Over the years the paper served as the launching platform for the good, the bad and the Pulitzer. (The Chronicle remains the largest newspaper in America never to have won a Pulitzer, but it's improving.) One Post columnist was William Sydney Porter, who eventually went to prison and there changed his name to O. Henry. Then there was William Cowper Brann, who later wrote, "In the year of our Lord, 1891, I became pregnant with an idea. Being at the time chief editorial writer on The Houston Post, I felt dreadfully mortified, as nothing of the kind had ever before occurred in that eminently moral establishment." He moved to Waco where an irate reader shot Brann dead on the street. Walter Cronkite got his start in journalism as The Post's correspondent at the University of Texas, and for 10 years The Post had a paperboy in Alvin who could plop the paper right on the doorstep -- Nolan Ryan.
Today The Post's building stands mostly empty, only the presses are used. Where is Santa Anna when we need him?
Ashby is pouting at email@example.com