By BRUCE FRASSINELLI
Special to The TIMES NEWS
This year, as I observe my 50th year in the communication business, I recall with a certain embarrassment my incredible boldness that took me in this career direction.
It was May 1966, and after six years of working in radio, I applied for the opening of Monroe County bureau chief of The Express (now The Express-Times), a 50,000-circulation afternoon daily in Easton.
The veteran reporter, who had held that position for more than 10 years, had decided to go back to college to become a teacher.
Of the hats I wore as program, news and sports director of WVPO-AM-FM in Stroudsburg, my news hat fit best and was most satisfying. A newspaper is where I could learn best what I loved to do.
Associate Editor Don Keith interviewed me, then took me to see President and Editor Don Diehl.
Both thought my background was perfect for the job, but when it came time to talk salary, Diehl flinched when I told him I was making more than The Express was paying the reporter who was leaving.
As much as I wanted the job, I told Diehl I would not take a salary cut, despite my lack of newspaper experience.
I made him this offer: Pay me the salary I wanted ($25 a week more than the departing reporter was making). After three months, if he didn't think I was doing the job well enough, he didn't have to pay me anything. He agreed. We shook hands. I made the cut: I was at the newspaper for nearly 26 years before being promoted to the publisher's job at The Palladium-Times in Oswego, N.Y., in 1992.
(Please do not try this today with a prospective employer.)
Although I would be stationed in our news bureau in Stroudsburg, about 30 miles north of Easton, Keith turned me over to the other associate editor, Parnell Lewis, for training and orientation at the main office in Easton.
Lewis had a menacing demeanor, and he instantly terrified me. He reminded me of a bulldog lying in wait.
On my first day on the job, after an intensive seven hours, it was now early afternoon, shortly after deadline.
"Frassinelli," the bulldog barked. I picked up my Reporter's Notebook and dutifully trotted up to the city desk.
"We just got a tip that Kraft, the big food company, is looking to build a plant near Nazareth," Lewis announced. Nazareth, home of auto-racing greats Mario and Michael Andretti, is a community of about 8,000 some 10 miles from Easton.
Chomping on an ever-present cigar, Lewis added: "Go find out what it's all about." After this terse directive, Lewis resumed editing an article in front of him.
My mind was racing like one of the Andrettis' Indy-type cars. I wasn't even sure I could find Nazareth on my own. Who had this information? Whom was I supposed to talk to? Was there a contact at Kraft?
I stood there, fidgeting uncomfortably and staring at Lewis pleadingly, but he seemed oblivious to my plight.
Finally, he looked up. "You got a problem?" he asked unsympathetically.
"Uh, well," I stammered. "Where did you get this tip?" I asked. "Do you have a contact, a phone number?"
Lewis appeared impatient. "Look, I don't know much more about this," he said with a wave of the hand. "All I know is that Kraft plans to call the plant Cheeses of Nazareth.
I looked puzzled.
A slight smile spread across Lewis' face.
Laughter erupted throughout the newsroom.
Finally, I got it: Kraft Foods. Cheeses of Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth.
Stooge that I was, I fell for Lewis' favorite pull-one-over-on-the-rookie joke.
The second day on the job, I spent half of the day in Easton. Lewis said he was tired of babysitting me and ordered me to Stroudsburg to open the bureau office, which had been locked since the previous Frid.
Traffic was stopped about a half-mile from the crash scene. A state trooper I knew was on traffic control and waved me in. As I came to the crash site, I couldn't believe it. The cab of the huge tractor-trailer was buried two-thirds of the way inside one of the cottages at the Bushkill Falls House resort. Fortunately, the cottage was unoccupied at the time.
I had never taken a news photo in my life. The Super Graflex used 4-by-5-inch film concealed by a plate. Pull out the plate, aim, focus, shoot. Put the plate back in to protect the film. Turn the plate to the other side and repeat the process.
Thinking I would rarely use the photographer, Chief Photographer Will Shively gave me only two plates, so I shot just four frames and hoped for the best. My second day on the job, and here I was taking a photo of a major accident.
I returned to my car and drove the film 45 miles to Easton to be processed, then returned to Stroudsburg, got more information on the accident, filed the story by Teletype and went to cover several night meetings.
I was back to work the next morning at 7:30 a.m. The bulldog told me to write a caption for the photo. "You mean it actually came out?" I asked incredulously. "Yeah," Lewis replied gruffly. "Beginner's luck," he mumbled. I didn't care. I was overjoyed.
When the paper came out that afternoon, I nearly fainted. The photo was in the middle of the top of the front page. I read and re-read the photo credit line "Express photo by Bruce Frassinelli."
A short time later, the phone rang. It was the bulldog. "You did a pretty good job on that accident," he said. I got a chill - that's how excited I was.
To this day, I marvel at the irony and improbability of my first big story. I was hired as a reporter with the camera given to me only as an afterthought. My first public acknowledgement in print was not for a bylined news story but for a credit line for a photograph.
(Bruce Frassinelli, a native of Summit Hill, lives in Schnecksville and is an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College.)