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The Hard Way: The Odyssey of a Weekly Newspaper Editor.

IF YOU EVER WANTED to chuck your job and become the editor of a small-town newspaper, this book is for you. And if you ever wondered whether writing editorials really makes a difference, this book is for you, too.

"Sandy" Brook was a Wall Street business executive who longed for the simpler life in 1958 when, without newspaper experience and no New England ties, he decided to quit his job and buy a weekly newspaper in Kennebunk, Maine. The Kennebunk Star, which he purchased, was then an inconsequential, four-page paper limited to reprinting news releases and town gossip.

After Brook moved his wife and three small children up north and took over the paper, he found himself up to his eyeballs in challenges . . . from operating the newspaper's rickety press to encountering a storm of reaction when he sharpened the reporting of the paper. The terror and necessity of having to make ends meet provided incentive to keep going: Brook said that in the first two years at the paper he got no more than four hours' sleep a night.

After a particularly tough day during which injured matrons of the town canceled their subscriptions because of imagined slights, Brook put in the front page banner, "T.H.W.T.B." It meant "to hell with the bastards," but when asked, Brook would say it meant "the hard way is best."

The best part of the book is the editorials, which are quoted at length. They challenged the entrenched power of local governments and fought the development of the pristine York County coastline.

The editorials were remarkably prescient. In 1962, Brook wrote: "Thirty years from now, unless we act with vigor and intelligence, you will hardly be able to recognize coastal York County. We must take steps to save our trees, our streams, our woods, our marshes, portions of our shores. We should be restricting development in ways that would shock even many dyed-in-the-wool conservationists, ways so far-fetched as to be unmentionable now, before we take our first tottering infant steps with zoning and plumbing codes.

"The megalopolis that spreads from Washington to Boston is traveling northward at about five miles per year. It will be in New Hampshire within a decade. If you don't like suburbia, you can always move farther East. Unless you wake up. You! Wake Up! ..."

Brook, with the distance of years, calmly reflects on the political fights he won and lost, some by a few votes, and the editorials that covered subjects large and small: questioning the pronouncements of a local bishop, defending the town gadfly, fighting to save a small church from being overshadowed by construction of a huge water tower, and taking on corrupt sheriffs, politicians, and arrogant developers.

In the 20 years he owned the paper, Brook increased the staff from 4 to 70, expanded its circulation to cover all of York County, and published 80 pages a week. Brook bought the paper for $30,000 and sold it for $1,650,000 in 1978. But it wasn't easy.

Brook keeps all but a few superficial references to his personal life out of the book, but I couldn't help but wonder what working so hard for so many years, and coping with countless money worries, had to do to his family life. In any event, Brook left his mark on New England . . . and on journalism.

NCEW member Maura Casey is associate editorial page editor of The Day in New London, Conn.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Casey, Maura
Publication:The Masthead
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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