Hines Sight / A friend, mentor and exemplary journalist
Published 9:05 am, Friday, January 7, 2011
Long before there was Woodward and Bernstein, there was Harold Hornstein.
The Washington Post duo, which brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon during the Watergate era and had their story told in the movie "All the President's Men," glamorized investigative reporting and the newspaper business. By the time of their fame, however, Harold already had been uncovering malfeasance and keeping politicians honest in his blue-collar, working man's kind of style.
Harold, who was one of the kindest and most professional journalists around, died on New Year's Day at the age of 90. I was among the fortunate people -- and journalists -- to have worked with him and learned from him. Harold was the last of a generation of journalists my generation of journalists looked up to and was mentored by.
Harold worked for me for a brief period of time when I was editor of this newspaper and when the Fairfield Citizen still covered Easton, where he lived with his wife, Patricia Hubbell Hornstein, who was born there. Pat is an accomplished writer in her own right -- penning numerous books of children's poetry. Harold always was elated when his wife had a new book ready for publication. He was the first to boast.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Harold served for four years in World War II after graduating from Brooklyn College and enlisting in the U.S. Army. He was a member of an anti-aircraft gun crew. I remember telling him that my father also served in the Army in an anti-aircraft artillery battalion. Following the war, he attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism, earning a bachelor's degree in journalism.
He worked as an investigative reporter with the Columbus Georgia Enquirer, where he covered Phoenix City, Ala., known as "Sin City." Although a young journalist, his work from 1948 to 1952 helped to lead the paper to winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1955 for the cleanup of city. When he moved to the Northeast, he was the news editor of the Westport Town Crier, then was county and assistant city editor of the Bridgeport Post. After 18 years as the editorial writer for the New Haven Register, for which he also wrote a weekly column called "Our Connecticut," he retired -- but not for long.
In addition to his stint with the Fairfield Citizen as a reporter and feature writer, Harold worked for the Westport News, covering education and also copyediting young reporters' work.
Harold loved being around people who wanted to talk about newspapers and journalism or the articles they wrote or were working on. If you shared his passion for the business, you were his friend. Same thing for those who were avid sports fans.
Christina Hennessy, a former editor of the Westport News now with the Stamford Advocate, told me in an e-mail when I asked her for memories of the man who worked for her, "He offered his advice and expertise in a way that was supportive, yet utterly directed. He helped me to put what was often a very crazy week into perspective. Even when I had felt as if I had failed whole swaths of people, he reminded me that every day had its share of successes and to dwell on the failed expectations did a person little good.
"And he remained so positive and passionate about the business of news -- about its worth to society. He often spoke of his hopes that young people would continue to consider it a vocation, even with the doom and gloom that has hovered over the industry in recent years. In fact, I remember a recent article that he had read, which told the story of a bunch of young people considering degrees in journalism. It completely raised his spirits. He told me he had been considering letting one of his subscriptions slide, but instead renewed, in honor of this next generation."
He was inducted into the Connecticut Journalism Hall of Fame in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists. In the program describing his contributions to our industry, it stated in part: "His stories and editorials have helped conserve the environment, improve safety at summer camps and dealt with a myriad of other issues important to readers in Connecticut.
"Harold Hornstein has collected a number of journalism awards over the years that are testament to his dedication, persistence and talent ... but perhaps the one dearest to SPJ is the 1992 Stephen Collins Public Service Award. That is given to only one news organization in the state each year. Harold's stories about elementary school buses led the Westport Board of Education to institute safety monitors on the buses. He has also passed along his craft to many young reporters at various papers and taught as an adjunct professor at Southern, the University of Bridgeport, the University of Hartford and Gateway Community College."
As for winning the Stephen Collins award, Dieter Stanko, who was a reporter at the same time as Harold at the Westport News, remembers that a few weeks after an 8-year-old girl was killed when a school bus ran over her in late 1990, he had been covering the story from the police and court angle. In an e-mail, Dieter wrote, "Harold ended up talking to some sources (he was covering education) about the possible need to add safety monitors on school buses and he asked me if he could write about that. I was too inexperienced to see the potential there, so I said sure.
"Well, he ended up writing a massive amount of stories about the bus monitor issue. I don't know how he did it. Every week a new angle. Unreal. Eventually, Westport got school bus monitors and Harold won the Collins award for public service journalism. All by himself.
"I was at the SPJ awards ceremony when they announced that not the teams of reporters from the Courant or the Register but a weekly reporter was the winner. I'll never forget the look of stunned amazement on people's faces!"
That was Harold -- constantly surprising people. A number of us were surprised when we learned that he used to dabble in boxing, too. Both Dieter and I remember him doing boxing moves in the newsroom.
Among his other awards was a first-place one he won from the New England Press Association with former Citizen reporter Debra Estock in 1998 for their extensive coverage of the preservation of the 800-acre Trout Brook Valley in Easton and Weston.
Harold's life will be celebrated at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Easton Public Library, 691 Morehouse Road. I am sure a number of people in attendance at the celebration will be thinking how lucky were to have known him. But nothing more aptly describes Harold and his contributions than the sentiment expressed in the SPJ program when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame: "Harold Hornstein exemplifies the word `journalist.' He is an inspiration to all of us. He has dedicated his life to explaining Connecticut to his readers and we are all better for it."
Patricia A. Hines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also can be followed at http://blog.ctnews.com/hines.