By DANIEL KITTREDGE John Howell had owned the Warwick Beacon for less than a decade as the snow began to fall in early February 1978. At the time, the paper, which is now published twice weekly, was still printing a single edition each week. It hit
John Howell had owned the Warwick Beacon for less than a decade as the snow began to fall in early February 1978.
At the time, the paper, which is now published twice weekly, was still printing a single edition each week. It hit stands on Wednesdays – just in time for the Thursday shopping rush – and work was well underway on that week’s issue when Howell and the rest of the staff realized conditions outside were rapidly deteriorating.
Grabbing his camera, Howell trekked from the Beacon’s Meadow Street office to Centerville Road. He took some shots of the chaotic scene that was unfolding – one he remembers as filled with cars spinning out and motorists working to free their vehicles from the fast-accumulating snow.
In the moment, Howell was glad to have captured images of the storm for the week’s paper. But it soon became clear that the story had only just begun to unfold.
“I thought, ‘Oh, good, we’ve got that all solved,’” he recalled. “Head back in, paste everything up, get it all printed – and we couldn’t get [the paper] out of the building.”
The Beacon was far from alone in being stuck. People whose cars had become stranded on Interstate 95 or Centerville Road began streaming into the paper’s offices, many asking to use the phone. As the storm wore on, it grew apparent that those visitors would be unable to safely leave.
For those who know Howell, how he handled the situation will likely come as little surprise.
Retrieving his cross country skis from the back of his car, he journeyed to the Cumberland Farms on Post Road. He returned with a mail bag filled with “as much bread as I could buy” – along with peanut butter, milk and other basic items “so that we could feed these wanderers who were lost in the storm” – before departing again, this time for City Hall, to continue documenting what was clearly going to be a momentous story.
He remembers meeting up with Joe Walsh, at that time Warwick’s mayor, and following him to Warwick Central Baptist Church, which had opened its hall and kitchen to feed weary, stranded travelers. “Joe,” he recalled, “went to work opening up cans of Dinty Moore stew to feed all these people.”
Howell then rode with Warwick Police officers to various parts of the city, bearing witness as neighbors worked together amid one of the greatest natural disasters the state has ever experienced.
“It was quite the scene,” he said, adding with a laugh, “And the paper finally got out like a week later.”
Richard Fleischer, general manager of Beacon Communications, had been with the company for roughly five years when the Blizzard of ’78 struck. He remembers the experience as formative, both in his own professional life and his relationship with Howell.
“Our staff stayed. Our staff slept on the floors and slept at the presses, and we printed the damn newspaper…That to me said, ‘Oh, that’s what newspapering is all about,’” he said.
The first edition of the Warwick Beacon published under John Howell’s ownership arrived on Dec. 5, 1969 – which, he proudly noted, was his daughter’s first birthday.
Its lead stories include debate over a planned high-rise apartment complex, as well as coverage of the latest developments concerning the proposed construction of a highway called Route 895 and a new mid-bay bridge – neither of which ultimately came to pass.
At the bottom of the front page appear two items – one under the headline “Warwick Beacon Bought By Rhode Island Corporation,” the other with the title “A Change Already.”
“You’ve noticed. This week’s issue of the Beacon is larger,” the latter item reads. “A bigger newspaper is not all the Beacon’s new owners have in store; more changes will be coming.”
What exactly did Howell and his business partner, Anthony Ritacco, have in the store?
“In the making are separate sections with increased coverage in sports and society. Photographs will play an important role in both these areas,” the item reads. “When feasible wedding photos will be a full four inches wide (they were two inches wide) and providing there is adequate space wedding stories will include a description of the bride’s gown and the bridal bouquet. A column listing recipes is planned.”
The Beacon – first published in November 1953 by William M. Honig, who owned the publication until its 1969 sale to Howell and Ritacco – has seen countless more changes since. So, too, have Warwick, the state of Rhode Island and the local media landscape.
The constants have been Howell, the Beacon’s publisher and editor, and the paper’s mission.
“We’ve never missed a press day, even when presses have caught on fire…That’s a point of pride to me. Certainly it is to John,” Fleischer said.
“John, he’s more than an icon,” said Joe McGair, a Warwick attorney who formerly served on the City Council. “He really would always set the record straight…everybody got a fair shake from him, regardless of who they were. And he’s still the same way, and I think that’s good for Warwick.”
Politics, not journalism, at first drew Howell’s focus as a young man embarking on his career.
After graduating from American University in Washington, D.C. in 1964 with a degree in political science, he sought employment with New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who was then making a bid for the presidency. While he didn’t initially get the job, he began volunteering for the governor’s campaign – and soon after was hired as a staff member, starting in D.C. and then as part of the California primary team.
After Rockefeller’s candidacy foundered, Howell joined the campaign of U.S. Sen. Bill Scranton of Pennsylvania, who he said “picked up the banner” of the GOP’s more moderate wing before falling short to the eventual nominee, U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona. He then joined the campaign of U.S. Sen. Kenneth Keating of New York, who was defeated by Robert Kennedy in the 1964 election.
“So I was sort of a three-time loser when it came to politics,” he said with a laugh.
Howell began to seek a job in public relations, but it became clear that, for most employers in that field, experience as a journalist would be a vital prerequisite. Based on a recommendation from one interviewer, he visited the offices of the Port Chester Daily Item in Connecticut – and it just so happened one of the paper’s reporters had recently left.
“I walked in at the right time,” he said.
Howell spent two years at the Daily Item, mostly covering Greenwich, with which he was familiar from his youth and where his family lived. At the same time, as the Vietnam War escalated, he joined the Air National Guard and was assigned to a unit based in White Plains, New York.
The unit flew supplies to the front in Southeast Asia, and Howell found a story he wanted to tell – a “really sort of good local connection,” as he describes it. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in Connecticut had collected sporting goods for delivery to the troops abroad, and it was through the White Plains base that the items would be transported.
He got the editor of the Daily Item to keep him on payroll in exchange for dispatches from Vietnam – and then was activated for the mission by his base commander, who was hoping to highlight the installation’s work as the Department of Defense eyed its potential closure.
Howell remembers his time at the base in Vietnam, where shelling and rocket attacks had left holes in the runway. He saw the command center from which air strikes were coordinated and the portion of the facility that housed Viet Cong prisoners.
“I was at an age where this was all pretty exciting stuff, and I wasn’t really afraid of anything,” he said.
In some ways, Howell said, the trip was “sort of like a homecoming.” Soldiers from the Port Chester area were familiar with the Daily Item, making for a quick connection. His stories for the paper, meanwhile, were syndicated through the Gannett chain.
In all, the trip took less than three weeks, with just five days in Vietnam. “I probably did the shortest tour of anybody in the war,” Howell said. Regardless, it was “quite an experience.”
The job at the Daily Item led to a new opportunity as editor of the Manchester, Connecticut, bureau for the Hartford Times, an afternoon newspaper that at the time had a greater circulation than the Hartford Courant. The bureau chief title, however, belied the reality of the new post.
“It was basically a one-man show,” Howell said.
Eventually, an advertisement in Editor & Publisher caught Howell’s attention. An editor was sought for a weekly newspaper in Rhode Island – a place with which he had no familiarity whatsoever. He responded to the ad but heard nothing back. Then, about four months later, he got a call from Walter Rutman, publisher of the Jewish Herald in Pawtucket and the East Providence Post.
“I didn’t want to really show my ignorance. I wasn’t sure where Pawtucket was,” Howell said with a laugh.
After a meeting with Rutman, Howell was offered and accepted the East Providence position. He and his wife, Carol, moved to Riverside.
It was at the Post that Howell met Ritacco, an East Greenwich resident who served as the paper’s advertising manager. Together, they were responsible for a “grab bag of stuff” related to the paper’s operations – everything from writing the stories to making the deliveries.
Soon, Howell and Ritacco saw opportunity in nearby Seekonk, Massachusetts, and they lobbied Rutman to start a new publication in that community.
Then, after about eight or nine months, another prospect emerged. Honig, they learned, had put the Warwick Beacon up for sale.
The asking price for the Beacon was $40,000 – a sum neither Howell nor Ritacco had readily available.
Between them, they were able to put together $16,000. The rest of the money, Howell said, was raised through a stock debenture plan that provided investors with regular dividends – a step taken to ensure the partners would not become minority owners of their new venture.
“In less than a week’s time, we raised the money, and in some cases from total strangers,” Howell said. “The word sort of traveled a little bit…We called on family and friends, and that helped as well to come up with the funds.”
At the time, the Beacon’s office was located at Apponaug Four Corners next to a New York System. The site now houses a Cumberland Farms.
Howell recalled working through the night, eating breakfast next door and then driving the flats for the paper to Pawtucket, where he and Ritacco’s former employer printed the Beacon. After transporting the papers back to the office, he and Ritacco would distribute them throughout the community.
Howell remembered scooping the Providence Journal-Bulletin in his first edition of the Beacon as a moment of particular pride. In those days, he said, the state’s paper of record was a “real powerhouse,” with dedicated Warwick bureaus, a local staff of roughly five reporters and a citywide circulation of more than 23,000. The Beacon, by comparison, had a circulation of roughly 7,000 – a figure that would peak at approximately 12,000 in the years ahead.
“It was a very competitive environment for newspapers, and I think a really healthy situation when you look at it, because everything was covered, from PTA meetings to obviously the same things you do today with council and school committee, and everything in between…They were very aggressive about covering everything, and that really kept us on our toes,” Howell said.
In addition to changing the size, structure and content of the Beacon, Howell and Ritacco had other ambitions. They started a Seekonk paper, the Sentinel – although Rutman, upon learning of the move, started his own competing publication, the Seekonk Star, which launched a week earlier. At some point, the Sentinel was sold to Rutman.
Other papers followed in the years and decades to come. A Providence weekly that eventually became East Side Monthly joined the Beacon’s portfolio, as did Newport This Week. Later, the company purchased the Cranston Herald and Cranston Today, which were merged under the name of the former. The Herald, along with the more recently acquired Johnston Sun Rise and Coventry Reminder, remain part of Beacon Communications.
In keeping with their expanding reach, Howell and Ritacco started their own printing business, Beacon Press, which ran out of the Beacon’s second office location on Meadow Street. After a few years, the men decided to split the operation, with Howell essentially trading his share of the press for Ritacco’s share of the newspaper. That, in turn, led to the Beacon’s move to its third office, located across from Warwick City Hall in the building now occupied by the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.
In the years ahead, the Beacon became a twice-weekly paper – stemming, Howell said, from the fact that its number of pages had grown to the point it could not be produced quickly enough.
Additionally, as it moved away from outdated production methods, the Beacon in some cases found itself on the technological “cutting-edge” of the industry, such as when it obtained a machine used to automatically read and justify news copy.
At a time when newspapers flourished, work and play often went hand in hand.
“We used to have some outrageous times,” as Fleischer put it.
Or, in Howell’s words: “We did some sort of crazy stuff, too.”
Fleischer had been hired by Ritacco in 1972 as a sales representative for the Beacon and soon after took on a supervisory role. When Ritacco turned his focus to the printing press, he suggested Fleischer remain at the Beacon.
“I really didn’t get to know John real well until those two guys decided to split up,” he said.
Fleischer remembers a freewheeling atmosphere at previous Beacon offices – a former editor’s attempts to hurdle a flooded loading dock on Meadow Street in an old Volkswagen, for example, or employees tossing X-Acto knives used in the page production process against the wall in a competition to see who could get them to stick.
“I can’t imagine this kind of stuff going on now,” he said. “It was just a different time, different atmosphere.”
In Howell’s case, while owning a printing press did not become a long-term investment, his foray into that side of the business produced some colorful moments.
In his early days at the Beacon, during regular trips to City Hall, Howell – who, like Fleischer, has an affinity for automobiles – saw a white Cadillac belonging to the city’s treasurer. Then, on another visit, he noticed a black Cadillac, also owned by the treasurer – and bearing the same license plate.
He took pictures of both cars with the same registration. Then, he decided to have some fun.
After all, he said with a smile, “When you’ve got your own press, you can print whatever you want.”
He authored a pun-filled story about the treasurer “not having learned how to use a screwdriver properly,” or something to that effect. He created a mock front page and printed off roughly 20 copies – enough to drop off at the various City Hall offices, as was his weekly routine.
The response was quick.
“It was like I dropped a bomb,” he said, laughing. “I said, ‘It’s just a joke!’ Well, they didn’t take it that way.”
Another printing press prank involved McGair, who had served as city solicitor before running for council and was preparing a bid for state Senate. Howell said McGair was running a series of ads with the Beacon, culminating in a pre-election spread featuring testimonials from supporters alongside the candidate’s image.
Knowing McGair would take walks along a regular route and pick up the paper at a Cumberland Farms, Howell said he printed off several copies of the paper that included a fake ad – one with less than flattering words in place of the intended copy.
Howell visited the Cumberland Farms and made the clerk a party to the ruse. He left the papers on the stand and went home – although later, having second thoughts after a conversation with his wife, returned to the store to retrieve the fakes.
No sooner had he grabbed the papers and placed them in his trunk than McGair approached. Howell said he refused to give the unsuspecting McGair one of the phony papers – which displeased the candidate, to say the least, given his investment.
“Now he’s furious at me. He says, ‘After all the money I’ve spent on these ads, you’re going to make me go in and buy a paper!’” Howell remembered. “I said, ‘Joe, you’re not going to like this.’”
McGair remembers the episode a bit differently. In his recollection, it was a phony front page saying “all kinds of crazy things” that was at the center of the prank, rather than an ad.
“He got me good. He got me really good,” McGair said with a laugh. “I probably didn’t talk to him for a month after that.”
There were other jokes, McGair remembers – some of which he finds much funnier in retrospect.
He mentioned one instance in which officials and reporters were awaiting the School Committee’s budget during a late-night meeting at City Hall. Due in court the next morning and in need of rest, he took a nap on one of the benches. Howell snapped a picture for the paper – printed along with the caption “laying down on the job.”
Then, following an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 1984, McGair received another mock front page from Howell – a framed copy of which he still keeps and which he shared for this story.
“Doctors diagnose McGair malady,” the lead headline on the phony front page reads.
The story continues: “According to medical reports filed Sept. 11 at Kent County Memorial Hospital, Joseph McGair’s political aspirations expired after an acute case of mayoritis…symptoms of this malady can first display themselves as much as a year before an election and include excessive scheming (usually with associates of the same persuasion), outspokenness and a fair degree of self-delusion.”
The joke didn’t stop there. The fake front page, McGair said, was presented as part of a mock Irish wake held in his honor – complete with a casket and his picture on skeleton-shaped balloons.
“John has a sense of humor that a lot of people in politics didn’t realize,” he said.
Ultimately, that sense of humor – the pranks and teasing – came from a place of affection, the product of a playful spirit. At the bottom of McGair’s framed mock front page, there is a handwritten inscription from Howell.
“Joe: You made it fun to cover 1984.”
Along with the high jinks came something much weightier – the responsibility of running a newspaper and all that entails.
There have been dark and disturbing stories to cover, foremost among them the late 1980s murders committed by Warwick teenager Craig Price. Howell remembered those days as “one of the most troubling times for the community as a whole.”
“What really stood out to me was that there was this murderer in our midst,” he said. “Everyone was just on edge.”
Over the years, the Beacon – like most any publication of its kind – has been involved in, or the subject of, legal cases.
Howell remembered suing the Journal after the Beacon began its twice-weekly schedule. The suit, he said, was based on the belief that the Providence paper was deliberately underpricing its own advertising in its West Bay edition in a bid to drive the Beacon out of business. Ultimately, the suit was dropped – and Howell now believes pursuing the matter legally played into the Journal’s hands by straining time and resources.
Another case in which the Beacon was a central player ended up making national headlines, Howell said.
An investigation of fraudulent votes cast for a state senator had led to criminal charges. Howell said the judge in the case, Thomas Needham, ordered members of the media reporting on the proceedings not to use their own background information – in other words, to stick solely to the state’s allegations in their stories.
One of the Beacon’s reporters strayed from the edict, provoking a contempt citation from the judge and what Howell remembered as a “firestorm within the media itself.”
Scant background details about the case could be found for this story, but Howell said other companies, as well as national First Amendment advocates, came to the Beacon’s defense – and the judge ultimately backed down.
“Being a small company and a small publisher, and suddenly having the weight of some major newspaper companies behind you, as well as the freedom of the press group, you realize, these are important things in terms of freedom of the press that people are going to stand up for, and it’s not just a matter of how much money you’ve got,” he said.
Howell and the Beacon have, through the years, been active watchdogs in terms of open meetings and public records issues. He also served for a time as president of the Rhode Island Press Association and has been an advocate for the journalism program at the University of Rhode Island.
McGair called Howell a “real newshound” – one unafraid to ask tough questions, even if it sometimes led to him being “persona non grata” with Warwick mayors. He also recalled a political column Howell wrote, dubbed “The Way I Heard It,” as widely read and influential within the city.
“A lot of people didn’t like being in it, but they wanted to read it to know if they were in it or not,” he said.
In testimonials prepared for a 2017 event honoring Howell for his long involvement with the organization Mentor Rhode Island, other officials and members of the media shared similar sentiments.
Robert Weygand, a former member of Congress, called Howell a “highly accomplished reporter and media executive” and the “epitome of a dedicated community leader.”
Lincoln Chafee, who sat on the Warwick City Council before serving as Warwick mayor, U.S. senator and Rhode Island governor, called Howell an “inspiration with his dedication to his craft.”
“He’s one of a kind,” Chafee wrote. “He’s passionate about his community.”
M. Charles Bakst, a retired political columnist for the Providence Journal, recalled encountering Howell during his early days in the news business.
“Given the challenges facing our country and journalism today, we need this hometown coverage more than ever,” he wrote. “God bless John Howell for devoting a life to bringing news to the people, for immersing himself in community activities, and for finding a way to succeed and endure.”
When asked to describe Howell in a single word, Patti Goldstein, who oversaw public relations for T.F. Green Airport for many years, wrote, “Honorable.”
The Beacon would likely still be based in Apponaug were it not for David Nash, former executive director of the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.
It was the early 1990s, and the Chamber – which Howell had helped to found years before – was located in a smaller building next to the Beacon’s office. One day, Nash told Howell he wanted the bigger building for his organization – and that he had a new home for the Beacon already taken care of.
Howell, in the midst of deadline, did not fully process what Nash was saying. He was, however, quickly reminded of their conversation.
“The next day, I get all these telephone calls from realtors,” he said.
That led to the Beacon’s current home at 1944 Warwick Avenue, which had been built in the 1950s as a supermarket and was being used as a warehouse for beauty supplies.
The building’s entrances and windows were reoriented to face Wayne Street rather than Warwick Avenue. The units closer to the main road were rented, and the Beacon set up shop in the rear of the building – a move Howell said was motivated by the possibility of becoming a daily paper with its own press. He said he is now glad those plans did not materialize.
The Beacon’s latest home, like all three before, has seen thousands of people walk through its doors. The size of the staff, Howell said, likely peaked at roughly 25 employees, and it is not far removed from those levels today.
Many staff members have remained at the Beacon for decades, some having started in the early days of Howell’s. Sharon Robertson, Lynne Taylor, Jerry Charnley, Sue Howarth, Donna Zarrella, Janice Torilli, Lisa (Mardenli) Cohen, Lisa (Bourque) Yuettner, Brian Geary, Linda Nadeau – whether still employed at the Beacon or not, the list of longtime employees is lengthy.
Countless others have moved on to other pursuits. The state’s media and government landscape is filled with alumni of the Beacon and its sister publications. Some, like Joy Fox and Meg Geoghegan, have served as aides to governors and congressmen or become communications staffers with state departments.
“Obviously, that’s been a great network for us,” he said. “One of the things I’ve enjoyed is watching people mature in their positions and move onto something better…When they’re making [a move] for the advancement of their own careers and I’ve had a part of that, to me, that’s a success story and something that I take pride in.”
Fleischer has the unique perspective of being both a longtime employee and someone for whom working at the Beacon opened new doors of opportunity. He said while many people believe he owns a stake in the Beacon, that has never been the case – although, “I’ve always treated it like I own it.”
Instead, Fleischer said, working for and alongside Howell led to his roles with Providence Media and the Rhode Island Newspaper Group, a statewide advertising collaborative.
“Having someone that has given me the freedom to do whatever I want to, to make whatever mistakes I want to, and to get deeply involved in the community as much as I want to, I don’t think would have happened anywhere else…I’ve been very fortunate working here,” he said.
Fleischer’s gratitude extends beyond the professional opportunities the Beacon has afforded him. A year before the Blizzard of ’78, he said, he was diagnosed with stage-four Hodgkin’s disease and given a 1-in-10 chance of surviving. Howell’s response, he said, was that they would do whatever was needed, together, to beat the disease. Fleischer said he is far from alone in receiving that kind of support from Howell over the years.
“That made the whole Howell family part of my family…If you work for the Beacon, you’re part of John’s family,” he said. “That’s it.”
The words of others who have worked at the Beacon offer added testament to the network and legacy Howell has built, both within the confines of the newspaper business and beyond.
In one of the testimonials for the 2017 Mentor Rhode Island event, former Beacon reporter Cheryl Serra wrote: “Good, honest community journalism doesn’t happen by accident. It starts with the person at the top who believes in his community and their right to accurate and unbiased coverage of the place they live and work and raise their children. It is an unshakable commitment to the tenets of a free press.”
Howell’s commitment and enthusiasm, she continued, “became my enthusiasm.”
“John didn’t necessarily teach us how to be great journalists. He modeled it,” she wrote. “No bells and whistles, no self-aggrandizement for John. Just rock-solid skills, common decency, moral integrity, a seemingly superhuman work ethic and an ability to mentor unknowing protégés.”
Deb Weinreich, a communications professional who served as the sports editor for the Beacon and Herald from 1988 to 2000, said it would be “impossible to choose just one word to describe a man who is dedicated, committed, focused, passionate, caring, fair, honest, compassionate, tireless and a mentor.” During a recent phone interview, she added, “He really cares about the community and showcases the local stories, and other people don’t do that anymore.”
In addition to Mentor Rhode Island, Howell is well known as an active member of, or advocate for, numerous nonprofits, organizations and causes, including the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club of Warwick.
Fleischer pointed to Academic Decathlon and the effort to preserve Rocky Point as among the most visible of Howell’s pursuits, but there have been countless others.
“There are so many small organizations, as well as large organizations, that he’s been involved with…If John feels it’s a legitimate organization worth pursuing and worth supporting, everything that the Beacon has to offer, the whole toolkit, is basically put at that organization’s disposal,” he said.
Asked about Howell’s impact on the community, he added, “I think if you were to try to write all of that stuff down, and then say, what kind of effect do I think John has had on the city, you wouldn’t have asked the question.”
It’s no secret – the media landscape is rapidly changing, and newspapers in particular are struggling.
The effects have been painfully clear locally. The Journal, purchased by A.H. Belo Corp. in 1996 for more than $1.5 billion, was sold to New Media Investment Group, parent company of GateHouse Media, in 2014 for roughly $46 million. The years between those transactions saw dwindling ad revenues, falling subscription rates and staff reductions. The local, community-based bureaus, like those with which the Beacon competed in its early days, are a distant memory.
In 2019, GateHouse – which, after the Journal, acquired other area dailies, including the Worcester Telegram and the Newport Daily News – merged with Gannett Co. in a bid to keep both chains afloat in the short term. The troubling trends listed above have continued unabated in recent years, and the future for the Journal and other publications is deeply uncertain.
Still independently and locally owned, Beacon Communications has become a rarity. There are others, too – companies like Bristol-based East Bay Newspapers and magazine publisher Providence Media, in which Howell and Fleischer are partners along with Barry Fain.
Breeze Publications, the company behind the Valley Breeze newspapers in the Blackstone River Valley, was sold last year to a Virginia-based company. The papers have continued their operations under publisher Tom Ward, although the announcement of the transaction acknowledged the need to adapt to a digital environment moving forward.
Howell said, to a degree, the model utilized by GateHouse – in which some common elements of the newspaper process, such as page design and layout, are consolidated – “makes sense.” He believes a similar approach on a “down-scale level” could prove beneficial for the Beacon and similar publications as a means of controlling costs.
At 78, Howell has not slowed down. He is often asked what his future holds and how long he plans to continue what has been his life’s work.
“I don’t know. I really don’t. That’s a good question,” he said. “But I do think…that path to maintaining, keeping what we’ve got here is reducing some common costs between our paper and other papers and hopefully find young people who have passion for doing this and carrying it on.”
Howell is also hopeful that the pendulum will swing back – that in an increasingly ephemeral, online environment, readers will find they “miss the sort of permanence of what they’ve got in the paper.”
Similarly, in a contemporary climate often defined by apathy or disaffection, he is optimistic that people who “feel disconnected from their community will want to feel connected to it again” – and will turn to the newspaper as a means of doing so.
“I think there’s a place for that local connection, and I’d like to believe that people are finding that they are missing something by being entirely dependent upon their digital devices to communicate and for information…There’s still something to be said for that printed copy you can return to,” he said.
That concept, of the printed page’s permanence, is often thought of in terms of cut-out stories and photos hung on refrigerators in homes across the community – prized keepsakes documenting a student’s academic achievement, a Little League home run, a professional accomplishment or an individual milestone.
For Howell, a recent experience illustrated that value in concrete, very personal terms.
“Going through my father’s papers after he passed away, [I found] a clipping that obviously preceded even him meeting my mother. She held an art show in New York, and there was like a three-sentence clipping from the New York Times or whatever paper it was,” he said. “And there it was, in an envelope all these years later, [from] 1930-something. It does have lasting value…That, I think, is cool.”