For a local kid, growing up in Geneva, the arrival of the Finger Lakes Times on your porch every afternoon was a key part of small-town life. From the birth announcements through the Police Beat and onto sports and the obituaries, Geneva, we now more fully appreciate, was blessed with an aggressive and probing first draft of local history.
That it was owned and operated by Sam Williams, a man whose vision was as focused on Moscow and Tokyo as it was on Bellona and Penn Yan, was an added idiosyncrasy — also best appreciated now through a filter of decades. This had to be the only small-town newspaper in America that regularly ran two open pages of political and world opinion. Each year Williams would hand his beloved editorial pages over to friends he had made from Pravda and allow them to try and explain their Russian view of the world.
The paper also was the launching pad of many journalism careers, and when I first walked in as an intern in 1975, I had no idea it was about to launch my own. Still, as I moved on from Geneva to Rochester to St. Petersburg and on to San Diego, I never found in those larger venues the kind of local focus and understanding that was the heartbeat of the Finger Lakes Times.
In San Diego, with Geneva very much on my mind, I started a special Sunday section I called “Passages.” Its whole purpose was to try and capture at least a sense of the intimate knowledge and caring that a true local newspaper delivers. “Passages” chronicled birth announcements, new and long marriages, and thoughtful obituaries. I realize now I spent much of my long newspaper career trying to recapture in large towns the joy I first learned doing journalism in a little city in upstate New York. I’m not sure Genevans realized what a gem it had coming off the presses in downtown every day.
I still consider myself a journalist and I still love seeing my byline from time to time in the Finger Lakes Times.