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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 26, 2000. All rights

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Jim Fitzsimmons’ Lessons: From the Business Beat

<B>Jim Fitzsimmons says the bookends of his career,

as business editor of the Trentonian, were the development of the

Carnegie Center and Merrill Lynch’s Hopewell campus. He began on the

Trentonian’s business desk in 1979, when plans were just being drawn

for the Carnegie Center, and he is retiring this year, just as Merrill

Lynch is building a huge campus in Hopewell.

"If I picked an entry point, it would be Carnegie Center, and

if I picked an exit it would be Merrill Lynch," he says.

"There

are lot of similarities. At that time, people were saying we were

having too much development, and the people in Hopewell are saying

the same thing today. But I don’t see any way you are going to stop

it. Once you open the box as they say there is no way of putting the

lid back on it."

Bill Mate of the College of New Jersey and Tim Losch of

Yardville National Bank will help Fitzsimmons celebrate his retirement

and his 65th birthday on Tuesday, August 1, with a "heavy hors’

d’oeuvres" reception at the Trenton Country Club. Cost: $75. Call

609-771-2393 or send a check to "Friends of Jim Fitzsimmons,"

attention c/o Tracey Destribats, Yardville National Bank, 2465 Kuser

Road, Hamilton Square 08690.

"Twenty years ago, who would have imagined that we would have

this huge growth of offices and the housing and the road networks

that went with it? The Route 1 climate changed, and the building boom

would forever change the face of Mercer and Middlesex," says

Fitzsimmons.

"I had no idea what the Landises were talking about," he says

of the Carnegie Center developers’ early plans. "It looked like

there would be four medical arts buildings and that would be the end

of it — and yet they are still building on that site."

In the ’80s the business pages of the two Trenton dailies were not

as strong as they are now. "It was mostly strikes and labor

disputes,

and most papers were throwing a lot of wire copy on the business page.

If there was a good local story they were taking it up front,"

he remembers.

He went through three different publishers, each with a different

view of how the business page should be. "Being nice to

advertisers

is not necessarily selling out," he says, "but I don’t think

we should be a shill for advertisers."

To set up equitable coverage guidelines, he promised to cover the

launch ceremonies for almost any size business, whether it was a

corporation,

a retail store, or a dining establishment. "They could be

literally

the mom and pop stores, certainly the restaurateurs — they always

had an entree in the Trentonian. There was hardly ever a restaurant

that opened in Chambersburg that didn’t call me first and I would

come running to them, because that was a big part of our readership.

Any retailer got ample coverage in my 21 years there."

But sometimes he was pressed to do stories that were not newsworthy,

such as one on an anniversary or renovation of a store. "I won

most of the time, in spite of desperation for that bottom line

dollar,"

he says. "I covered the openings, gave them a good sendoff, with

background on the company and where they hoped to go, and that was

it. I didn’t want to hear about them again."

Some business writers go out of their way to obtain a counterpoint

to every point raised in a story. Not Fitzsimmons. He mentions a story

he did on Yardville Bank in the early 1990s. "They fell into some

problems, were creeping on the edge of insolvency, and they brought

in a new team, with Pat Ryan as CEO. I told what he wanted to do,

how he thought he could turn the bank around, that he had some pretty

lofty goals, and that it was going to be tough to reach these goals.

I told the background, but didn’t call three experts to say whether

he could be successful; the forum was his."

Ryan told Fitzsimmons it was the first solid factual story on what

the bank was trying to go, and that his story helped the bank turn

the corner to success.

Fitzsimmons grew up in the northeast (West Oak Lane) section of

Philadelphia.

Both of his parents died before he was 18; but somehow he managed

to go to LaSalle College, working a night job as a copyboy at the

Philadelphia Inquirer. "In those days we copyboys were really

a pair of legs, moving copy from one basket to another, rubbing

shoulders

with the old grizzly reporters," he remembers. "It was

humbling,

but they befriended us and taught us a lot. I learned more in those

four years than from any journalism course I could have taken."

After graduating in 1952 he worked at the Doylestown Intelligencer

and the Bordentown Register before moving to the Trenton Times. From

1968 to 1979 he worked on the copy desk and was sports editor. An

old friend, Emil Sloboda, was named editor of the Trentonian

and asked Fitzsimmons to fill the slot on the business desk. "He

said to come for 90 days, and if you don’t like it I’ll find something

else for you."

Reaching for the grassroots sometimes doesn’t gain favor with

publishers,

he notes. "They would rather see you do a feature on Barnes

& Noble than one on second hand bookstores. But some of the best thank

you notes and the most sincere ones were from the `little people,’

who would probably never place an ad in the paper. They were the ones

who give you the greatest satisfaction."

— Barbara Fox


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