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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 26, 2000. All rights
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.
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."
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
"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
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 went through three different publishers, each with a different
view of how the business page should be. "Being nice to
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
a retail store, or a dining establishment. "They could be
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
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
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
with the old grizzly reporters," he remembers. "It was
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
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
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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