By: Nu Yang
Before there were social media editors, multimedia visual journalists or data officers, there were newspapermen like Sid Hartman and Charlie Hoag. Hartman, 93, and Hoag, 74, recently celebrated a major milestone, having served at the Minneapolis Star Tribune for a combined total of 120 years.
Now a sports columnist, Hartman started at the Star Tribune in 1947 (“I think, I’m not sure,” he said) when he was 26 years old. He began selling papers at age 11 downtown until he quit school in the 10th grade after he got a circulation job at what was then the Minneapolis Tribune.
“I had known Dick Cullum, who was sports editor of the Minneapolis Times at the time, since I was a kid,” Hartman said. “He gave me a job as kind of an intern.”
Hoag came to the Star Tribune in 1961 all because he raised his hand. While a student at the University of Minnesota, Hoag’s graphics class professor said the paper was looking for interns in the retail advertising department.
“I raised my hand, said I was interested, came down to the paper and got hired,” he said.
Hoag climbed his way up the advertising ladder until he became vice president of sales in 1996. Although he “retired” in 2006, he still serves as a sales consultant. It’s only supposed to be a part-time position, but he works a full day at the office every week.
“I teach new dogs old tricks,” Hoag said. “I tell them eye contact, not iPad or iPhone. Face time, not Facebook.”
Hartman’s day includes doing sports updates on three radio shows in addition to visiting his sources. “Today, I visited the (Minnesota) Vikings office, I visited the University of Minnesota athletic department…if there was a baseball game, I’d probably go to that.” He also writes his column four days a week.
While today’s journalists seem to jump at new opportunities, that’s not the case with Hartman or Hoag.
“There were other opportunities, one in New York,” Hartman said. “But I liked it here and they were good to me. I had no reason to leave.”
Hoag said he had offers to move into the agency world, but chose to stick with newspapers. “On the agency side, you’re filling in the sandwich. You’re part of a sales organization with hundreds or thousands of companies…I prefer where I’m at.”
Both men agree that the Internet changed everything in the industry.
“It was a huge game changer especially in the mid-90s,” Hoag said. “We let the boat leave the dock when we decided not to charge for it like our print product.”
Hartman said, “Years ago, if they had a strike, they would still need about 200 people to put out a paper, now they can put it out with 20 people.”
Despite the challenges, they see good things coming from newspapers, especially at the one for which they work.
“While other papers are suffering, this paper is prospering,” Hartman said. “The only thing they don’t have now that they had years ago is $50 million a year in classified ads, but they do have a lot of things they didn’t have. They have Internet advertising and these pull-out ad sections they put in the paper. That makes up for at least part of the lack of want ads.”
Hoag added, “We’re going on our fourth year of profitability. We have sharp leadership in place. Our digital and circulation numbers are up because of print and digital subscribers.”
Looking back on their long careers, they said they wouldn’t change anything. “(I have) over 60 years in the newspaper business and more access to sports events and people than anybody in the history of the game,” Hartman said.
Fun fact: Hartman was instrumental in getting the Lakers basketball team started in Minneapolis as a professional franchise. “In those days every beat writer had a side publicity job, so I was allowed to be general manager of the Lakers team that won six NBA championships, and I was also involved in the Chicago Zephyrs and Baltimore Bullets, and ran both of those teams. I did this with the blessing of management, something you could never do today.”
Hoag described himself as a “glass half full guy,” but he knows there are good and bad days; that’s just how the industry works.
“I have Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ and a politically-correct sign that says ‘Poop Occurs’ hanging in my office,” he said with a laugh.
When asked what the future holds for them, both men said they had no plans to leave the paper. “Unless I’m fired or my health fails me,” said Hartman.
Hoag’s response? “I’m going to work until I die.”
Three Questions with Sid and Charlie
What advice would you give to your older colleagues?
Hartman: Continue to do what you’re doing.
Hoag: It’s not hard to keep optimistic.
What advice would you give to the next generation of newspaper leaders?
Hartman: Don’t take a newspaper job unless you like what you’re doing.
Hoag: You have to enjoy the sales culture and the place you’re working at. Hang with it and the work will be fulfilling.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave at the Star Tribune?
Hartman: That being first and right in any story is the most important thing.
Hoag: That people will say, “He did what he said he was going to do.