By Matt Ern, Staff Writer
John Long was destined to become a journalist. For some people, saying they were raised in a print shop would just be a figure of speech, but Long has quite literally been surrounded by newspapers and the printing business since his birth. His father ran a small paper back in Fredericktown, Ohio called the Knox County Citizen and his parents kept baby John in an old, faded, wooden barrel in the shop that acted as a playpen.
The memory of that print shop lives on as the building is preserved as the Main Street Free Press Museum. Lots of the old printing presses and equipment are preserved in the museum.
In 1943, at three years old, John was employed at his father's print shop for ten cents a week to carry little blocks of lead from one end to the other. The lead, which he called "pigs," looked similar in shape to gold bars.
As a boy Long could only carry one "pig" at a time but as he got older he was able to carry one in each hand. Eventually he graduated to sweeping up in the shop and when he was in 6th grade his father had him write his first story for the paper. He also learned how to operate the presses.
Because he grew up seeing the hard work and long hours his father had to put as a newsman, when it came time for Long to go to college he was looking at anything but journalism. He originally went to school intending to become a Methodist minister but in the late 1950s he switched to political science instead.
Long was inspired by the Kennedy administration and it seemed like there were more opportunities to do good in the world through political means than religious ones. He dropped out in his junior year to hitchhike across the country to Washington, D.C. He would stay there for five years, working with the fledgling Peace Corp.
While in Washington, Long got married in 1964. Two years later, he would have to return home because his father suffered a heart attack and needed help running the paper. For his return trip Long wouldn't be hitchhiking, though. He flew, which he described as a triumphant way to return home.
Long spent the next year editing the Knox County Citizen for his father and also started up his own weekly paper. "Weeklies are an incredibly important part of the American scene," Long said.
Unfortunately, his wife found it hard to adjust to small town life in the Midwest and they eventually divorced. Long mortgaged everything he had left so that he could return to school and finish getting his degree. Despite working for his father's paper for the past year, he still had no plans to seriously pursue journalism.
While finishing out his senior year in 1967, Long met a journalism professor named Verne Edwards who would inspire him and change the course of his life.
"I always respected the work that my father did, but journalism didn't catch fire with me until I met Verne," Long says. The two became great friends and Long would go on to get a job at the Columbus Dispatch after graduation.
Edwards suggested he move on to a bigger paper, and recommended the Louisville Courier because of his faith in Long's skills.
Long got the job and stayed at the Courier for thirty years. Despite the long journey that brought him there, Long found he loved journalism and took it to heart. "I never regretted making it my career, it's an extremely interesting field," Long says.
After his time at the Courier he would meet a woman from New York and eventually move there to be with her, taking the job at the Wall Street Journal copy desk.
In the many years since his father first started the Knox County Citizen the paper has since shut down, but Long has kept the legacy of the paper alive by turning the print shop into a museum. When his father became ill Long and his close friend Scott Smith rushed to finish the museum as a surprise before he passed.
Despite Long's distance from home while living in New York, Smith says he still "participates strongly in the community" there. Smith is Long's "local go-to guy" for anything dealing with the museum or the family while he's in New York.
The building is a historical landmark in the town. Smith has close ties to Long, his wife runs the weekly paper that Long started. "In his eyes, I'm someone reliable and we really hit it off," Smith says.
Smith is raising money for a new community center and got local boy scouts to volunteer to paint the outside of the museum. There is a big street fair every September where the museum is opened up to the public and Long returns each year for it.
Few people have had the opportunity to be so immersed in something the way Long has been in journalism since he was a child. The experiences he had growing up were invaluable in shaping who he would become and how good a journalist he would be.
"It's really in his blood," says Betsy Ashton, who served with John on the board of the Society for Professional Journalists. "He was a newsman since he was born."
Long is now retired, although he keeps busy by freelancing and is now teaching at Hofstra as well.