GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – When he joined the staff of The Glens Falls Post-Star in 1988, Ken Tingley had already worked at four newspapers across three states. At all of them, like at The Post-Star, he wrote for the sports page.
“In fact, while I was there, I would say to people that I couldn’t imagine a better job.”
Today, Tingley can see the irony of that statement, as he talks about the new book that chronicles his work in the second half of his career – the one that started the day his time at the sports desk came to an end. It’s not about hard-fought local victories and tearful losses on the football field or the hockey rink, but it is about the stories Tingley has heard, chronicled, and never forgotten.
Tingley’s book is “The Last American Editor: Chronicling Life, Death, Triumph, and Tragedy in a Small Town.” It’s a collection of columns he wrote starting in 2008, nearly a decade into his 21 years as The Post-Star‘s editor.
“I would get calls from someone wanting to pitch me a story, and I would send them out to the newsroom, but they wouldn’t get done because ‘oh, it’s a good story, but I have all these other things going on,'” Tingley recounted on Tuesday. “So, right around that 2008 period, I decided when I get those calls, I’m gonna go do those stories and make sure they get done.”
Each story a chapter
And so it began. “The Last American Editor” opens with one of the first stories Tingley ever decided to take the call on – one he wound up going back to chronicle two more chapters over the subsequent years.
“We all have a story, a path filled with turns and twists that is our life,” Tingley writes in the column “Teacher, Pastor, Counselor,” first published March 23, 2008. “This is Paul Mead’s story. We all have made wrong turns, tripped, fallen, but Mead didn’t just take a wrong turn, he fell off a cliff – almost literally.”
The story that follows is of the fallout of a construction accident that broke Paul Mead’s ankles, put him in a wheelchair, and led him down a years-long path of drug abuse and eventual recovery. Tingley recounts how Mead found Jesus and started out a new job as a janitor at Gospel Lighthouse Church in Hudson Falls.
Today, he’s the senior pastor at that same church. Although Tingley’s first column on the man nicknamed “Pastor Paul” certainly got to that destination, the two were far from done with each other.
“I feel like we’re connected in some ways,” Tingley said. “Ten years after that first column, he invited me to the church because they were celebrating 10 years of him being the pastor there. When I wrote that first column, it was all about the guy being into crack cocaine, and being homeless, and ruining his life and being a mess; and then, 10 years later, he’s got his family back, he’s the head of the church, his mother’s there.”
Tingley says that taught him that the end of one of his columns is far from the end of the story.
P.S., I know you
That lesson informed another crucial part of “The Last American Editor.” Each column comes with a “P.S.” section, which follows up on the stories of survivors, veterans, immigrants and every other type of story Tingley has chronicled.
In the case of Pastor Paul, the P.S. for Tingley’s second column – about the aforementioned church visit – talks about an emotional phone call he had after publishing. For some others, the P.S. acts as a mark of hope at the end of a story defined by hardship.
“You think you’ve got problems, pull up a chair. Erica Thomas has a story that will park your complaints in an orbit with Jupiter. The 26-year-old single mom comes to the door of her subsidized two-bedroom Queensbury apartment, looking fit, vibrant and ready for a fight.“‘A Painful Diagnosis’
Those are the opening lines of “A Painful Diagnosis,” written by Tingley on Sept. 24, 2008. The column tells the story of Erica Thomas, a then-26-year-old single mother living with multiple sclerosis and numerous other conditions. The column is a profile that goes through it all: how many pills Thomas was taking per day, how much it stung to be unable to work, and how hard it was for her to let her daughter, Desiree, see her like that.
“This summer I brought her with me to physical therapy and it just about tore me apart,” Thomas says in the column. “I’m struggling to spin on the bike or lift 15 pounds with my legs and she is there, ‘You can do it, Mom. You can do it.’”
The column is a frank telling of a hard life. The P.S., on the other hand, shows the beacon of hope Thomas got after her story was told. Tingley recalls the day the column was published, being contacted by everyone from a car dealership offering to fix Thomas’ car for free, to a Glens Falls woman offering to give her a ride to get groceries.
Tingley made sure those messages and over a dozen like them got to Thomas, but after that, he lost contact until he began working on “The Last American Editor.” For every column he selected to be part of the book, Tingley spent time researching, reaching out, and doing whatever it took to get the next chapter after what he had come to learn wasn’t really an ending.
That was tricky in the case of Erica Thomas. Tingley couldn’t find her on social media, and no longer had the old email they had once corresponded through. Eventually, he found her daughter, Desiree, mentioned in The Post-Star, in the honor roll at Queensbury High School.
Tingley found Desiree on Facebook and dropped her a line. She was only 7-years-old when the column was written, and Tingley had no idea whether she would remember him.
“She said, ‘Oh, absolutely.'”
When Ken reconnected with Erica, he found out she had remarried – he hadn’t been able to find her because her last name had been changed to Perkins. She had two more kids, and her condition had improved. She went nearly a decade without having to take medications. Although that decade ended when lesions appeared on her brain in 2017, and she was in the process of a divorce when Tingley reached her, there was a hope in the conversation that the original column never could have predicted.
And even the P.S. wasn’t the real ending. At a reading at the Book Warehouse in Lake George, Tingley got a surprise visit.
“I see this young woman coming down the aisle, limping a bit, and it’s Erica,” he recalled. “She’s got the leg braces from her M.S. and everything, and she comes over and we get our pictures taken. Later on, on Facebook, she posted that this story, about her, saved her life. That the community rallied around her and it changed her life forever, and she met so many kind people who helped since then.”
The next part, he tells with a chuckle.
“That’s why we do this work.”
Who does the work next?
When Tingley joined The Post-Star in 1988, he crossed paths with Don Metivier; a reporter he describes today as “a Jimmy Breslin type.” Before leaving, Metivier assembled his own collection of columns, published by the newspaper itself. Tingley says the idea to do something like “The Last American Editor” was in his head from then on.
He hopes his own book will inspire others in the same way, and reveal things about their hometown region that they might not know otherwise. That’s a type of work he worries is dying out as newspapers – including his stomping ground at The Post-Star – decline in both staff and readership.
“These are the types of stories that aren’t being done anymore,” he says. “So who does this kind of work in the future?”
The stories of Pastor Paul, Erica Perkins and over 80 others fill the book. Each one is a living document, with a heartbeat Tingley has heard throb every time he’s seen a response to one of his columns. Including the last one.
“Oh, the people I have met. And the arguments I have had. And the love I have been shown, especially over the past two weeks from so many readers who took the time to say simply they would miss reading my words.”
Those lines are from the final column in the book – and the final one Tingley would ever write at The Post-Star. “Editor Finds a Future Looking to the Past,” published on July 19, 2020, is one part reflection, as Tingley muses on how lucky he’s felt to have met all of those people along the way.
The future the column’s title speaks to is one Tingley found while stepping away from the newspaper for a time in 2019, when his wife was fighting ovarian cancer. He describes staying up late, after his family had gone to bed, and seeking that future in the very columns he’s now assembled into a book.
“I think I found that. It was the work I had been doing for the past 21 years. It was those people I had worked shoulder to shoulder with, so many of them, who told the stories of this community so well and made it better. There is a bigger story here and it should keep me busy for some time.“
As for the future of the type of work, Tingley knows that the stories of individual lives will still be told by media, even if print isn’t leading the charge anymore. But gone are the days when everyone in a family would spend 20 minutes reading the news every morning. Tingley worries that the loss of time people are willing to dedicate to following the news can lead to a full-on information shortage; especially when they’re not willing to pay money for accurate reporting.
“I think it’s really incumbent upon local citizens to say, ‘If I’ve got to pay some money, I’ll ante up to support the local media,'” he said. “Any local media, whether it’s your local newspaper or your local TV station.”
Ken Tingley’s own future has been plenty busy in the year and change since he retired. He’s holding readings for “The Last American Editor” regularly – one last weekend at Northshire Bookstore, and one at Glens Falls Community Center after speaking with NEWS10 on Tuesday.
He’s also working on a second book, “The Last American Newspaper,” chronicling some stories from his 32-year run at the Glens Falls Post-Star. As his final P.S. in “The Great American Editor” notes, Tingley watched the staff size at the paper shrink from 50 to just 8 people in the span of 15 years. The second book is set to release early in 2022.
But that’s a story for another day. For now, Tingley takes joy and satisfaction in the stories he’s collected even while giving public readings – like a local man who recently approached him and recalled a 30-year-old sports story he wrote, that described a goal the man hit in a school game, with words he never forgot.
“In the newspaper business, you write things that go into the public and you don’t know if they have any effect, but here’s a basic game story I wrote 30 years ago that made the difference in a young man’s life. That’s just good for your heart.”
“The Last American Editor” is available in local bookstores, Glens Falls museums and historical societies, and on Amazon.