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Editorial - Remembering Joe Harp

June 16, 1997

To hear Joe Harp tell it, getting a job at The Herald-Mail was almost an accident. Due in Hagerstown that day (March 28, 1926) for a dentist's appointment, he decided to check on a job he'd heard about at the newspaper. He got the job, a reporter's post that paid $15 a week, beginning an association with this company that lasted for 59 years and a friendship with this community that continued until his death on Monday at age 89.

Calling someone a "legend" today doesn't mean what it used to, but it's an apt description of Joseph M. Harp and what he meant to local journalism. His career began at a time when copy still came into the newspaper in Morse code, to be deciphered by a telegraph operator. It ended five years after the newsroom was completely computerized. Harp walked everywhere, at first by necessity because few staffers in the 1920s could afford a car. Later it was by choice, so he could keep in touch with everybody from the mayor to the cop on the beat.

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He did not complain about hardships, like having to shinny up the side of the building to gain entry on Sunday afternoons when his editor (carrying the only door key) was late in returning from out-of-town trips. That was just part of the newspaper business, Harp said, like the sad duty reporters once had of informing local people that a loved one had died.

He held a variety of positions during his tenure here, and co-workers described him as someone who cared about getting the story right and about the need for the reporters to use language people could understand, instead of trying to impress readers with their knowledge.

As an editor, he taught good writing without belittling reporters, and his colleagues from those days say he rarely if ever lost his temper, showing all who knew him that it was possible to get the story in (and the paper on the street) without being disagreeable.

Those work habits, practiced over a lifetime of service to this company and the community, enhanced The Herald-Mail's reputation as a fair and accurate news organization. For that we thank you, Joe. You surely will be missed.

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