Monday, June 26th, 2017

Currents to celebrate 25 years

By MARTHA TOWNS

For those of us who have been around for the past 25 years, the story of how Currents came to be has passed into living history and those of us who made that history are still around to talk about it.

Take Hal Douthit, who as publisher of the Chagrin Valley Times, was willing to take a chance on starting a new paper. “I thought it was a crazy idea,” he told me once, “but I figured if you and Terry wanted to give it a try, I’d go along with it.” Terry was the late Terry Skall, editor of the Times, who was sure there was room in Cleveland for a newspaper that would do something that was practically non-existent then — covering the social scene in Cleveland — the face of which has always been the benefits in this city.

All those years of “keeping my hand in,” as I used to say, while raising two daughters, paid off when Terry asked me if I would be the editor of this new publication which we decided to call Currents, in honor of the Chagrin River. This was in February 1985 and we planned to start publishing in the spring. Alas, the new editor, a better writer than rider, went headfirst into a wall while jumping her horse one morning, and compressed a vertebrae in her back. And that is the true story of why Currents didn’t come out until August that year, even though it was dated September. Believe me, we’ve had more than a few discussions about the actual publication date.

Yours truly, notepad in hand, started out on the party circuit with photographer Kathryn Riddle. Terry said I’d only last for a year covering parties. I continued the column I’d been writing since 1962 (first for the Chagrin Valley Herald and then for the Times) and we created an editorial page and gradually added other columns and writers. It wasn’t long before Kathryn not only took pictures but wrote up the parties and we began to add more reporters and photographers. It soon became apparent that not only was Currents providing much-needed benefit coverage, but that people were thrilled to see their pictures in the paper. And, as many of you know, Himself and I still participate in the Social Ramble.

At first, people didn’t quite know what to make of this paper which appeared in their mailbox once a month, but they soon realized it wasn’t a sale flyer from some store. People began to look for their pictures and they began to read the content — columns by top writers such as Les Roberts, Fred and Linda Griffith, Kathy O’Neill, Mark Satola, Diann Scaravilli, Joe Garry and David Frazier, Richard Allen, Cynthia Reece, Jerry Chattman and the late Bill Gerhauser, whose knowledge of old Cleveland society was vast and irreplaceable. Feature stories highlighted some of the most interesting people in Cleveland. Jeff Farr, John Bashian, Rob Wetzler, and Robert Muller came along as photographers and they are still with us.
Frankly, Currents has been the most fun you could possibly have in the newspaper business. What’s not to like about covering parties that raise money for any number of worthy causes? Who could resist the opportunity to visit with all the fascinating people who were willing to sit and share their stories with us?
In the beginning, it was all hands-on. I read hard copy with a fat black pencil and it was set by a typesetter and then sent over to Sandusky to be put down as long strips of copy on a pastup of the actual page.

Then one year, we were all initiated into the wonderful world of computers. Copy came in on computers and was then managed in-house at the Times. We no longer needed to travel to Sandusky for the fun, hands-on kind of operation we experienced there through the early years. Some of us (and I’m talking about you, Kelli) still miss Sandusky days.

And speaking of Kelli McLellan, she came to work for Currents when she still had two little boys to raise. Although she covered parties in the beginning, it was never her first love and gradually she began to be a part of the production team and, for the first time, I had help putting the paper to bed each month. You can see where that led. When my term as editor ended after 18 years, Kelli was ready to step up to the job. She has put her own stamp on the paper but, at heart, it remains the same.

There have been many changes, not the least of which was switching from black and white to full color and from ordinary newsprint to a glossy stock which shows all that color off to best advantage. We started with eight pages and are now up to three sections with sometimes as many as 40 pages. I truly believe we have the best looking ads in town and the sales staff puts in yeoman’s service every month to give us as many pages as possible. Some of our advertisers have been with us since they stuck their necks out 25 years ago to support a brand new publication.
For all these years we have covered as many parties as humanly possible, far more than any other publication in the city. We have seen other publications cease production and have been grateful that we are “stayin’alive” to quote the Bee Gees, in an increasingly competitive business.
We made our name by covering parties but we have always been proud of our columnists and our reporters who have told many of the stories about the people and places in Northeast Ohio.

Just think, 25 years ago there were no cell phones, no tweets or twitters or blogs, no cable channels, just radio, three television networks and, in many cities, at least two daily newspapers. People have drastically changed the way in which they get their news. Some live by CNN, others read the Plain Dealer or the New York Times on their computer screens. At Currents we like to think of ourselves as a worthy alternative to all the hard news stories that come our way every day. In the colorful pages of Currents we give our readers something else to think about.
Hal and Mary Douthit were very much a part of the social scene back in the day and we often saw them at parties we covered. Hal and Mary were social animals and Mary used to write the wittiest of columns for the Times and later on wrote travel stories for Currents. Hal and Mary were the perfect team to be the “parents” of Currents. Today, son Ken has stepped into the role of publisher and daughter Suzie Austin is masterminding our “Cocktails and Confections” 25th Anniversary Party.

“It’s going to be a great celebration,” said Mary Douthit by phone from Sandusky. “Getting to be 25 is a real milestone for a newspaper, these days. I’ve always loved Currents and I love to read it.”

Our sentiments exactly.

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