By Jason Motlagh | Photographs by Justin Merriman for American Reportage
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — From Pittsburgh, we embark for the nearby city of Youngstown, a once-thriving steel and manufacturing center in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley that has fallen on hard times.
But first, we need a shot of caffeine. So we stop by Pittsburgh’s historic Strip District neighborhood, a long-time locale for food wholesalers. These days there’s also million-dollar condos and upscale restaurants. Facebook, Uber, Argo AI, and other companies have offices there.
John Tambellini (left) talks with Oriente Sciulli (right) outside of La Prima Expresso Co. in Pittsburgh’s Strip District on Sunday, May 16, 2021. The group gathers every Sunday to talk, play cards, and drink coffee.
There we meet Carmine Lombardi, who witnessed the transformation over the decades. Lombardi immigrated to America from Italy as a boy. His father was a blacksmith back in the old country. Lombardi has lots of frank opinions to share about the state of the nation.
He is saddened by the pervasive disinformation perpetuated by certain news media that amplified the lies of our former president and his loyal followers on Capitol Hill, and the way in which minorities are vilified for some of America’s ills.
Carmine Lombardi, 78, talks with journalists Carmen Gentile and Jason Motlagh outside of La Prima Expresso Co. on Sunday, May 16, 2021.
“I criticize America, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it,” he says.
We thank Carmine for sharing his insights, then hop on our motorcycles to make the 70-mile journey to Youngstown.
Along the way, we enjoy a mild spring day, rolling past weather-beaten barns on old farmsteads.
In Youngstown we meet with Bertram de Souza, a legendary journalist and fellow eyepatch wearer whose reporting and columns informed, entertained, and sometimes infuriated the region’s readers for decades.
That is, until recently, when his newspaper, the scrappy Youngstown Vindicator, closed after 150 years in operation.
It was the newspaper of record for thousands of people in this former industrial region, once known as “Steel Valley.” Its last edition was published on Aug 31, 2019 and the name was acquired by new owners.
Veteran newspaperman Bertram de Souza stands where the presses of the now-shuttered Youngstown Vindicator once printed the newspaper on Sunday, May 16, 2021 in Youngstown. De Souza continues to work out of the empty building, where he wrote a book on his nearly 1,600 columns and produces a podcast. The newspaper closed on August 31, 2019 after 150 years of operation. De Souza worked as editorial page editor and a columnist. He watched the dismantling of the press at the paper. “Newspapers are disappearing, one by one,” he said, adding that he fears what it means for our communities.
Bertram was gracious enough to give us a tour of the Vindicator’s facility, guiding us through the cavernous, multi-story, cinderblock space where the printing press once churned out the daily edition.
Now the room sits hollow, engulfed in silence, our voices echoing off the ink-stained walls.
He opines about what happens to a nation with so many local newspapers like the Vindicator either closing for good or slashing budgets to the bone.
“The increase in political ignorance in this country is directly related to the decrease in the number of newspapers,” says Bertram, 70, whose career at the Vindicator spanned 40 years.
He adds a warning about what happens when an institution like his paper dies leaving no one to hold the powerful and elected to account: “When the Vindicator goes away, the rats will come out to play.”
I nod in agreement, my heart heavy, seeing how this once-proud, truth-telling institution has gone silent.
Carmen Gentile is founder and editor-at-large of Postindustrial. He has worked for some of the world’s leading publications and news outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, CBS News and others. His book, “Blindsided by the Taliban,” documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan.
Justin Merriman is a freelance photojournalist who has traveled the world to cover politics, wars, natural disasters, civil unrest as well as covering assignment throughout the United States. His work has appeared in leading national publications and he has received multiple top journalism awards. Justin is a founding member of American Reportage.
By Carmen Gentile | Photograph by Justin Merriman for American Reportage
By Carmen Gentile
By Photographs by Justin Merriman for American Reportage