What comes to mind when you hear the word “grit”? Gravelly dirt or maybe determination? When I hear the word “grit,” I think of the smell of printer’s ink from Linotype machines and the clack-clack of teletype spitting out the latest news from Associated Press or UPI. I hear current events at the dinner table. I remember being advised that no story covers the whole story, and that even photos do not give us a 360-degree perspective. I hear sirens, and see my dad leave the dinner table, go to the big black rotary phone on the desk, dial and say, “This is John Davis over at Grit, whatcha got?” Then, if we’re lucky, we all would jump in the car and chase the latest fire or accident in our town of 50,000, Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Susan Davis Doughty grew up in Williamsport, Pa., where her father, John B. Davis, was the second generation of the family to edit Grit. Known as “America’s Favorite Small-Town Newspaper,” it published local, state and national editions. Photo courtesy of Susan Davis Doughty

My dad, John B. Davis, was the editor of Grit, as was his father, Howard R. Davis, before him. The paper had been owned by the Lamade family since 1882, and Detrick hired my grandfather in the early 1900s out of eighth grade to be a copy boy. He saw great potential, loaning my grandfather great books from his library so they could discuss them when he finished. My grandfather worked his way all the way up through city editor, managing editor and editor, and was a guest lecturer in journalism classes at Penn State.

My father graduated from Penn State in 1936 and followed in his father’s footsteps to work for AP. Small-town life held more appeal for my dad to rear his family, so he moved from Albany back to Williamsport with his wife and small son. He worked his way up at Grit and taught classes at Penn State as well.

In the ’50s, when my twin sister and I were little, he would take us into the office. Immersed among countless desks all in one big room, we would go into the press room and watch the typesetters place lead letters in line. In high school, when Dad was the editor, I remember dinner-table current events sessions discussing the shooting down of Gary Powers’ airplane, and hearing that our government did not always tell the whole story to American people in the interest of “security,” teachable moments for me with respect to the Fourth Estate.

I remember seeing ads for Grit in the back of Boys’ Life that said, “SELL GRIT WIN PRIZES.” Gene Autry sold Grit! My sister and I were judges for an annual coloring contest. “America’s Favorite Small-Town Newspaper” had a local edition, a state edition and a national edition of thousands with 1:6 readability, meaning that about six people read each edition sold! As the paper became computerized, Dad found jobs for all the out-of-work Linotype setters. Watching “Lou Grant” as an adult took me back to the Grit newsroom in Williamsport.

Today, Grit, sold nationally, has evolved into a glossy magazine “celebrating rural life,” looking nothing like the newspaper I remember. But it persists!

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