April 20, 2014

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Longtime newsman, C-T managing editor dies at 81

Miller

The first time Nancy Nussbaum met Arnold Miller was in the summer of 1985.

She was a fresh-faced college student looking for a job in journalism to learn the craft. She walked into Miller’s office at The Chronicle-Telegram — it was more like a large cubicle with half walls because he hated to be away from the newsroom — and prepared for the most-important interview of her young life.

But Miller didn’t really have any questions for the undergraduate.

“He basically made me interview him,” Nussbaum said. “He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head and said ‘What do you want to know?’ He basically sized me up as a reporter right on the spot. I really thought I’d blown it, but I got the job.”

Nussbaum, who is now assistant bureau chief for Ohio and Michigan for The Associated Press, credits Miller with launching her career. She is not alone.

In a storied career that spanned 42 years, Miller launched dozens of careers and will forever be remembered as a no-nonsense journalist.

Miller, of Westlake, died early Thursday. He was 81. Services will be 2 p.m. Sunday at the Berkowitz Kumin Bookatz Memorial Chapel in Cleveland Heights.

His death has left many stunned as Miller’s tough persona often left the impression that he was impervious to common health aliments. His youngest daughter, Alyssa Miller Knight, said Miller underwent a hernia surgery several weeks ago only to have a mild stroke a few days later. While rehabilitating, he was struck by a more massive stroke Feb. 3, which led to his death.

“The last time I really talked to him was the night before the stroke, and we talked for about an hour,” she said. “The most striking thing about the conversation was it was so normal. We were laughing about the hallucinations he was having from this one medication. It was cool and hard at the same time. He was just ripped away from me the next day, but at the same time, I got to have that one last conversation that I will cherish forever.”

A father-and-daughter relationship is a special thing, but the relationship between Miller and his youngest child was beyond words. Two years after her parents divorced, when Alyssa was just 6, her mother fell ill. Miller became his former wife’s legal guardian, caring for her for 35 years until her death, while at the same time raising Alyssa as a single parent.

“That speaks to the kind of man my father was,” she said. “He was generous on every level and understood the sense of duty.”

Miller is survived by his four children, Adrienne, Evan, Bryn and Alyssa, three grandchildren, Tovah, Cara and Rianna, and niece Gayle (Stan) Reiter as well as numerous other family members.

Miller also had a lot of close friendships with a group of men he knew since he was 5. They would get together for monthly card games.

Throwback journalist

For those who didn’t know Miller, the character Ed Asner portrayed in the hit show “Lou Grant” pretty much fit.

The short-statured dynamo always had a cigar dangling from his mouth — he was less than thrilled when The Chronicle went nonsmoking and jokingly posted an ad on his cubicle to sell his well-worn ashtray — a red grease pencil in his hand and fingers stained from handling news print.

From February 1972 to February 1997, Miller, with his gruff exterior and unrelenting love of news, guided The Chronicle as its managing editor. He was at the helm during a time of intense competition, where the bragging rights for breaking a story first was fought for daily between The Chronicle, The Morning Journal and The Plain Dealer.

Under his guidance, The Chronicle reached its highest circulation numbers.

A lifelong newsman, Miller worked on papers in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Hagerstown, Md., as well as at the Akron Beacon Journal and Cleveland Press before coming to Elyria.

Recalling the years he worked under Miller, David Knox, the managing editor of The Gazette in Medina, The Chronicle’s sister paper, summed up what he learned from Miller in one word.

“Everything,” he said. “I don’t think I’m the only one who can say they learned everything about this business from Arnold. He was my idea of what a managing editor should be. He did it right.”

Miller had just one guiding principle for how he did his job: He believed a newspaper should tell the news — good, bad or ugly.

Knox remembers him as a decisive leader who liked to do things his way. Arnold hated long meetings and would often bring people into his office in which there were no other chairs.

“He said, ‘I read somewhere that meetings are shorter if everyone is standing,’ ” Knox said.

Newsroom power

Once Miller dispatched his troops to gather the news — “there is no news to be found in the newsroom” many remember Miller often saying — he relished their return and the opportunity to scoop the competition.

“He lived to rip up his front page,” Knox said.

Miller was driven by the need to publish local news and realized early on that local stories appealed most to readers. In the newspaper world, local news is now the rage. For Miller, it was all that and more decades ago.

“Newspapers have changed so much over the years,” Knox said. “Now, a small paper has to appeal to its readers, and it would almost get crucified for putting too much world news on the front page. People just say they can read that online. Arnold was doing that back in the late 1980s. His way of doing things were almost instinctive.”

“Arnold knew about getting ahead of the news and getting to the heart of a story very quickly,” Nussbaum said. “He imported that wisdom on many successful journalists lucky to be a part of his newsroom. He was a great boss.”

Joe Gluvna, a former news editor at The Chronicle, said Miller’s power was undeniable.

“I think the best anecdote about Arnold is when he and I were sitting in his office and he yelled out to a reporter about a story he was writing and I had to call it up on Arnold’s computer,” Gluvna said. “It was still in the process of being written, but Arnold was reading it and yelled out “AN EIGHTH-GRADER CAN WRITE A BETTER LEAD THAN THAT,’’ and the reporter yelled back that the story wasn’t done and Arnold yelled something like “I WANT THAT G–D— THING NOW.’’

Gluvna said he then heard a thud on the floor. The reporter had fainted. Someone called 911 and he was taken away in an ambulance.

“Arnold leaned over to me and said, ‘Jesus Christ, I think I killed him,’ ” Gluvna said. “I lost it at that point. So did Arnold. The reporter, of course, was OK, but it shows the power of Arnold in the newsroom.”

Ironically, the boss everyone thought was so intimidating at the newspaper was less so at home with his daughter. He would rise every morning at 4 to take her ice skating at the Winterhurst Ice Skating Rink. He would then work all day and return his daughter back to the ice by 4 p.m.

“That always made me laugh that he intimated people into being the best they can be,” Alyssa Miller Knight said. “He was my buddy. It was just me and him.”

The first time Scott Stephens met Miller, the young reporter was fresh to Northeast Ohio and looking for a job. He called Miller up and he agreed to meet with him one Friday afternoon in 1983.

Miller sized up his clips and before Stephens could get back to his home, a message was waiting from Arnold saying he had the job.

“Arnold could be very gruff and very demanding, but you found out very soon he cared about newspapers and he cared about newspaper people,” Stephens said.

Way with words

But he wasn’t just a boss who barked orders. Even though the management title took him out of the trenches of being a reporter, Miller still loved to write.

Stephens said he got a new sense of respect for Miller when he penned a skillful piece about his father emigrating to America from Poland through Ellis Island.

“You listened to him because you knew he was a guy who could do the job himself,” Stephens said.

Stephens left The Chronicle after seven years and went on to The Plain Dealer.

“For what it’s worth, I learned everything I needed to know as a reporter from Arnold Miller,” he said.

Alyssa Miller Knight said her father wrote like he spoke, weaving words together into funny and heartfelt stories. She has kept her own collection of his writings.

“He was a great storyteller because he has a way of remembering and conveying details. Everyone loved to hear one of my father’s stories,” she said.

Julie Wallace, The Chronicle’s current managing editor, was hired by Miller as a summer intern while in college. It was the first time she’d worked in a newsroom outside of her college paper, and she said the gruff Miller scared her to death with deadline looming.

His typewriter — he never did adapt to computers, even though he did have one in his office — would be clicking and clacking as he typed out the front page headlines, and at the same time he’d be yelling out about this story or that story.

All was good if it wasn’t your story he was yelling about, she said. But if it was, well, you fixed what he was yelling about pretty darn quick and vowed never to make that mistake again, she said.

“And then deadline was over, and Arnold was jovial and laughing. That was Arnold. He was all business about his paper, but it was professional, not personal,’’ Wallace said. “I have this box of stories from my reporting days, and in it I have a bunch of notes from him critiquing my work. Those simple remarks from a journalist of his caliber were high praise, and I saved every one.’’

Still involved

Even after Miller retired, he couldn’t walk away from the business. He wrote some columns here and there for The Chronicle, and he judged the paper’s annual Cordelia Robbins contest, which recognizes the paper’s best work. Most recently, he penned a piece about the demise of The Cleveland Press for The Cleveland Jewish News, which is led by another Chronicle alumnus.

He still read The Chronicle from cover to cover every day, and when Knox joined The Gazette, he added that to his reading list, too.

“He was most devastated from that first stroke because he couldn’t read every day,” Alyssa Miller Knight said. “For someone like my dad, that was too much. That was his only pure enjoyment. Practically every picture I have is him with a newspaper. It would be weird to see him without a newspaper tucked under his arm.”

In his latter years, his name probably was more familiar to Chronicle readers as a voice on the editorial page. He’d catch errors and point them out, and his remarks illustrated that his witty sense of humor was sharp and intact.

Case in point was his last letter to the editor.

“I read somewhere recently — maybe even in The Chronicle-Telegram — that the best jobs in the future will be in computers and health care,” Miller wrote Sept. 15, 2012. “Health care, shmealth care. Gimme a job as a tow truck driver — at least according to that story on Page A2 Monday that said a car that plunged into Lake Erie in Lorain was pulled out by a tow truck ‘equipped with a wench.’ By golly, talk about fringe benefits!”

Toward the end, Alyssa Miller Knight said she had serious talks about moving her father to California with her. He bemoaned the idea because it meant leaving the Cleveland area, which he loved. In the end, he died just a few miles from his home.

“He died where he lived, loved and was so connected to everyone. That is truly a blessing,” she said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.