Clay Trusty Jr. · 2011
Even as a young child, Clay Trusty Jr. was learning to put other people ahead of himself.
That characteristic translated into a lifelong desire to attract the best and the brightest to newspaper reporting.
He learned to look out for others from his father, a Disciples of Christ pastor who was pushed out of his pulpit by the Ku Klux Klan in Indianapolis.
Clay Jr. learned to put others first as he saw his father flourish as a pastor, then lose his pastorate because he believed in the true gospel of Christ instead of the false teachings of the Klan.
Clay went on to become an important editor at Indiana newspapers, but he looked well beyond the news of the day. He pioneered in what colleges have discovered in recent years: internships, or apprenticeships, or on-the-job training. Whatever the label, every significant college journalism program now promotes and gives academic credit for semester or summer internships at newspapers and other news organizations.
Clay’s own apprenticeship for a productive life began on Nov. 7, 1916, in Indianapolis. He grew up under his father’s preaching at the Seventh Christian Church, which grew to 1,400 members before and after World War I. The congregation was so grateful, he was given a life call as pastor just after the war in 1919.
But the KKK emerged a couple of years later as a menace to the Christian principles that Pastor Trusty had taught his congregation from the Scriptures. While the Bible taught the ground is level for sinners at the foot of the cross of Christ, the Klan crusaded for race superiority and division and hate.
The KKK infiltrated both political parties and city and state government for a few years. The Klan also gained an upper hand on the board of the church. Clay’s father resigned and went to work on six weekly newspapers at the Home News Publishing Company. But he lived only two more years, until Clay Jr. was eight years old.
Clay’s mother raised five children, working as a seamstress.
Clay got his start in news the way so many future reporters did in those days – delivering the Indianapolis News for eight years, then The Star for three years in the early morning hours.
He went to Butler University during the 1930s Depression and started reporting for the Collegian, the school newspaper. In his sophomore year he won the outstanding reporter award. He went on to be managing editor, then editor for the school newspaper. Like most people in collegiate journalism, he upset the college administration.
He wrote a page one editorial condemning the school for selling out the student section at what is now Hinkle Fieldhouse to the Junior League for a game against Indiana University. The financial secretary, Jack Atherton, complained. Clay pleaded the First Amendment. Atherton apparently appreciated a student who knew something about the Constitution and decided to sell the Junior League tickets in the section behind the students.
They probably didn’t call it an internship, but Clay worked one summer at the Chesterton Tribune.
After college he joined the Daily Clintonian in Clinton, Ind., and learned all sides of the business. He was city editor and sports editor. He also sold ads and, as circulation manager, made sure the paper got delivered on time.
He moved on to the Indianapolis News as a copy editor, until he joined the Navy for World War II.
After the war, he became assistant city editor of the News, then city editor. He noticed that some of the best and brightest journalism majors were heading into the new competition for newspapers in the 1950s – television. Newspapers gave reporters bylines and low pay. TV offered glamour and sometimes better salaries.
He started recruiting, informally at first, visiting college classrooms, talking to faculty about the opportunities of newspaper reporting. He enlisted other editors, and they started to call their efforts the Indiana Newspaper Personnel Committee – or, like good editors reducing the word count, the Indiana Plan. Newspapers across the state started opening their doors for internships for college students — about 200 of them by1965 after about 500 interviews.
“I decided that if DuPont and General Motors could recruit on the college campuses, the newspapers ought to, too,” Clay said.
Clay and his wife Martha had two children, Karen and Gregg, and they likely helped him think ahead for the next generation.
Karen and Gregg had the benefit of their father’s editing skills at home and got into the family business. Gregg was a reporter before he went on to a career as a public and media relations professional. Since 1988 he has been president of the Shreveport (La.) Journalism Foundation, which provides annual college scholarships and professional development.
Karen has kept on with the family tradition, working 14 years in community relations at Indianapolis Newspapers Inc., and now serving as director of the Hoosier State Press Association foundation. She oversees the Eugene S. Pulliam intern program that provides a more formal version of what her father did so many years.
Clay was providing something for college students that later came to be called “networking.” Hundreds – including this writer — interviewed with him and wound up working for county seat dailies and weeklies around the state.
Mayer Maloney Jr., now president and publisher of the Hoosier Times in Bloomington, has never forgotten how Clay helped him get his first newspaper job. “There can’t be anyone in the history of Indiana journalism responsible for more young reporters’ jobs at Indiana newspapers than Clay,” Mayer writes.
Clay called it “growing journalists,” which was fitting terminology in an agricultural state — kind of like growing corn and soybeans. Clay was a model for young journalists to have a good understanding of human nature when interviewing police officers, political candidates and victims of crime and accidents.
Clay did it with Mayer at The News, as with many others.
“He was terrific at taking a reporter in his first job and teaching him the tools of the trade,” Mayer recalls. “He coached young reporters on how to cover a beat, how to find the key element in a story, how to ask the right questions in the right way and how to pursue a story until it was complete.”
David Mannweiler, a reporter and columnist for The News, started as a copy boy at age 15. He remembers how Clay would give him a news release and tell him to write a short story. Later Clay would go over the copy, teaching him the fundamentals of newswriting that others would learn later in journalism classes.
“I became a much better reporter, and so did many others, because Clay cared about us and the craft we shared,” David recalls.
Linda Ellis was another person who got informal schooling from Clay, as an intern, before going on to newspapers in New Jersey, then the American Banker in New York City.
“I have worked for a phalanx of editors in New Jersey and New York City over these decades and had a succession of mentors, but Clay Trusty Jr. is the one I most remember,” Linda remembers. “He was the toughest and he was the best.”
He also taught journalism in a formal way at Butler in the 1955-56 school year, lecturing for a night class.
Likely from his preacher father he learned to stay cool in a calling that attracted characters of all kinds.
“Clay had the perfect temperament to work in a newsroom filled with high-strung, caffeine-fueled, foul-mouthed reporters banging on typewriters while calling for a copy boy and lighting a cigarette,” Mayer writes. “He never screamed or shouted or got red in the face; he coolly worked through each surprise and kept moving the production process forward.”
Clay would deserve to be in the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame just on the basis of his own work in journalism in Indiana newspapers. He worked at The News until 1981 and died in 1996.
Trusty Jr. deserves a special place in the hall because he was the Indiana leader of his generation in steadfast efforts to pass on to the next generation all that he had learned about news reporting.
By Russ Pulliam, associate editor, Indianapolis Star
Director, Pulliam Fellowship