Not only is Jack Bass old enough to be Lorne Chambers’ father, but he also blazed a newspaper trail that Chambers is following today in West Ashley.
On March 16, 1961, Bass, a celebrated journalist who uncovered Strom Thurmond’s illegitimate black daughter and eventually became a Niemann Fellow at Harvard, published the first edition of the West Ashley Journal — a small weekly paper he founded with now-veteran newsman Dew James.
Bass also served as a writer for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times before winning the 1994 Robert Kennedy Book Award grand prize for Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. He also co-authored the recently updated Ol’ Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond.
Chambers, who served as the City Paper‘s music editor and distribution manager for over four years, published the first issue of his West Ashley community newspaper, West Of, on Feb. 1, 2005. Bass’ Journal covered everything west of the Ashley River, including James Island, while Chambers focuses on West Ashley only.
This is the second try at being a publisher for Chambers. After graduating from the College of Charleston in 1998, he went home to Greenwood and started a bi-weekly, The Honeysuckle Telegraph, which he published for about six months. From there, he worked as a sports writer in Florida and in public relations in Charleston.
Back in the early ’60s, Bass wasn’t long removed from USC and a three-and-a-half year stint in the U.S. Navy as a naval flight officer when he launched the Journal, in offices located on the same spot on Savannah Highway where the current Byrnes Downs fire station sits. His first paper featured a picture of the then-very young Dew and Bass.
Unlike the single Chambers, Bass, then in his mid-20s, was married with two kids at the time. He also had only three years of real newspaper experience, and “knew nothing of the business side of running a paper.” So when both the Piggly Wiggly and Red & White groceries pulled their ad accounts, it worried Bass greatly.
Sitting in the front salon of the Queen Street home he shares with his wife, celebrated television chef and cookbook author Nathalie Dupree, Bass chuckles while looking through a bound and browned collection of his paper, remembering how much a correspondence course he took in accounting actually helped him.
“Man, I looked young,” he says of the front-page photo that does little to hide his ears.
Taking a break from wielding chalk in CofC classrooms, where he now teaches in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Bass’ hands turn the volume to the editorial, “Patriotism, Sirs??”, in which he wrote, “We fail to see public virtues in unwarranted attacks on the integrity of the President of the United States.”
Considered at the time “a little left” of The News and Courier, one of the conservative forerunners of The Post and Courier where he eventually worked, the Journal was standing up for John F. Kennedy.
“We took turns writing the editorials,” says Bass, adding that if he and James didn’t agree on a subject, it went in as a signed, personally-endorsed editorial.
Looking back through sepia-tinted lenses, Bass is most proud of championing the then-new West Ashley library, which he still sees every time he drives down Windermere Boulevard.
Where Bass’ paper included church news and recipes, Chambers’ paper has a beer-tasting column. And unlike Bass’ “lefty-ish” leanings, Chambers strives to keep his paper’s political position straight down the middle.
“If there is a political bent, it’s probably readers’ perceptions or an accident,” says Chambers. “I don’t think that’s the role of a community newspaper, which I believe is to reflect what is going on in the community. “Whenever I put in the views of state Rep. John Graham Altman III, a liberal friend of mine is like, ‘What the hell?’ But I tell him, it’s not like I’m endorsing any position, I’m just making sure the paper is being objective.”
Like Bass, Chambers saw a business opportunity for a paper in West Ashley, where roughly 60,000 people now live and shop, and didn’t have a weekly like The Daniel Island News to serve it. And like Bass, Chambers has poured his own money and hours into his paper.
“I still probably put in between 60 and 70 hours a week,” says Chambers taking a break from selling, writing, laying out, and distributing the paper from his office, located a few doors down Savannah Highway from Bass’ original spot. “When we first opened, it was more like 80 hours a week.”
Now bolstered by an office of five full-time employees, two weeks ago Chambers was able to go fishing in his boat for the first time in nearly a year.
But that’s not to say his hard work isn’t paying off, as West Of has several times scooped the P&C with stories about development west of the Ashley.
One thing both papers, separated by more than four decades, have in common is the Coburg cow. While Bass may have milked the company for ad revenues when the dairy was still functioning off Savannah Highway, Chambers loves to milk the rotating sign for photos, featuring it on the front page of his Christmas edition.