December 4, 2020

Eliot Kleinberg remembers what the newsroom felt like as a 10-year-old. 

At The Miami News, the afternoon paper where his dad worked, he heard clanging typewriters and people shouting for a copy boy. A cloud of cigarette smoke hung over everything. 

He grew up with stories about the day President John Kennedy was shot, and his father, Howard Kleinberg, got to stop the presses.

Kleinberg remembers his father’s unplanned retirement, too, when The Miami News abruptly closed in the late ’80s.

“He had to literally shut the lights down and turn the key in the lock.”

This week, Kleinberg did his own version of that, turning in his laptop to The Palm Beach Post on Tuesday morning, marking his official retirement from a 33-year career there. 

In all, 22 people left the Post through parent company Gannett’s buyout offer that eliminated about 500 jobs around the country.

His retirement Zoom party wasn’t the cake-and-mock-front-page kind of experience he’d witnessed so many times before. 

“It was not the way I’d expected my career to end,” said Kleinberg, who covered breaking news for the Post and wrote two weekly columns on local and Florida history. 

But a lot of younger journalists also ended their careers after accepting Gannett’s buyout offers, he said. Because of the pandemic, layoffs hit the whole media industry this year, leaving thousands out of work. Kleinberg feels lucky to have retired from journalism.

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Kleinberg on the job in Delray Beach, circa 1991. (The Palm Beach Post)

Years ago, Kleinberg’s dad was honest about what it meant to have a career in the news.

“You need to know what you’re getting into,” he said. “The hours stink. You’re not gonna become a millionaire, and if you still want to do it, fine.”

Kleinberg did. And like a lot of people, he kept it up as the business of local newspapers crumbled around him.

“People don’t understand what it means not to have local news or the newspapers in general and to have comprehensive, professional, objective news,” he said. “They’ve seen so much that isn’t that, that they’ve almost forgotten what it really looks like. I couldn’t do anything about that except to keep cranking out what it’s supposed to look like and hope that people notice.”

Kleinberg worked way ahead on his columns, which will continue to run through at least May. He hopes to continue writing them as a freelancer in the future. He plans to travel with his wife when that’s a thing again, and has lots of projects, including editing his dad’s novella.

He’ll miss the colleagues he’s known for decades, who he’s watched marry, become parents, then grandparents, go through divorce and loss and death. He’s not just leaving his job, Kleinberg said, but the people he worked with.

Maybe the pandemic made leaving a little easier.

“I will miss the newsroom horribly, but I’ve been missing the newsroom horribly for the last year working out of my house.”

Kleinberg and his dad both worry about the future of local news. What will replace it? What will happen when people don’t know what’s happening? It’s scary, he said.

“I also know that that fight’s going to have to go on without me.”

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Eliot Kleinberg, right, with his father, Howard Kleinberg, left, at the Miami Book Fair in 2003. (Family photo)

This piece originally ran in our weekly newsletter, Local Edition. 

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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