From Coast to Coast and Stops in Between

Born in 1927, Melvin Mencher was a resort hotel page boy, a university life model, a United Press reporter and a tenured professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. He is the author of News Reporting and Writing. More than a quarter of a million students at over 350 colleges and universities have learned the craft and ethics of journalism from the twelve editions of News Reporting and Writing. He retired from Columbia University in 1989 and lives in New York City.


From his Depression-era childhood in New York City that was marked by bed bugs and evictions, Melvin left for college in New Mexico and then to work as a journalist that led to a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard and a tenured professorship at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He is the recipient of numerous awards and acclamations for his teaching and textbook publishing. His career includes managing the successful campaign of Ed Mechem for governor of New Mexico in 1950 at the age of 23 that upset decades of corrupt state political leadership. Along the way, the Mencher family drove to Costa Rica, lived in a small cabin with an outhouse in Northern Ontario, and traveled the world as ardent birdwatchers.



“A great fear of tenants in the depression was bed bugs. When we returned from our visits to Grandma, we had bites on our arms and legs. I took care that we never had them at home. I’d buy kerosene and with a paint brush I went over the springs and mattresses of (my sister and my) our beds once a month.”

“Helen was studying for her master’s degree in experimental psychology which involved running white mice through various mazes. She studiously took notes on their peregrinations as I sat nearby. I can’t remember the point of it all but I do recall the odor from the maze that seeped onto our clothing.”

“I had Mechem address a women’s group in Encino and speak to sheep farmers in Mora. In Hatch, he told chile growers that he supported publicizing the quality of their product. No one ever checked that he had actually been in any of these places. My news releases were actually newsworthy, and in a state that generated little news, the releases were given good play.”

“Tenure is the golden fleece a young faculty member aspires to don. I had been denied that at KU and I wondered how I would achieve it at Columbia. I had no Ph.D. Indeed, the students I was teaching would have a degree, MA or MS, which I did not possess.”

“My day with the UP began at 5:30 a.m. when I would bike a mile to the Santa Fe Greyhound bus station to pick up The Albuquerque Journal to scan for state stories to rewrite for the UP’s broadcast station subscribers’ 7 a.m. newscasts. Santa Fe winters could be bitter cold. My overcoat was my close-fitting pea coat, inadequate insulation against the biting morning wind. So I would make a thick wad of newspapers and stuff it between my undershirt and shirt and take off for the bus station.”

“Somewhere in the South on our way to Miami for our trip to Costa Rica in 1961 we needed to wash clothing and pulled into a laundromat. We piled the white clothing in one machine and the socks, jeans and colored clothing into another. The white machine whirred into action but the other remained still. We kicked it and put more coins in to no avail. Then Marianne came running back to us from the front of  the laundromat with the solution. She pulled me to the outside  and pointed to a sign in the window: “Whites Only.”

“No electricity. No phone. An outhouse. My notes from that first summer read: “Fish, fish, fish. I am tired of fish.” Helen and Tom and Marianne swam in the clear water and I fished. Our fresh water came from a spring nearby. It was cold and there was no wood for the antique “Favorite Box” wood-burning stove. We gathered wood from the remnants of campers’ fires.”

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Author image: Joe Pineiro; image courtesy of Columbia University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.