SIDNEY — A full-time reporter writes a lot of stories in 37 years.
Michael Seffrin, who will retire March 14, has been pounding the keyboard for the Sidney Daily News for just that long. Before he came to Sidney in 1979, he wrote for Darke County papers for several years. If the time he spent on the college paper at Ball State University is counted, Seffrin has been reporting the news for almost half a century.
In all that time, was there a story that got away, a story he would have liked to have told and didn’t get the chance?
“I wish I would have been able to write a story about the arrest of the killer of Melinda (Shaffer) McKinney. It’s the only unsolved homicide in Sidney. She was stabbed to death in 2006. I’ve done a couple stories about the continuing investigation, and in 2009, police said they had suspects. I don’t like the idea that there are people walking around who either committed the murder or know something about it. I’m sure the police feel the same way,” Seffrin said recently.
The Sidney resident has covered the city beat off and on throughout much of his tenure at the Daily News.
“During Mike’s tenure with the Sidney Daily News, I had the opportunity to work with him as a journalist when he covered the city beat, again when he was named the education writer, and then at the end of his career when he was again assigned to City Hall,” said Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst. “He has always impartially and accurately conveyed the news to his readers, and his writing has garnered awards from both the Associated Press and the Ohio Professional Writers Association. I know I speak for all of council when I state that we will miss him, and certainly wish him well in this next phase of his life.”
Although Seffrin didn’t set out to be a journalist — he worked for a finance company for a year and then tried law school — writing came easily, and he may have inherited the printer’s ink that’s said to run through the blood of every good reporter. His father ran the weekly paper in Seffrin’s hometown of Cambridge City, Indiana.
“In high school, we had to write a theme every week. I never had any problem with that. But kids I thought were a lot smarter than me struggled with it,” he said. Unlike some of those students, Seffrin had grown up surrounded by books, newspapers and magazines. Reading was as natural as breathing.
“My favorite author is Hemingway,” he said. At Ball State, he majored in political science and minored in history and journalism, graduating in 1973. He and his college sweetheart married soon after graduation and moved to Greenville, because it was near Lynn, Indiana, where Bonnie was teaching, and Dayton, where Seffrin had enrolled in law school.
“After the first year, my professors and I together decided that law school wasn’t where I should be,” he laughed. The job with a finance company showed him the seamier side of life.
“I got to go out and try to collect money from people,” he said. “We travelled into Cincinnati, Dayton. We were in some sketchy parts of town. You got to see a different side of society.”
He began to write for the Early Bird, a Darke County weekly, and then for the Greenville Daily Advocate. When a job opened in Sidney, he went after it.
“It was better pay,” Seffrin said. “Amos Press (who owned the Daily News) had a good reputation as a good place to work. They gave bonuses and regular raises. I feel fortunate to have been able to work there for so long before they sold us. (But when I arrived), I didn’t know much about Sidney.”
He can’t say that anymore. Seffrin covered some major stories for the Daily News, including the development of the north end of the city; the election of James Humphrey, Sidney’s first black mayor; Barhorst’s first term as mayor and the murder of Dr. Homer Cargill.
“He was shot in his garage by someone robbing his home. Besides being a doctor, he had another business, a drive-through business. He used to take the money home from the drive-through,” Seffrin remembered.
The hardest stories to write were the ones he knew were likely to hurt someone.
“Like the city having to discipline people. We have to report those things, but it’s going to be hard on their families,” he said. “You always try to be even-handed when you do those.”
Seffrin has been surprised by the effect his work has had on people. He recalled a particular column he wrote some years ago.
“Holy Angels School, when they were adding on, there was controversy. Neighbors were complaining about traffic. I wrote a column outlining the problem and how both sides should cooperate. The school held a meeting and the guy who ran the meeting pulled out my column and read it as an example of what they should do. I was stunned,” he said.
Even now, he is amazed if he overhears, in a restaurant for instance, people quoting something he has written.
“It makes you realize it does make a difference and that you have to be careful to be as accurate as possible,” he noted. That’s why he’s concerned that today, too many people believe everything they see on the Internet.
“(They need to be) careful about the source of the information. There’s a lot of crap out there,” he said. As ubiquitous as the Internet has become, Seffrin thinks there will always be a place for a small-town paper, even if the paper is smaller than it used to be.
“We had three times the staff (when I started),” he said, “and an 18-page paper then was considered tiny.”
His wife, a Sidney teacher who retired five years ago, notes that she and her husband worked for two of the institutions people most like to criticize.
“When you’re in a social gathering, people would complain about the school system or the newspaper. They’d realize who we are and it would stop the conversation,” she laughed. Those social engagements had to fit into a newsman’s schedule.
“You can’t ever do anything on a Friday night,” Bonnie said. “Friends would ask us to go out, but there’s a good chance he’s going to be working late on Friday.”
Seffrin has not always been a reporter. He was the newspaper’s first copy editor and later, he learned pagination, the computerized method of composing newspaper pages.
“When Brown Publishing bought us, deadlines all changed. People worked late into the night. (Melanie Speicher) and I came in at 4 in the morning to paginate pages for an 8 a.m. deadline,” he said. It was a especially difficult during snowy weather because they had to be on the road to work before plows cleared the streets.
“Once, in a blizzard, I was the only one here (all day),” Seffrin said. “Luckily there was a lot of food in the vending machines.”
Break room snacks will not be among the things this journalist will miss when he puts down his red pencil and closes his notebook for the last time. What will be among them is his opportunity to be involved day to day in what’s going on in the news.
“I’ll try to keep up on it. I’m still a citizen of Sidney,” he said. “I’ve worked with a lot of great people over the years. In this business, we have to rely on one another to get the newspaper out every day. I’ve also had great support from my wife and family. They’ve had to put up with my complaints about the job.”
Seffrin’s mother, Ethel, is 99, still living in Cambridge City. He has an older sister there, too, and another in Dayton. The Seffrins’ two daughters, Courtney Spangler and Elizabeth Spires, live in Hilliard, and their son, Patrick, in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Seffrin will fill many retirement hours with them. Will he write? He recently received a gift of a leather-bound journal.
“I may start that the first day I retire,” he said. He also hopes to chronicle comments by his grandchldren before he forgets them.
“You’d be amazed at the funny, crazy things 2- and 3-year-olds say,” he noted.
He looks forward to tackling the “basement full of books I haven’t read yet.” He will continue to run several times a week and lift weights. And then there’s travel.
“It’s one of our favorite things to do,” said Bonnie.
His retirement will allow them to do a lot more. They have cruised the Caribbean more than once and visited Europe and Africa, as well as sites across North America. Trips to see grandchildren are definitely on the agenda.
Seffrin is philosophical as he nears his final days in the newsroom.
“The newspaper business has changed tremendously,” he noted. “It’s not a 9-to-5 job where you do the same thing over and over again. The creativity that you can use on your job isn’t there in other jobs. It’s always been a low-paying profession, but it’s one of the most interesting things you can do.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.