Robert 'Bob' Urban retires as TN editor
Monday, June 3, 2013

Ends career that spanned five decades; got his start at former Tamaqua Courier


Robert "Bob" Urban, TIMES NEWS editor in chief since 2006, retired Friday, capping a journalism career that spanned half a century and encompassed some of history's biggest stories and life-altering moments.

Urban spent 27 years at the TIMES NEWS and ends a vocation in which his career path took him to three daily newspapers. He served in multiple capacities during periods of great transition in the field.

Urban's work in journalism coincided with the most dramatic transformation in the history of news dissemination. During his five decades of service, tools of the newspaper and photography industries evolved from manual typewriters, and black-and-white, film-based pictures, to computer-generated copy, color digital imagery, sophisticated print production and the Internet.

In a sense, Urban was launched into the field full throttle. After graduating from Coaldale High School and attending what was then Bloomsburg State College, Urban accepted a job with the Tamaqua Evening Courier in 1963.

His impressionable first days aboard were impacted by a world-changing event the assassination of a president.

In a special TIMES NEWS feature story published several years ago, Urban recounted his initiation into the urgent, far-reaching implications of daily news.

"It was autumn of 1963," he said. "I was a novice reporter, one month on the job. I was alone in the newsroom when The Associated Press ticker tape machine began ringing constantly, signaling that a major story was breaking. Within minutes, the words PRESIDENT SHOT were transmitted, soon to be followed by the breaking news that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas."

There, in West Broad Street headquarters, Urban jumped to action and alerted Courier Editor Bob Meredith.

"It was my first experience with 'stop the presses,' as we replated the front page to include one of the biggest stories of the century," recalled Urban.

Career move

Urban was hired as a sportswriter at the Courier, but covered police log and community news as well.

Three years later, he accepted a position at the Pottstown Mercury, writing sports from 6-9 a.m., then covering other assignments. For a time, he manned the night desk, all along advancing through the professional ranks.

Eight years after joining the Mercury staff, Urban was named editor.

In 1979, he was part of a news photo package detailing a fast-moving family hostage crisis that tragically ended in the killing of an infant. The work earned the Pulitzer Prize.

His tenure there also coincided with Hurricane Agnes, for which the paper featured extensive coverage of the devastation and subsequent recovery.

In total, Urban served 20 years at the Pottstown Mercury, including 12 as editor.

At that paper and throughout his career, he won numerous state journalism awards.

Urban believed in a morally forthright, traditional style of journalism, where reporters not only get the full story, but do so in a manner that treats victims of crime, misfortune and tragedy with dignity, compassion and respect.

Urban's 50 years of writing actually is a conservative estimate. Though he was 19 when he penned articles for the Courier, his writing passion can be traced back to high school. Urban wrote for the Coaldale High School newspaper and also was a member of the football team. The concept of teamwork stayed with him throughout his career.

Return home

Urban welcomed the opportunity to return to the valley in 1986 to join the TIMES NEWS staff, where he served as managing editor. On Oct. 6, 2006, he assumed the top post after the retirement of Editor Bob Parfitt.

The move to the TIMES NEWS proved to be a perfect fit, as Urban continued his award-winning journalism, churning out compelling editorials and authoring his popular "Back again" column, all while editing content and managing the staff.

"It was a dream come true, the best move I ever made," he said.

As editor, Urban's approach to covering community news was to reinforce the importance of versatility and adaptability among reporters. The art of gathering research and relaying of all types of news requires multiple levels of skill, and Urban adhered to the philosophy that "you need to be able to do it all."

"We have no specialists in the newsroom," Urban once said during an employee training session. In other words, he stood firm in the understanding that a strong newswriting staff is one in which all reporters are capable of handling any assignment or task or emergency that arises.

As a result, Urban established strong bonds with all of the TIMES NEWS editorial department members, a group which, he says, is the best anywhere and tops in production.

"I couldn't ask more from a staff," he said. "I don't think there's another newspaper in the country that produces more than we do."

Leaving legacy

Urban leaves a newsroom legacy of furthering the cause of journalism by advancing the value of thorough, comprehensive newswriting in service to readers. Even more, he imparts an imperative of ethics in reporting.

He also leaves a news team well equipped to meet tomorrow's challenges.

On Friday, his final day, he was honored by the editorial staff and Pencor Services, Inc., parent company of the TIMES NEWS.

The retirement luncheon took place at The Roadies Restaurant, Penn's Peak, Maury Road, Jim Thorpe.

TIMES NEWS Publisher Fred L. Masenheimer praised Urban for his dedication in leading the newspaper team.

Masenheimer cited Urban's role as a steadying force in the fast-moving environment of local and regional news, where stability and knowledge of the geographic area are key to providing readers the information they need every day.

"Like the sea captain, he's the guy at the tiller," said Masenheimer. "On June 9, it'll be 27 years. He's only the third editor at the TIMES NEWS in the past 42 years."

True to form, a humble Urban thanked staff members and credited each for his success, saying "thanks for making me look good."

Urban, of Summit Hill, says he is retiring to become a "full-time grandfather." He intends to spend more time with Mary, his wife of 48 years, along with son Jim and wife Marlene, Coaldale, and son Mike and wife Thelma, of Reading, parents of two, Sean and Violet.

On his final day, Urban received a message from son Mike, a talented, award-winning writer at the Reading Eagle.

In the message, Mike advised his dad to "walk out with your head held high."

Urban did just that, a modest acknowledgment of accomplishment. It comes from producing the best journalism; and the best journalism is produced when a writer or editor takes the high road.

Bob Urban achieved a fulfilling career that was as good as it gets.

Down the road, he intends to free up time for fishing and enjoying the outdoors.

During quiet moments, he'll bask in the warmth of memories and friendships earned through the countless lives he touched.

The rolling seas of daily news are unpredictable at best.

Urban conquered the waves in a remarkable voyage of 50 years.

The captain has reached harbor.