The Reporter

He had become a legendary figure in the annals of Philadelphia journalism ...

Starting with the paper as an $18~a-week, 24-year-old copy boy in 1939, he climbed to editorial clerk and then district reporter before he became a regular byliner in the early ’50s. Karafin was a digger. A cocky little guy with a flip way about him, he could con his way into places his more conservative colleagues wouldn’t think of going. He always played it by ear. He could be garrulous and charming or tough and bullheaded, and many a City official found out that the best way to deal with him was to give him what he wanted or sure as hell he would blast the daylights out of you in the next edition. Karafin played the game rough and it became known that he was a guy you didn’t mess with.

He was also a guy you didn’t trust, not with anything you wanted kept out of the newspaper. Word was around that if you ever saw Harry scratching under his armpit or at his crotch, watch out: He was adjusting his hidden tape recorder.

City officials, politicians, constables, ward leaders, cops, racketeers, criminal lawyers, bail bondsmen — all figured out that the one way to keep Karafin on their side was to keep feeding him information for possible stories. After all, here was a guy who could make you or break you. Here was a guy who could write something about you and the whole damn city would know it by tomorrow morning. You had to treat a guy like that right.

As a result, Karafin developed a network of contacts and sources comparable to those of the legendary cop, his good friend Captain Clarence Ferguson. In fact, they aren’t really out of the same class: Both use the old you-do-me-or-I’ll-do-you technique. Of course, Karafin could do — or not do — a lot more people and his reach went into areas where even Ferguson’s couldn’t go. "I seen him call up a deputy police commissioner once," says a friend, "and tell the guy that he wanted something done and he wanted it done right away! And the guy did it right away!"

With the power of a big city daily behind him, Karafin pounded his way through expose after expose — poor nursing homes, the magistrate system, the auto accident racket, the baby photo racket — and came up with not only a few fat bonuses for himself — what would be welcome manna for many newspapermen on a 10 grand salary — but also a couple of press association awards from his colleagues.

Not that he was the most beloved brother in the local journalistic fraternity. He was too ruthless a digger to be that. Friendly enough — a little guy with a graying crew cut, beefy face, sharp narrow eyes and a quick toothy smile — most of his associates thought of him as a hungry loner. But he had access to more than any other reporter in City Hall. He could casually stroll into many an office, check through its files, riffle through papers on a desk, sit down with a department head, check out leads, drop hints about what might be done here or not be done there to give him a good story.