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The Once Great Newark Evening News: A Remembrance & Obituary

By Nat Bodian


Newark News Typeset

 

        One of New Jersey's great institutions, The Newark News, founded in 1873 by Wallace Scudder, and operated by the Scudder family for most of its life, died on August 31, 1972.

        It had been for most of the 20th century until its demise, the newspaper of record in New Jersey and a highly respected news medium that wielded considerable political power and ranked with the country's best newspapers.

        To many, myself included, the Newark News was "The New York Times of New Jersey" and a publishing institution that dominated the State's publishing scene.

        Before I go into what the Newark News was about, I'd like to go into its death, because this era looms freshest in my memory.

        The beginning of the end came as the 98-year old paper was already falling into a sharp decline, circulation wise, for the first time in its history being surpassed in both daily and Sunday circulation by the Newark Star-Ledger.

        The 'clincher' was in February 1971 when the newsroom, which had never been (union) organized, voted to go out on strike.  They walked out in May 1971.

        It took until April 1972 for the strike to be settled, and for the News to resume publication.

        But by then it was too late.

        The paper's owners, Media General, which had bought the paper two years earlier from the founding Scudder family, had already sold the Sunday News, along with its presses, to the Star-Ledger.

        The sale to Media General in 1970 had been made by Edward M.  Scudder and Richard Scudder as co-owners.  Edward was president.  Richard was publisher.

        During the lengthy strike, many of the Newark News top staffers had found jobs or were lured to jobs elsewhere.  Longtime News readers had gotten used to the Star-Ledger for their daily news needs, and many large advertisers had opted for keeping their ads with what seemed like a more reliable Star-Ledger, which by now had a huge daily circulation of over 400,000.


News Printed at Ledger

        From the time of the Newark News strike settlement in April 1972 until the paper ceased publication on August 31, 1972, the daily editions of the Newark Evening News were printed on Star-Ledger presses.  And now "The Gray Lady on Market Street" was dead. 1


An Intimate Look at News Operations

        The News, under the founding Scudder family, for 96 of its 98-year life, was a great place to work and attracted and developed some of the finest journalists of its era.

        Its coverage was statewide, and it had dozens of news bureaus scattered throughout the state, with local staffers on the scene, a large Trenton bureau in the State Capital before other New Jersey papers ever got to Trenton, and a bureau in Washington, D. C.

        As a political paper, the News wielded enormous influence.  As one longtime News political reported recalled in these snippets from a memoir, the News was "...a very well done paper...(but) they were arrogant...they thought they owned the State...they thought they could tell the Governor what to do...they were basically liberal Republicans..."


The News Classifieds

        As the State's most widely circulated paper, both daily and Sunday, over the years it had the most widely consulted advertising section for those seeking employment in North Jersey.


News Coverage

        It had staff of seasoned and respected sports writers...its editorials carried punch...and its longtime editorial cartoonist was a Pulitzer Prize winner.  Its news coverage was high in quality and widely trusted.

        A published report 2 in 1985, more than a decade after its demise, recalled the News as still the standard against which all New Jersey newspapers are measured.  Such was its legacy.

        The report went on to say its arts coverage was "corny and provincial"...that it loved animal stories and would play "lost dog" stories on its front pages...that it considered highway accidents as "big news."

        I got to know their military writer Warren Harry Kennett 3 in the late 1930s when I encountered him regularly at the Essex Troop Armory where I covered polo matches for the Star-Ledger for several seasons.  The Essex Troop team was always the host team.

        Salary wise, the News was not a great payer, though their stringers, I knew from my own experience, got twice as much per column inch for their stories as the Ledger paid.  Many News reporters generously padded their expense accounts and this practice was generally accepted and even protected. 4


News Attitude Toward Big Happenings

        The News had a passion for all-out coverage on disasters and would dispatch teams of reporters and photographers at almost any hour to a nearby train wreck or plane crash for comprehensive on-the-scene coverage.

        It also dispatched reporters to national and international happenings.  It even dispatched its reporters to the battle areas during World War II.  They usually hit the battle zones with "Anyone here from New Jersey?"

        Many Newark News staffers saw the other side of World War II as servicemen, writing for the Army's GI European newspaper, Stars and Stripes. 5  One News staffer wound up on the Army News Service, which used to send me weekly news packets when I edited Army newspapers at overseas bases.


Newark News Still Lives - at Newark Library

        The voluminous records of the Newark News -- the newspaper of record in New Jersey -- are still alive and serving New Jersey residents and researchers in the New Jersey Information Center of the Newark Public Library.

        The Newark Public Library, under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, gained possession of the Newark News morgue, including ancillary materials -- reporter's notes, etc -- and has made nearly all of the collection available on microfilm.

        The Newark News files are ranked as one of the most important historical resources in the State of New Jersey, and a major contribution to the study and preservation of New Jersey history.


Some Distinguished Newark News Alumni

bulletHoward Garis, reporter, who created the Uncle Wiggily character as a News reporter.  His Uncle Wiggily books later sold in the millions, and the Wiggily character appeared daily in the News for nearly four decades.  He also wrote the first 32 volumes in the Tom Swift series, which he wrote under the pen name of Victor Appleton.
 
bulletLillian McNamara (Garis).  The first woman reporter on the News, she met and married a fellow News reporter, Howard Garis.  She helped launch the Bobbsey Twins series and wrote some of the early volumes.
 
bulletRichard Reeves, writer for the News from 1963 to 1965.  Then one year at the Herald Tribune and on to the New York Times as Chief Political Correspondent.  His best-selling books included "President Kennedy: Profile of Power" (1993), and President Nixon: Alone in the White House" (2001).
 
bulletArthur Sylvester, who headed the Newark News bureau in Washington, D. C., who in 1960 joined the Kennedy administration as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.
 
bulletGeorge Oslin, leading reporter, who later became Public Relations head of Western Union, and in 1933 invented the Singing Telegram.
 
bulletLute Pease, News editorial cartoonist and winner of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. 6
 
bullet John T. Cunningham 7, reporter and feature writer for the Newark News, currently president of the New Jersey Historical Society and widely recognized as the State historian.  He has written the definitive book on Newark's history ("Newark" 1966, N. J. Historical Society) and a score of books and hundreds of articles on New Jersey.
 
bulletWillie Ratner, nationally-acclaimed boxing writer for the News for nearly 50 years. 8
 
bullet Joseph Katz, ten years a reporter at the News, who left to become press secretary to New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes from 1936 to 1971.  He'd cut his newspaper-reporting teeth at the Dorf Feature Service (of which I was a founding member in 1938) as a stringer for Kearny High School.
 
bullet
Charley Bowers, editorial cartoonist in the 1930s.  Before joining the Newark News, Bowers had done editorial cartoons for The Jersey Journal, The Chicago Star, and The
Chicago Tribune.  In earlier careers, he had been a circus performer (at age 6), a jockey, had acted in silent films, toured vaudeville, and directed plays.  He had also written, produced, and directed about 300 Mutt and Jeff animated cartoons between 1916 and 1926, released nationally.

 


Postscript:

        The stately gray building at 215 Market Street, in which the news happenings of the city, county, state, and world were daily assembled and printed, is today again bustling with life as The Renaissance Towers, a Downtown Newark apartment and condominium complex, which was recently renovated.

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