Ben E. Maidenburg · 1994
“Hollering the paper” is how Ben Maidenburg described his first newspaper job – hawking the Marion Chronicle on the streets of his adopted Indiana hometown as a schoolboy in the 1920s.
Lessons learned early followed Maidenburg throughout the loftier days of his long journalism and civic career in Akron, Ohio, where he lived most of his life until his death in 1986.
Maidenburg hollered for higher quality and more accuracy in his newspaper, The Beacon Journal – sometimes even berating a miscreant reporter or editor in the middle of the newsroom.
He hollered for jobs, jobs and more jobs in Akron – and landed them in impressive numbers, for which he won the nickname “Mr. Akron.”
For him, hollering worked. Indeed, one of his admirers and employers, the late John S. Knight, said about Maidenburg, “Ben was a feisty, loud-talking individual with tons of energy and a generally combative attitude.”
But there also was a quieter side to Maidenburg, a side Knight called “warm and compassionate.”
He was quieter when he stepped in – as executive editor and publisher of the Beacon Journal – to personally mediate, and resolve, labor disputes between union and management in Akron.
And he was quieter when he dug into his own pocket to put some poor students through the University of Akron, when he worked to rehabilitate ex-convicts and when he led an effort to get a swimming pool in a black neighborhood when others would not.
Maidenburg undoubtedly took his combination of assertiveness and quiet effectiveness from his parents, Russian immigrants who fled czarist oppression in 1900, first to Germany and later to Jewish communities in New York City and Philadelphia.
Philadelphia was the city of Maidenburg’s birth, in 1910, but soon the family moved to America’s Midwest, to Marion. There, David Maidenburg (Ben was the only member of the family to spell his last name with a “u”) sold dry goods and eventually opened a store in Gas City, a smaller town outside Marion.
After hawking papers, Maidenburg went for the big money of the newsroom -writing amateur baseball games for $1 a game. When the paper’s sports editor hurriedly left town amid rumors of a romance gone wrong, Maidenburg, while still in high school, became the new sports editor.
After high school, he briefly attended Butler University, but when financial aid fell through, he went back to Marion.
He was not, however, the kind to settle in for the rest of his life. Soon, he was writing to a dozen papers, asking for a job. The Des Moines Register said yes, and Maidenburg accepted even though it meant a $12 a week cut in pay.
Nine years later, Maidenburg was Knight’s choice for a prized new job: editor of the Sunday paper that resulted from the merger of the Beacon Journal and the Times-Press.
“He was never content,” his obituary story in the Beacon Journal said, “for ‘good enough’ and constantly strived for the unusual, the original, the story that would raise eyebrows or stir the emotions”
Knight again called on Maidenburg to instill that never-good-enough attitude at other Knight papers – the Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and Chicago Daily News.
But he always came back to Akron. In 1948, he became the Beacon Journal’s executive editor and occasionally he hollered. He would stride into the newsroom and yell, “Who the blankety blank wrote this headline?” His defenders and there were many, saw his style as intellectually honest and saying “what he thought.”
From his executive editor’s s spot, Maidenburg deepened his foray into charity work – the United Fund, Akron Chamber of Commerce, St. Thomas Hospital and Medical Center, Akron Jewish Center, Citizens for Progress and many more.
“He was an editor and community activist, and he made no apologies for the dual role, even when it caused concern, conflict and hairpulling within the ranks of his reporters and editors at the paper,” the Beacon Journal said in an editorial at the time of his death.
“His era may have been a different one, but Ben Maidenburg saw his role as larger that simply being editor of a newspaper. If there was a leadership vacuum in town or during consideration of a particular project, he eagerly filled it and usually with skill and success.”
It was no shock when Maidenburg became publisher in 1963, but it was when he announced his retirement in 1975 to become president of the Knight Foundation.
Ill health – his and his wife Jeanne’s – soon struck, and in 1978 Maidenburg retired from the foundation.
But even in his final years, he was active, quietly but influentially, in charity and economic development work in Akron. The time for holding was past.
Maidenburg is survived by a daughter, Suzan Shoshan; two sons, David and Ben Jr.; and two brothers, Milton and Frank Maidenburg.