Roy Wilson Howard · 1966
By Laurie Parker
Editor-publisher Roy Wilson Howard was one of the most important journalists this century. He headed the United Press during its greatest period growth, forming it into a worldwide news agency. As chairman of the board and business director, Howard saw the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain become the largest chain in the United States.
Roy Howard was born in modest circumstances in Gano, Ohio, on January 1, 1883. Roy’s father, William A. Howard, was a brakeman for the local railroad. The Howard family moved to Indianapolis when Roy was seven. When his father died, Roy began to deliver morning and afternoon papers to help support the family.
Howard landed a job with the Indianapolis News as a high school correspondent for Manual Training High School. He worked for space rates and therefore used the name of E.H. Kemper McComb because it had more letters. In one week alone Howard made an incredible $35 at five cents per line, reporting the events of his high school.
After graduating from Manual High School in 1902, Howard received a job as a full time reporter with the Indianapolis News at $8 per week. The paper promoted him for two reasons: his talent and to save the paper money. He then moved to the rival paper, the Indianapolis Star, to become the sports editor.
After this assignment Howard tried to obtain a job with a large metropolis newspaper, preferably Pulitzer’s New York World. He traveled to New York, but failed to gain a job. He then visited St. Louis with hopes of employment with the Post-Dispatch. He planned to work up to the New York paper by going through the back door. Howard served as telegraphy editor of the Post-Dispatch, but quit when he was denied a promotion. The desired position was given to an older employee. He wrote to his friend Ray Long, managing editor of the Cincinnati Post, and asked for a job. Long hired Howard as the news manager. Since Howard longed for a job with a large metropolis newspaper, he quickly convinced John Vandercook, the editor of the Cincinnati Post, to appoint him as a special newspaper correspondent in New York.
In 1906 Howard became a news correspondent in New York for the Scripps-McRae newspaper chain, which had papers in Toledo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus. When E.W. Scripps formed the United Press by buying and then merging several small news agencies, he appointed Howard the general news manger in New York. In 1908 Scripps decided that Howard and the West Coast news manager should change positions temporarily to learn more about the overall organization. When Scripps first met Howard, he wrote in his diary: “His manner was forceful and the reverse of modest. Gall was written all over his face. It was in every work he voiced.” Howard was promoted to president of United Press (UP) in 1912, serving until 1920. During Howard’s presidency, UP experienced its greatest period of growth. He began with 369 afternoon clients in 1907, expanded to 392 in 1909, and finally ended with 491 in 1921. Under his leadership UP became a worldwide news agency. In 1916 UP only had service in Japan, France, and England. In 1916 UP began service in Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, and numerous Latin American countries.
UP made several innovations under Howard. It was the first profitable news service. UP made the first wireless dispatch from a flagship. UP was the first agency to transmit feature stories. It was the first news agency to use automatic printers outside of New York.
Howard became Chairman of the Board of UP in 1921. He then concentrated on building an efficient business and sales organization. UP had previously devoted insufficient time to this area since it was attempting to build a sound news gathering program.
On June 14, 1909, Howard married Margaret Rohe, a former newspaper woman who was then performing a play in London. They had two children, Jack Rohe and Jane Perkins. In 1960 Jack succeeded his father as editorial head of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain.
Howard pulled one of the greatest journalistic blunders of all times by announcing the signing of the armistice to end World War I four days before it was actually signed. On November 7, 1918 he sent the New York UP office this cablegram: “PARIS URGENT ARMISTICE ALLIES GERMANY SIGNED ELEVEN SMORNING HOSTILITIES CEASED TWO SAFTERNOON SEDAN TAKEN SMORNING BY AMERICANS.” The New York office received the message before noon and put it on the wire within minutes. The entire nation learned of the message by noon. Celebration occurred throughout the nation. New York had its first ticker tape parade. When the State Department denied any knowledge of the signing of the armistice, UP was forced to run a story the following day that the report was unconfirmed.
The armistice was not actually signed until November 11, but Howard had received a presumed official report four days earlier from the commander of U.S. naval forces in France, Henry B. Wilson. Although such a mistake would have ruined the careers of some journalists, Howard benefitted from the event. UP flourished after the report and some people thought Howard had an inside track to the news.
In 1921 Howard left UP to become Chairman of the Board and the business director of the Scripps-McRae newspaper chain. In 1925 Howard gained co-directorship of the chain with Robert P. Scripps. The name of the chain was changed to Scripps-Howard. Scripps-Howard underwent a vast expansion program after Howard was hired. E.W. Scripps had decreed that one-third of the profits each year should be earmarked for expansion. A list of the newspapers purchased from 1921-1936 follows:
1921 Norfolk Post, Burlington Post, Ft. Worth Press, Knoxville News, Washington Daily News, El Paso Post; 1922 Youngstown Telegram, Indianapolis Times, Baltimore Post, New Mexico State Tribune; 1923 Pittsburgh Press; 1925 Akron Times; 1926 Memphis News-Scimitar, Knoxville Sentinel, Rocky Mountain News, Denver Times; 1927 New York Telegram; 1929 Buffalo Times; 1931 El Paso Herald, New York World; 1936 Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Howard’s most famous acquisition was the New York World, which had denied him employment when he was a young newspaperman. For $5,000,000, $3,000,000 in direct payment and $2,000,000 from the profits, Howard purchased three Pulitzer papers: the New York World, Evening World, and Sunday World. Howard killed the evening and Sunday editions and merged the World with the New York Telegram to for the New York World Telegram. Howard served as editor of this paper for 33 years. In 1950 he bought the Star, forming the New York World Telegram and Star.
Howard served as president of the Scripps-Howard chain from 1936-52. From 1953-64 he was chairman of the executive committee of the newspaper chain.
Roy Howard died from a massive coronary on November 20, 1964.
Roy Howard’s contribution to the field of journalism were many. He was: a reporter, a publisher, an editor, a business, an innovator, an expansionist, a crusader, and a public servant.
Howard’s greatest contribution lies in his protection of the press. When Howard began as the general manager of UP in New York, the Associated Press (AP) had a virtual monopoly over the news press service. During his presidency from 1912-20, UP experienced its greatest spurt of growth. Howard firmly established UP as a major news service by the end of World War I. Howard had improved UP’s service to the point that AP now had a major competitor. The days were gone when no one could challenge AP. AP was no longer considered infallible. Howard executed E.W. Scripp’s belief in maintaining free enterprise in the press. Under this competitive system press services would be constantly improving their techniques, their coverage, and their efficiency in order to surpass their competitors. The American public would benefit by receiving the news more rapidly and more accurately.
Howard surrounded UP employees with a “beat AP” drive. Jack Alexander of the Saturday Evening Post call this “the belligerent attitude of an intoxicated fieldmouse squaring off against an elephant.”
Howard staffed UP with young, hungry reporters, providing them with a chance to advance high into the organization. He also provided them with a goal: to develop the best news agency in the world.
He constantly advised his employees to never copy AP; others had tried and failed. UP reporters should look for new ways of covering the news. They should personalize the news, emphasizing the human side of the news. People are more interesting than events, he explained.
In 1912 Howard send Marlen E. Pew to cover a strike of the textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Instead of a straight news story, Howard wanted an in-depth news feature on the strike. He told Pew to capture the spirit of the strike story: the causes of the strike and its affects on the lives of the strikers and management. Marlen interviewed both sides of the strike for his articles. When the articles were published, a great outpouring of public sentiment occurred and a congressional investigation was initiated.
Howard stressed the importance of getting the scoop. On several occasions UP correspondents did just that, producing the first reports of the news. During Howard’s presidency, UP developed a reputation for being first on the scene.
During the Mexican American dispute in 1914, President Wilson sent the U.S. Atlantic fleet to Vera Cruz to protect the rights of Americans. Bill Shepherd, the UP correspondent in Mexico City, learned of the arrival of the marines in Vera Cruz. With the aid of a UP coding system, Shepherd slipped the message past the censors and relayed the message to the New York office. Within minutes the story was on the wire after UP workers decoded the message.
MEXICO CITY, April 21 (UP) American troops are in Vera Cruz and will report their occupation to the city of Washington from there over the cable lines to which they now have access. Mexican forces are returning by rail toward Mexico City.
Since no report was sent to Washington that afternoon, the State Department and the Department of the Navy denied any knowledge of the event. AP called the story a fake, but within several hours the government released the information of the landing. The landing had occurred less than one hour before Shepherd wired the message.
Howard expanded UP service nationally and internationally. He increased the output of the UP office on the West Coast from 4,000 to 12,000 words per day. From 1908-16 UP expanded from a rag tag news agency to a major world news service. By 1916 UP had established news agencies in Europe, Asia, and South America.
Howard made UP the first profitable agency to deal exclusively with the sale of news. AP has other business interests besides the news service agency. Within three years of operation, Howard put UP in the black. In 1909 UP made its first profit, $1,200.
Howard increased UP’s clients by: UP’s human approach to the news; its ability to get the scoop; its cooperation in serving the needs of its clients; and its swift service. One client, for example, claimed that a good fire story boosted his circulation. Howard had his employees search until they found him a good fire.
As business director and Chairman of the Board, the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain expanded into the largest chain in the United States. Executing the policies of E.W. Scripps, Howard guided the chain through an extensive expansion from 1921-36. He departed from Scripp’s tradition of purchasing newspapers in second or third class cities. Instead Howard purchased newspapers in large metropolitan areas. He purchased the Pittsburgh Press for $6,200,000 in 1923 and the New York Telegram for $1,800,000 in 1927.
Howard saw two main purposes for his newspapers: to keep the public informed of current news and to make the government accountable by serving as watchdogs. Howard saw the latter purpose as a means by which to expose corruption. When Howard became the editor of the New York World Telegram in 1931, he formed a watchdog agency with some of his best reporters. The agency was assigned to carefully observe the municipal government. As a result, the paper crusaded against corruption in New York City government, which “helped spark-plug the probes that led to the ouster of Mayor Jimmy Walker and the imprisonment of Federal Martin Manton.” The World Telegram won a Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for exposing this corruption.
Despite his abilities as a publisher, a businessman, and an editor, Howard saw himself primarily as a reporter. He had an excellent nose for the news and an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. For example, Howard was aboard the luxury liner Olympic when it was called to rescue the survivors of the Titanic.
During his career Howard flew over 2,000,000 miles and interviewed some of the best known figures of his day. During World War I Howard used a device called the war-aims interview to converse with Allied heads of state. In this war-aims interview the statesman could use UP as a mouthpiece to carry his message to the American public. In return Howard received a personal look at the national leaders. Howard interviewed British Prime Minister Lloyd George on September 28, 1916. George conversed with Howard in the language of the people, not the language of diplomacy. Howard’s report of the Prime Minister’s candid remarks appeared in newspapers throughout the world as one of the biggest stories of the war. Howard also interviewed Churchill, Hitler, and Stalin.
Another major contribution was that Howard tried to make news writing more colorful. He refuted the accepted belief that reports had to be plain and lifeless to be objective. He wanted to make the stories more readable by reflecting the life or spirit of the event.
Roy Howard was a member of Sigma Delta Chi, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and a Mason. He also actively participated in these clubs: Bohemian, Southside Sportsmen’s of Long Island, Silurians, Dutch Treat, Cloud, and Artists and Writers.
Roy Howard was one of the most notable journalists of this century. He assisted two large news organizations to expand their operations. He was equally competent as a reporter, an editor, a businessman, and a publisher.