Richard B. Scudder, cofounder and former chairman of MediaNews Group Inc. which owns The Berkshire Eagle, the Bennington Banner, Manchester Journal, Brattleboro Reformer and numerous other publications around the country, died Wednesday at his home in Atlantic Highlands, N.J. He was 99.
William Dean Singleton, the other founder of Denver-based MediaNews and former chairman of The Associated Press, confirmed the death. A native of Newark, N.J., Scudder was born May 13, 1913, into a newspaper family. Scudder worked as a reporter for the Boston Herald before joining the Newark (N.J.) Evening News as a reporter in 1938. He took over from his father as publisher of the Evening News in 1952, a post he held for 20 years.
In 1983, with Singleton, Scudder purchased the Gloucester County Times in New Jersey. Two years later, they formed MediaNews Group, which became a force in American journalism, with ownership of major dailies such as the Denver Post, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Los Angeles Daily News and the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune, as well as the Detroit News.
Singleton, the chairman of MediaNews, said Scudder was the "conscience of the company" who loved newspapers and emphasized the importance of local coverage that was hard-hitting. Singleton said he didn't flinch at spending money to fight for information to be released to the public or to defend a reporter's right to protect sources.
"He was a newsman through and through. He was certainly a good businessman, but his heart and soul was always on the news side," Singleton said.
"He was a real guardian of the newsroom and of free-thinking, determining your own direction for editorial policies," said Andrew H. Mick, president of New England Newspapers Inc., a subsidiary of MediaNews, and publisher of The Berkshire Eagle since 1999. "Mr. Scudder did everything within his power to make sure we remained an independent voice serving our community and that we did not take on a corporate identity and ideology that was established in Denver."
"He wanted this newspaper and all of his newspapers to be independent and to be a reflection of their community," Mick emphasized.
"He had the vision for the change" that has transformed newspapers into multimedia distributors of content, Mick added. "I would characterize him as somebody who said yes, that's the reality and let's embrace it.
"He was the perfect gentleman and had a shy way about him," Mick remembered. During personal conversations, Scudder opened up about his service as an Army intelligence analyst during World War II. He played a major role in re-establishing a free press in what had been Nazi Germany and occupied nations.
During years of annual visits to The Eagle newsroom, Scudder chatted with reporters and editors, stressing as a priority strong grassroots reporting as the key to success and profitability for local newspapers.
Said Eagle Executive Editor Tim Farkas: "Mr. Scudder - I always called him that as a sign of respect - loved local news, the lifeblood of this business. He was always interested in the hot topic of the day or week when he visited the Berkshires."
"Dick Scudder was the founder and a chairman of MediaNews Group, which are monumental achievements in the industry," said The Eagle's managing editor, Kevin Moran. "But he never put on airs that he was anything but a newsman at heart. His passion always was news and his deepest respect he reserved for journalists and readers."
Banner and Reformer Publisher Edward Woods said, "Since I joined Media News in 2005, and until his retirement a couple of years ago, Mr. Scudder visited our properties several times each year. During those visits, I often followed him into the newsroom where he huddled with reporters and editors to share his passion for the business. This was an opportunity for young news professionals to connect with Mr. Scudder and for him to stay in touch with the local news gathering process. As a publisher, I saw his commitment to our local communities in the example that he set for delivering news and information with the most sensitivity and respect. Our company and the communities that it serves are fortunate to have had Dick Scudder as our editorial leader over the years."
Banner Editor Jim Therrien recalled Scudder's quick grasp of issues, whether local, regional, national or international, during his visits to Bennington and the newspaper.
"He always displayed an interest in the current local issues of the community and city newspapers he visited on a regular basis, and in Bennington he would ask staff members for background details on major stories and where we thought our coverage of those issues would go," Therrien said. "Mr. Scudder had an obvious commitment to local news and to independent newspapers that matched that of our youngest reporters and editors."
Mick, who first met Scudder in 1991, recalled that his most recent visit to The Eagle was about two years ago. Scudder departed MediaNews after the company was reorganized following a "prepackaged" bankruptcy filing in 2010 from which it has since emerged.
Scudder also founded the Garden State Paper Co., an innovator as the first large-scale commercial producer of recycled newsprint.
In the early 1950s, Scudder had a hand in inventing a process to remove ink from newsprint so newspapers could be recycled into quality newsprint. After being approached by a news dealer who came up with the idea, Scudder initially tested the process in his office and home before moving the research to university and laboratory settings, according to the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame in Appleton, Wisc. Scudder was admitted to the hall in 1995.
Scudder served in the Army during World War II, earning a Bronze Star. He had learned German as a child and put this knowledge to use writing scripts for a German-language radio station to mislead the Nazis as part of "Operation Annie." He remained with the Army in Europe until 1946 working to help civilians take over newspapers that had been run by the Nazis, said Nancy Conway, the editor of The Salt Lake Tribune.
Conway said Scudder was kind of hero to MediaNews editors because he would fly or drive to newsrooms around the country to offer moral support and encouragement.
"When budgets got tight and you were weighing what to do, he was always extremely encouraging," Conway said. "He and Dean always managed to get us what we needed to do the best we could do."
MediaNews Group's 57 newspapers in 11 states have combined daily circulations of 2.3 million, making MediaNews one of the nation's largest newspaper companies. It also owns a television station in Alaska and radio stations in Te x a s .
Scudder served as MediaNews chairman from 1985 through 2009.
Even in his later years, Scudder continued to make his views public, including writing letters to publications on issues related to the 2008 presidential election.
Scudder had deep ties to New Jersey, where he returned after serving during World War II.
The Princeton University graduate was a trustee of Princeton University's Environmental Institute, Rutgers University and New Jersey State University. He also received an honorary doctorate from Monmouth University.
His wife, Elizabeth Shibley Scudder, died in 2004 at the age of 83. He is survived by daughters Jean Fulmer of Augusta, Maine, Carolyn Miller of Devin, Pa., and Holly Difiani of Polson, Mont.; a son, Charles Scudder of Portland, Ore.; and eight grandchildren.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.