Howard, Roy W(ilson) 1883-1964
HOWARD, Roy W(ilson) 1883-1964
PERSONAL: Born January 1, 1883, in Gano, OH; died November 20, 1964; married Margaret Rohe (a journalist and actress), 1909; children: Jack, Jane.
CAREER: Newspaper writer, editor, and manager. Began as a delivery boy, became a reporter. Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, IN, sportswriter, 1902-05; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, MO, assistant telegraph editor, 1905. Scripps-McRae League of newspapers, newspaperman, 1905-64: Post, Cincinnati, OH, news editor, 1905; special correspondent in New York, 1906; Publisher Press Association, general manager, 1906; United Press Association, New York manager, beginning 1907, then general manager; United Press, president, 1912-20; Scripps-McRae Newspapers and Newspaper Enterprise Association, business director and board chair, 1920-22, chair of Scripps-Howard Newspapers, beginning 1922, and chair of executive committee; New York World-Telegram (later named New York World-Telegram and Sun), editor, 1931-61; United Press International (UPI), director.
(With Webb Miller) I Found No Peace: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, Garden City Publishing Co. (Garden City, NY), 1938.
SIDELIGHTS: Roy W. Howard is best known for his hip-shooting editorial direction of the mammoth Scripps-Howard newspaper chain. As a writer for Journalists of the United States commented of Howard: "Under his direction, Scripps-Howard came to own twenty-five daily papers in twenty-four cities. . . . Howard achieved fame as the 'man who ended World War I four days early,' when as a foreign correspondent he cabled an unconfirmed report of a false armistice on November 7, 1918." Jumping the gun on such a story typified Howard; he was a man of instinct, though those instincts shifted as he developed from reporter to editor to manager and newspaper president.
Howard was born in Gano, Ohio, a small town just outside Cincinnati, on January 1, 1883. His grandmother ran a tollhouse there, and his father was a brakeman on the Big Four Railroad. Howard grew up in Gano and in Indianapolis, where he attended the Manual Training High School. He had a taste for the news business from early on; in high school, Howard delivered both the Indianapolis Star and the Indianapolis News. He also reported for the News in high school and eventually worked there full-time, though he moved quickly to the Star when it offered a salary increase. Alfred Lawrence Lorenz, in an essay for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, noted: "Later Howard would acquire a reputation as a man tight with a dollar, and some traced his penuriousness to these youthful experiences." Howard advanced his career quickly. In 1905 he became assistant telegraph editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, then shifted almost immediately to the Cincinnati Post, where he was offered a news editor's position. The Scripps-McRae League of Newspapers, for which Howard worked until he died, owned the Post.
In some ways, Howard was better suited for a reporter's work than an editor's. As Lorenz explained, "He preferred the rough-and-tumble excitement of gathering news to the more sedate business of making assignments and editing what others had gathered and written." Howard himself admitted, "I have never been one of those birds who could sit back and say, 'All right boys, go get them.' I have to say, 'All right boys, let's go get 'em.'"
Howard's ambition and expertise made him a strong leader, a role he assumed throughout his career. In 1907, with some merging of its holdings, then-president of Scripps-McRae's United Press Association John Vandercook made Howard its New York manager. On a trip out west, Howard met and charmed the newspaper pioneer E. W. Scripps, who approved of Howard's cocksure attitude. Reportedly, Scripps remarked of Howard, "That young man will never get indigestion from licking my boots." Howard's star rose quickly in the organization; later, when Vandercook died suddenly, Howard was named general manager.
Howard worked hard to update the news organization's communications systems, thus allowing reporters to access news from throughout the country. Lorenz explained, "The stories were, for the most part, simply rehashed accounts from morning newspapers in cities in which bureaus were located—yesterday's news. Howard demanded that his rewrite men comb the stories carefully for any 'today angle' that would make the news fresh. Howard also ordered that the flow of information from the Midwest be stepped up." In 1912, he moved up again, becoming president of the United Press. He had established himself as a central figure in the Scripps-McRae organization in just seven years.
During World War I, Howard made the blunder most often associated with him; he jumped the gun on reporting the armistice. It was an honest mistake: Howard learned from Admiral Henry B. Wilson that the armistice had just been signed. He telegraphed United Press, which, in the confusion of those last war days, failed to check the story thoroughly. It was printed four days before the real armistice—"too damn exclusive," as one reporter is said to have put it. Howard merely took the stumble in stride: "In my opinion, no real reporter would have done otherwise in the circumstances," he later said with a shrug. Nevertheless, Howard's reputation—and that of his news organization—suffered.
Howard continued to direct the news conglomerate, however, and in 1922, its name was officially changed to Scripps-Howard. Howard also edited the New York World-Telegram from 1931 to 1961. Though the papers seemed, to some, more mundane under Howard, he ran his ship tightly and kept the business alive during difficult financial times. He was known as a tight-fisted employer who approved recycling such supplies as carbon paper and string. His persnickety insistence on economy enabled the papers to break into the major market of New York, however. Moreover, as Lorenz pointed out, "As the driving force behind the development of United Press and as the strong-willed director of the fortunes of the Scripps-Howard chain, Howard had exercised a broad influence on American readers. . . . United Press and the newspapers had thrived under his leadership to provide the public with varied voices in the news and information marketplace, and that, in the long run, had been his aim." Howard became chair of Scripps-Howard Newspapers in 1922 and, eventually, director of United Press International.
Howard succeeded as both a businessman and a reporter by making decisions quickly and standing behind them. His instinct was imperfect, but he and the world trusted it. As a Literary Digest contributor stated in 1936, Howard had "the most highly trained and natural news sense of any man alive." He died in 1964.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 29: American Newspaper Journalists, 1926-1950, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984, pp. 123-131.
Journalists of the United States, McFarland & Co. (Jefferson, NC), 1991.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 15, 1986; January 9, 1988.
Literary Digest, March 14, 1936, pp. 38-39.
New York Times, November 21, 1964.*