Maynard, Robert C. 1937–1993

views updated May 23 2018

Robert C. Maynard 19371993

Newspaper editor and publisher, writer, social commentator

At a Glance

Fought the Odds for a Newspaper Joband Won

A Historic Opportunity in California

The Decision to Sell the Tribune


The late Robert Maynard was a dynamic figure in American journalism throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The first African American to own a major metropolitan daily newspaper, Maynard was publisher of the struggling Oakland Tribune from 1983 until 1992. Through that newspaper and the Institute for Journalism Education, which he co-founded in 1976, Maynard became instrumental in training and placing minority journalists in important positions nationwide.

San Francisco Chronicle editor Paula Marie Parker wrote: Bob used [his) wondrous voice, a razor-sharp intellect and his optimism to challenge journalists of color and recalcitrant newspaper executives alike to effect change. For the media execs, that meant hiring black, Latino, Asian and Native American people and letting them rise to the height of their abilities. For journalists of color, that meant honing your skills and prodding your editors for better coverage of communities predominated by people of color. In the San Francisco Examiner, Roger Rapoport called Maynard a reigning symbol of hope and diversity.

Upon his death in 1993, Maynards colleagues and competitors alike praised him as a visionary who transformed his chosen fieldnewspaper journalismon both a local and national level. Maynard never forgot the difficulties he faced trying to find a job in the newspaper business in the early 1960s. Having finally established himself in a field that is still dominated by white males, he went on to promote the careers of other journalists, editors, and photographers.

During his ownership of the Oakland Tribune, that paper was distinguished by its relatively large number of minority reporters and its aggressive coverage of minority issues. San Francisco Chronicle executive editor William German described Maynard as an example of what should be achieved in journalism, a man who ran a fine newspaper in a principled manner that was completely true to himself.

Cultural diversity in newsrooms was unheard-of when Robert Maynard was bom. Whitesmostly menran the major metropolitandailies. Minority journalists worked for newspapers such as the Baltimore Afro-American, which catered to a black readership. From the beginning, Maynard seemed an unlikely candidate for a position as a reporter. The son of Barbadian immigrants, he was born

At a Glance

Born Robert Clyve Maynard, June 17, 193 7, in Brooklyn, NY; died of cancer, August 1 7, 1993, in Oakland. CA; son of Barbadian immigrants Samuel C. and Robertine lsola (Greaves) Maynard; married second wife, Nancy Hicks (a journalist), January 1, 1975; children: (first marriage) Dori; (second marriage) David, Alex. Education: Attended Harvard University on a Nieman fellowship, 196566.

Reporter for black weeklies New York Age-Defender and Baltimore, Afro-American ; York Gazette and Daily, York, PA, reporter, 196166; Washington Post, Washington, DC, national correspondent, 196772, associate editor and ombudsman, 197274, editorial writer, 197477; Institute for Journalism Education (renamed Robert Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, 1993), co-founder, 1977, chairman, 197779, faculty member through 1993; affirmative action consultant to Gannett newspaper chain, late 1970s; Oakland Tribune, Oakland, CA, editor in chief, 197963, publisher and owner, 198392.

Syndicated columnist, 197993; regular contributor to This Week with David Brinkley and other television news shows. Member of board of directors, Associated Press and Pulitzer Prize committees.

in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He became fascinated with journalism at the age of eight, when he wrote an essay about a new wave of immigration taking place in his neighborhood. But Maynard was rebellious from his earliest years; school could not contain his energies. He dropped out of high school at sixteen with what he called an insatiable desire to know about America and the world, to quote the Sacramento Bee.

Even before leaving high school, though, the naturally gifted Maynard began contributing pieces to the New York Age-Defender, one of Americas oldest black newspapers. He continued to work for the Age-Defender through the rest of his teen years from a base in Greenwich Village. Maynard often recalled that he mailed over 300 resumes to newspapers in quest of an entry-level reporting job. The application process, fraught with frustration as it was, imbued him with a deep sense that people of color should be better represented on the nations newspaper staffs.

Fought the Odds for a Newspaper Joband Won

Maynard finalty got a break in 1961 when he was hired as the police reporter at the York Gazette and Daily in York, Pennsylvania. (York, with a population of 30,000, is located about 60 miles west of Philadelphia.) Hated over landing a job in the news field, Maynard worked hard in the predominantly white community of York, and in 1965 won a Nieman fellowship to Harvard University. The Nieman fellowshipa program of one to two years durationis one of journalisms most prestigious awards.

As a Nieman fellow, Maynard became acquainted with some of the major figures in modern American journalism. One such executive who spoke at Harvard was Ben Bradlee, editor in chief at the Washington Post. Newsweek correspondent Ellis Cose noted that Maynard picked a fight with Bradlee at Harvard, probably regarding the Posts dismal program of minority hiring. Whatever the cause of the argument, Bradlee was impressed by Maynards determination. When Maynards Nieman fellowship drew to a close, he was hired at the Washington Post. There, according to Cose, he instantly became a star reporter.

Maynards assignments at the Post included some of the biggest stories of the era, including the Watergate scandala cover-up of illegal activity by then-President Richard M. Nixon and his staff in connection with the 1972 burglary of Democratic party offices by the presidents campaign committeeand Nixons subsequent resignation, as well as other stories of national importance. As the 1970s progressed, Maynard was promoted several times, becoming an associate editor, ombudsman, and columnist. But he had not forgotten his commitment to increasing minority representation on newspapers. While at the Post, he taught occasional journalism classes at Columbia University and was active in a minority recruitment program there. In 1976, he and his second wife, Nancy Hicks, became part of a group that founded the California-based Institute for Journalism Education, a program dedicated to preparing qualified minority candidates for high-level journalism careers.

A Historic Opportunity in California

Maynard originally took a leave of absence from the Washington Post to help establish the Institute for Journalism Education. By 1977 he made the split from Washington permanent and moved with his wife to California. Neither of them foresaw the new directions their careers would take on the West Coast.

In 1979, the Gannett Corporation asked Maynard to assume the duties of editor in chief at the Oakland Tribune. The Tribune was a historic metropolitan daily that had long been an important voice for conservative politics and the Republican platform in California. Gannett had only recently acquired the newspaper from its longtime owners, the Knowland family, and the paper was struggling financially. Maynard assumed the editor in chief position and brought a whole new mission with him. He hired numerous minority reportersincluding the countrys first Asian American columnist and the countrys first openly gay columnistand intensified coverage of Oaklands minority communities.

Roger Rapoport wrote in the San Francisco Examiner that after Maynard became editor of the Tribune, the paper [became] a stimulating place to work, shaking off the dust of the Knowland era. [Maynard] filled the [Tribune] Tower with talented editors and reporters recruited from all over the nation. Many defected from larger papers like the Washington Post, and some even agreed to take a pay cut to join the Tribune. He also delivered on his promise to turn the newsroom into a melting pot, one that more closely reflected the community it covered.

In 1982 the Gannett Corporation decided to purchase a television station in Oakland. Federal Communications Commission rules required that the company sell the newspaper first, so Gannett began to solicit purchase offers for the Tribune. Maynard made a bold move: he offered to buy the newspaper himself. The transaction was completed in 1983, and Maynard became the first African American to own a metropolitan daily newspaper with a circulation in excess of 100,000. Even more important to Maynard, though, was the fact that he had orchestrated the first management-leveraged buyout of an American newspaper, purchasing the Tribune entirely with loans from Gannett and local banks.

Suddenly the ambitious newsman found himself the proprietor of a major daily, wrote Rapoport. At first, the $22 million transaction looked like the deal of a lifetime. Maynard did not put a penny of his own down. The money was all borrowed, $17 million from Gannett itself and $5 million from banks. But it soon became clear that in taking over the Tribune, Maynard had shouldered back-breaking problems. As the Trib racked up dozens of awards in every major (editorial] category, culminating in a 1990 Pulitzer Prize for its photographic coverage of the 1989 earthquake, the papers business prospects grew dimmer. It seemed the paper could no longer compete in the Bay Area media market.

The 1980s were unquestionably among the hardest years in the history of print journalism. Numerous daily newspapers closed or merged with competitors. Staffs were trimmed and budgets were cut almost everywhere as the medium struggled to compete with television and new conglomerates like USA Today in a period of economic decline. The Oakland Tribune was beset by falling circulation and declining advertising revenues when Maynard bought it. The trend continued throughout his tenure of ownership, forcing the newspaper into deep debt and leading to layoffs and givebacks from the unionized work force.

The newspapers misfortunes were mirrored by the economy in the rest of Oaklanda devastating earthquake in 1989 and a fire storm the following year brought urban renewal to a halt and sent residents and businesses scurrying to other regions. Under those circumstances, Rapoport and others have maintained that it is amazing that the Tribune survived as long as it did.

The Decision to Sell the Tribune

Matters almost reached an impasse in 1991, but Maynard and his wifewho assisted him in most business decisionswere able to keep the Tribune afloat with help from the Freedom Forum in the form of $5 million in cash, loan guarantees worth an additional $4 million, and aid in settling the original debt to the Gannett Corporation, which had swelled with interest to $31.5 million. The influx of funds from the Freedom Forum only proved to be a temporary solution, however. By 1992, faced with the papers insolvency and his own bad health, Maynard decided to sell the Tribune.

The newspapers name and circulation records were purchased in 1992 for an undisclosed amount by William Dean Singleton, owner of several suburban dailies in the Bay Area. Most of the Tribune staff was not hired by Singleton, but the paper did continue the multicultural editorial policy that had characterized the Maynard era. In his announcement of the sale on November 30, 1992, Maynard told the Fresno Bee: Taking a paper that everybody always said was going to die the next day and reorganizing and restructuring it in such a way that it could be sold and go on the fact that we dont get to continue to own it is far less important than the fact that it will continue to exist.

San Francisco Examiner reporters Gregory Lewis and Carla Marìnucci characterized the Maynard ownership of the Tribune as a journalistic landmark, undone by an inability to negotiate some tough economic factors, many outside their control. Maynard is still lauded for his bold move to save the paper in the first placeand establish a landmark in black-owned publishing.

Ill health was a major factor in Maynards decision to expedite the sale of the Oakland Tribune. He had been treated for cancer in the late 1980s and faced a recurrence of it in 1992. Even his declining health did not deter him from a full schedule, however. He continued his long association with the Institute for Journalism Education, wrote his syndicated column regularly, and appeared on television news shows such as This Week with David Brinkley. He died at his home in Oakland on August 17, 1993, and was given memorial services in both California and Washington, D.C. In one eulogy, his former Washington Post associate Carl Bernstein called Maynard a wonderful colleague one of those who really believed that journalism was a higher calling.

In his last public address in May of 1993, Maynard told students at the Freedom Forum in Arlington, Virginia, that his mission was to create new opportunities for a variety of Americans to voice their opinions and concerns. This country cannot be the country we want it to be if its story is told by only one group of citizens, he concluded, as quoted in the Sacramento Bee. Our goal is to give frontdoor access to the truth.


Black Enterprise, December 1993, p. 26.

Christian Science Monitor, June 16, 1983, p. 1; August 22, 1986, p. 3.

Ebony, June 1985, p. 105.

Fresno Bee, November 30, 1992, p. A-3.

Los Angeles Times, June 29, 1990, p. D-l; August 19, 1993, p. A-l.

Newsweek, September 24, 1979, p. 89; May 16, 1983, p. 93 August 30, 1993.

Sacramento Bee, October 18, 1992, p. J-l; August 19, 1993, p. A-3; August 21, 1993, p. B-5; December 13, 1993, p. E-l.

San Francisco Chronicle, August 19, 1993, p. A-l; August 21, 1993, p. B-5; August 27, 1993, p. A-23.

San Francisco Examiner, November 3, 1991, p. I8; October 16, 1992, p. A-l, B-l; August 18, 1993, p. A-l.

Mark Kram

Robert Clyve Maynard

views updated May 17 2018

Robert Clyve Maynard

Robert Maynard (1937-1993) was the first black owner of a major daily newspaper.

When Robert Maynard bought the Oakland Tribunein 1983, he became the first black in the United States to own a major daily newspaper. But Maynard had a career full of firsts, from being the first black national newspaper correspondent to being the first black newspaper editor in chief.

The son of immigrants from Barbados, Maynard grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York. Interested in writing from an early age, Maynard frequently cut classes at Boys High School in Brooklyn to hang around the editorial offices of the black weekly newspaper the New York Age. By the age of sixteen he had dropped out of school to work full-time as a reporter for the New York Age. In 1956 he moved to Greenwich Village, where he wrote freelance articles and met writers such as James Baldwin and Langston Hughes.

Niemann Fellowship

Applying for jobs on white-owned newspapers brought no results, and it was 1961 before he found a job on a mainstream paper. Maynard began as a police and urban-affairs reporter for the York (Pa.) Gazette and Daily . In 1965 Maynard applied for a Niemann Fellowship and won, spending 1966 at Harvard University studying economics, art, and music history. After Harvard, he returned to the York Gazette and Daily as night city editor.

Washington Post

In 1967 Maynard was hired by the Washington Post as national correspondent, the first black to hold that position on any major newspaper. He was widely praised for his 1967 series on urban blacks. In 1972 he was appointed as ombudsman and associate editor for the Washington Post and also began working as senior editor for the new black monthly magazine Encore. In 1976 he was chosen to be one of three questioners for the final debate between Jimmy Carter and President Gerald Ford.


In 1977 Maynard left the Washington Post and moved to the University of California, Berkeley, to found the Institute for Journalism Education, a program for the training of minority journalists. In 1979 he was hired by the mammoth newspaper publisher Gannett as editor of its newly acquired but struggling Oakland Tribune. When he became editor of the paper, which was renamed simply the Tribune, circulation was at 170,000. By 1982 circulation had plummeted to 110,000, and the paper lost $5 million in 1981.


In response to the declining readership, Maynard started a morning edition, which was named Eastbay Today. Although the morning edition drew only 90,000 readers, in the fall of 1982 Maynard announced the end of the afternoon Tribune. The afternoon paper was merged with Eastbay Today into a morning Tribune, a move that was a prelude to Maynard's purchase of the paper in 1983 from the Gannett Company for $22 million.

Leadership and Illness

By 1985 the paper's circulation had increased to more than 150,000, but expenses still outpaced revenues. Maynard was forced to sell real estate holdings to meet expenses. Despite the losses the Tribune and Maynard's leadership garnered much praise and many awards for editorial excellence. In 1992 Maynard was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was forced to sell the Tribune. He died on 17 August 1993, an important figure in American journalism and a pathfinder for black journalists.

Further Reading

Black Enterprise, December 1993, p. 26.

Christian Science Monitor, June 16, 1983, p. 1; August 22, 1986, p. 3.

Ebony, June 1985, p. 105.

Fresno Bee, November 30, 1992, p. A-3.

Los Angeles Times, June 29, 1990, p. D-1; August 19, 1993, p. A-1.

Newsweek, September 24, 1979, p. 89; May 16, 1983, p. 93;August 30, 1993.

Sacramento Bee, October 18, 1992, p. J-1; August 19, 1993, p. A-3; August 21, 1993, p. B-5; December 13, 1993, p. E-1.

San Francisco Chronicle, August 19, 1993, p. A-1; August 21, 1993, p. B-5; August 27, 1993, p. A-23.

San Francisco Examiner, November 3, 1991, p. I-8; October 16, 1992, p. A-1, B-1; August 18, 1993, p. A-1. □

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