By: Staff Reports
Michael J. Ogden, 91, who spent four decades as a reporter, columnist, managing editor, and executive editor of The Providence (R.I.) Journal died Dec. 19 at home in Monterey, Calif., according to his son, Christopher Ogden.
Over Michael Ogden’s tenure as a newsroom leader at the Journal and its now-defunct sibling Evening Bulletin, the newspapers won two of their four Pulitzer Prizes: The first, for local reporting, came in 1953, shortly after he became managing editor in 1952; the second, for national reporting, came in 1974, shortly after he retired as executive editor in 1973.
A native New Yorker, Ogden was at heart a writer induced to become an editor, a choice he long had second thoughts about making. A former president of both the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 1959, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), in 1967, he returned to writing at every opportunity.
Besides having articles published in The New Yorker magazine, Ogden for decades wrote a semimonthly “In Perspective” column for the Journal. Also for the newspaper, he produced dispatches throughout a long sabbatical in Europe, as well as multipart series based on extended trips to the former Soviet Union in 1962 and to China in 1972, the latter as one of the first U.S. journalists to visit after President Nixon’s historic summit.
Born May 24, 1911, Ogden attended Fordham University and the City College of New York before being graduated in 1932 from the Columbia University School of Journalism, where he paid his tuition by filing stories on church sermons for The New York Times.
After graduation, Ogden covered the police beat for the New York City News Association and the New York American, moving to Providence in 1935 to join the Journal as a reporter and radio announcer. Tongue twisters apparently played the decisive role in the abrupt end of Ogden’s radio days after he froze before a live microphone trying to describe a police chase of a hit-and-run driver that progressed from Wequetequock, Conn., to Usquepaug and then Quonochontaug, R.I.
Ogden left Providence a year later to work in Washington for Pathfinder magazine, then owned by Journal Publisher Sevellon Brown. He returned to Providence as a Journal news editor in 1940.
After the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, served as an intelligence officer with the 498th Bomber Group based on Saipan in the Mariana Islands, and was discharged as a captain in 1945.
Returning to Providence after the war, Ogden moved through the editorial ranks to managing editor, in 1952, and to executive editor, in 1960, of the morning Journal and the Evening Bulletin.
After his retirement, he resumed writing for the remainder of the 1970s, producing travel pieces for the Journal and humorous columns about senior citizens’ lifestyles for several Gannett Co. Inc. newspapers.
For many years, Ogden also was a member of the Pulitzer Prize jury, in addition to his responsibilities at the Journal.
But, despite his evident talent as a newspaper executive, Ogden made no secret of his lack of passion for administration. “I was a pretty good reporter, but being an editor was not nearly as much fun. I never asked for the job, but I didn’t know how to get out of it, and back then it paid $10 a week more,” he told the ASNE Bulletin in 1982. “In effect, I traded happiness for gold and wound up handling newsroom budgets, [Newspaper] Guild labor negotiators, listening to indignant subscribers on the phone because I couldn’t work the buttons to transfer them to someone else, and explaining to the publisher that a battleship had blown up in Narragansett Bay and that I didn’t have the manpower to cover that and track down his daughter in Europe and tell her to write home.”
Each of Ogden’s four marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his son, a biographer and journalist, Alexandria, Va., and two grandchildren: Michael Ogden, London, and Margaret Ogden, New York.