By: Mark Fitzgerald
Robert U. Brown, who for decades owned, edited and imbued Editor & Publisher with its independent spirit, died Thursday morning surrounded by family at his home in Greenwich, Conn. He was 95.
His grandson, former E&P Co-Publisher D. Colin Phillips, said Mr. Brown had suffered a series of strokes in the past two years that left him largely immobilized. “He lived a really long life,” Phillips said. “I think he’s finally glad to be reunited with his Susie.”
Mr. Brown’s wife of 50 years, Susan Steele Brown, predeceased him in 1988.
A memorial service is planned for May 20 at Talmadge Hills Community Church in New Canaan, Conn. at 11 a.m., Phillips said.
Editor & Publisher was long a Brown family business. Mr. Brown’s father, James Wright Brown, bought the magazine in 1912, the year Robert U. Brown was born. James Wright Brown, who had been general manager of a newspaper in Louisville, Ky., and worked on dailies in Chicago and Detroit, and immediately set it on its independent course, infuriating many publishers by supporting a law that requires periodicals to openly state their ownership and circulation to qualify of the second-class postage rate.
Mr. Brown became president of Editor & Publisher Co. in 1953, and its publisher and editor in 1958. After stepping down from day-to-day control of the company in 1996, he sold the magazine and its allied businesses in September 1999 to Dutch company VNU. (E&P is presently owned by The Nielsen Co.)
In his long career atop the newspaper industry’s only independent business magazine, Mr. Brown’s contributions were repeatedly honored by his colleagues. News of his death was greeted with particular sadness by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), which he and a handful other newspaper publishers founded after a series of discussions in Barbetta’s restaurant in New York City in 1944.
“He was truly a pioneer and a giant in the field of domestic and international free press issues, and a good guy,” said San Francisco Bay Guardian co-owner and Editor Bruce B. Brugmann, an IAPA director. “And he was at his best over a glass of good Scotch. I hope his name lives on forever as the president and honorary chairman of the executive committee of IAPA.”
Robert Utting Brown literally took Editor & Publisher from the Linotype age into digital media. Born in Yonkers, N.Y., he graduated from Dartmouth College in 1934, and immediately learned the printing trade by enrolling in The Empire State School of Printing, where he learned to set print by hand. By the time he sold E&P, the company was a pioneer on the Internet, launching a proprietary online portal called Ampersand, and first sponsoring, and then buying, the Interactive Newspapers show.
Before joining the family businesses, Mr. Brown worked as a reporter at The Trenton (N.J.) Times, The United Press in its Philadelphia bureau, and the Auburn (N.Y.) Citizen-Advertiser.
He joined E&P as a reporter in 1936, subsequently becoming its news editor, managing editor, executive editor, and, in 1944, its editor.
?Robert U. Brown led E&P into an era in which public scrutiny by the media was increasingly matched with public scrutiny of the media,? said a 1999 E&P story about the sale of the magazine to the company then known as VNU. ?From the Cold War to Watergate to O.J. Simpson, his crisp editorials week after week brought the industry’s focus back from the fads and passions to the enduring values of a free press practiced openly and responsibly.?
In addition to being a founder and longtime board member of Miami-based IAPA, Mr. Brown served as its president and in recent years had been re-elected annually as its honorary chairman. He had a particular passion for the cause of press freedom abroad.
Mr. Brown served as president of the Society of Professional Journalists, then known as Sigma Delta Chi. He was a governing board member of The Overseas Press Club in New York City, and a board member of the International Press Institute.
Mr. Brown was awarded the prestigious Maria Moors Cabot Prize With Special Citation for Service in the Cause of Press Freedom by Columbia University.
In 1989 his peers in the trade magazine business awarded him the Association of Business Publishers Crain Award.
Mr. Brown ceded day-to-day control of E&P in 1996 to a new generation of the family, two of his grandsons, D. Colin Phillips and Chris Phillips, who were named co-publishers.
In addition to his grandsons D. Colin Phillips of Los Angeles, Cal., and Christopher L. Phillips of Riverside, Conn., Mr. Brown is survived by his two daughters, Robin Brown Woods of Darien, Conn. and Elizabeth Brown Phillips of Houston and Dallas, Texas; his sons-in-law Richard M. Woods, and John W. Shannon, five grand children, Richard S. Woods of Keystone, Col.; Whitney S. Woods of Fairfield, Conn.,; Ashley E Woods of Boulder, Col.; and two great-grand children, Michael & Christopher Phillips of Riverside, Conn.
Donations in his memory may be made to Greenwich Hospital Home Hospice Care.