Oral Histories

John Curley

Interview Segments on Topic: Journalism Career Choices

John Curley Biography

John Curley retired from Gannett in January 2001 after more than 30 years with the company. During that time, he served as an editor at the Rochester (N.Y.) Times-Union; as editor and later publisher of the Courier-News in Bridgewater, N.J.; and later as publisher of the News-Journal in Wilmington, DE. He was head of Gannett News Service, during which time the news service won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The first editor of USA Today, Curley was a member of Gannett's Board of Directors from 1983 until his retirement. In May 1996, he was selected as chairman of the Newspaper Association of America and in 1999 he was made an honorary alumnus of Penn State.


INTERVIEWER: So tell me about being a publisher because, when you’ve come out of the newsroom as opposed to coming out of the business side of the paper, you have this strong allegiance to the journalism and the needs of the newsroom and the needs of readers and so on. But once you’re in the publisher’s office, a lot of it involves schmoozing the business community and the finances of the paper. And I’ve had experiences working at papers where the publisher sort of cultivated this sort of image with the business community of deniability. It’s like well you know, if they’re angry, let’s say it’s something that the newsroom has done. The publisher will say well you know those newsroom people, I don’t tell them what to do, they don’t tell me what they’re doing they just are off on their own so it’s kind of a convenient—maybe it’s a fiction but it’s a convenient one so that you don’t incur the wrath of the powers that be, you sort of try to sort of wall yourself off from the newsroom a little bit. I was wondering how that played out.

CURLEY: I would say about 40% of publishers were ‘news types.’ Maybe it was 48, maybe it was 38 but, a lot of them had backgrounds in news, some of course had backgrounds in advertising, a few in business, a few in circulation but because of that background I don’t think it played that way as much but I’m sure if somebody came from advertising they probably used that line—those of us who came out of news probably tried to defend whatever it was, or say, that’s not right you’re wrong. And it depended who you were talking to but somebody that was, well I should go—yeah, you could talk sense to them. They may not agree with you but it was on a higher plain. If somebody just had it in for the paper, no matter what was going on or who was there, you didn’t try too hard, you know you just didn’t try to. I didn’t get a lot of that, I got some of it. The biggest thing I got was because I was around and out and went to things, the line I got basically was, “We see more of you than we saw of your predecessor.” And when you get to the town, and Wilmington is a business town, they invite you to things; you go to things; you meet people. The chairman of DuPont called me, Irv Shapiro was a long-standing big-time name and invited me over to a lunch at whatever club and the last thing he said to me was, you know, you’re going to do okay here because you talk to people, you’re around. So, I didn’t say much after that except I did see a lot of people, I went to games, I went to whatever, bought tickets to the Delaware games. Became friendly with Mike Castle who’ll best be remembered for having lost the last Senate primary, Pete DuPont and Joe Biden lived in the neighborhood we saw each other a bunch, and a lot of people like that. I liked the people, genuinely liked the people, so I didn’t have a lot of trouble. I didn’t get too many complaints. Sometimes you get a legitimate complaint you know, just something went wrong but that was okay, that’s part of the game.

INTERVIEWER: Did you miss the newsroom when you went to the boardroom?

CURLEY: I was still in charge, remember I was in charge so, if you’re in charge you’re in charge of the newsroom too. That didn’t mean you did the story budget or anything like that but if you had a story idea it usually was a good one as opposed to some half-ass scheme that somebody came up with. I never considered myself out of that because I was over here.