Knight Foundation's senior adviser to the president, Eric Newton, gave this talk on June 10, 2006 during the dedication of the Robert C. Maynard Suite at Harvard's Nieman Foundation headquarters, Lippmann House. In 2006, Newton ran Knight Foundation's journalism program:
I had the great good fortune to work for Bob and Nancy Maynard from 1984 to 1992, nearly the entire decade they owned the Oakland Tribune.
It’s interesting we are here on June 10. The number 10 resonates when I think about working in Bob Maynard’s newsroom, where once, all too briefly, I was his managing editor …
I think about the number 10 because as I’ve watched the world of journalism unfold at the Newseum and at Knight Foundation, it has become clear that in a business where most people can’t see past lunch, Bob was a true journalism entrepreneur, who lived his life at least 10 years ahead of the curve.
That meant those of us lucky enough to work with him were also 10 years ahead of our time in almost every aspect of our work in news and community …
Throughout the 1980s, the Oakland Tribune had community advisory boards, polls that help the community set its own agenda, special meetings with community leaders, and an editorial board that was plugged into all aspects of civic life.
During the 1990s, this stuff would become known as “civic journalism.” It was pretty popular in newsrooms where corporate owners pulled away from communities.
As soon as civic journalism was declared a “movement,” a bunch of people ran around the country saying they invented it. Bob, whose newspaper did it 10 years before it was allegedly invented, never made such a claim.
Unlike many in journalism, Bob knew history. He knew he was the latest in a long line of news pioneers who had used every technique possible to create a newspaper that was, as he put it, “an instrument of community understanding.”
Back then, the Oakland Tribune did something we called the “California Sunshine Survey.” Using the public records law, we asked government agencies to tell us whether or not they were obeying … the public records law.
Ten years later, newspapers and Freedom of Information groups in nearly every state, and now the federal government, have done it. They called them FOI Audits. These are all the rage. Imagine my surprise when I looked at the University of Missouri Freedom of Information Center web site and saw no mention of the Oakland Tribune, which had done years before the others. To its credit, Missouri corrected that error.
Then there was the matter of Tribune TV, the newsroom television program we were right in the middle of developing, and the on-line service we were considering and the magazines and books we did… all before the invention of the World Wide Web… I distinctly remember the first time Bob referred to his newspaper as a “geographically discrete dynamic database.”
Even now, if you repeat the phrase, people say … “Wow! Yea!” “Geographically discrete dynamic database.” Cool! It was a decade before I heard the world “convergence.” This week I read in the American Journalism Review that multiplatform delivery was not something that came to anyone in the news industry as an epiphany. Obviously that person never worked for, and didn’t know about, Bob.
It’s also true, of course, that the Tribune’s newsroom diversity numbers blossomed in advance of those at other big American dailies, but more than that, Bob’s newsroom didn’t just look more interesting, it had a more interesting way of acting. We had a more open, inclusive way of doing journalism. An attitude of listening and learning. Ten years before anyone launched a program called The Learning Newsroom or The Teaching Newspaper of Tomorrow’s Workforce, the Oakland Tribune did those things, was those things. We called it "The Open Newspaper."
And finally, Bob and Nancy did something that wasn’t just ahead of their time, but transcended time. During the 20th century in America, more than 1,000 daily newspapers closed. The Oakland Tribune was not one of them. The Maynards saved it.
With a unique management-leveraged buyout, they got it and owned it, loved it and cared for it when no one else would or could. And when I heard John Carroll, the great newspaper editor, saying this year at the American Society of Newspaper Editors that current corporate ownership models are not working, and that we need to explore other ownership models, I thought to myself. “I know a guy who did that 20 years ago.” Bought a newspaper from Gannett and turned it into a family-owned paper.
When Bob’s cancer came back, and when it was clear that Bob would die – the last thing and by far the worst thing he would do before his time — the Maynards found a way for their newspaper to live.
They wanted the Trib to survive to fight another day. Today it does. Its current editorial staff is gaining some much-deserved attention for excellent work. The Tribune lives. And because of what is happening here, so will the memory of the man who was responsible.
Bob Maynard, a genuine American news pioneer.
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