Scaife kept Pittsburgh two-paper town

By Dick Miller

WE.CONNECT.DOTS: In Southwestern Pennsylvania, placing impact markers for contributors spanning 100-years of history, you would only need three. Andrew Carnegie as an industrialist, David Lawrence as a politician and Richard Mellon Scaife as a publisher and benefactor.

Scaife, who made his mark with the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, died Independence Day at the age of 82.

He used his money to push readers away from an infatuation with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Scaife’s vehicle was the Greensburg Tribune-Review that he made over into the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Pittsburgh has always been a competitive newspaper town.

An evening and Sunday publication, Pittsburgh Press was “the” newspaper almost from 1924 when E. W. Scripps bought it until ceasing publication May 17, 1992.

During the 1960s the Press and Post-Gazette entered into a joint operating agreement that probably kept two newspapers in Pittsburgh when other major cities were reduced to one. The JOA allowed both papers to publish at the same printing location and the two papers also shared in certain advertising and marketing efforts.

The controversial JOA meant that newspapers in Pittsburgh had similar monopoly privileges as professional sports. Steel and pipe makers could work as close. This led to plants closing, thousands of jobs lost and bitter feelings.

The more liberal P-G published six mornings only.

Block family, owners of the P-G, thought they would be the beneficiaries of Pittsburgh dropping to a one-newspaper town when the Pittsburgh Press ceased publication. Readers developed a like for morning newspapers and the Press chose to not compete directly with the Post-Gazette.

While the Post-Gazette quickly began to publish a Sunday edition, that period when the P-G would be “the” newspaper was short-lived.

Scaife decided to take his Greensburg Tribune-Review to the big city in May 1992. The Tribune, beginning far behind, now runs a close circulation-second to the P-G. Steady persistent efforts made for a foregone conclusion if Scaife had lived.

Money and publisher personality made the difference. Both papers follow a mind-your-own-business attitude about operating statements. Observers believe, however, the Post-Gazette makes money and the Tribune generally does not.

Scaife clearly spends more money gathering news for his readers than the P-G.

Scaife demanded a conservative flavor to the Tribune’s output. More recently, the Tribune denied first Democrat and first woman elected state Attorney-General, Kathleen Kane, a honeymoon before beginning the pounding.

While Republican Tom Corbett may be among the most inept governors, a Tribune reader would not get that impression.

Alternatively, Scaife demanded the right to change his mind.

Once a vicious critic of Hillary Clinton, as First Lady, he endorsed her in the 2008 Democratic primary and continually voiced admiration for her. Scaife has also expressed regret that he endorsed John McCain in the same presidential year.

The Trib’s 12-page special section published Sunday as a memoriam to Scaife is must reading. That publication is the source for the tributes that follow.

The $1 million he gave to the recovery of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was one of the three largest efforts to that cause. When Station Square had no bank financing and no tenants, Scaife put up $5 million to launch the development.

Mike Huckabee said, “He had the courage of his convictions and did his battles in the open.”

Where does the Tribune go post-Scaife? The Post-Gazette could catch another break. Scaife’s philosophy and the funds he poured into the Tribune were intertwined. If cash flow takes a higher priority, look for the Trib to lose some of its flavor and aggressiveness.

Bottom Line: Ralph Martin, president and CEO of Trib Total Media, may have more of a role in the future. Three decades ago, he was the publisher of the Greenville Record-Argus in Mercer County.

Updated: July 15, 2014 — 10:43 am