Chairman of the E. W. Scripps Co. for more than 40 years presided over the newspaper publisher’s entry into TV, cable and the Internet.
Charles E. Scripps, scion of a legendary media family and the board chairman of The E. W. Scripps Co. for more than four decades, died Saturday of natural causes at the age 87 near his home in Naples, Fla.
Charles Scripps’ long tenure as head of the company founded in 1878 by his grandfather, Edward W. Scripps, was marked by expansion into new businesses and financial growth.
As board chairman from 1953 until 1994, he presided over the company’s growth as a newspaper publisher and the company’s entry into other forms of media, including broadcast television, cable TV systems, cable TV networks and the Internet. In 1986, the company brought cousin John P. Scripps’ seven West Coast newspapers into the family fold with a merger agreement, and two years later initiated a public stock offering that provided family members with a way to diversify their holdings. Simultaneously, Scripps served as trustee of The Edward W. Scripps Trust—controlling shareholder of the company—and was chairman of the trust from 1948 until 2004.
“To carry the family name is to carry the responsibility for quality and innovation in an ever-changing media environment,” Scripps said in a 2003 interview. “The E.W. Scripps Co. has survived 125 years because it embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of its founding father.”
It was that spirit, which fostered development of Scripps Networks—the division that operates HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network, Fine Living and GAC (Great American Country), of which Scripps was especially proud.
“This company, our community and the entire media industry are affected by the loss of Charles Scripps,” said Kenneth W. Lowe, president and chief executive officer of The E. W. Scripps Co. “Charles set the tone for this company’s fearless journalism, unquestioned integrity and restless innovation. Those are legacies that continue to influence our approach to operating the business that carries his family’s name.”
When once asked about a guiding principle, Scripps said, “It’s simple, really. Just look at the direction you’re going and ask: ‘Can we be proud of that?’ “
“Charles Scripps provided the glue that bonded the Scripps enterprise together for a half-century,” said William R. Burleigh, chairman of The E. W. Scripps Co. “He stepped forward as the family’s representative when he was only 28 and served continuously until 2003, presiding over a period of unprecedented growth and success. This sense of responsibility and wise counsel animated everything he did—the company, in his family and in the community.”
Often described as “a newspaperman’s newspaperman,” Scripps regularly asked editors, “What are you doing for your communities?”
When the newspaper division was introducing its Total Quality program to news and business leaders in the late 1980s, Scripps was asked for a slogan. He responded with just three words: “Quality reflects character.”
He later explained, “I remember getting a note from a disgruntled reader about an error in one of our newspapers. I checked it out and I was told it was ‘just a minor error.’ I remember saying that there’s no such thing as a minor error. An error is an advertisement of poor workmanship and we simply can’t tolerate that in our newspapers. To be in journalism is to be in the business of credibility.”
Scripps was born Jan. 27, 1920, in San Diego, to Robert Paine and Margaret Culbertson Scripps. He and his three brothers and two sisters grew up at nearby Miramar, their grandfather Edward Willis Scripps’ 2,000-acre ranch.
Scripps attended William & Mary College in Williamsburg, Va., but returned to California and entered Pomona College after his father—the sole trustee of The Edward W. Scripps Trust—died at age 42 in 1938. Shortly thereafter, Scripps began his newspaper career at his grandfather’s first newspaper, The Cleveland Press, where he covered police and courts.
“He willingly rose to the responsibility inherent to his birthright,” said Lawrence A. Leser, retired chairman and CEO of Scripps. “He learned the business from the bottom up, tutored by the men who had worked with his father.”
Just as Scripps inherited his grandfather’s passion for publishing, the two also shared a love of sailing. It came as no surprise when young Scripps enlisted with the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. He was stationed in the Pacific and rose to the rank of lieutenant before returning to the family business after the war.
Scripps was 28 when he became chairman of the family trust and moved to Cincinnati, where the trust was headquartered. Even after he became chairman of The E. W. Scripps Co. five years later, he continued to live in Cincinnati rather than move to company headquarters in New York City. In 1977, he welcomed corporate executives to Cincinnati, where the company has since been headquartered.
Recognizing that with leadership comes responsibility, Scripps used his influence to promote freedom of the press throughout the world. He served as president of the Inter-American Press Association in 1980 and president of its advisory council from 1981-82. During that time, he also traveled to Mexico, Austria and the Soviet Union in support of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication and to France for the World Press Freedom Committee.
Through the years he served on the boards of many organizations, both those related to the media industry as well as civic and public service organizations in Cincinnati and, in later years, in Naples, Fla., where he spent the winter months.
However, the nonprofit organization that received his greatest attention was The Salvation Army, which he served locally, nationally and internationally.
Scripps received The William Booth Award in 1988 and the prestigious “Others Award” from The Greater Cincinnati Salvation Army. In addition, he has been honored by the National Jewish Hospital and Research Center in Denver and the American Advertising Foundation. In 1983, he received an honorary doctorate from Ohio University for his contributions to communications and his “championship of press freedom worldwide.” In 1986, the Scripps Howard Foundation established the Charles E. Scripps Literacy Award in his honor.
The Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce presented its Great Living Cincinnatian Award to Scripps in February 2003. In accepting the honor, he said, “It’s not about power. It’s about influence and how you use that for the betterment of your community and the world.”
After 57 years on the company’s board of directors, Scripps retired in May 2003. Four months later, Scripps was presented with a framed copy of the resolution board members passed in honor of his service. It recognizes the family-friendly workplace he created, his vision for the company, faith in its leadership and “resolve to produce quality journalism that enlightened the populace, improved communities and defended the First Amendment.”
He is survived by his wife, Mary Elizabeth “Libby” Breslin Scripps, whom he married in 1993; four children: Charles E. Scripps Jr., of Darby, Mont.; Marilyn Scripps Wade and Julia Scripps Heidt, both of Cincinnati; and Eaton Scripps, of Boulder, Colo.; two stepsons, Ben P. Breslin and Andrew W. Breslin; seven grandchildren and three step-grandchildren; two brothers: Robert P. Scripps, of Fredericksburg, Texas; and Sam Scripps of Rhinebeck, N.Y. He was preceded in death by his wife of 41 years, Lois Anne MacKay Scripps.