Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

November 1, 2002

THIS MONTH marks 43 years since the start of the long strike against the Oregonian and the Oregon Journal newspapers. The picketing began at 5 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10, 1959 at the 1320 SW Broadway St. marble palace of the Newhouse-owned morning Oregonian and at the twin-towered riverfront building at 800 SW Front Ave. of the locally-owned afternoon Oregon Journal.

More than 850 union members worked at the two daily newspapers. Nearly a dozen local unions represented them. The union whose members went on strike on Nov. 10 was Stereotypers Local 49, which could not accept the excessive contract-renewal demands of the Oregonian. Members of other unions honored the Stereotypers' picket lines. As time went by, most other unions, as their negotiations with the scab papers reached an impasse, also formally went on strike. Members of Multnomah Typographical Union No. 58 considered themselves locked-out because scabs were already on hand to replace them.

IT BECAME OBVIOUS to leaders of the Portland newspaper unions and to county and state labor movement officers that the strike had been provoked by the Oregonian to provide a smokescreen behind which its New York owner, super-wealthy Samuel I. Newhouse, could buy the Oregon Journal and thus possess a newspaper monopoly in Oregon's largest city.

Media mogul Newhouse had bought the Oregonian in 1950 and immediately began coveting the Journal. The newspapers negotiated labor contracts jointly even though that arrangement could be detrimental to the Journal.

The Oregon Journal was started in 1902 when politically liberal Charles Samuel Jackson, a Virginian who'd been publisher of the East Oregonian at Pendleton, bought a struggling Portland daily and renamed it the Oregon Journal. Publication of the Journal was carried on by Sam Jackson's widow Maria and surviving son Philip after his death in 1924 at age 64. Philip L. Jackson, who died in 1953 at age 60, picked an anti-union management attorney, William W. Knight, to succeed him as publisher. It didn't hurt Bill Knight's standing with Phil Jackson that Knight had named his son Philip. (Phil Knight is the billionaire boss of the Nike shoe empire.) Republican Bill Knight was a former state legislator from Roseburg.

THE CHOICE OF BILL KNIGHT as publisher would have outraged Sam Jackson, a champion of working people who once offered a top job at the Journal to former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. Phil Jackson had hired Knight as the Journal's assistant business manager and later promoted him to business manager. Sam's widow, Maria, went along with the choice of Knight as publisher. In her will, she vested ownership of the Journal in the Jackson Family Foundation and appointed Knight one of three trustees to run the Journal and the foundation. The other two were the U.S. National Bank of Oregon, which was represented by executive LeRoy B. Staver, and attorney David L. Davies. The bank handled the Journal's banking business, and Davies was the paper's lawyer. Although son Phil and his mother weren't as liberal or as astute as Sam Jackson, they did do something that Sam would have approved of. They stated in their wills that they wanted to keep the Journal a locally-owned newspaper.

Above all they did not want it sold to schlocky Sam Newhouse, the New York media magnate who owned the Oregonian. Sam Jackson had died before Newhouse became known beyond the Hudson River.

HOWEVER, THE JOURNAL'S troika of trustees thought they could ignore the dictum about not selling to Newhouse if the newspaper faced dire financial problems. A strike would cause money woes for the Journal, which was not as prosperous as the Oregonian and did not have the income from a chain of other media properties to help it weather a strike. Also, the Journal, unlike the Oregonian, did not have strike insurance with an off-shore company in Bermuda that paid $10,000 a day for 50 days. The fact that the Newhouse Oregonian had strike insurance, it could be argued, was another factor that showed the newspaper was preparing for a strike that it planned to provoke.

REINFORCING THE PREMISE that the strike was provoked by the Oregonian's unyielding bargaining stance with the Stereotypers so that Newhouse could purchase the Journal was the timing of the strike's start on Nov. 10, 1959. That date followed by less than six weeks the completion of the Probate Court process on Maria C. Jackson's will.

She had died in 1956 at age 93 but it took three years for the probate procedure to be wrapped up. Once that occurred, publisher Bill Knight and his two fellow trustees were in complete charge of the Journal's fate. Provoking the strike was the first step toward selling the Jackson family paper to Samuel I. Newhouse, sometimes called SIN by unionists.

Within the first week of the strike, the executive officer of the Portland-based central labor council, Edward J. Whelan, made this statement to a Portland television news program, " In the last three days, strong evidence has been piling up that the Stereotypers and other newspaper unions were deliberately pushed into this strike to help the Oregonian carry out a plot to take over the Oregon Journal ..."

JAMES W. GOODSELL, then the editor of the Labor Press, wrote in the labor newspaper's next weekly issue that after the TV news program aired Whelan's statement, Oregonian publisher Michael J. Frey and Journal publisher William W. Knight telephoned the Labor Press to threaten Goodsell, who happened to be working late, that they'd sue him and the union weekly for libel if he printed Whelan's accusation. Goodsell published Whelan's statement and the Frey-Knight threat. But the blustery Frey and the hard-drinking Knight did not sue.

The two union-busting publishers denied to Goodsell that the Journal would be sold to Newhouse. They and their scab-produced newspapers were still denying it up until August 1961, when the sale occurred. The Oregonian and Journal were scooped on the sale by TV newsman Tom McCall and by the Portland Daily Reporter, a tabloid started by the striking unions. The Reporter had tipped off McCall, who later became governor, because of his fair coverage of the strike BEFORE THE JOURNAL trustees sold the paper to SIN for $8 million, a price that included the paper's riverfront building, they had received a $4 million offer from a group of Oregon businessmen, including two who owned newspapers. But SIN was not to be denied his Portland monopoly. Not only did he double the local offer, he cinched the deal by giving Knight a 10-year contract to stay on as publisher. This meant, too, that Staver's bank would hang onto the Journal's banking and Davies would remain as the paper's business attorney. The Oregon group, with experienced publishers on their own newspapers, did not want Knight.

THE NEWHOUSE JOURNAL was soon moved into the Oregonian's domicile and functioned as an anemic afternoon running-mate of SIN's prosperous morning daily from 1961 until 1982. The senior Newhouse died in 1979 at age 84, and three years later his sons - Sam Jr., who likes to call himself "Si," and Donald - put the Journal out of its misery. The sons, now in their 70s, must have figured that no one would dare start an afternoon competitor to their fat and prosperous Oregonian.

The Newhouse family's media empire operates under the name Advance Publications, which stems from SIN's first property, the Staten Island Advance, which he acquired in 1922 at age 26. The privately-owned Advance Publications keeps its finances secret, but the Newhouses' publication and broadcast properties are probably worth in the neighborhood of $20 billion. The fattest cow and biggest money producer in the Newhouse herd is thought to be the Oregonian.

(More on all of this at a later date.)


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