Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

December 5, 1997

WITH ALL THE HYPE about the news-gathering powers of their helicopters, a viewer might develop the mistaken impression that Portland television stations invented the concept of story-chasing whirlybirds.

It costs about two million dollars to buy and equip a camera in the sky. While a news chopper doesn't make TV reporters any smarter, it does give them a dramatic overview of a news scene which they eagerly pass along to viewers in a frenzied pursuit of higher Nielsen ratings and fatter advertising revenues.

The crash last month of a leased KATU helicopter while working its weekend job of hauling bundles of Christmas trees from a fir farm near North Plains provided a stark reminder that 'copter flying can be dangerous. The accident also recalled a tragic crash a half-century ago that changed the course of newspaper history in Portland. The pilot of the tree-hauling chopper survived. But in the 50-year-ago accident two men died.

DESPITE THEIR HOOPLA, Portland TV stations didn't originate the use of whirlybirds for tracking down the news. That was done in the 1940s shortly after World War II by the Oregon Journal, then PortlandŐs enterprising evening newspaper.

Dubbed "The Newsroom Dragonfly," the chopper flew with "The JOURNAL" emblazoned on its tail. Its mission was to get Journal photographers and reporters to news scenes faster than the evening daily's morning rival, the Portland Oregonian. Lacking a copter of its own, the Oregonian had to rely on an automobile, or shank's mare, or rent an airplane for really distant news sites.

In a disaster with far-reaching consequences, the Journal's Dragonfly plunged to earth and burned on Dec. 21, 1947. The pilot, 32-year-old Sam Jackson II, Journal associate publisher, was killed, as was his passenger, a Portland business leader. The accident occurred on a Sunday afternoon flight over the old West Hills Golf Course across from the Hoyt Arboretum. The long-gone fairways and greens are now occupied by the old OMSI building, the Western Forestry Center and the parking lot adjoining Washington Park Zoo.

ULTIMATELY, THE CRASH also killed the Oregon Journal by depriving the Jackson family's newspaper of its next publisher. Sam Jackson II was the grandson of Charles Samuel Jackson, who'd purchased the moribund Portland Evening Journal in 1902 and transformed it into a crusading newspaper which he renamed the Oregon Daily Journal and later simply the Oregon Journal.

The senior Jackson, born in Virginia in 1860, had moved to Pendleton while in his 20s to buy the East Oregonian newspaper. He turned it into a feared and respected paper and he did the same with the Journal. In a 1951 history of the Journal, the paper's longtime editorial page editor Marshall Dana wrote:

"The century was new and the deals were raw when Sam Jackson came to the struggling Portland Evening Journal...

"AMONG THE PRINCIPAL resources of the Oregon country were timber and public lands, and both were being looted systematically and ruthlessly. Politics was an eager partner of the land grabbers, public offices were bought and sold, and public officials from state legislators to United States senators were cynically debauched.

"Sober-sided Portland had learned not to grin but to bear a newspaper monopoly which the Oregonian... had fastened upon the town.

"Virginia-born Sam Jackson promptly renamed his newspaper the Oregon Daily Journal and through its columns advanced with both fists flailing against the looters of the public domain, and the newspaper monopoly.

"...Crusades in the public interest won the confidence of its readers and gave it widening influence..."

SAM JACKSON championed the cause of working people. Here are passages from bygone Journal editorials:

"Unionism and strikes are the outcome of abuses practiced by some employers."

"We confess our sympathies as a general rule incline rather to the workers."

THE DEATHof young Charles Samuel Jackson II denied the Oregon Journal of an editor and publisher whose potential was stamped with the same greatness displayed by his grandfather.

Young Sam graduated from Lincoln High School in the days it was housed in a building now part of Portland State University, then gained his higher education at Stanford and Harvard. He served as a U.S. Navy pilot in World War II, returning home wearing the gold oak leaves of a lieutenant commander.

Before his untimely death, Sam Jackson II was an assistant to his uncle Philip Jackson, who'd run the Journal since his father's death in 1924. Sam and wife Maria, who'd wed in 1886 at Pendleton, had two sons, Philip and Francis, who was Sam II's father. Francis perished at sea when a freighter on which he was an engineer sank in the Pacific in December 1919.

YOUNG SAM JACKSON'S death in that 1947 chopper crash began a series of events which viewed in their totality were cataclysmic for the union workers employed at the Journal and Oregonian and for the readers and advertisers of the competitive newspapers.

Three years after Sam II's death, New York press lord Samuel I. Newhouse welded the Portland Oregonian to his large chain of newspapers in a $5 million sale announced in December 1950. Three years later, Journal editor and publisher Philip Jackson died. He'd often said he'd never sell the Journal to Newhouse.

Three years after Phil Jackson's death, his mother Maria died. The year was 1956. Her age was 93. Her will decreed that if it became necessary to sell the Journal -- which she put into a trust -- that she wanted its ownership retained locally, preferably in the hands of employees, even though some outsider might offer more money. One outsider she had in mind was Samuel I. Newhouse.

Three years after Maria Jackson's 1956 death and only weeks after her estate was finally probated, a bitter 5 1/2-year strike began against the Newhouse-owned morning Oregonian and the still locally-owned evening Journal. The date was Nov. 10, 1959. The hour was 5 a.m.

LESS THAN TWO YEARS LATER old Sam Jackson's beloved Oregon Journal was sold by Maria Jackson's trustees to Sam Newhouse, owner of the Oregonian. At that time, the union-backed Portland Reporter stood between Newhouse and his long-coveted monopoly. But the monopoly was his three years later when the Reporter ran out of money.

The printing trades unions contended that the 1959-65 strike was provoked by the Oregonian's management. Unionists advanced the premise that the purpose was to give the Journal's trustees an excuse to sell to Newhouse because they could claim the strike was weakening the paper financially. Newhouse bought the Journal for $8 million in 1961. In 1982 the Newhouse family pulled the plug on the Journal.

Had Charles Samuel Jackson II survived that 1947 helicopter crash and taken his place as editor and publisher of the Oregon Journal upon his uncle's death in 1953, then the 1959-65 newspaper strike would not have occurred. A major issue in the strike was how many stereotypers it would take to operate a German-made plate-casting machine the Oregonian was planning to buy. The Journal had no such plans and had young Jackson lived he would not have aligned himself with the Newhouse-owned Oregonian in lock-step collective bargaining with the unions that represented 900 employees at both newspapers.

Without the Journal's involvement, the Oregonian would not have risked a solo strike because the turmoil would have allowed the Journal to regain the circulation edge it once held and with the increased readership harvest more and more advertising dollars.


Home | About

© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.