Samuel Irving Newhouse

Samuel Irving Newhouse (1895-1979) built a multi-million-dollar newspaper, magazine, and radio/ television/cable empire—which his sons Samuel Jr. and Donald continued—by following the trend away from a largely political, crusading press and toward a commercial, profit-oriented media of great enterprises.

Born on May 24, 1895, in New York's Lower East Side, Samuel Irving (usually called S.I.) Newhouse followed a Horatio Alger pattern of rags-to-riches by combining remarkable drive, memory for figures, and talent for picking subordinates with a grass-roots sense of pleasing advertisers and the public.

Newhouse grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey. The oldest of eight children in a Russian immigrant family whose father failed at business, he left school at 13 to become the principal breadwinner. Soon he became involved in nursing the troubled Bayonne Times newspaper to health, learning lessons that he applied in later life.

The key was raising revenue by gaining retail advertising through aggressive salesmanship, attractive formats, and various discounts. He fostered readership loyalty with home delivery and emphasized features, comics, and brisk, local human interest stories. Vigorous in cutting labor and other costs, Newhouse opposed unionization in the 1930s, rationalized and consolidated operations, and saved substantially through merging with opposing papers. He founded only one paper; instead, he bought and revived declining papers whose location in potentially prosperous areas made them good risks. He plowed profits back into his family-owned enterprises rather than paying dividends, thus gaining the capital to buy additional papers without requiring large bank loans.

While helping to run the Bayonne Times, Newhouse earned a high school equivalency diploma and then attended law school at night, graduating at age 21, in 1916. Never a courtroom lawyer, he combined the management of a local law office with that of the Times, observing its operations, receiving a share of the profits, and reaching out for his first paper in a partnership to buy the Fitchburg, Massachusetts, News in 1920. This venture failed due to local resentment, but Newhouse profited when selling the property and succeeded in another partnership to buy the Staten Island Advance in 1922; he gained majority control in 1924.

Shunning the 1920s stock market boom, Newhouse easily survived the crash and the Great Depression. He was attracted to growing, often suburban, neighborhoods. He bought the Long Island Press (1932) and the Newark Ledger (1935), and merged two other papers into the Long Island Star Journal (1938). In 1939 another merger turned the Newark Star-Eagle and the Ledger into the Newark Star-Ledger. Newhouse controlled key issues personally, never went public, and kept labor and other costs low.

In 1939 Newhouse began branching out, paying fully $1.9 million for two upstate New York papers that he merged into the Syracuse Herald-Journal. Discreetly acquiring the Syracuse Post-Standard in 1942, he had a city-wide monopoly, but editorial outlook did not change. His focus was revenue. In 1945 he bought Jersey City's Jersey Journal, strengthening his presence in that heavily populated region. In 1947 he acquired the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Patriot and Evening News for $2.5 million. Newhouse, fearing local objections to an outsider, kept his own involvement secret. He achieved a local monopoly in 1948 by buying and closing the Harrisburg Telegraph.

Newhouse focused on raising profits, not on news content or editorials, with which he rarely interfered, in part to counter fears in the mid-sized, middle American cities whose papers were bought by this New York, Jewish outsider. So Newhouse, who generally relied only on his family and a few old subordinates, kept a low public profile until well into his sixties, avoiding interviews, keeping to generalities, and successfully opposing efforts to write his biography.

Newhouse and his family grew wealthy, especially as America boomed after 1945, but he maintained a low profile, finally going national in 1955, when he paid a record-setting $5.6 million for the prestigious Portland Oregonian. That year he bought the St. Louis Globe-Democrat for $6.5 million and two Alabama newspapers—the Birmingham News and the Huntsville Times —plus a television station and three radio stations for $18.7 million. Newhouse's career was changing, shifting to a drive for national prominence and distinction.

By the late 1950s Newhouse, with assets of some $200 million, stood behind only Scripps-Howard and Hearst as America's third largest media owner. In 1959 he diversified into women's magazines by acquiring for $5 million the famous but financially troubled Conde Nast Publications: Vogue, Glamour, Young Brides, and House and Garden . Then Newhouse bought Street & Smith, the country's oldest magazine firm, merging some of its women's magazines with those from Conde Nast, thus taking virtual control of the rich market in women's magazines.

As he aged in the 1960s and 1970s, Newhouse's appetite for empire grew. He had bought many papers where the heirs chose not to continue the founder's work, but his sons—Samuel Jr. and Donald—were happy to carry on. By 1967 Newhouse owned 22 papers, having bought the Cleveland Plain-Dealer and the New Orleans Times-Picayune and States-Item. In 1976 he added eight small Michigan papers and Parade, a Sunday supplement giant. Newhouse reached the peak of recognition in 1964 with millions in gifts to the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. President Lyndon Johnson spoke at the dedication.

Newhouse gradually withdrew from business in the mid-1970s. His sons took over and, after his death on August 29, 1979, continued one of the largest private ventures in the nation, while buying or reviving such famous media enterprises as Random House publishing, the New Yorker, and Vanity Fair.


Further Reading on Samuel Irving Newhouse

Newhouse consciously discouraged accounts of his life. An unauthorized, highly critical biography is Richard Meeker, Newspaperman: S.I. Newhouse and the Business of News (1983). A. J. Liebling, The Press (1960) offers general background. TIME (July 27, 1962) and Business Week (January 26, 1976) contain cover stories. Esquire (August 1959) and the Saturday Review (October 8, 1960) have short profiles. There were lengthy obituaries on August 30, 1979, in The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal (February 12, 1982) surveys policy since Newhouse's death.

Additional Biography Sources

Maier, Thomas, Newhouse: all the glitter, power, and glory of America's richest media empire and the secretive man behind it, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.

Meeker, Richard H., Newspaperman: S.I. Newhouse and the business of news, New Haven: Ticknor & Fields, 1983.

Newhouse, Samuel I., A memo for the children, New York: s.n., 1980.