The Gazette’s origins: Hume brothers take over, but move slowly (1960-1969)

The Schenectady Gazette’s photo staff, from left, are Charles B. Sellers Jr., Larry Hart and Ed Schultz. Kneeling is Sid Brown.
The Schenectady Gazette’s photo staff, from left, are Charles B. Sellers Jr., Larry Hart and Ed Schultz. Kneeling is Sid Brown.

Titles are strange things and the title of president of the Daily Gazette Co. is no exception. In fact, from 1965 to 1983 the title was largely meaningless in terms of who ran the Gazette.

In 1964, John Green died. The presidency was filled the following year by his widow, Eleanor, who was in her eighties. She would live to 101, dying in 1983.

David Hume, president of the Gazette from 1986 until his death in 1993, said Eleanor Green was not active in the affairs of the Gazette during that period. However, one reason for her inactivity was an apparent unwillingness by the Hume brothers to include her in decision making.

Mrs. Green still controlled a sizable portion of Gazette stock and was not averse to making her feelings known. It is believed, at least by John E.N. Hume III, that Mrs. Green vetoed the Gazette’s purchase of the Union-Star in the late 1950s. She was also a factor in a later attempt by the Union-Star to reach an accommodation with the Gazette.

Next: The Gazette’s origins: Death breaks up the next team of brothers (1970-1979)

By the mid-1960s the Union-Star was floundering. The family that had owned it since the late 19th century sold out in 1955, and the paper began losing money annually in 1958. By 1964, K&M Publishing, the Union-Star’s owner, sought salvation and found it in RKO General, an entertainment and business conglomerate.

However, according to legal documents filed by RKO’s attorneys in 1968, the company bought a pipedream.

When RKO bought 48 percent of the Union-Star in 1964 for $570,000, it “made the purchase in contemplation of the subsequent acquisition of …The Gazette,” the 1968 memorandum says. “In fact, RKO’s purchase of the Union Star was based primarily on the seller’s representations that The Gazette was in even greater financial difficulty and that it would only be a matter of time before The Gazette would either collapse or be available for purchase at a distress price.”

Although David Hume said in 1989 that RKO was never seriously interested in acquiring the Gazette, the RKO papers make clear it intended to acquire the Gazette, combine the papers and have a successful, single venture in Schenectady.

Unfortunately for RKO, “Within a few months after the acquisition of 48%, RKO discovered that Union Star was in much worse financial trouble than The Gazette. In fact, The Gazette seemed to be operating on a profitable basis and it was not available for purchase.”

RKO then tried to sell back its Union-Star stock to K&M; when that proved unsuccessful, it bought the remaining 52 percent in the company and tried to turn the paper around.

The turnaround effort proved unsuccessful. Monthly financial statements from the Union Star managers to RKO invariably came with requests for additional funds to meet payrolls.

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To RKO’s great frustration, the Gazette seemed to thrive without taking the competition seriously. A February 1967 letter from a Union-Star consultant to RKO said, “We have put on circulation drives and have had new features added to the paper and the Gazette, as far as I know, has done very little to counteract this. From what I have heard of the Humes they are on the introvert side and probably are not asking contacts with the big advertisers any more than the Union-Star.”

One should remember that the Gazette did not need to do too much. Although John Hume apparently acknowledged that having two Schenectady papers would prove unprofitable, the Gazette was relatively successful at this time while the Union-Star was desperately seeking salvation.

The Gazette did make some competitive moves. For one, as the Union-Star devoted considerable effort to improving its TV listings supplement and the Gazette introduced its somewhat haphazard TV tabloid in October 1966.

And David Hume said, with cause, that “I think we’ve put out one helluva great paper editorially.” Whatever its limitations may seem journalistically, the Gazette had managed to find a formula that appealed to its readers.

And it’s possible at times to underestimate the Humes, a tendency David liked to play on. When, in 1982, the New York Times reported on the newspaper wars in Saratoga County (where five dailies were available), David Hume called the Gazette “just a country organization.”

Asked about that years later, Hume smiled and make clear he was pulling the reporter’s leg. “I was referring to the New York Times, other papers like that,” he said. “When the Gazette’s compared to the New York Times or Philadelphia Inquirer or Boston Globe, we are a small-time outfit.”

But that same article had a competitor calling the Gazette “a paper that almost defies textbook journalism, yet is amazingly successful.”

So perhaps it should not surprise anyone that RKO’s consultants and repackaging and money led it to a clear conclusion in 1967; it was time to get out of Schenectady.

RKO claimed to have spent $1,000,000 on the Union-Star beyond the $700,000 it spent to buy it, and was tired of losing money. Although it still raised the possibility of buying the Gazette, its efforts concentrated on selling the Union-Star, with the Gazette ardently courted as a potential buyer.

According to RKO papers, John Hume did make an offhanded proposal to buy the Union-Star for $100,000. That was at best a distress-sale price, given RKO’s investment in the property and the fact that John Hume also claimed around this time to have been offered $7,000,000 for the Gazette.

And even that suggestion may have been frivolous, for the RKO papers indicate that the Hume brothers were not really interested in buying or selling the paper, since either move would require the attention and approval of Eleanor Green.

One Union-Star memo describing meetings between its representatives and the Humes in March 1968 says, “John and David Hume both explained that their Aunt, Mrs. Eleanor F. Green, held a large share of the stock; that talking to her about the purchase of the Union-Star could bring about discord family relations. They stated that at this time they did not want to place their family relations in jeopardy.”

An RKOmemo apparently based on that same meeting is even blunter.

“Mrs. Greene (sic) is in her middle eighties and has absolutely refused to consider selling the Gazette to anyone or even entering into a working agreement with the Union-Star. The nephews have no idea of how she will dispose of her stock in her will, but naturally hope it will be left to them. Therefore, they hesitated to talk to her regarding any sale, purchase or working agreement for fear she will think they do not want to carry on with the paper and will her stock to charity, trust, etc.”

The Humes knew that a single paper in Schenectady made sense.

The RKO letter notes “During the 1967 calendar year the Gazette’s profits were off about 60 percent from the previous year” while the Union-Star continued to lose money, albeit at a slower rate.

“It is a very expensive battle … and if the trend continues neither paper will be making money and Hearst will unquestionably go all out to corner the area.”

But, given the situation with Mrs. Green, and the Gazette’s continued profitability, the Gazette ended up playing a waiting game that paid off. Still, there were chilling moments.

In October 1968, and RKO representative made contact with an attorney for Mrs. Green and laid the groundwork for a meeting with her.

“The above was relayed to John and David Hume, and both were amazed,” says a letter about the attempted meeting. “However, both John and David Hume refused to okay a meeting … supposedly because of Mrs. Greene’s (sic) physical condition.”

RKO would have to content itself with a small piece of the Gazette. After A.N. Liecty died in 1955, his shares were parceled among nieces and nephews; one niece sold her three shares to RKO.

But the attempts to reach an agreement with the Gazette were effectively over once the Humes blocked RKO’s approach to Mrs. Green. RKO later sold the Union-Star to a commercial printing company, where the paper ran aground and was finally acquired by Hearst.

Next: The Gazette’s origins: Death breaks up the next team of brothers (1970-1979)

Categories: 125 Years

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