Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

John Cowles Jr. May 27, 1929 - March 17, 2012 Minneapolis Publisher and Philanthropist

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

John Cowles Jr. May 27, 1929 - March 17, 2012 Minneapolis Publisher and Philanthropist

Article excerpt

John Cowles Jr., a Minneapolis newspaper executive and philanthropist whose support for arts, sports and entertainment helped elevate the Twin Cities' cultural community to national prominence, died Saturday at home in Minneapolis. He was 82.

The cause was lung cancer, his son Jay said.

Scion of a family that owned The Des Moines (Iowa) Register, started Look magazine and came to dominate the newspaper business in Minneapolis for more than 50 years, Mr. Cowles (rhymes with bowls) succeeded his father in 1961 as the editor of two Minneapolis papers, the morning Tribune and the evening Star. He became president and chief executive of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Co. (later renamed Cowles Media Co.) in 1968.

His tenure was rocky, but during it the papers won praise for aggressive local reporting, increased its arts and science coverage and supported the civil rights movement and the Equal Rights Amendment in its editorials. (Though he was generally described as a progressive liberal, Mr. Cowles served on a White House committee in 1965 to generate support for President Lyndon Johnson's war policies.)

The company's fortunes declined in the late 1960s, however, after several unsuccessful acquisitions, including Harper's magazine and the publisher Harper & Row. In 1979, the Star and Tribune Co. bought The Buffalo Courier-Express but was forced to close it three years later.

In 1982, the company merged The Star and The Tribune and cut its workforce, prompting the editor of the merged papers to quit in protest. Mr. Cowles subsequently fired the publisher and assumed the role himself. But just a few months later, in early 1983, the board of Cowles Media, which included his sister and two cousins, dismissed him as publisher and head of the company as well.

He remained on the board until 1984 and into the 1990s continued to control a substantial percentage of company stock through his management of a family trust. Cowles Media was sold to the McClatchy Co. …

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