Several years ago, the biographer Patricia Beard was approached by Pamela Howard. Howard, the granddaughter of media mogul Roy W. Howard, was familiar with Beard’s work as an author, and decided that she was the right person to tell the story of her late grandfather, a publisher, journalist, and editor who was once chairman of the Scripps-Howard news empire.
At first, Howard tired to write the book herself, but there were some hiccups. “I started off writing the story, and got very involved in it. And then I became very involved with him. I got sort of angry about certain things and overjoyed about others. I couldn’t seem to control that side of the writing.”
To help with the research, Howard organized her grandfather’s notes and Beard was offered unrestricted access to Roy Howard’s diaries, which were kept tucked away by his son (Pamela’s father) until he died in 1998. “It was the kind of material you could never get today,” Beards tells me. “He noticed every detail—how Stalin would pace, how his boots would squeak. He gave a sense of what somebody was like.”
Beard’s biography of Roy Howard, Newsmaker, includes plenty of the material found in his extensive diaries, much of it remarkable, as well as a trove of stories about Howard’s correspondence with major political figures of the time. (There is a particular exchange between Howard and General Douglas MacArthur that is hair-raising.) For most of the book—and this is its power—you are immersed deep in the world of Roy Howard’s life, writings, and experiences, often wondering why his name isn’t as ubiquitous as William Randolph Hearst.
Perhaps that will no longer be the case. “I’d like to see his biography on library shelves next to the other great media figures of his day,” expresses Howard. Here, she explains this, and the many other decisions that led to chronicling her grandfather’s life.
Quest: At the outset of your research, what were you hoping to find out about Roy Howard?
Pamela Howard: I wanted to know the story of his life because as a child I had only known about his years in New York, which was a very glamorous existence. I knew he had another life in the Midwest, and I was interested in that. For whatever reason, I had never talked about it with him. I also wanted to explore that wonderful golden age of journalism in the first half of the 20th century. I came to the idea [for the biography] after he died because there was no funeral. For years, I felt there was a void.
Were you more interested in his personal life or career?
Being a journalist junkie, I was interested in his career and how he got there and what he did along the way, which I had never really spoken to him about personally.
Why do you think your father kept Roy’s diaries a secret?
They weren’t really a secret, but [the Howards] were a very low-profile family. I think my father was a bit of a secretive person about personal things, and maybe he just thought it was better to keep them private. I once asked him if I could see them. He looked at me and said, “Maybe some day.”
Were there any reservations about digging deeper into your grandfather’s life?
Well, no, because I have an overwhelming curiosity. I love to find out what people were thinking, what they were doing. His diaries were all extremely factual. He didn’t get very personal.
Q: When you were researching, were you picturing certain characters in certain ways? Like, did you find out his parents or any of his contemporaries were much different than you imagined them?
PH: I had heard the names of a lot of people before—who they were, where they figured in the overall picture, but I wasn’t sure how they were all connected. Some of the people were different than I imagined. And he was different than I imagined. I was really touched on a lot of occasions by his sentiment.
Q: In recent years, have there been stories similar to your grandfather’s that you’ve found fascinating?
PH: I’m fascinated by all media titans. But [Roy] loved both the reporting and the business side. He loved the immediacy of the wire service, the deadlines every minute. He would have been fascinated to be in this world today. Would Roy Howard have tweeted? I think probably.