David Lipman, passionate editor, dead at 77 | St. Louis Public Radio

David Lipman, passionate editor, dead at 77

Jul 31, 2008

This post first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 31, 2008 - David Lipman, the energetic and demanding editor who ran the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newsroom for 14 years, died Thursday after a long illness.

Mr. Lipman, 77, lived in Chesterfield but also spent a great deal of time in his retirement in Arizona. The Post-Dispatch reported on its website late Thursday that he died at Barnes-Jewish Hospital of complications from myelodysplasia, a bone marrow-related disease.

Mr. Lipman’s tenure as managing editor from 1979 to 1992 took in a time when newspapers began to face increasing competition from television and niche publications, such as the Suburban Journals and the St. Louis Business Journal. Just over the horizon lay the 24-hour news cycle with cable television and the internet. In the recent past were the halcyon days for the Post-Dispatch when it won numerous Pulitzer Prizes and was recognized as one of America’s top newspapers. Here was a man who had to straddle these eras prodding older staff members to not rest on their laurels and the younger ones to crank out copy and pay their dues.

He saw the paper through some rocky financial stretches when he was asked to trim newsroom budgets. He also saw it through fascinating news events for which the newspaper pulled out all the stops including Cardinals World Series appearances, investigations into corrupt or inept civil servants, an intensive examination of dioxin contamination in Missouri and revealing portraits of child abuse.

Mr. Lipman would never win a newsroom popularity contest as, say, a contemporary like Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee might. But most reporters and editors knew where Mr. Lipman stood on just about any story. He would let them know – sometimes loudly.

“If ever there was a totally hands on editor, it was Dave,” said Ron Willnow, who was one of Mr. Lipman’s deputy managing editors and his right hand man. “He was in the middle of everything, looking over every detail. He also was the first top editor at the Post-Dispatch who took the trouble to learn how the other departments in the newspaper worked. He probably could have headed the advertising, circulation or production departments as easily as he did news.

“He was a very demanding editor .This tended to frighten some of the newsroom staff, but his demands were always meant as instructional and were never personal. He cared deeply for all those who worked for him, and would go out of his way to show his appreciation.”

That sentiment was echoed by Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan who had his ups and downs with the boss.

"Even in an industry that attracts colorful characters, Dave was a larger than life figure,” McClellan wrote in an e-mail just after learning of Mr. Lipman’s death. “He could be loud and intimidating, but he had a softer side, too. Shortly after I started working at the Post, my sister died. I was working on the Calendar section, not a high-profile job at all. The newspaper sent flowers to her service. That was the sort of newsroom Dave ran.

“I began writing a column when he was managing editor. We did not always see eye to eye on things, which is to say Dave was sometimes unhappy with me, and Dave never suffered in silence. He would sometimes summon me to his office, and I would tell his secretary to tell him I had already left. Then I'd sneak out.

“The next day, knowing that he would be focused on somebody else, I'd pop my head into his office. He'd look up in a friendly, distracted way. ‘Lois said you wanted to see me, Dave.’ He'd think about it for a second and then remember whatever it was he had been angry about. He'd sit there for moment, visibly working to bring his anger to the appropriate level. But it clearly was an effort. Then he'd yell for a minute and we'd be done. It was a strange management style, but effective, and nobody ever doubted how much Dave cared about the newspaper.”

Mr. Lipman, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, arrived at the Post-Dispatch in 1960 after stints at newspapers in Springfield, Mo., his hometown, Jefferson City and Kansas City. He was a sportswriter who worked alongside the legendary sports scribe Bob Broeg. By 1966, he was one of Broeg’s bosses as assistant sports editor. Recognized as an effective administrator who could get things done, Mr. Lipman was given responsibilities across the newsroom.

In 1971, it fell to Mr. Lipman, then a 40-year-old news editor, to decide how to handle publication of portions of the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the Vietnam War. Washington Bureau Chief Richard Dudman and correspondent Thomas Ottenad were among the first reporters outside the New York Times and Washington Post to obtain unpublished portions of the papers.

The Post-Dispatch’s two top editors were out of town and unreachable, leaving Lipman in charge. The Times, Post and Boston Globe all were under court order not to publish any more of the papers. Lipman decided to publish. “There was no question,” he would say later. After one day of publication, and with another eight-page special section already in type, a federal judge ordered a halt to publication. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the courts could not stop publication. Shortly thereafter, Joseph Pulitzer Jr. named Lipman an assistant managing editor.

Mr. Lipman was fiercely competitive. He hated it when the old Globe Democrat beat the Post-Dispatch to stories in its morning editions and he took editors and reporters to task when it happened. He took pride in helping the Post outlast the Globe as the rival down the street folded in  the mid-1980s. Moving quickly, Mr. Lipman then hired a number of the Globe’s best people, including gossip columnist Jerry Berger who had developed a strong following.

In 1990, when publisher Ralph Ingersoll came to town to start a tabloid called the St. Louis Sun, Lipman put the newsroom on a war footing. He made sure to keep the newspaper’s best staffers in the fold and sewed up the newspaper’s most popular comics and columnists. The Sun folded within months.

Newsroom veterans remember with some mirth the day when Berger told Mr. Lipman that retired Cardinals slugger Stan Musial was near death. Lipman began barking orders, making staffers stay late and planning a special section in honor of The Man. That was at least 20 years ago and Musial is still very much among us, a fact that did not embarrass Mr. Lipman one bit. He had his newspaper ready to go with the story.

Richard K. Weil Jr. worked under Mr. Lipman during his entire tenure as managing editor and later stepped up to that position himself. He saw two sides to the editor. “Dave was a micro-manager, who would be out of place into today’s newsrooms which rely on delegation, deep discussion and empowerment to subordinate editors,” Weil said. “He would phone individual members of the Washington Bureau or call in individual reporters to quiz them about their activities. Whenever it rained the smallest amount, he ordered a weather story. And he had ears like an elephant. When one of his editors apologized to a reporter for assigning him yet another weather story by saying: ‘You know, the managing editor is queer for weather,’ Lipman came flying out of his office to dress down the editor."

Yet Weil went on to say:

“Staffers, many of whom disliked Dave, came to appreciate him more after he left the newsroom. As other editors followed, the staffers remembered Dave for his passion for the newspaper and the energy he brought to it.”

When Mr. Lipman stepped down as managing editor, he took on the role of helping Pulitzer Publishing Co. plan for the Internet age. He retired four years later in 1996.

Mr. Lipman was author and co-author of seven sports books, including biographies of baseball players LeRoy "Satchel" Paige and Ken Boyer, football quarterbacks Jim Hart and Joe Namath, and baseball manager/executive Branch Rickey. He has received many honors over the years including the University of Missouri’s Honor Medal for Distinguished Service to Journalism.

His family printed a short obituary notice in the Post-Dispatch on Friday, capturing his essence in a single sentence. "David Lipman died, reluctantly."

Services will be held Sunday at United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Road, Creve Coeur. Visitation will begin at 1:15 p.m. and the funeral service will be at 2 p.m.

Interment will be private.

Surviving are his wife, Marilyn, a daughter, Gay Lipman of Chicago; a son, Benjamin Lipman of St. Louis, and a sister, Lorraine Raskin of Overland Park, Kan.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation Inc., P.O. Box 310, Churchton, Md. 20733.