It is apparent in retrospect that two conflicting developments had occurred. The Wilmington papers, as with most metropolitan dailies in this country, were in fact broadening their professional and social scope. This was in line with the growing sophistication of the overwhelmingly Democratic or moderate Republican urban audience. At the same time, the owners seemed increasingly rigid in their demands for ultraconservative orthodoxy and family convenience, both in the news columns and editorials.

With the 1964 election campaign approaching, and with Senator Barry Goldwater involved, it was obvious to the editors that something had to be done to resolve these conflicts. The editors pressed the owners for a statement of what they expected of the papers, some mandate that could be followed. When the editors suggested that the papers be committed to the Republican cause with editorials to “focus on an objective appraisal of the chances of the various candidates,” H. B. du Pont objected that this idea would “leave editorial writers free to snipe at candidates for the Republican nomination for President.”

Black asked mostly for consistency. In a memo noting that he had received orders from four or five separate owners plus the public-relations department of the Du Pont Company, he asked, “How many bosses are we expected to please and take orders from?” (He had, for example, run the names of large holders of General Motors stock, as released to the national press by the Du Pont Company public-relations office and had received bitter castigation from two members of the Du Pont family.)

On May 19, 1964, the owners of the Wilmington News and Journal gave their answer. They said that Charles M. Hackett, executive assistant in the public-relations department of the Du Pont Company, would be the boss of news and editorial operations of the papers, with Black serving under him. Black quit. The day before, the announcement was made that the Wilmington papers had won five of fifteen possible first prizes in a publishers’ association judging of papers in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The ending followed tradition. Black wanted to publish his letter of resignation, which said, in part: “I, for one, need no further evidence that the ownership wants the Morning News and Evening Journal operated as house organs instead of as newspapers.” H. B. du Pont vetoed the idea. After the first edition of May 19, carrying simply the news of his resignation. Black posted his letter on the news room bulletin board and the Philadelphia papers printed it before Wilmington did.

H. B. du Pont, at the time, denied Black’s assertion and said the newspapers “have never been and never will be operated as a house organ for any organization. Christiana Securities Corporation reaffirms their determination that the News-Journal Newspapers be operated independently with the objective of being a constructive influence in the community, in the state, and in the nation.”

Efforts to obtain further comment from the papers’ management during the preparation of this article were unsuccessful. H. B. du Pont was unavailable for comment. Robert Carpenter, when asked about his role in requesting changes in the newspapers’ content, said, “I wouldn’t want to comment on the subject.” Charles L. Reese Jr., president and editor of the newspapers, also declined to discuss it.

The depressing quality of the Wilmington episode is that it is not unusual. Few families are so powerful, organized, or dominant in their state as are the Du Ponts, but newspaperdom is filled with owners whose assumptions of their responsibilities are based on their non-newspaper businesses and whose journalistic enterprises are peripheral both to their personal experience and their daily attention. Unlike the McCormicks and the Ochses, such owners do not have to live with the day-to-day consequences of their decisions, nor face constituents whose information and opinions they oversee.

Decision-making in newspapers has a fundamental difference from that of most enterprises. Success in conventional business has a simple measure: survival and profit-making. Both are essential to newspapers but a paper that only survives and only shows a profit can be a failure as a newspaper. The newspaper is a community educational institution run for profit. The owner’s relationship to the news he prints is something like a university trustee’s relationship to reading material selected for archaeology courses.

Ben Bagdikian was an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, and later dean of the University of California, Berkeley's journalism school. He wrote about the Washington press regularly for CJR in the 1960s and '70s.