Richard Severo, Times reporter on book over internal clash, dies at 90

Richard Severo, Times reporter on book over internal clash, dies at 90

Richard Severo, an award-winning reporter for The New York Times whose challenge of what he perceived as a punitive transfer by the newspaper’s management became a cause célèbre among journalists in the 1980s, June 12 in the Hudson Valley in Balmville, NY I died at my home. , He was 90 years old.

His wife, Amoke Edith de Pape, stated that the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease.

During his Times career, from 1968 to 2006, Mr. Severo won a prestigious George Polk Award from Long Island University in 1975 for his reports that millions of gallons of milk were produced by the New York State Dairy Farmers’ Cooperative, which That’s one of the biggest. The whole country was fed skimmed milk powder for more than five years while being sold as whole milk. She also won a Meyer “Mike” Berger Award from Columbia University in 1977 for a report about an unmarried mother and the death of her child, and three Page One Awards from her union, the NewsGuild of New York.

But while reporting for the science section of The Times, Mr Severo ran afoul of his bosses when he decided to write a book drawn from his articles about a patient with neurofibromatosis – who became known as the “elephant man” disease. Goes – whose face was reconstructed after gruesome surgery.

Accounts of what happened thereafter differ, but The Times, through its publishing subsidiary Times Books, is said to have claimed first rights to the book because it was based on Mr Severo’s work for the newspaper. Was. However, Mr. Severo, through his agent, had already begun auctioning off the rights to other publishers. Times Books eventually bid $37,500 (about $110,000 in today’s dollars), but Harper & Row won the rights with an offer of $50,000 (about $145,000 today).

The book, published in 1985 as “Lisa H: The True Story of an Extraordinary and Courageous Woman”, was described in The New York Times Book Review as “a conclusive account”. But by then Mr. Severo had been transferred to the Metropolitan desk, which he considered a demotion and retribution for the book deal. Top editors of The Times said the move was made because they were fed up with his constant complaining; Mr. Severo was known for being a perfectionist, uncompromising and belligerent.

The incident set off an unusually public confrontation over a company’s prerogative to transfer an employee and the extent to which a news organization could claim ownership of a reporter’s articles if the reporter published a book based on that work. decides to write. The conflict was covered not only in the news industry, but also beyond.

“Rarely at the top levels of journalism does a conflict between a reporter and her boss become so bitter and public as in the case of Richard Severo v. The New York Times,” wrote Eleanor Randolph. The Washington Post in 1984.

The boss was AM Rosenthal, who was the executive editor, whom Mr. was considered comparable in temperament to Severo – fickle, stubborn, sometimes eccentric.

Four years of arbitration hearings followed, during which Mr. Severo took unpaid leave. Along the way there was an internal revolt by a cadre of Pulitzer Prize winners when management demanded that Mr. Severo hand over his diaries and other personal papers. Finally, in September 1988, an arbitrator ruled in favor of The Times.

After finishing his leave, Mr. Severo returned and accepted a transfer to the Metropolitan Desk. He was later assigned to the obituary desk, where he produced several in-depth obituaries about luminaries before their deaths.

(Under current Times policy, as outlined in its “Ethical Journalism” handbook, the company requires staff members wishing to write a nonfiction book based on their work for the Times to notify the Times in advance.) and refrain from accepting outside bids until The Times decides whether to make a competitive offer for the book.)

Early in his career as a Times reporter, Mr. Severo went undercover for four months in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx to report on the heroin trade and its effects. In 1977, he wrote a cover story for The New York Times Magazine in which he revealed that the nation’s first nuclear waste reprocessing plant was leaking nuclear waste into Lake Erie. And in 1979, he detailed the effects of the herbicide Agent Orange on American soldiers returning from Vietnam.

During his leave of absence while the arbitration hearing was underway, he wrote “The Wedges of War: When America’s Soldiers Came Home: From Valley Forge to Vietnam” (1989). Louise Milford,

In his memoir “City Room” (2003), Arthur Gelb, a former metropolitan editor and managing editor at The Times, called Mr. Severo “one of the most daring reporters on my staff”.

Thomas Richard Severo, better known as Dick, was born on November 22, 1932, in Newburgh, NY, to Thomas and Mary Theresa (Farina) Severo, Italian immigrants. His father owned a liquor store, and his mother was a homemaker.

After graduating from Colgate University in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in history, Mr. Severo was hired as a news assistant at CBS. He went on a series of reporting with the now-defunct Hudson Valley newspaper The Pockeye New Yorker; The Associated Press in Newark, NJ; New York Herald Tribune; And before The Washington Post, The Times recruited him in 1968.

His wife, known as Moke, is his only immediate survivor.

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