Richard Severo, Times Reporter in Internal Clash Over Book, Dies at 90

The New York Times’ award-winning reporter Richard Severo, who became famous among journalists in the 1980s for challenging what he deemed to be punitive transfers by the newspaper’s management, said on June 12, He died at his home in Balmville, New York, in the Hudson Valley. . he was 90 years old.

His wife Emoke Edith de Papp said the cause was complications from Parkinson’s disease.

During his career at The Times from 1968 to 2006, Severo reported in 1975 that millions of gallons of milk were produced by the New York State Dairy Cooperative (one of the largest cooperatives in the United States). won the coveted George Polk Award from Long Island University. For more than five years, the public has been diluted with skim milk while being marketed as whole milk. He also received the Meyer “Mike” Berger Award from Columbia University for his reporting on the death of his unmarried mother and her child in 1977, and the Page His One Award from his union, the News Guild of New York, three times. Awarded.

But while working as a science reporter for The Times, Severo based an article on a patient with neurofibromatosis (known as “elephant man” disease) whose face was reshaped after grueling surgery. I had a conflict with my boss when I decided to write a book. .

There are various accounts of what happened next, but the Times, through its publishing subsidiary, Times Books, is said to have claimed primary control of the book. Because it is based on Mr. Severo’s work at the paper. But Severo, through his agent, had already begun auctioning the rights to other publishers. Times Books ended up bidding for $37,500 (about $110,000 in today’s dollars), but Harper & Row won the rights for $50,000 (about $145,000).

Published in 1985 as Lisa H: The True Story of an Extraordinary and Courageous Woman, the book was described as “sharp writing” in a New York Times book review. But by then Severo had been transferred to a desk in the metropolitan area, which she thought was a demotion and retaliation for the book deal. The Times’ top editors said the move was tiring of his constant complaining. Mr. Severo was known as a perfectionist, uncompromising and picky.

The case was an unusual public statement about the privilege of a company to transfer employees and how far a news organization can claim ownership of an article if the reporter decides to write a book based on it. caused conflict. The dispute was covered not only in the press industry, but beyond.

“At the top level of journalism, seldom has the confrontation between a reporter and his boss been so intense and public as in the case of Richard Severo v. The New York Times,” writes Eleanor Randolph. 1984 Washington Post.

His boss was editor-in-chief AM Rosenthal, who was considered a fickle, stubborn, and sometimes capricious rival to Mr. Severo.

A four-year arbitration hearing ensued, during which Mr. Severo took unpaid leave. In the process, an internal uprising among Pulitzer Prize-winning executives erupted as management demanded that Severo hand over his diaries and other personal documents. Finally, in September 1988, the arbitrator ruled in favor of The Times.

Severo returned from vacation and accepted a transfer to a desk in the metropolitan area. He was then assigned to the obituary desk, where he produced many detailed obituaries before the deaths of notable people.

(Under current Times policy, as outlined in the “Ethical Journalism” handbook, the company will notify the Times in advance of any staff member who intends to write a non-fiction book based on their work for the Times. The publisher will not publish the book until The Times decides whether to place a competitive bid on the book. )

Earlier in his career, Severo spent four months undercover in the Huntspoint neighborhood of the Bronx to cover the heroin trade and its implications as a reporter for The Times. 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 herbicide orange depletion on American troops returning from Vietnam.

While on leave from the proceedings of the arbitration hearings, he wrote War Pays: When American Soldiers Come Home: From Valley Forge to Vietnam (1989). Lewis Milford.

In his 2003 memoir City Room, Arthur Gelb, former metropolitan editor and managing editor of The Times, called Severo “one of the bravest reporters on my staff.” called “one”.

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

After earning a BA in history from Colgate University in 1954, Mr. Severo was hired as a news assistant at CBS. He continued with a series of interviews for the now-defunct Hudson Valley newspaper, the Poughkeepsie New Yorker. Associated Press, Newark, New Jersey. New York Herald Tribune. He also wrote for the Washington Post until The Times hired him in 1968.

His wife, known as Morky, is his sole survivor.

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