Finding aid for the John S. Knight Papers


Title:
John S. Knight Papers
Repository:
Archival Services, University Libraries, The University of Akron
Phone: 330-972-7670
http://www.uakron.edu/libraries/archives
Creator:
Knight, John Shively, 1894-1981
Dates:
1894-1981
Quantity:
100 cubic feet (62 boxes)
Abstract:
John Shively Knight, founder of Knight Newspapers, was considered a visionary of journalism in the sense that he belonged to a breed of publishers, who were strong-willed, competitive, and politically conscious. To the City of Akron, Ohio, Knight signified a "mover and shaker," because he was instrumental to the area's growth and development, observing and contributing to Akron's metamorphosis from a canal town to a heavy industrial center to a post-industrial city. Knight parlayed the Akron Beacon Journal, which he inherited from his father, into Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Inc., which by 1981 consisted of 32 newspapers in 17 states, employed 15,000 workers, and boasted a circulation of 3.6 million daily. The John S. Knight papers (1894-1981) consist primarily of material relating to his life as a newspaper editor and publisher. The collection includes correspondence, speeches, scrapbooks, "Editor's Notebooks," newspaper clippings, photographs, phonotapes, and memorabilia, plus a variety of other materials which document the significant events of Knight's life and legacy.
Identification:
99/110
Location:
Archival Services, Polsky Building, LL-10
Language:
The records are in English
Sample Image:
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Sample Image:
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Biography of John S. Knight

John Shively Knight, founder of Knight Newspapers, was considered a visionary of journalism in the sense that he belonged to a breed of publishers, comparable to William Randolph Hearst, who were strong-willed, competitive, and politically conscious. Their major interest was to buy newspaper competitors and create newspaper groups. To the City of Akron, Ohio, Knight signified a "mover and shaker," because he was instrumental to the area's growth and development, observing and contributing to Akron's metamorphosis from a canal town to a heavy industrial center, to finally a post-industrial city. Knight parlayed the Akron Beacon Journal, which he inherited from his father, into Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Inc., which by 1981 consisted of 32 newspapers in 17 states, employed 15,000 workers, and boasted a circulation of 3.6 million daily.

Born October 26, 1894, in Bluefield, West Virginia, as the second son of Charles Landon and Clara Irene Scheifly Knight, John Shively grew up in Akron, Ohio, where his outspoken father worked his way up from advertising manager to editor and publisher of the Beacon Journal in 1909. By 1915, C.L., as he preferred to be known, acquired full control of the newspaper and continued to write his trademark fiery editorials. Young John Knight attended Crosby Elementary and was sent to Tome School at Port Deposit, Maryland, to prepare for college. He completed his senior year at Central High School, graduating in 1914. During summer vacations from school, Knight worked in his father's newspaper office. His college education at Cornell University was interrupted in 1917 as he left to enlist in the Army, eventually seeing action in the Argonne. Upon his return to the United States, Knight traveled to California with $5,000 won in crapshooting to contemplate going into the cattle business. Instead, he followed his father's wishes, returned to Akron and became a sports journalist, writing under the pseudonym Walker, because, he confessed, "I was ashamed of the stuff. I didn't write well enough." In 1921, Knight married Katherine "Kitty" McLain, who died unexpectedly in 1929 and left him three sons - John Shively Jr., Charles Landon, and Franklin. Already Managing Editor of the Beacon Journal by 1925, he married a second time (in 1932) to Beryl Zoller Comstock. In 1933, the elder Charles Landon Knight died and John Knight inherited the positions of editor and publisher of the Beacon Journal.

The Akron paper was the first of a chain of newspapers under Knight's ownership. Upon purchasing the Miami Herald in 1937 for $2 million, he bought and subsequently closed the Miami Tribune and the Scripps-Howard Akron Times-Press. Very quickly he acquired control of the Detroit Free Press and the Chicago Daily News. Despite the rapid growth of his newspaper group, Knight was firmly opposed to the centralized management characteristic of the large Hearst newspaper chain. The Akron editor and publisher was an ardent advocate of preserving the uniqueness of a region. The Beacon Journal claimed to be nonpartisan during a time when newspapers generally stated political preferences forthrightly. Knight expressed his personal views and critical acceptance of Akron in "The Editor's Notebook," a weekly column he wrote for almost 40 years. His major journalistic concern was editorial integrity and the preservation of a free press in the United States and abroad. As the 1944 President of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, he sent representatives on a worldwide tour, interviewing editors and governmental officials in the interest of journalistic freedom. Observations and final reports disclosed that in practically all cases the press was used as an instrument of government propaganda and social control. Knight believed that a free and honest press would help to reduce the chances for future wars. During World War II, Knight temporarily departed from the newspaper circuit to become director of the United States Office of Censorship in London, where he served for one year as liaison for Great Britain and North Africa. Representing Akron's journalistic link to the war, Knight witnessed Japan's capitulation and was present with the first occupation troops in the country. His eldest son, John Shively, a lieutenant in the paratroopers, was killed in a March, 1945, ambush in Germany.

Upon returning to the United States and the world of professional journalism, Knight's weekly "Editor's Notebook," along with the Detroit Free Press and the Charlotte Observer, won Pulitzer Prizes in 1968, making him the first publisher to be granted three such awards in a single year. By 1973, Knight owned 15 newspapers, including the Tallahassee Democrat, the Springfield Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. In the following year the Knight Newspapers merged with the California-based Ridder Publications. Personal tragedy struck Knight again as he was widowed for second time in 1974 and his grandson, John Shively III, was stabbed to death during a robbery the following year. In 1976, Knight married Mary Elizabeth Augustus and retired as editorial chairman of Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Inc., having accumulated 26 Pulitzer Prizes altogether. During his retirement, Knight concentrated his efforts on raising thoroughbred race horses at his Fourth Estate Stables in Miami. He also excelled in golf, winning links championships at his many golf clubs. In honor of his father, Knight established the Knight Foundation (1940), which continues to provide major funding for worthy projects.

On June 16, 1981, Knight succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 86, only seven months after his third wife had passed away. At the time of his death, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Inc., consisted of 32 newspapers and four television stations, and had been estimated to be valued at $245 million, the bulk of which went to the Knight Foundation.

Knight belonged to numerous organizations and societies, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, where he twice served as president. He also held the positions of committee chairman, executive committee member, director of finance and vice president (1956) of the Associated Press. In addition to the Pulitzer Prizes, Knight received numerous awards and honors, including the Elija Parish Lovejoy Award for journalistic achievement, the John Peter Zenger Award, the William Allen White Foundation Award, the National Press Award, the Poor Richard Gold Medal of Achievement Award, and honorary doctorates from The University of Akron, Northwestern University, Kent State University, Ohio State University, University of Michigan, Oberlin College, and Colby College.

Scope and Content

The John S. Knight papers (1894-1981) consist primarily of material relating to his life as a newspaper editor and publisher. The collection includes correspondence, speeches, scrapbooks, "Editor's Notebooks," newspaper clippings, photographs, phonotapes, and memorabilia, plus a variety of other materials which document the significant events of Knight's life and legacy. Wherever possible, original order of the papers was maintained.

This collection would be of interest to scholars researching the history of journalism, various philosophies of journalism, newspaper groups, the press and world events, biographical information on Knight or family members, and reader reaction to important issues of the day.

The material is divided into 13 series. Series A (Biographical Information and Family Correspondence) is composed of biographical information relating to John S. Knight and other family members. Correspondence, tribute articles, and obituaries are arranged chronologically within each folder. Of significant interest are the various articles written about Knight from 1945 to 1981. Also included in this series are subseries on Knight's parents, Charles Landon Knight and Clara Irene Sheifly Knight; his wives, Katharine McClain Knight, Beryl Zoller Knight, and Elizabeth Augustus Knight; his children, John S. Knight II, Frank McClain Knight, and step-daughter, Rita Beryl Knight; his daughter-in-law, Dorothy McClain Knight (wife of son, John S. Knight II); and grandson, John S. Knight III.

Correspondence is divided into four series, with original order maintained wherever possible. Series B (Personal Correspondence) comprises personal correspondence between 1921-1981 and is arranged alphabetically. Specific files covering Knight's association with the Associated Press, newspapers, United States Senators, Congressmen and Presidents, the tire companies, and universities can be found within this series.

General Correspondence is located in Series C, which primarily deals with readers' responses to Knight's editorials. Reader reaction to historic topics includes John F. Kennedy's assassination, the Vietnam War, the Kent State University shootings, and Watergate. Folders are arranged alphabetically by year and then chronologically within each file.

Series D (Miscellaneous Correspondence) is comprised of miscellaneous correspondence, including a wide variety of correspondents such as readers, businessmen, and other journalists. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series E (Selected Correspondence) is selected correspondence with family members, business associates, staff, colleges and universities, awards sponsors, clubs, and other organizations. This series includes materials selected by the members of Knight-Ridder Newspapers or the Knight Foundation.

Series F contains Knight's trademark, the "Editor's Notebooks," the weekly column he wrote for nearly 40 years, expressing his viewpoints and opinions. In addition to the notebooks, there is correspondence relating to the editorials and an index spanning 26 years of the column. (For a copy of the index, see the Appendix.) Also included within this series are all the Akron Beacon Journal editorial pages from 1950 to 1964.

Information about Knight's awards, honors, speeches given, and conventions attended can be found in Series G. Acceptance speeches and accompanying materials are arranged chronologically.

Series H includes correspondence, pamphlets, maps and other materials relating to Knight's involvement with World War II and the Vietnam War. Knight's outside activities can be found in the sports, leisure, and hobbies series designated as Series I. Horse racing and golfing were especially characteristic after Knight retired as working editor and publisher of the Akron Beacon Journal.

Series J includes scrapbooks and newsclippings collected by Knight. The scrapbooks span 1921-1936 and provide biographical information on C. L. Knight. The newsclippings cover 1927-1981 and pertain to Knight and his various newspapers.

Series K consists of photographs relating to various aspects of Knight's life, as well as photographs of other family members. Essentially, this section is organized topically. Some of the photographs are oversize, mounted on cardboard or matted and framed.

Phonotapes, phonodisks, and films pertaining to Knight are located in Series L. Included here are Knight's speech at the 50th Anniversary of the Akron Chamber of Commerce, a WKR Detroit interview with Knight about his trip to Vietnam and Knight's question and answer session before the Poor Richard Club in 1972.

Artifacts, some of which are on exhibit in the John S. Knight Reading Room located in Bierce Library at The University of Akron, comprise Series M. Finally, Series N, miscellanea, includes club membership books in which Knight is listed.

Statement of Arrangement

The papers are arranged in the following series: Series A: Biographical Information and Family Correspondence; Subseries AA: John S. Knight; Subseries AB: C.L. Knight (father of John S. Knight); Subseries AC: Clara Knight (mother of John S. Knight); Subseries AD: Katharine Knight (first wife of John S. Knight); Subseries AE: Beryl Zoller Knight (second wife of John S. Knight); Subseries AF: Elizabeth Augustus Knight (third wife of John S. Knight); Subseries AG: John S. Knight II (son of John S. Knight); Subseries AH: Dorothy Knight (Mrs. John S. Knight II); Subseries AI: Frank McClain Knight (son of John S. Knight); Subseries AJ: Rita Beryl Knight (step-daughter of John S. Knight); Subseries AK: John S. Knight III (grandson of John S. Knight); Series B: Personal Correspondence; Series C: General Correspondence; Series D: Miscellaneous Correspondence; Series E: Selected Correspondence; Series F: Editor's Notebooks, Editorials; Series G: Awards, Honors, Speeches, and Conventions; Series H: World War II and Vietnam; Series I: Sports, Leisure, and Hobbies; Series J: Scrapbooks and Newsclippings; Series K: Photographs; Series L: Phonotapes, Phonodisks, and Films; Series M: Artifacts; Series N: Miscellaneous

Restrictions on Use

Copyright restrictions may apply. Permission to reproduce or publish materials in this collection must be secured in writing from Archival Services, University Libraries, The University of Akron.

Restrictions on Access

No restrictions on access; except not available through interlibrary loan.

Separated Material: Separated Material

Books from the personal library of John S. Knight have been cataloged separately in the UA Libraries catalog and can be found by performing a title search for "John S. Knight library."


Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.

Subjects:

Journalists - Ohio - Akron
Newspaper publishing - United States

Persons:

Knight, John Shively, 1894-1981

Organizations/Corporations:

Akron beacon journal
American Society of Newspaper Editors
Associated Press
Chicago daily news
Cleveland plain dealer
Detroit free press
Knight Foundation
Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Inc
Ohio Newspaper Association

Family Names:

Knight family

Preferred Citation

[Identification of Item], John S. Knight Papers, Archival Services, University Libraries, The University of Akron, Akron, Ohio.

Acquisition Information

John S. Knight bequeathed his papers to Archival Services in June 1981.

Other Finding Aid


View Inventory of the John S. Knight Papers


Bibliography

Information for this historical background was taken from the following sources:Akron Beacon Journal, June 17, 1981Current Biography 1945 Whited, Charles. Knight: A Publisher in the Tumultuous Century. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1988.Who's Who in the Midwest