AP’s Retired Top Editor Dies at 90
WASHINGTON (AP) _ As a young reporter, Samuel G. Blackman broke the news that Charles Lindbergh’s baby had been kidnapped, the first big story in a career of reporting and supervising coverage for The Associated Press.
His four decades in journalism spanned the era of the Great Depression to that of missions to the moon. He retired in 1969 after 11 years as AP’s general news editor, then the wire service’s top editorial job.
Blackman died of heart failure Thursday in his retirement residence in Chevy Chase, Md., at the age of 90.
As general news editor, he was demanded accurate reporting and clear writing. He presided over the general desk, the nerve center of AP headquarters in New York, in an era of clattering typewriters, ringing phones and teletype bells, the cacophony of news.
Age did not dim his zest for news. When he turned 90 last October, Blackman wrote an account of life in a retirement home.
``Now, at 90, I find that old age for me began in my 80s,″ he wrote. ``Steps got shorter, every chore took longer (most everything these days is a chore _ even dressing), visits to doctors and hospitals became more numerous, bones more brittle. An afternoon nap is one of life’s little pleasures.″
His words did not flow as they did when he was an active newspaperman, but he said he found solace in author E.B. White’s observation that, ``The aging mind has a bagful of nasty tricks, one of which is to tuck names and words away in crannies where they are not immediately available.″
``Sam loved news, thrived on it, doted on it,″ said Louis D. Boccardi, Associated Press president and chief executive officer. ``His memory was daunting, his sense of what to keep an eye on was uncanny.″
As a reporter, Blackman covered some of the major events of his day, including the Morro Castle steamship fire, the crashes of the dirigibles Akron and Hindenburg and the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby, one of the most sensational stories of its time.
Researchers over the years often sought him out for his memory of the Lindbergh story.
Acting on a tip, Blackman hurried 14 miles from his AP office in Trenton, N.J., to the Lindbergh estate, where he found four men searching with flashlights.
``State police,″ one said.
``I’m Blackman of the AP,″ the reporter said.
``I’m Charles Lindbergh,″ another said, and explained the search.
Blackman dictated his story from a farmhouse and it appeared in morning newspapers hours before the kidnapping was announced. He covered the case from that night in 1932 through the execution of Bruno Hauptmann four years later.
Blackman was born in Port Jervis, N.Y., Oct. 22, 1904. He began his news career as a student stringer for The New York Times and several New Jersey newspapers to earn tuition money for Rutgers University, where he graduated in 1927 and later earned a master’s degree in English.
He worked for two New Jersey newspapers, the New Brunswick Home News and the Long Branch Record, where he met his future wife, fellow reporter Jeannette Finn Blackman. She died in 1993.
Blackman joined AP at its Trenton bureau in 1931. He moved to New York in 1941 as night city editor, then bureau chief and, in 1958, was named general news editor. He orchestrated news coverage by AP’s far-flung network of bureaus.
He knew of no other place, he told an interviewer, where he would rather be.
Walter R. Mears, now an AP vice president and Washington columnist, recalls an incident from the 1964 election campaign.
``Barry Goldwater gave a press conference and said it was for background, not for attribution. That didn’t seem right _ this was a candidate for president. I asked Sam what to do. He said to spike it, we wouldn’t use it.
``So we spiked it. When we were the only ones who didn’t have a story the next day, the flak flew. Sam backed us all the way. His principles were inflexible. That explains his status in journalism.″
He leaves two daughters, Carolyn B. Jacoby of Bound Brook, N.J., and Ann Blackman Putzel, a former AP reporter and now a correspondent for Time magazine in Washington, six grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
The funeral will be Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Presbyterian Church in Tenafly, N.J. He will be buried in Port Jervis.