Edward Willis (E.W.) Scripps was born in 1854 near Rushville, Illinois, to John Moog Scripps and his third wife, Julia (Osborn) Scripps. E.W., the youngest of 13 children in an extended family involved in the business of newspapers, got his own start in newspapers working for his older half-brother James in Detroit.
At age 24, with a borrowed $10,000, E.W. began his first paper, the Cleveland Penny Press. Throughout his career E.W. specialized in inexpensive "penny papers" aimed at the working class. He said that Scripps papers "should always be devoted to the service of the 95%, namely the working man and the poor and unfortunate."
Most of the time he wished to remain out of the limelight as the man behind the papers. He developed a franchise model by which he trained young editors, set them up in business, and retained an interest in the successful papers. He also developed syndicated news services that sold news to any paper that wanted it: the subscriber didn't need to be part of his company. With numerous papers in the Concern, and those purchasing syndicated material, he was able to gain very wide audiences in an age of limited news media. It is said that at the time of the 1912 presidential election he had access to nearly 70% of the voting population.
In 1898 E.W. relocated to Southern California for his health, where he alternated working on his ranch home and lands with running his newspaper empire by letter and telegram. In love with nature and the land, he developed test beds of exotic plants and trees. After learning road building through his ranch work, he expanded to building roads in his community and became a county highway commissioner.
Not a social person by nature — he called himself a "damned old crank" — E.W. cultivated his reputation for eccentricity. He enjoyed writing idea essays (his "disquisitions") and distributing them by mail to all peers who might have an interest in the subject. Since he sometimes wrote just to elicit a response, it is not always easy to determine which statements he truly believed in and which simply were fodder for discussion.
E.W. was curious about a wide range of subjects, and he had a gift for recognizing undeveloped talent. As a result, he aided the careers of many young adults, whether in the newspaper business, forestry, sculpture, or science. He in turn acquired knowledge in many different fields, and tried to use this knowledge to benefit the public.
E.W. brought his sons into the business at a young age, starting them out by running the ranch office, graduating them to working at newspapers, then to managing the Concern. Officially "retiring" in 1908, he continued to work with his editors and also worked to influence public policy.
In 1917, believing that President Wilson needed the support of the press in the face of World War I, E.W. came out of retirement and moved to Washington DC. Paradoxically, frightened that his two sons would be drafted and leave the Concern without leadership, he worked to keep them out of the military. Upset by the forced promotion of the youngest son, the eldest son split with his father. About this same time E.W. suffered a stroke from which he never completely recovered. He left public life to recuperate, essentially spending the rest of his life on a yacht, and died off the coast of Liberia in 1926 at the age of 72. He was buried at sea.
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