The Washington Star, previously known as the Washington Star-News and the Washington Evening Star, was a daily afternoon newspaper published in Washington, D.C. between 1852 and 1981. For most of that time, it was the city's newspaper of record, and the longtime home to columnist Mary McGrory and cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman. On August 7, 1981, after 128 years, the Washington Star ceased publication and filed for bankruptcy. In the bankruptcy sale, The Washington Post purchased the land and buildings owned by the Star, including its printing presses.
|The Washington Star|
|Type||Daily afternoon newspaper|
|Founder(s)||Captain Joseph Borrows Tate|
|Editor||Jim Bellows (1975–1978)|
|Staff writers||Mary McGrory, Clifford K. Berryman|
|Founded||December 16, 1852|
|Ceased publication||August 7, 1981|
|Headquarters||1101 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW|
The Washington Star was founded on December 16, 1852, by Captain Joseph Borrows Tate. It was originally headquartered in Washington's "Newspaper Row" on Pennsylvania Avenue. Tate initially gave the paper the name The Daily Evening Star, and it would be renamed several times before becoming Washington Star by the late 1970s. In 1853, Texas surveyor and newspaper entrepreneur William Douglas Wallach purchased the paper. As the sole owner of the paper for the next 14 years, Wallach built up the paper by capitalizing on reporting of the American Civil War, among other things. In 1867, the group of investors Crosby Stuart Noyes, Samuel H. Kauffmann and George Adams acquired the paper by each of the investors putting up $33,333.33. The paper would remain family-owned and operated for the next four generations.
In 1907, subsequent Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman joined the Star. Berryman was most famous for his 1902 cartoon of President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, "Drawing the Line in Mississippi," which spurred the creation of the teddy bear. During his career, Berryman drew thousands of cartoons commenting on American Presidents and politics. Presidential figures included former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman. The cartoons satirized both Democrats and Republicans and covered topics such as drought, farm relief, and food prices; representation of the District of Columbia in Congress; labor strikes and legislation; campaigning and elections; political patronage; European coronations; the America's Cup; and the Atomic Bomb. Berryman's career continued at the Star until he collapsed on the lobby floor one morning in 1949 and died shortly after of a heart ailment.
The next major change to the newspaper came in 1938, when the three owning families diversified their interests. On May 1, the Star purchased the M. A. Leese Radio Corporation and acquired Washington's oldest radio station, WMAL, in the process. Renamed the Evening Star Broadcasting Company, the 1938 acquisition would figure later in the 1981 demise of the newspaper.
The Star's influence and circulation peaked in the 1950s; it constructed a new printing plant in Southeast Washington capable of printing millions of copies, but found itself unable to cope with changing times. Nearly all top editorial and business staff jobs were held by members of the owning families, including a Kauffmann general manager who had gained a reputation for anti-Semitism, driving away advertisers. Suburbanization and television were accelerating the decline of evening newspapers in favor of morning dailies. The Post, meanwhile, acquired and merged with its morning rival, the Times-Herald, in 1954 and steadily drew readers and advertisers away from the falling Star. By the 1960s, the Post was Washington's leading newspaper.
In 1972, the Star purchased and absorbed one of DC's few remaining competing newspapers, The Washington Daily News. For a short period of time after the merger, both "The Evening Star" and "The Washington Daily News" mastheads appeared on the front page. The paper soon was retitled "Washington Star News" and finally, "The Washington Star" by the late 1970s.
In 1973, the Star was targeted for clandestine purchase by interests close to the South African Apartheid government in its propaganda war, in what became known as the Muldergate Scandal. The Star, whose editorial policy had always been conservative, was seen as favorable to South Africa at the time. In 1974, pro-apartheid Michigan newspaper publisher John P. McGoff attempted to purchase The Washington Star for $25 million, but his bid failed.
In early 1975, the owning families sold their interests in the paper to Joe Allbritton, a Texas multimillionaire who was known as a corporate turnaround artist. Allbritton, who also owned Riggs Bank, then the most prestigious bank in the capital, planned to use profits from WMAL-AM-FM-TV to shore up the newspaper's finances. The Federal Communications Commission stymied him with rules on media cross-ownership, however; WMAL-AM-FM was sold off in 1977, and the TV station was renamed WJLA-TV.
On October 1, 1975, press operators at the Post went on strike, severely damaging all printing presses before leaving the building. Allbritton would not assist Katharine Graham, the owner of the Post, in any way, refusing to print his rival's papers on the Star's presses, since that likely would have caused the Star to be struck by the press operators as well. Allbritton also had major disagreements with editor Jim Bellows over editorial policy; Bellows left the Star for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Unable to make the Star profitable, Allbritton explored other options, including a joint operating agreement with the Post.
On February 2, 1978, Time Inc. purchased the Star for $20 million. Their flagship magazine, Time, was the arch-rival to Newsweek, which was published by The Washington Post Company, and the purchase seemed natural. Management issues continued to plague the publication, however. Editor-in-Chief Murray Gart, former chief of correspondents at Time, had no experience managing a newspaper and little experience even writing for one. An effort to draw readers with localized special "zonal" metro news sections did little to help circulation. The Star lacked the resources to produce the sort of ultra-local coverage zonal editions demanded and ended up running many of the same regional stories in all of its local sections. An economic downturn resulted in monthly losses of over $1 million. On August 7, 1981, after 128 years, The Washington Star ceased publication. In the bankruptcy sale, the Post purchased the land and buildings owned by the Star, including its printing presses.
Many of the people who worked for the Star went to work for the newly-formed The Washington Times, which began operations in May 1982, almost a year after the Star went out of business.
Writers who worked at the Star in its last days included Nick Adde (Army Times), Stephen Aug (ABC News), Michael Isikoff (Newsweek), Howard Kurtz (The Washington Post), Fred Hiatt (The Washington Post), Sheilah Kast (ABC News), Jane Mayer (The New Yorker), Chris Hanson (Columbia Journalism Review), Jeremiah O'Leary (The Washington Times), Chuck Conconi (Washingtonian), Crispin Sartwell (Creators Syndicate), Maureen Dowd (The New York Times), novelist Randy Sue Coburn, Michael DeMond Davis, Lance Gay, (Scripps Howard News Service), Jules Witcover (The Baltimore Sun), Jack Germond (The Baltimore Sun), Judy Bachrach (Vanity Fair), Lyle Denniston (The Baltimore Sun), Fred Barnes (Weekly Standard), Gloria Borger (CNN), Kate Sylvester (NPR, NBC, Governing Magazine) and Mary McGrory (The Washington Post). The paper's staff also included editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant.