June 27, 2012 | Queens College
Last July friends and colleagues joined 89-year-old newsman David Starr ’42 and his wife Peggy (Giffen) Starr ’42 in the big conference room at the Springfield Republican in Springfield, MA to celebrate a remarkable milestone: his 70th year in the newspaper business—all with Newhouse, the newspaper publishing division of Advance Publications.
“I knew in the fifth grade I was going to be a newspaperman,” Starr says, recounting how he routinely read all 13 of the New York dailies sold at his father’s candy store. “I just became enamored of newspapers and what they accomplished and what a reporter was able to do.”
Following graduation from Richmond Hill High School—where he had been editor of the school newspaper— he enrolled at Queens as an economics major. “I thought economics was the most useful study for a newspaper editor,” Starr says. “I joined the staff of the Crown in 1938 and they elected me the editor in 1940.”
1940 would prove to be a significant year in his life. On a spring day at the Crown’s office, a staffer showed up with a friend, Peggy Giffen. “She was carrying a copy of the Cornell Widow under her arm,” he says, explaining that the student-run Cornell University publication was considered racy by the day’s standards. “I figured she wasn’t reading it, so I grabbed it. And she gave me hell.” That fall, he began dating the future Mrs. Starr.
1940 was also the year David Sinowitz became David Starr. He had submitted a freelance story to an editor at the Long Island Press. “He said to me, ‘That’s a pretty good story and I’ll give you a byline, but I don’t give bylines to college kids.’” Standing in the city room at that moment was Martin Starr, the press agent for the World’s Fair. “The editor said to me: ‘How do you like the name David Starr?’ I shrugged. I didn’t care.”
But a few years and many bylines later, he found a good reason to care. He was about to join the Army and didn’t look forward to the anti-Semitism that still plagued the country. In November 1942 he legally changed his name from Sinowitz to Starr.
Starr’s relationship with the Long Island Press (a Newhouse publication) solidified when he became a summer copy boy in July 1941.This was in addition to positions he held as QC correspondent for both the Daily News and the New York Times. And these were in addition to his appointment in 1940 by QC President Paul Klapper as the college’s public relations director. “I was paid $15 a week, and that was good money,” he recalls.
Following graduation in 1942, the Long Island Press hired Starr, “even though the editor, Norman Newhouse, knew full well that I would be going into the army very soon.” he remarks. When the war ended, “I went back to the Long Island Press and I went up the ladder.”
Groomed for advancement within Newhouse, Starr worked for a time at the Newark Star-Ledger as understudy to the senior editor of the Newhouse Group. He became editor of the Long Island Press in 1968, and in 1971 was named senior editor of the Newhouse Group, a title he retains to this day.
When the Long Island Press folded in 1977, Starr was sent to Massachusetts to take over a group of publications struggling in a depressed local economy. They survive today as the Springfield Republican and the website MassLive.com. The surrounding area has rebounded in no small part due to the exceptional level of civic interest demonstrated by Starr and his wife.
Their philanthropic activities on behalf of local cultural institutions have been widely applauded. When saluting their gift toward the creation of a broadcast center for the local public radio station, WFCR General Manager Martin Miller said, “Very few people can stand shoulder to shoulder with Peggy and David Starr in their support, commitment, and demand for excellence. But because of them and through them we are all better citizens, living in an area made better because of their work.”
Despite predictions of their eventual demise as a feature of the American landscape, Starr remains cautiously optimistic about newspapers. Remarkable for a man about to enter his tenth decade, he has spent the past decade developing strategies to help the Newhouse papers survive in an age where the Internet offers people “thousands of other ways of getting information.”
“Our job,” he says, “is to persuade the public that we’re still the best, most trustworthy, most reliable, non-partisan and accurate gatherer of information.”
It’s a job David Starr’s been doing for 70 years.
Assistant Director of News Services