Leading by Example

Globe publisher fought for freedom of the press and journalistic integrity

With the death of former Boston Globe publisher William Davis Taylor ’31, the newspaper industry lost a visionary who was uncompromisingly dedicated to freedom of the press.

Taylor, the grandson of the founder of the Boston Globe, became the paper’s publisher in 1955. Since then, he oversaw the Globe’s development from a small publication to the leading newspaper in New England.

Those who worked under Taylor remember him as a hands-off publisher who never tried to censor his paper. Not once did he try to modify the opinion page to reflect his own views; he inspired and encouraged his reporters to write creatively but truthfully. Freedom of the press for the Globe’s writers became a reality under him, and integrity, both in news and editorials, became the trademark that made the Boston Globe a leader in its field.

Taylor had a strong sense of the power of the media and used it sparingly but daringly. After the Saturday Night Massacre in 1973, Taylor approved an editorial calling for the resignation of President Richard Nixon—almost a year before the president actually did. The Globe was thus the first major newspaper in the country to challenge the legitimacy of Nixon’s actions. In the same decade, the paper also challenged U.S. policy in Vietnam and was the second in the country to call for withdrawal of the troops from that conflict.

Under the Taylors’ stewardship, the Globe improved its facilities, grew in circulation and won national awards in journalism, including 11 Pulitzer Prizes. Its years under William Davis Taylor were the Globe’s golden years, before the paper was bought out by The New York Times in 1993.

Taylor’s vision of the importance of journalism extended beyond the Globe. He was a key figure in endowing Harvard’s Nieman Fellowships to bring professional journalists to campus. Raising more than $1.2 million for the program in 1965 alone, Taylor’s continuing patronage over the years made the Nieman Foundation financially secure and enabled it to maintain an active dialogue between journalists working in the U.S. and under repressive regimes abroad.

Taylor led by example, showing that newspapers can be most effective when they are unconstrained by their ownership. The Globe’s success is a testament to his far-sighted leadership.