Editorial Chief Ending 27-Year Courant Run

Editorial Chief Ending 27-Year Courant Run
By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer

Hartford Courant, CT
June 9 2004

John J. Zakarian, The Courant’s editorial page editor and a prominent
figure in opinion writing in Connecticut and beyond, said Tuesday that
he will retire after guiding the newspaper’s voice of institutional
opinion for more than a quarter-century.

A past president and life member of the National Conference of
Editorial Writers, Zakarian became The Courant’s editorial page editor
in 1977, following a career that took him from covering horse races
as a cub reporter for The Associated Press in Chicago to a Nieman
Fellowship at Harvard University, and to a host of news organizations
in between.

Zakarian guided The Courant’s editorial page through a number of
bruising public battles, drawing the public’s ire for the newspaper’s
strong backing for a state income tax in the early 1990s. He balanced
publishers and editorial boards dueling over the endorsement of
presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush.

In recent years, he has headed an editorial board that campaigned for
the creation of a Coltsville National Park in Hartford and championed
Park Street as the region’s Hispanic Main Street. The board’s “Cranes
and Scaffolds” and “Keys to the City” features prodded developers
and government officials to pay attention to the city’s revitalization.

A native of the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem who grew up trying to
balance the highly charged views of both Arabs and Jews, a fluent
speaker of Arabic, Armenian and English, Zakarian said that he tried
to avoid putting a particular ideological stamp on The Courant’s
editorial page.

“I came to The Courant when it was known as a very conservative,
Republican paper,” Zakarian said in an interview Tuesday. “It has

Nevertheless, Zakarian said The Courant has taken many positions on
issues over the years that could be characterized as conservative,
such as championing welfare reform and endorsing Reagan in 1984 and
Bush in 2000.

“You always recognize that not everything is black and white. You
give the other side the benefit of hearing them out,” Zakarian said,
describing the philosophy he grew up with. “But, ultimately, you
can’t go along with somebody just to go along with them.”

Zakarian, 66, said he would have liked to work for several more years,
but decided to retire because of a recent policy by the Tribune Corp.,
The Courant’s corporate parent, that employees who retire after July
1 will not be eligible for post-retirement medical benefits. He will
retire at the end of this month.

“I probably would not have been pressed to make a decision right away”
but for the policy, Zakarian said.

Jack W. Davis Jr., The Courant’s publisher, said he would be
“open-minded” about where Zakarian’s successor would come from and
his or her politics.

“I think there are people from the editorial board who ought to be
considered as successors, and people from the rest of The Courant
and from Tribune,” as well as candidates from outside, Davis said.

Zakarian’s “27 years as editorial page editor epitomize the best of
journalism and the best of The Courant,” Davis said.

The Courant’s editorial page, he said, “is as innovative and assertive
an editorial page as you have anywhere in the United States. I think
John’s peak is in the future as far as being an editorial page editor,
which was why I was hoping he’d stay.”

Zakarian said he arrived in New York on the Queen Elizabeth in 1957,
knowing that he had scholarships from Southern Illinois University
and San Francisco State University, but knowing little more about
the United States.

Going to the ticket window at Penn Station, he told the clerk: “I
want to go to Carbondale, Ill., or San Francisco, whichever is closer.”

He ended up in Carbondale at Southern Illinois, supporting himself
partly by working as a janitor.

In the course of his journalism career, Zakarian received awards that
included the Walker Stone national award for editorial writing and an
Overseas Press Club award for a series on the Middle East in 1987. In
1981, he led a delegation of editorial page editors on a tour of the
Middle East, arranging interviews with leaders including Yasser Arafat
and Bashir Gemayel.

Zakarian received praise Tuesday from other editorial page editors,
in Connecticut and beyond.

“I think John, when he came to The Courant, sort of raised the level
of sophistication of the editorial page, made it more far-reaching.
It had more of a national and international sense,” said Morgan
McGinley, the editorial page editor of The Day of New London.

“John is a wisdom figure in editorial writing,” said Maura J. Casey,
The Day’s associate editorial page editor. “He is both an old-fashioned
gentleman and a person of stature. He is a person whose integrity is
just unquestioned.”

Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
and a Pulitzer Prize winner, said Zakarian was a notable journalist
for both his civility and his ability to argue an opinion.