Nebbadoon Press

Paper Boy to Pulitzer
by John Hughes





Gateway Journalism Review, Summer 2014, by Paul Van Slambrouck

In a concluding section of his autobiography "Paper Boy to Pulitzer," John Hughes, former editor-in-chief of the Christian Science Monitor, director of Voice of America and State Department spokesman in the Reagan administration, offers advice to aspiring journalists. Helpful though it is, he needn't have bothered. Any reader who has gotten that far in the book has the answer. You become a journalist because you think seeing the globe, meeting interesting and influential people and learning how the world works--the kind of life Hughes has led--is a no-brainer.

This memoir makes you wonder why anyone wouldn't want to be a journalist. The fact that journalism isn't a career for those seeking wealth and security is truer than ever. Yet by the end of this book those limitations offer little deterrence to those who hear the calling.

Books by and about well-known journalists are not in short supply. Barbara Walters has spoken. So has Tom Brokaw. We've had more than one account about Walter Cronkite and we've winced our way through dissections of Rupert Murdoch and his empire.

What distinguishes this work is that Hughes is not a household name or media power broker. Yet Hughes' career was distinguished and worth knowing about both as a glimpse into the heady days of robust print journalism and more simply, as an adventurous ride through history. He was there to chronide the rise of the Afrikaners and apartheid in South Africa, chaos in the Congo, civil war in Indonesia, the Vietnam War and China's Cultural Revolution.

Even at this distance, the recounting of the uprising, bloodbath and eventual downfall of Indonesian President Sukamo in 1965--the story that earned Hughes a Pulitzer--makes for riveting reading. We learn through this episode what it's like to be a reporter amid chaotic and dangerous circumstances. As anti-American sentiment built and U.S. buildings were attacked, Hughes found himself in the middle of an angry mob that pinned him and an interpreter between two cars, some identifying him as an American that should be killed. Someone pointed out that just because Hughes was white was not proof he was an American, and so the crowd moved on.

The Indonesia story was complicated, not a simple good-guys-bad-guys script It required stamina, skill and guts. Hughes' work reflects fine journalism. It also reflects handsomely on the commitment of the Monitor and other major newspapers of the day to deep, patient international reporting that was once considered an unequivocal part of their mission. Today, not so much. As Hughes worries in his concluding pages about the state of journalism today, he identifies foreign reporting and investigative reporting as the two most endangered species.

Hughes was built to be a foreign correspondent. A Welshman who as a young boy watched air battles against German planes over Britain, he got an early crash course in world affairs. After the war, the Hughes family moved to South Africa and John, at 16, entered journalism as a cadet reporter for the Natal Mercury.

From there he bounced back to Fleet Street in London, then returned to the Mercury in South Africa, and eventually made his way to Boston, fulfilling a goal of joining the Christian Science Monitor. In 1955, the Monitor sent him to South Africa as its correspondent.

It is no exaggeration to say that Hughes, who served as Monitor editor from 1970-79, was instrumental in the Monitor's survival in the years beyond his editorship. The paper rested on a quirky business model: it didn't accept tobacco or alcohol ads; it was sent through the mail to homes across the country and certain parts of the world. Hughes pitched the idea of establishing an endowment fund for the Monitor, which the paper's governing board approved. That fund has grown over the years into the millions of dollars and has produced a stream of revenue vital to the Monitor, cushioning consistent operating deficits.

I first met Hughes on a hot summer day in Boston in 1976. I wanted a job at the Monitor and Hughes agreed to see me. I had flown to Boston on a red-eye from San Franciso. Standing over his desk in white shirtsleeves, accompanied by managing editor Earl Foell, Hughes was surveying my portfolio of artides and photographs. I was working for a small business magazine. Little did I know that Hughes was in the middle of staff layoffs--a recurring theme for many editors, including myself at the Monitor over many decades. Noting the lavish production quality of the magazine, Hughes asked about the size of our staff. I said there was one reporter and myself and that we used a fair bit of freelance copy. What did we pay them, Hughes asked. "Nothing," I said. "Maybe we should try that," Foell joked.

Hughes served as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and as a member of the Pulitzer Board before leaving the Monitor and trying his hand at being what he calls a "country editor" as owner of a weekly paper on Cape Cod.

One day he received a call from U.S. Information Agency director Charles Wick, a pal of President Reagan, who asked him to join the agency. After some mild resistance, Hughes moved to Washington and began a period he labels in his book "Serving America" He spent the next five years as a government insider, migrating from USIA to director of Voice of America and eventually to spokesman for Secretary of State George Schultz. In the interview process, Hughes asked Schultz his philosophy for answering reporters' questions and was reassured by the answer: "as speedily and fully as possible," Schultz told Hughes.

The spokesman job required diplomatic skills, not a trait often associated with reporters. Hughes managed, with help, to get Schultz to press noses in New Zealand to show respect for Maori culture. He toweled off reporters unhappy with "off the record" briefings. Hughes could also be tough. He fought to make public the secret tapes of Soviet pilots' chatter recorded before they shot down a civilian South Korean airliner in 1983, going toe to toe with Under Secretary of State Lawrence Eaglebruger and winning.

Hughes' writing style is straightforward. There is no gushy forward or nostalgic reminiscing at the end. "I was born in Wales, to working-class parents, in 1930" the book begins. There is minimal delving into personal feelings and emotions. Still, there is enough flesh on the bones to get a sense of the man. Though anxious to go to Asia as the Monitor's foreign correspondent, Hughes the dog-lover found upper management resistant to paying for his Labrador, Candy. Here, he drew a line in the sand: "Ether the dog goes to Hong Kong, or I don't," he told a manager. Beloved Candy joined John and his wife on the Asia posting.

After his time in Washington, Hughes began writing a column for the Monitor and later returned to the Monitor full-time to run its radio broadcasting. The Monitor's costly and controversial expansion into television was under way at the same time. Hughes makes dear in the book that he voiced his skepticism about the viability of the TV venture, which eventually collapsed.

Hughes spent some time in New York as communications director for UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Gali, and also served as editor of the Mormon Church-owned Deseret News in Salt Lake. The latter was an unusual assignment given that Hughes is a lifelong Christian Scientist. These days he is a professor at Brigham Young University, where he founded an international media center.

In 2008, as the Monitor celebrated its 100-year anniversary, Hughes faced what he calls "the most emotionally wrenching assignment" of his career. Looking at the Monitor's finances and circulation, he recommended--and the governing board accepted--that the Monitor cease daily print production in favor of a weekly and shift its focus to digital news delivery.

That bookend to Hughes' memoir represents a poignant coda to his career, and reflects the larger arc of print journalism at which he so excelled. Neither doomsayer nor Pollyanna, Hughes chooses to end his book with a touching anecdote. Wandering through the Deseret newsroom at 2 a.m. one morning many years ago, Hughes found a veteran reporter sprawled across two chairs sleeping. The reporter was there, he said, so he could see his story as soon as the paper rolled off the presses.

"The magic never ends," condudes Hughes. We can only hope.


"A veteran storyteller's vivid saga." John Yemma's Editor at Large columm in the July 21, 2014 Christian Science Monitor. He says "the book is packed with vivid recollections" For the full article, click here.

Review in The Overseas Press Club Bulletin, July/August 2014, P.16 Click here for full review.

"In his autobiography, former Deseret News editor John Hughes describes a life worthy of a dozen journalists." -- Lee Benson, Deseret News, 7/13/14

In his autobiography, former Deseret News editor John Hughes describes a life worthy of a dozen journalists.

Ever think you know somebody pretty well? You work together for most of a decade. You park your car close to theirs. You know their spouse, you’ve met their kids. You’ve enjoyed some lunches together.

I thought I knew John Hughes pretty well.

John – Mr. Hughes – was editor of the Deseret News for 10 years, from 1997 to 2007. He hired me to be a news columnist when he talked me off a Santa Barbara beach in 1998.

I knew he was a lifetime newsman. I knew he’d spent a previous life working for the Christian Science Monitor. We all knew he’d won a Pulitzer Prize.

But that was more or less the extent of what was known around here of his curriculum vitae.

He was perpetually congenial — odd for an editor — and as unassuming as Clark Kent. He was definitely old school, which fit since he was already in his 60's when he took over as editor at the DNews. He always wore a coat and tie to work. Something else he always wore was this perpetual amused smile that suggested no matter what you threw at him, he’d been there, seen that, and plenty more besides.

Turns out we had no idea.

I know this now because last week Nebbadoon Press, a publisher in Connecticut, released “Paper Boy to Pulitzer” — John Hughes’ autobiography.

In it, he tells us everything he didn’t tell us.

Let me see if I can hit the high points before I run out of room:

He was born in Wales and grew up in London — when it was getting bombed by Hitler. His father, Evan, fought the Nazis in South Africa, a country he liked so much he moved there after the war with his wife and only son, John, who was 16 and got a job at the local newspaper. The family had joined the Christian Science Church (not to be confused with Scientology, or, for that matter, Mormonism) and after a few years John, the budding journalist, decided to hop a freighter for Boston to see if he could land a job with the church’s highly regarded newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor.

He got it. His first beat was Africa. He was there when colonial rule ended, when Ghana got independence, when apartheid began to crumble. His next beat was Asia. He covered the Vietnam War at its height (President Johnson once called John to the White House to ask him how he thought things were going). In Indonesia, he won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting the collapse of President Sukarno’s regime. He also won the Overseas Press Club award for best international reporting for a series on the burgeoning illicit drug trade (this was the 1960's) that sent him around the world.

Wait, there’s more. In a long and winding career set up by those days when he was a cross between Indiana Jones and Woodward & Bernstein, he was at one time or another:

  • Editor of the Christian Science Monitor.
  • A Nieman Fellow at Harvard.
  • President of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
  • A member of the Pulitzer Board.
  • Director of the Voice of America in Washington, D.C.,during the Reagan Administration,
  • Assistant Secretary of State to Secretary of State George Shultz.
  • Assistant Secretary-General and Director of communications to Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali at the United Nations.

He’d lived about a dozen lifetimes by the time he got to the Deseret News.

That came about after he took a teaching job at Brigham Young University — John’s wife, Peggy, is Mormon — and the News’ board of directors asked him for some consulting help.

That led to them asking him to run the newspaper, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Hughes pointed out he wasn’t Mormon, which led to a visit with then-church President Gordon B. Hinckley.

He writes about their relationship in his book: “I asked him what he wanted the Deseret News to be. He said he wanted it to be a strong regional newspaper, reaching out to all religions, all races, all ethnic groups. I asked him what independence the paper’s editor would have. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘we’ve got to give you running room. We can’t have people over here (in church headquarters) telling you what to do.’ ”

Thus the man who had run a mainstream newspaper for one church wound up running another mainstream newspaper for another church.

At neither at the Monitor nor the Deseret News was his news judgment as editor interfered with. “One was very much like the other,” he said.

At both papers, editorials were sent to church headquarters for review, but after his first six months at the Deseret News Hughes got a call from President Hinckley.

“He said, 'Don’t bother to send them over any more, we’re good.' There was a huge amount of good will and trust on both sides.”

After reading an advance copy of “Paper Boy to Pulitzer,” I called John on his cell phone. He and Peggy are in Maine for the summer, prior to his return this fall to BYU, where at 84 he is still a professor.

I asked him why I had to read his book to learn about all his adventures.

He laughed. “Well, if you’d asked,” he said, “I’d have told you.”

I told him I thought it was remarkable that he didn’t start every sentence when he was talking to us whining reporters with, “When I was getting shot at in Vietnam …” or, “There was this time at the White House …” or, “Let me tell you what it’s like getting quotes out of a dictator …”

He laughed again. “You don’t need to ride people,” he said.

I asked him if he had any advice for a reporter.

“Yes,” he said. “Get behind the policemen, not in front of them.”

John said he wrote his book (available at or wherever ebooks are sold) for his children and grandchildren. But more than that, he wrote it because “I thought I had a love story in me, and it’s about journalism. The greatest profession in the world.”

Even when John Hughes finally wrote his life story, it wasn’t about him.

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John Hughes's memoir Paper Boy to Pulitzer was mentioned in The Christian Science Monitor Feb. 16, 2015 weekly issue p.41:

"I thoroughly enjoyed reading Paper Boy to Pulitzer, by John Hughes. He is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and former editor of the Monitor, and he literally went all over the world to cover stories. The book is 349 pages of information written to be understood."--Pat Long, Charlotee, N.C.