Newsman who hated being beaten to a story

Seán Ward: born May 1st, 1934; died: May 23rd, 2013

The former editor of the
 Evening Press, 
Sean Ward, at the funeral of journalist and sports columnist Con Houlihan in August 2012

The former editor of the Evening Press, Sean Ward, at the funeral of journalist and sports columnist Con Houlihan in August 2012

 

Seán Ward, who has died aged 79, was editor of the now defunct Evening Press from 1970 until 1992. A trusted and respected editor, he oversaw publication of a bright, lively news-oriented paper.

Former Evening Press assistant editor John Boland described Ward as an “old-style” newsman, highly regarded by those who worked for him.

“He was the kind of man you could have a dreadful row with on the day and then it would be entirely forgotten when the paper came out.”

Former deputy editor Alan Wilkes said Ward’s emphasis was on news and sport. He was a “newsman’s newsman”, who hated being beaten to a story .

Probably Ward’s best decisions as editor was to recruit Con Houlihan to the paper in 1972. The Kerryman brought great wit and learning to his columns, both sporting and literary, entertaining readers for almost a quarter of a century. Shortly before his death last year he described Ward as a “sound captain”.

Born in Dublin in 1934 he was the eldest of six children of Terry Ward from Derry, and one-time London editor of the Irish Press, and his wife Eilish Gillespie from Inishowen, Co Donegal.

He grew up in Skerries, Co Dublin, where he attended De la Salle college.

At the helm
He joined the Irish Press in 1953 as a newsroom trainee. Having served as Evening Press and, later, group news editor, in 1970 he succeeded Conor O’Brien at the helm of the Evening Press.

Ward led a team which included, along with the above-mentioned, features editor Sean McCann, Gaelic games correspondent Seán Óg Ó Ceallacháin and columnist Val Mulkearns, together with many other fine journalists. In 1982 the Evening Press achieved record sales of 178,000 copies, selling 40,000 more than the Evening Herald.

However in 1983, and again in 1985, publication of the Evening Press and the daily and Sunday papers was suspended for several weeks against a background of change, indecision and uncertainty at top management level. Sales of all three titles suffered, and industrial relations were fraught.

Cutbacks and poor leadership undermined all the group’s titles. Many freelance columnists, contributors and correspondents were dispensed with.

Worse was to follow. In 1989 Irish Press Plc entered a joint venture with US publisher Ralph Ingersoll II, who promised to invest millions in and transform the fortunes of the company. This relationship was to consume millions of Irish punts and US dollars, while ultimately killing off three national newspapers and 600 jobs.

Disastrous
Typical of Ingersoll’s approach was the relaunch in 1991 of the Evening Press as a two-section broadsheet. The relaunch, spearheaded by Ingersoll, proved to be both costly (IR£250,000) and disastrous. Readers and advertisers literally refused to buy it, and circulation fell by 20,000 over the following 12 months.

Ward said at the time that some negative reaction had been anticipated, but the “response was stronger than expected”.

The relaunch was reversed after a month, and work began on making up lost ground. Con Houlihan described it as the “greatest fiasco since Guinness Light” (this was the attempt to fashion a “pint of plain” for lager drinkers). During subsequent court proceedings it was said that Ingersoll personnel “vanished” after the debacle, something the US side denied.

Ward stood down as editor of the Evening Press in 1992. Three years later the paper ceased publication, along with its sister titles.

In retirement he enjoyed travelling with his wife. Last September the couple travelled on the Queen Mary to New York to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. His lifelong support for Dublin’s Gaelic footballers never waned.

An opponent of political violence, he wrote letters on this and other subjects to The Irish Times. Most recently, in December 2009, he defended the reporting of finance minister Brian Lenihan’s illness.

Economic crisis
Given his position at a time of unprecedented economic crisis, he argued, Mr Lenihan’s wellbeing and that of the State were inextricably linked.

The family home was in Sutton, Co Dublin. In recent times, his son Terry said, his father found great companionship with a group of retired men he met at the Bayside Inn. “They called themselves the ‘Departure Lounge’ because every so often one might pass on.”

Seán Ward is survived by his wife Jean (née Dolan), son Terry and daughters Fiona, Emer and Jean-Marie.