from small-town journalist to empire builder
By Lindel Hutson, 2008 Inductee
Paul Miller grew up in small-town Oklahoma and used the knowledge acquired from working on state newspapers to become one of the most successful journalists of the twentieth century. He became chief executive of two of the nation’s most prominent journalistic institutions— The Associated Press and the Gannett Company.
Miller, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972, never forgot his roots and his legacy remains highly visible especially at his alma mater, Oklahoma State University (OSU). There, the journalism building is named for him along with a lecture series that has continued for more than 30 years.
He is the only person known to have been both president of The Associated Press (AP) and later, while president of Gannett, AP’s chairman of the board. The AP is a nonprofit news cooperative owned by its newspaper and broadcast members. Thus, the board of directors is composed of industry officials such as Miller.
Born to an itinerant minister, Miller’s family moved several times before settling in Pawhuska, where he graduated from high school in 1925 after excelling in academics and sports. He worked for newspapers at Pawhuska, Okemah, Guthrie and, while a student at the University of Oklahoma, The Daily Oklahoman and the Oklahoma City Times. At an early age, Miller was editor of the Okemah Daily Leader in Okemah, which he said “was a tough town.”
Miller said readers in those days were not satisfied to write a complaint letter to the editor. “The phone would ring,” Miller said, “and the call always went about like this: ‘Is this the editor? Well, get set. I’m coming down to beat the hell out of you.’”
His work for the Oklahoma City newspapers impressed the local AP bureau chief, who helped him land a job in the Columbus, Ohio bureau in 1933. He moved quickly up the AP ladder, becoming bureau chief in Utah and Pennsylvania before being assigned an executive position in New York, where he became a vice president. After running AP’s operations in Washington during World War II, he returned to New York and became president.
In April 1950, he became the first former employee to win election to the AP board of directors. In 1963 he moved up to AP president and went on to win reelection annually for the next 14 years.
Of his AP career, Louis D. Boccardi, president and general manager of AP at the time of Miller’s death in 1991, said: “Paul Miller was not just AP’s chairman. He was its champion, always challenging us to do better but never failing to hail a job well done. He had many interests and many successes, but we always knew he loved the AP.”
Miller joined Gannett in 1947, serving as executive assistant to the founder, Frank E. Gannett. He succeeded Gannett ten years later as president and chief executive officer of the chain.
In 1963, Miller came up with the idea to write a series of articles for Gannett newspapers that would explore the positive aspects of racial integration in selected communities. He was rewarded with a Pulitzer Special Citation for Gannett, the first Pulitzer Prize ever awarded to a newspaper chain.
At the time he took over, the Gannett group included 19 daily newspapers in four states. Under Miller’s leadership, Gannett began making acquisitions, not in big cities but in growing communities, according to Miller’s obituary in The New York Times. When he became chairman of Gannett in 1970, the company’s holdings included 53 daily newspapers in 16 states and on Guam.
At the time of its merger with the Gatehouse group in 2019, Gannett owned 100 daily newspapers and nearly 1,000 weeklies in 43 states and six countries. It also published the nationally distributed USA Today.
Besides building a newspaper empire, Miller jump-started and inspired many individuals’ careers. One of the more notable was Vance H. Trimble, a Hall of Fame member who credits Miller with hiring him as a “cub reporter” at the Okemah Daily Leader and then inspiring him to become a journalist and writer. Trimble later won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 1960 and became a noted newspaper editor and nonfiction author and writer.
“I didn’t know a thing about newspapers,” the 106-year-old Trimble told Joe Hight when interviewed years later about first starting his career working for Miller. “He taught me a lot.”