Metro

Edward M. Fouhy, 80; early voice for civic journalism

Walter Cronkite (left) and Ed Fouhy went to Moscow in 1972 to cover the summit with Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev.
Walter Cronkite (left) and Ed Fouhy went to Moscow in 1972 to cover the summit with Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev.

The Internet was a fledgling news media presence when Ed Fouhy noted in a 1997 speech that “the World Wide Web, because of its low cost, has enormous potential as a virtual town square.”

He brought decades of experience to that talk at a Chicago community media workshop, having vaulted from covering college sports for the Globe in the 1950s to serving as WBZ-TV’s news director in the early ’60s to holding news executive posts at CBS, NBC, and ABC into the 1970s and ’80s. “I can’t remember a time when I was not in love with journalism,” he said.

The founding executive director of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, he cautioned in 1997 that “journalists are losing their authority in the public life of this nation,” and said “civic journalism is my answer to the question of what ought to be done about that state of affairs.” He added that “a civil dialogue” is best accomplished “when the walls of fortress journalism are torn down and the public is invited in.”

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Mr. Fouhy, who returned to Massachusetts after a lengthy broadcast career in Washington, D.C., and New York City, died of cancer Wednesday in Liberty Commons Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center on Cape Cod. He was 80 and lived in Chatham.

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“He was on the cutting edge,” said his daughter, Beth, of Pelham, N.Y., who is senior editor at MSNBC. “He thought the print press should be more responsive and broadcast news should be more responsive.”

To that end, Mr. Fouhy suggested in the 1997 speech that journalists should be more interactive with the public. “Research tells us that 60 percent of Americans use computers in the workplace,” he said, and “computers are two-way devices. So why are we journalists behaving as if we are still living in a top-down world and wondering why it is that people no longer pay much attention to what we have to say?”

Mr. Fouhy knew getting media companies to change how they run their businesses would be a formidable task. “This is not an industry that’s spent a lot of time or money thinking about its future,” he told the Globe in March 1998. Always ready with an apt metaphor, he described in a different Globe interview a few months earlier how difficult it was for many in media to shake old habits. “We’re like people who belong to AA and go to the meetings and take the pledge,” he said. “And we fall off the wagon the first time we pass a saloon.”

The younger of two children, Edward M. Fouhy was born in Boston and grew up in Milton. His father, Joseph, was a payroll clerk at Fore River Shipyard in Quincy. His mother, the former Mary Herlihy, was a medical secretary at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Mr. Fouhy graduated from Milton High School and went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in history. While there he met Barbara Mahoney, whom he married in 1961. “He was a very loving husband to my mother,” their daughter said. Having been an ROTC cadet at UMass, Mr. Fouhy also served as a Marine lieutenant in Lebanon in the late 1950s.

Joining the staff of WBZ-TV, he rose to become news director, and early on, he joined four other volunteers to live for 10 days in 1961 in an underground fallout shelter on Lovells Island in Boston Harbor to show how people might survive a nuclear attack.

Mr. Fouhy, who also took graduate courses at Boston University’s College of Communications, left WBZ in 1966 to be a field producer for CBS news, covering the civil rights movement and meeting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He was stationed in Saigon during the Vietnam War and served as West Coast bureau chief in the United States before moving to Washington in 1969. He helped cover Richard M. Nixon’s presidency, including his trip to China and his resignation during the Watergate scandal. Mr. Fouhy was the Washington producer for the “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.”

Leaving the network for two years, he worked at NBC with anchor John Chancellor before returning to CBS, where he held titles including Washington bureau chief and vice president for news. Recruited in 1982 by ABC’s news president Roone Arledge, Mr. Fouhy served as that network’s Washington bureau chief before going again to NBC in 1985 to start a newsmagazine program.

“I think he would say CBS was his most formative time,” his daughter said, though at NBC he considered Chancellor “a surrogate father” of sorts.

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Completing a fellowship in 1988 at what is now the Harvard Kennedy School, Mr. Fouhy became executive producer for the Commission on Presidential Debates. He produced the 1988 debates between Governor Michael S. Dukakis and Vice President George H.W. Bush, and the 1992 debates between Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot.

In January 1993, Mr. Fouhy participated in a Pew Charitable Trusts meeting that led to the creation of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism to promote public journalism, a term some in the media found confusing. “If you have to have a sound bite on it, and I hate to because it’s complicated, I like to say it’s just getting the citizen’s voice listened to in the newsroom,” Mr. Fouhy told American Journalism Review in 1996.

He went on to be executive director of the Pew Center on the States and to help found the online news service stateline.org. Mr. Fouhy, who received five Emmy Awards, retired to Chatham in 2004. He formerly chaired the board of IREX, a nonprofit that promotes global change through initiatives including education and independent media; he stepped down as a board member this year.

Besides his wife and daughter, Mr. Fouhy leaves his son, Mark of Rutland, Vt.; a sister, Catherine of Milton; and a grandson. A celebration of Mr. Fouhy’s life will be announced.

“He was just a jolt of energy wherever he went,” said his daughter, who added that Mr. Fouhy was “dynamic, warm, witty, generous, smart, funny, and passionate about the things he cared about,” which included his family, the Red Sox, and Chatham, where he served on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

While he was executive director of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, Mr. Fouhy offered observations that would become a refrain among other pundits in subsequent years as news organizations navigated the online era.

“The Internet makes us all publishers,” Mr. Fouhy wrote in 1996, adding: “Those news organizations that hope to survive the technology revolution will have to do far better in connecting with their readers.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.