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obituary

Edward J. Doherty, former managing editor who ‘understood Globe readers,’ dies at 91

Ed Doherty, a former managing editor of The Boston Globe.
Ed Doherty, a former managing editor of The Boston Globe.handout

Known throughout his Globe editing career for his dependable news judgment, Edward J. Doherty was often the go-to managing editor tapped by the newspaper’s ombudsman to explain why certain photos were published.

That was the case in 1988 when a man called the ombudsman to complain that he was in a front-page picture, after a Globe photographer shot a street scene to illustrate changes being made to Washington Street. Even though the man was photographed in a public place, he wanted to know why his permission wasn’t sought.

“Journalism by permission won’t work,” Mr. Doherty replied — a concise observation that remains relevant today in an age when news organizations, particularly on college campuses, struggle with how to accommodate privacy concerns of those photographed or recorded at public events.

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Mr. Doherty, who began working in newspapers 70 years ago, while helping to financially support his mother and sisters, died Thanksgiving morning. He was 91, lived in Marshfield, and previously was in Melrose for many years.

A key part of Mr. Doherty’s work for several years was the first thing readers saw when they looked at the paper each morning.

“He had a touch of genius when it came to designing the layout of the Globe’s front page, which he did, day after day, for many years,” said Timothy Leland, a former Globe managing editor.

Matthew V. Storin, former editor of the Globe, said that “in nearly four decades in the business, I don’t think there was anyone I more enjoyed working with than Ed. We must have labored over front-page decisions about a thousand nights at least. He was a low-key guy, but he had nearly flawless judgment. He understood Globe readers.”

That intuitive grasp of who readers were and what they wanted was a valuable skill in the years before news moved online, where details such as how many people look at a story, and how far each person scrolls down, can be measured.

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Along with his sure sense of what readers expected each day, Mr. Doherty understood his colleagues and newsroom dynamics.

“Ed Doherty’s grounded sense of the newsworthy, his wit, and his generous personality fit neatly into the fabric of newsroom life that so many Globe men and women shared with him for close to four decades,” said Thomas Mulvoy, who also is a former Globe managing editor.

Leland said Mr. Doherty “had a special presence in the newsroom. He was one of those people you feel good to be around. Never got rattled or flustered under the pressures of deadline. Never got upset, or if he did, he never showed it. He had a delightful sense of humor — just a joy to work with.”

When Globe editor Thomas Winship promoted Mr. Doherty in 1970 to be managing editor of the morning edition, the Globe noted that he had “played a major role in the areas of story selection and news judgment. He also was the pacesetter in brightening the display of news in the Globe.”

Though decisions about what runs on the front page involve multiple editors, Mr. Doherty often had a significant say in which photographs were used, especially after becoming managing editor for graphics.

That meant he was called on to defend news decisions involving photos. And on occasion, Mr. Doherty was the one who conceded that, in hindsight, the editors’ collective judgment was wrong.

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For example, when former president Jimmy Carter fell while jogging a few days after leaving office in 1981, the Globe published at the bottom of the front page what are now considered four memorable photos of the mishap.

Readers called the ombudsman to denounce the photos as everything from “unkind” and “disrespectful” to “contemptible” and “despicable.”

Mr. Doherty said he and other editors chose the photos for the front page to recognize the “natural curiosity of readers wanting to know everything about people as prominent as a former president.” Nevertheless, the overwhelming response signaled that they had made a bad call, he added.

“The fact that the Carter pictures touched off such a furor attests to a judgmental error,” he said for the ombudsman’s column. “Obviously, we were wrong when so many readers take time to telephone or write to complain.”

Born on Dec. 29, 1927, Edward Joseph Doherty grew up in Chelsea, the second of three children of Edward, a bookkeeper, and Katherine McLaughlin, a homemaker.

His family lived on the top floor of a three-story home, and his aunts and uncles lived on the lower floors.

The family “used to sit on the porch and watch the planes fly in and out and Logan,” said Kathy Melaragni, the oldest of Mr. Doherty’s four children.

After graduating from high school, Mr. Doherty spent two years in the Navy. Sitting in the cockpit behind Navy pilots on patrol for submarines, he served as a radioman, acquiring skills he kept sharp long after being discharged, just before turning 20.

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“As a kid, I would speak and he used to translate what I was saying in Morse code that he would tap out on the table,” his son, Edward Jr. of Londonderry, N.H., recalled.

Mr. Doherty briefly studied English at Boston University, dropping out partway through his freshman year when his father died of a heart attack and he needed to help support his mother and sisters.

He initially worked at a fish market before landing a job at the Chelsea Record.

“He knew what he wanted to do,” said his daughter Kathy, who lives in of Naperville, Ill.

When he left to become editor of weekly Winthrop Transcript, the Record noted that he had written “general news, sports, and has taken most of the pictures of local residents which have appeared in the paper in the past two years.”

From the Transcript, Mr. Doherty went to the Boston Post before being hired as a Globe copy editor in 1953.

A year earlier, he had married Ruth Canole, who was known as Jean. They met at Revere Beach after she and a group of friends arrived and found the sand was uncomfortably hot.

“She saw a pair of men’s shoes and jumped on them, and the shoes were his,” Kathy said. “He came out of the water and said, ‘You’re standing on my shoes.’ She said, ‘I was taken by his big brown eyes the minute I saw him.’ ”

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Mrs. Doherty, who had worked part time in retail, died in February.

In addition to his daughter and son, Mr. Doherty leaves two other daughters, Colleen McDonnell of Braintree and Patrice Parry of Marshfield; and eight grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Adelaide Church in Peabody.

“I knew Eddie for more than 50 years and he was, indeed, a great editor,” said Frank Grundstrom, a former managing editor and former vice president for human resources at the Globe. “But I’ll remember him most for his kindness and generosity.”

Through all his Globe jobs, which included assistant night editor, night editor, and assistant managing editor of the morning Globe, Mr. Doherty was as respected for his good nature as he was for his news judgment.

“Among editors,” Mulvoy said, “the consensus was that he had few if any equals for the way he dealt during the day with the sublime and the nonsensical, the pompous and the petty, the preposterous and the insightful, and then evening after evening produced a coherent morning Globe for our readers.”

Storin added that he most treasured Mr. Doherty’s “dry and quick sense of humor. He was one of many great folks at the Globe who made coming to work a joy. And when you go through the same routines day after day, that means a lot.”


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