Paul Miller's Pawhuska roots influenced journalist's career

Tim Clark
Special to the Journal-Capital

Maj. Gen. Clarence Tinker, historian and author John Joseph Mathews, and Academy Award-winning actor Ben Johnson Jr. are among the famous names from Pawhuska's past that many residents can cite.

Food Network star Anne Marie "Ree" Drummond and state Supreme Court Justice M. John Kane IV are more contemporary figures for which Pawhuska is known. But there’s another Pawhuskan who has been notably under the radar – Paul Miller.

One of the most influential journalists of the 20th century, Miller headed the Gannett newspaper company from 1957 to 1973, turning it into the largest newspaper group in the world. He also served as the top official of the Associated Press, yet few in his adopted hometown know him or his name. That included me.

I knew little about him while growing up in the community. When I became editor of the Pawhuska High School newspaper, Wah-Sha-She, in 1976, I had researched the early history of the paper at the city library. In that look back, I found the name Paul Miller as the Wah-Sha-She’s founding editor. When I starting filing clips and photos in the Pawhuska Journal-Capital’s archives in 1977, I found a folder on Paul Miller.

Then, I graduated from Pawhuska High School and started my college studies at Oklahoma State University in 1978.

In a first-semester chat with Dr. Harry Heath, dean of OSU’s School of Journalism and Broadcasting, I mentioned I was from Pawhuska. Heath asked, “So, you know much about Paul Miller?” Sadly, I did not now much, but that would change.

In the 1920s, Paul Miller was better known as a Huskie athlete. He was captain of the football team, named to the Tulsa World’s all-state team as tackle in 1924. Twice, he was captain of the PHS basketball team and an all-district center. However, his distant connection to me was the award-winning high school newspaper, the Wah-Sha-She.

Paul Miller was a standout member of the Pawhuska Huskies football team in the early 1920s. He was an All-State selection and a team captain.

Fifty years after he served as editor of the school paper, I would be in the same role. It became stunning to me that so few in Pawhuska knew his name or background.

At 15, he won a national high school editorial writing contest. In his senior year, he won top honors in a similar competition at the University of Wisconsin. The recognition garnered him some attention at Oklahoma A&M College, now OSU.

Before his 1925 high school graduation, Miller periodically worked as a reporter and fill-in editor for the Pawhuska Daily Journal – his first experience in the professional world of journalism, as it was for me.

When Miller first moved with his family to the Osage County seat, the Pawhuska Journal and Pawhuska Capital were competing newspapers – both began in 1904 -- and had not merged. They combined in 1925, the year Miller graduated.

Once he was a college student in Stillwater, he won election to be his freshman class president. Back then, the editor of the college paper, The O’Collegian, also was selected by a campus-wide vote. However, that was an election Miller lost. He already had been as assistant sports editor for The O’Collegian and managing editor by 1927.

Despite the journalism talents shown in high school and college, Miller lost by 24 votes to sports editor Otis Wile. Here’s yet another connection to me: Wile became the sports information director for A&M in 1942, a job he had until retiring in 1969. Wile was an institution in the world of college sports publicity, and well-known when I worked for OSU’s sports information office in 1978-1982 under Wile’s assistant and successor, Pat Quinn.

Miller’s disappointing election loss to Wile (and the loss of the O’Collegian editor’s salary) led to him leaving college and getting a job at the Okemah newspaper in 1927, and then to the now defunct Oklahoma City Times a few months later. He started classes at the University of Oklahoma as well, but by 1930, he was back in Stillwater as head of what became known as the Public Information Office for A&M, which was part of Randle Perdue’s Bureau of Information and Service.

When I told Dr. Heath in 1978 that I was not very familiar with Miller’s personal history, I became educated. After all, most of my OSU classes were in the Paul Miller Journalism and Broadcasting Building. The O’Collegian newsroom and press were in the basement; KOSU-FM was on the top floor.

Shortly after that 1978 conversation with Heath, I began a years-long correspondence with Miller. Heath gave me contact information.

“I love to read. Books, magazines, newspapers. I started writing high school news as a sophomore, I think. I started hanging around the Pawhuska newspaper office so much that they eventually hired me,” Miller told me later in 1978, in my first phone conversation with him.

“Miss Jean Roberts was an English teacher at the high school. When we decided to start a school paper, Miss Roberts agreed to be our faculty sponsor and I became editor. Our first decision was selecting the name Wah-Sha-She. One of my early editorials for the paper was 'We Need a New Gymnasium,' which some credited for helping it getting built," Miller related to me.

"The editorial itself won us some national recognition, including first prize at a Columbia University writing competition. Though the first bond issue for a new gym failed, support grew and it eventually was built – home to multiple state basketball and wrestling champions.

“That type of success – finding out the impact newspaper reporting and opinions could do – really fueled my desire to pursue a career in journalism,” Miller said.

In his last Wah-Sha-She edition, Miller said he would be enrolling at Butler University to study journalism, but he changed his collegiate plans over the summer when recruited by Walker Stone to attend Oklahoma A&M. Stone, from Okemah, rose in journalism to be editor-in-chief of all Scripps-Howard newspapers. Stone was editor of the A&M newspaper and hoped Miller would come to A&M to replace him.

“Both Walker and I were inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, about a year apart. He was a great journalist and helped get me started at both A&M and at the Okemah newspaper,” Miller said. Stone had recognized Miller’s potential and in 1978, he still spoke of Miller with “deep affection and high regard.”

In that same Wah-Sha-She graduation issue, someone prophesied Miller would become editor of The New York Times by 1936. Next to his senior picture was the prediction Miller would become one of the world’s “greatest editors” or an athletic director. None of these became reality, but Miller certainly made a great career at Gannett and the Associated Press.

Miller recalled details about Pawhuska's newspapers.

“I wrote for both the Journal and the Capital. Before that, I delivered the Capital. I remember Mr. (Richard) Elam was the publisher of the Capital. He had bought the Capital from Vernon Whiting and it became a daily newspaper in about 1922. It had been a weekly before that, starting just before statehood,” Miller wrote to me in 1978. “When they merged, the Journal-Capital became the only daily paper in Osage County. Mr. Elam sold the Journal-Capital to the McGriffin company while I was at Oklahoma A&M. The year (1947) I joined Gannett to be Frank Gannett’s assistant, Glen Van Dyke bought the Journal-Capital back to being owned locally.”

In 1956, the “Miller Creed” was written and distributed to Gannett executives and publishers:

• Do the right thing.

• Hire on merit. Recruit and employ without regard to sex, race, creed or color.

• Do not abdicate management responsibilities in union departments.

• Be alert to recognize outstanding enterprise and ability.

• Constantly reappraise and reassess. Weed out early.

• Our actions must be determined not by mere compliance with state or federal law, not by public attitudes, but on the basis of doing the right thing.

• Do the right thing.

“This was a foundation to our growth, and principles that all journalists and publishers need to adhere. My father preached about always doing the right thing. It’s how I was raised. I still believe it. It’s a concept that won’t ever change,” Miller told me in 1983. 

Miller never lost his small-town Oklahoma roots, living on 10-cent chili lunches. He had quick humor and a quicker cranky temper. Many AP and Gannett executives witnessed both. I only was exposed to his favorite memories. From his humble upbringing, he eventually had golf club memberships at Burning Tree and Augusta, and homes in New York and Palm Beach. He had gone toe-to-toe in interviews with Chou En-lai, Nelson Rockefeller, Nikita Khrushchev, and the Rev. Billy Graham. He had cozy relationships with both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon (Miller called himself a conservative Republican).

Not too many folks can relate to my past in Pawhuska reporting … if you covered a local story, you wrote about it, edited the story, and often slapped a headline on it. Most readers knew small-town journalism meant one person handled a story from its start to being printed. Friends and neighbors might see you in church or having lunch, and often would speak up about something they read, or didn’t read. “I wish you’d written about my son’s five rebounds in Friday night’s game,” I might hear.

Paul Miller could relate to that, even as the head of biggest newspaper company in the land.

In 1983, I was editor at the Weatherford paper, owned by Ken Reid. Ken also owned, ironically, the Okemah newspaper … the same one Paul Miller had been editor when he left A&M after his election defeat to become the editor of the college paper there. That Okemah connection let to more correspondence between me and Miller. I even jokingly told him that a Gannett recruiter had called me three days into my editor’s job in Weatherford to see if I might be available for a wire editor job somewhere in the Gannett group. The recruiter was surprised I was the editor at 22 and probably would not be interested in the Gannett opening. He was right, and Paul found that funny too. He was known for his humor.

“You followed me at the Wah-Sha-She, at the O’Collegian, and into a journalist career. You have links to that strong Oklahoma State sports publicity operation that my friend Otis Wile set up. You now work for the publisher who owns my old Okemah paper. The least you could have done is joined Gannett,” he joked. In a way, though, I did, since Gannett now owns the Journal-Capital where I received my first paycheck.

Those 1983 exchanges by mail were my last contacts with Paul Miller. I left the world of journalism in 1985, when I took a job with Southwestern Bell. Miller died Aug. 21, 1991. I have no doubt he would be pleased and somewhat astonished that Gannett now owns the paper he delivered, reported for, and edited nearly a century ago.

And now you also know about Paul Miller of Pawhuska.

Tim Clark was born in the old Pawhuska City Hospital in 1960, son of petroleum engineer L.S. "Pete" Clark Jr. and Virginia Clark. He was co-valedictorian of the Pawhuska High School Class of 1978. While in high school, he worked in various roles at the Journal-Capital, including the Composition Department and covering high school sports. By May 1982, he had earned two bachelor's degrees at Oklahoma State University in journalism (news/editorial) and broadcasting/public affairs. In 1985, Clark joined Southwestern Bell Telephone (SWBT) in Oklahoma City to manage media relations for the company's Oklahoma Division and other public relations. He was promoted to the company’s headquarters in St. Louis in 1986.