James Hoge, Who Led Two Big City Tabloids, Dies at 87

He was publisher of The Chicago Sun-Times, where he was also the top editor, and New York’s Daily News. He was later editor of the headier Foreign Affairs magazine.

James Hoge at a charity event in Manhattan in 1990, when he was publisher of The Daily News in New York. Credit…Ron Galella Collection, via Getty Images

By Clyde Haberman
Published Sept. 19, 2023 | Updated Sept. 20, 2023, 11:53 a.m. ET

James Hoge, who was a blue-blooded editor and publisher of blue-collar newspapers in Chicago and New York for a quarter-century and then long guided a leading journal on international relations, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 87.

His son James Patrick Hoge confirmed the death, at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, but did not specify the cause. Mr. Hoge’s death came four weeks after that of his younger brother, Warren, a former foreign correspondent and top editor at The New York Times.

Few editors at major American newspapers have been as young as Mr. Hoge was when he rose to the top at The Chicago Sun-Times, a tabloid aimed at a working-class readership. He became the city editor at age 29, editor in chief at 33 and publisher at 44.

He shook up the staff, strove for sprightlier writing and, like other newspaper editors in the 1970s, introduced new sections on business, food and fashion. “I am always agitating,” he said.

The payoff was six Pulitzer Prizes on his watch: two each for feature photography and criticism and one each for spot news reporting (concerning violence by young radicals in Chicago) and local news reporting (on new evidence in the 1966 murder, still unsolved, of Valerie Percy, a daughter of Charles H. Percy of Illinois, then making his first United States Senate race).

As editor, Mr. Hoge (pronounced hoag) gave his blessing to an investigation into the questionable use of Roman Catholic Church money by Chicago’s cardinal, John Cody. And he ran Seymour M. Hersh’s 1969 account of the My Lai massacre, a mass killing of civilians by American soldiers in Vietnam.

A notably hard-charging endeavor was the newspaper’s 1977 purchase of a downtown Chicago bar, done in partnership with a watchdog group, the Better Government Association. With hidden cameras, journalists documented a pattern of city inspectors taking bribes and kickbacks in return for ignoring health and safety hazards at the bar, which was called the Mirage Tavern.

The shakedowns formed a 25-part series in 1978 that led to government investigations and a reworking of Chicago’s building code. Nonetheless, the deception inherent to such an operation troubled editors at other newspapers. Though The Sun-Times was nominated for a Pulitzer, it was denied the prize because of its undercover tactics.

In those years, it was almost impossible to read a newspaper or magazine profile of the blond, blue-eyed Mr. Hoge that didn’t scramble for adjectives to describe him as handsome. Robert Redford was an occasional point of reference. So, too, was the fact that he was reared in Park Avenue wealth and later lived in a Gramercy Park duplex in Manhattan. (He was living there at this death.)

He could be warm and generous with friends, and someone who nurtured new talent. But more than a few others at The Sun-Times deemed him aloof and insensitive, even ruthless on occasion, to such an extent that some reporters took to calling him “Attila the Hoge.”

For a couple of years in the 1970s Mr. Hoge edited both The Sun-Times and The Chicago Daily News, a struggling afternoon newspaper whose four overseas bureaus he closed to cut costs. Even back then — long before many newspapers went out of business in an online world — The Daily News was beyond salvation. It was shuttered in 1978.

In 1984, Mr. Hoge’s time in Chicago also ended. He had put together a group that sought to buy The Sun-Times from its parent company, Field Enterprises, but they were no match for Rupert Murdoch and the $100 million he offered. Mr. Hoge left the newspaper once the new owners took over in January. Months later he was back in his hometown, New York, as the publisher of The Daily News, a once-mighty tabloid that had fallen on tough times in a city with a shrinking working class and a growing population of non-English speakers and readers.

Mr. Hoge, center, was the publisher and editor of The Chicago Sun-Times when Marshall Field, right, chairman of its owner, Field Enterprises, announced an agreement to sell the company to News America Publishing. Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the News Corporation, the parent company of News America, looked on. Mr. Hoge left the paper once the new owners took over that January. Credit…United Press International

“Survival is at stake, and there is no time to lose,” Mr. Hoge told News employees in 1986. That same year the Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin won a Pulitzer for commentary. But Mr. Hoge foundered when he sought to reduce the overstaffing and featherbedding that had long defined labor practices at the newspaper.

The unions pushed back hard, with a five-month strike in 1990 and 1991 that was scarred by a few physical attacks on people who did go to work. There was enduring bitterness. When the strike ended and a new owner, Robert Maxwell, took over, dozens of Daily News workers chanted “Hoge must go.” In short order, he did.

After accepting fellowships at Harvard and Columbia, Mr. Hoge became an editor and publisher yet again in 1992, this time at Foreign Affairs, a journal of the Council on Foreign Relations. Aware that some council members fretted over his tabloid background, he had some fun with them, offering a mock magazine cover with the model Cindy Crawford and teasers like “sexiest ethnic rivalries.”

More sedately, Foreign Affairs did evolve. Mr. Hoge shortened articles, encouraged livelier writing, published six times a year instead of four, launched editions in several languages, nearly doubled the circulation — and made a profit.

“One has to be careful, but we are looking at how we can make it easier to get through the magazine and a little more enjoyable,” he said. Among those who applauded his changes was Leslie H. Gelb, a former senior government official and New York Times columnist. “It often used to just sit on coffee tables,” he said of the magazine in 1998. “Now people are actually reading it.”

Mr. Hoge left Foreign Affairs in 2010. In addition to writing occasional articles on international matters, he was the board chairman of Human Rights Watch for a few years and a senior adviser at Teneo, a consulting firm.

James Fulton Hoge Jr. was born in Manhattan on Dec. 25, 1935, one of four children of James Sr., a successful trademark lawyer, and Virginia (McClamroch) Hoge, a patron of Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.

The elder Mr. Hoge would bring home four or five newspapers at a time and leaf through them with his children with look-at-that enthusiasm. James and his brother, Warren, came to embrace journalism.

Both brothers attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and Yale; James graduated from the academy in 1954 and from the university in 1958, with a bachelor’s degree in political science. In 1961, he received a master’s degree from the University of Chicago with a thesis on Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy.

The almost routine focus on his privileged background could make Mr. Hoge bristle, as he did during a 1989 Vanity Fair interview. “Sure, my father made a good living,” he said, “but I never got a penny of inheritance. I didn’t have any trust funds. I put myself through graduate school. I’ve paid for everything in my life. I started work at $76 a week, and that was my sole income.”

“If you look like a WASP and you talk like a WASP, there’s a kind of inverse racism,” he added. “That is shortchanging us who are like that.”

In 1962, Mr. Hoge married Alice Albright, a freelance journalist and later a screenwriter, whose grandfather Joseph Medill Patterson had founded The Daily News in New York and whose aunt, Alicia Patterson, founded Newsday, on Long Island. Their marriage ended in 1971. Mr. Hoge’s second marriage, in 1981 to Sharon King, a consumer reporter, also ended in divorce, in 1999. That same year he married Kathleen Lacey, now a senior managing director at Teneo.

In addition to his son James, from his first marriage, he is survived by Ms. Lacey; a sister, Virginia Verwaal; a daughter, Alicia Hoge Adams, and another son, Robert Warren Hoge, both also from his first marriage; a son, Spencer, from a relationship with the television journalist Cynthia McFadden; two stepsons, Kienan and Devin Lacey; five granddaughters; and three grandsons. His other sister, Barbara Hoge Daine, died in 2001.

Mr. Hoge had begun his journalism career as a reporter, in 1963 at The Sun-Times, but found that writing was not his strength. “At best I was workmanlike,” he told New York magazine in 1984, and added: “Eventually, I discovered that I had more natural talent as an editor. And over the years I’ve taken a great deal of vicarious pleasure in other people’s writing.”