By Alison Berstein, Bulletin Correspondent
‘I wanted to be a star reporter.’
— Morley Piper,
Retired executive director,
Former New England Newspaper Association
Talk with those who know Morley Piper and several terms get mentioned often:
Piper, the retired executive director of the former New England Newspaper Association, which has since merged into the New England Newspaper and Press Association, served as a mentor for the newspaper industry.
“I enjoyed it very much,” Piper said of his time at the association, which he led for 45 years. “I met a lot of nice people who grew to be my friends. I maintained close contact with them.”
Piper was executive director until 2009, just before the New England Newspaper Association merged with the New England Press Association in 2010.
“During the heyday of newspapers when newspapers flourished, we were able to do a lot of things that associations and papers can’t do now,” recalled Piper, who lives in Essex, Mass.
Piper and his colleagues ran seminars for newspapers as one of the association’s benefits for members and others, a benefit that continues under the merged New England Newspaper and Press Association.
“We had (training sessions) for reporters, editors, sportswriters, even one for obituary writers,” Piper said. “We … had one for everything.”
‘The beauty of Morley is he’s a resource, and he’s been a resource for publishers, editors, circulation, everybody since the founding of NENA. There was not a newspaper in New England that Morley did not know.’
— George Geers, Founder, Plaidswede Publishing, Concord, N.H.
George Geers worked with Piper on the editorial committee at the New England Newspaper Association, planning those seminars and workshops. He praised Piper’s open-mindedness in coordinating the events.
“I cannot remember when he ever said no to an idea, even if a workshop only looked like it was going to have half a dozen people,” said Geers, founder of Plaidswede Publishing in Concord, N.H.
Revenue consultant Al Getler noted Piper’s creative approach to new ideas.
“Rather than soaking in the tub of what used to be, he’s willing to try some new hot water to get into and challenge the industry,” said Getler, who works in Vermont as division manager of Advantage Newspaper Consultants, based in Fayetteville, N.C.
‘Rather than soaking in the tub of what used to be, he’s willing to try some new hot water to get into and challenge the industry.’
— Al Getler, Division manager, Advantage Newspaper Consultants, Fayetteville, N.C.
Getler was working for an Ohio-based newspaper company in the late 1990s before he became an executive at newspapers in New England, including The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Mass., and The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press. Getler was interested in the changes facing newspapers and said Piper helped him in that endeavor.
“We were doing something pretty radical back then, focused on what readers wanted to read in newspapers,” Getler said. “It was very different from the traditional approach of journalism.”
Getler said Piper demonstrated the integrity of the New England newspaper community.
“To make it in New England, you had to have your stuff together, and Morley as our industry example leader always represented that very well,” Getler said. “We are very serious newspaper readers in New England.”
A leader on many fronts
Piper’s leadership extends beyond the news industry.
He was a second lieutenant not yet out of his teens during the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II.
‘We grew up fast in the Army. We were asked to do things that we never thought we had to do or could do.’
— Morley Piper
“We were all pretty young in the war,” Piper said. “On D-Day I was 19; most of the soldiers around me were in that age range. We led ordinary lives, lives that hadn’t fully developed.”
“We were ordinary young men,” he said.
A soldier in the Army’s 29th Infantry Division, Piper was in charge of soldiers older than him as they stormed Omaha Beach on that historic day in June 1944.
“We grew up fast in the Army,” Piper said. “We were asked to do things that we never thought we had to do or could do.”
Piper did not talk about his experiences in the war for a long time. It was not until he went back to France for the 50th anniversary of D-Day that he broke his silence.
Getler was not entirely surprised to learn of Piper’s leadership in the war.
“When I learned that about him, I wasn’t necessarily shocked that he was that kind of a war hero,” Getler said. “He remained strong the way he remains strong today.”
But Piper will be quick to beg to differ on his hero status, if you ask longtime colleague Bill Ketter.
‘If I had one word to describe Morley, it would be amazing. Both as to his contribution to the industry and his vitality.’
— Bill Ketter, Senior vice president of news, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., Montgomery, Ala.
“He’s very modest. He’s not a person who boasts about his past or his history,” said Ketter, senior vice president of news of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., headquartered in Montgomery, Ala. It owns in Massachusetts the Eagle-Tribune; The Daily News of Newburyport; The Salem News; The Gloucester Daily Times; The Haverhill Gazette; and in New Hampshire the Carriage Town News, based in Kingston, and The Derry News.
“On the 59th or 69th anniversary (of D-Day), I was talking to him about it,” Ketter said. “‘You should write a column about this,’ and he said, ‘Well, I wasn’t the only guy on Normandy.’”
Geers said: “It was never about the spotlight. He felt that he needed to share that story to honor those guys who didn’t make it back and those who fought.”
For Piper, sharing that story will preserve the legacy of the soldiers.
“A lot of old guys, they’re getting along in years and they want to get their stories out. They don’t want to be forgotten,” Piper said. “That’s why a lot of museums and libraries have oral history projects where they interview the veterans.”
Piper gives educational talks about his experiences in the war, speaking at venues such as museums and newspaper conventions around the country.
He spoke at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum in Essex on the 68th anniversary of D-Day.
He pitched the idea to Nancy Dudley, education director of the museum at the time. Dudley said she was immediately interested in his offer, and called his talk “terrific.”
“His narrative brought it all in focus,” Dudley said. “The sheer breadth of the undertaking and the losses, as they inched inland. There were many questions from the audience.”
‘I get choked up talking about him because he has been a very dear friend and colleague.’
— Karen Andreas, Publisher, North of Boston Media Group, North Andover, Mass.
More recently, Piper was the keynote speaker at a book launch party at the office of the Eagle-Tribune. The event commemorated the launch of the North of Boston Media Group’s coffee-table book “North of Boston: Salute to Veterans.” The Eagle-Tribune is the flagship newspaper of the North of Boston Media Group.
Karen Andreas, publisher of the North of Boston Media Group, based in North Andover, said Piper was a powerful speaker at the 2013 talk.
“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the crowd,” she said. “We were all mesmerized by his talk and his memory and his ability to make you feel as if you were there with him.”
Humble and humorous
As serious a speaker as Piper is, his friends also note his humor and “dry wit.”
“The thing I like about Morley is he’s very self-effacing, but he’s also very witty,” Ketter said.
In 1999, Morley received the Yankee Quill Award, considered to be the most prestigious news award in New England.
“When he received the Yankee Quill Award, he had the audience in stitches with his humor,” Ketter said. “He said that plagiarism is to journalism what lip syncing is to Milli Vanilli, winning the Grammy Award for songs that they didn’t sing.”
A reporter first
“I wanted to be a star reporter,” Piper said.
Piper said he has always been interested in newspapers, an interest that he had while working for his school newspapers and one that never went away.
“I came back from the Army and gravitated to newspapers,” he said. “I got a job soon after I got back. My first job was with the old Medford (Mass.) Daily Mercury.”
That was the end of his reporting days, as Piper then took a job as national advertising manager of The Boston Globe.
Although Piper might not have become the “star reporter” he dreamed of, his colleagues will say that he has more than made lasting contributions to the news industry and beyond.
“He’s the right man for the mission,” Ketter said. “Steady hand at the helm, always had his finger on the pulse of change. He’s enhanced the value of newspapers.”
To Ketter, Piper is “an agent and a champion of the First Amendment whenever necessary.”
And Ketter is not alone in this sentiment. There is a NENPA award named in Piper’s honor: the Morley L. Piper First Amendment Award.
Piper is also a member of the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.
Serving communities with “a little bit of heart”
For his time in service, Piper was given a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
Piper even sat directly behind President Obama during the 70th anniversary of D-Day when Obama spoke at Normandy.
“I didn’t realize it at that time, sitting in the second row of the platform on the cemetery in Normandy,” Piper said of the 2014 talk. “Suddenly a helicopter dropped down and he and the president of France got out and I got to talk with them.”
Piper described the ideals he learned from being in the service.
“Determination, a certain amount of courage, perseverance. A little bit about honor. What I like to call heart, just a little bit of heart,” he said. “Those are the things the military today have carried on. They had them throughout time. Our time for it was World War II.”
If you ask those who know Piper – many of whom refer to him as a “dear friend” – Piper embodies those ideals in the various communities he has touched.
“He has a very quiet strength about him,” Getler said. “When he speaks, he chooses his words very, very carefully, and they land.”
“He’s a gentleman I have the utmost respect for as a leader, as a person that organized our industry,” Getler said. “I consider Morley a friend more than anything else. We don’t always say that about the older generation.”
Andreas calls Piper “the most genuine, kind, smart man I’ve ever met.”
“I get choked up talking about him because he has been a very dear friend and colleague,” said Andreas, whose son spoke with Piper while working on a project about World War II veterans.
Although retired, Piper continues to be active in the newspaper community. Andreas said Piper has an office in the Salem News building in Beverly, Mass., and he comes into the office several times a week.
Geers said he appreciates Piper’s accessibility.
“The beauty of Morley is he’s a resource, and he’s been a resource for publishers, editors, circulation, everybody since the founding of NENA,” Geers said. “There was not a newspaper in New England that Morley did not know.”
‘During the heyday of newspapers when newspapers flourished, we were able to do a lot of things that associations and papers can’t do now.’
— Morley Piper
And resources are what Piper encourages today’s newspapers to use.
“Newspapers are cutting back on everything. Use the best resources they can, make the most of what they’ve got,” Piper said. “It’s not an easy time for them.”
That’s a simple insight, but powerful, if you ask Ketter – insight that is indicative of Piper’s “wide range of intelligence and knowledge.”
“If I had one word to describe Morley, it would be amazing. Both as to his contribution to the industry and his vitality,” Ketter said.
Ketter noted Piper’s “ability to direct progression within an industry that he has been a very bright light to.
“Without him, we would be less than what we are.”