Modest start at MU led to newspaper fortune

The late journalism benefactor owned more than 50 newspapers.
Tuesday, February 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:02 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

The late Donald W. Reynolds — the man behind a $31 million gift announced Monday to build a journalism institute at MU — was born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma and schooled in Missouri.

Until his graduation from MU’s School of Journalism in 1927, Reynolds paid for his education by working summers at a meat-packing plant in Oklahoma. In 1940, he bought three newspapers, creating the Donrey Media Group. By the time he died in 1993, Reynolds owned more than 50 newspapers, including the largest of them, the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Reynolds’ financial successes made the 1954 creation of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation possible. Based in Las Vegas, the nonprofit charitable corporation is today one of the largest of its kind in the nation, Dean Mills, dean of the Journalism School, said Monday.

On the MU campus, the foundation’s contributions are most visible in the Reynolds Alumni Center. The foundation, now led by chairman Fred Smith and president Steven Anderson, gave

$9 million toward its construction.

Although Reynolds has been praised as an entrepreneur, his journalism practices have been at times faulted.

“The quality of Mr. Reynolds’ journalism was not nearly as high as the quality of his philanthropy,” said George Kennedy, longtime MU journalism professor. “There had always been a tension between the university’s desire to get into his pockets and the reality that he didn’t publish very good newspapers.”

Those sentiments were at the heart of a dispute in the 1980s, when Reynolds was awarded the Missouri Honor Medal for service in journalism.

Roger Gafke, a retired journalism professor and a partner in the development of the journalism institute, acknowledged that some have criticized Reynolds’ journalistic efforts but said he thinks the institute will create a new image for the Reynolds name.

“Think of the Joseph Pulitzer papers — and what’s the image now of the Pulitzer prizes? It’s not the same image,” Gafke said. “It will be interesting 50 years from now thinking about what the Don Reynolds journalism institute is.”

The Missourian's connection to the school

Almost 100 years ago in 1908, Walter Williams founded the Missouri School of Journalism on the belief that journalism should become professionalized and be taught at a university.

His “Missouri method” teaches journalism through practice — a practice that led to his creation of an independent newspaper, the Columbia Missourian.

The Missourian is affiliated with MU in that its professional editors are professors at the university and its reporters are students. The Missourian is owned by the Missourian Publishing Association, not the Journalism School. The association, a not-for-profit organization, has an agreement with the university to provide educational services.

— Kristin Hayden

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