NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Executive Editor Alan J. White, who led The Eagle-Tribune to many honors and shepherded countless young reporters to productive careers as journalists, died of an apparent heart attack at his home on Plum Island on Wednesday. He was 68.
White, known to everyone as "Al," was a respected and honored member of the New England newspaper community. He had worked for the paper for 43 years, during which he moved steadily up the career ladder from a reporter to night editor, to city editor to managing editor to the top editor.
White contributed to several national honors for the paper, including the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for its detailed, well-crafted stories on the accidental drowning of four immigrant Hispanic boys in the Merrimack River. He also had a hand in the paper four times winning the Society of Professional Journalists Public Service Award, and twice receiving the Scripps Howard Award for Public Service.
He received the prestigious Yankee Quill Award in 2014, the highest individual honor bestowed on journalists in New England. He was cited for his broad influence for good on New England Journalism, for his fidelity to the profession’s highest ethical standards and for his contribution to advancing the value of a free press. The Yankee Quill Award is sponsored by the New England Academy of Journalists, an organization comprised of past winners of the honor.
White was also a member of the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2013.
Academy President Bill Ketter described White as a “modest, hardworking, thoughtful, superior journalist – qualities that rightfully earned him the admiration of his colleagues, his peers, newsmakers, academics and, most importantly, the readers of The Eagle-Tribune.”
Ketter is a former editor of The Eagle-Tribune who worked closely with White for years in the newsroom and then as senior vice president of news for Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., the paper’s parent company.
“Journalism lost a great one,” said Ketter. “He had zero ego. Yet he effectively inspired everyone who came in contact with him as an editor to do their very best work. He was a master at coaching both new and veteran reporters on how to write clearly and powerfully so the public would understand the importance of their stories.”
Karen Andreas, publisher of The Eagle-Tribune and North of Boston Media Group, also worked with White for several years.
"Al was the epitome of a committed journalist who cared deeply about the communities that he covered,” she said. “He was intensely knowledgeable about ethics, fair reporting standards, accurate storytelling. We have a void in our newsroom, and in our region, that will be tough to replace.”
A native of Worcester, Massachusetts, White was a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross. He originally intended to become a history professor, enrolling in a master’s program at the University of Virginia but left during the first semester when he came down with mononucleosis. He returned to his hometown and worked briefly for a newspaper owned by a veteran of the New York tabloid wars, a stint he said taught him how to write tight news stories. He then joined The Eagle-Tribune for the rest of his lifetime.
White's newsroom office reflected his varied interests. On a bookshelf were dictionaries and a copy of Bartlett's Quotations. On the wall, autographed photos of hockey great Bobby Orr and film cowboy Hopalong Cassidy. In the corner, a surfcasting fishing pole. And on a shelf, an odd collection of black plastic crows.
White never married. His brother, Paul White, noted that Al was very fond of his many nieces and nephews. "He took them all kinds of places, to New York to see plays and movies," Paul said. "He was very, very good to them. Family was very important to him."
Daniel J. Warner, editor of The Eagle-Tribune from the 1970s through the 1990s, recalled that White was one of the first reporters he hired.
"Al was an intrepid reporter, but his real value was as an editor," Warner said from his home in Fort Myers, Florida. "He was the finest editor of words who ever worked for me, largely because of his great news sense. He knew what the story was about and how it should be put together."
White loved stories about ordinary people caught up in the machinery of government, hoping that the newspaper's reporting would ease their plight, Warner said.
In the 1990s, White worked closely with then-sports editor Russ Conway on a series of investigative stories that led to the downfall of Alan Eagleson, executive director of the National Hockey League’s Players Association. Eagleson was also an agent for as many as 150 players. And he was the head of Hockey Canada, organizing Team Canada's appearances in international tournaments.
Retired hockey players from that era were getting by on a pittance, Conway, now retired, recalled in an interview Wednesday. Legendary great Gordie Howe was living on $14,000 (Canadian) a year.
Money from rink board advertising was supposed to be going to the players' pension fund but instead was going into Eagleson's pocket, Conway said.
Conway's series in six installments titled "Breaking the Ice" detailed Eagleson's misdeeds. Eagleson ended up with a stint in prison and a $1 million fine. He was thrown out of the Hockey Hall of Fame — while Conway was inducted.
The series, edited by White, was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and won numerous regional and national news honors.
"He refined it," Conway said of White's work on the series. "He had a talent, a skill of editing, having a grasp of what was happening. He understood in short order what we were dealing with. This was a series of white-collar crimes by a mastermind. He edited it in such a way that the public could understand it, too."
Conway's investigation was published as a bestselling book, "Game Misconduct," also edited by White.
Details for this story were provided by The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Massachusetts, and CNHI