Newsweek editor took on social issues

From Bloomberg News

Osborn Elliott, the editor who led Newsweek magazine for 16 years and transformed it into a potent rival of Time with enterprising journalism that captured the turmoil of the 1960s, died Sunday at his home in New York of complications from cancer, the magazine announced. He was 83.

During his tenure as Newsweek’s editor, from 1961 to 1976, the magazine’s circulation doubled, to 3 million, narrowing Time’s lead. Time’s circulation this year is 3.4 million, compared with 2.7 million for Newsweek, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

“Wise and witty, Oz Elliott is the architect of the modern Newsweek,” current editor Jon Meacham said in an e-mailed statement. “With his vision and his passion, he made the magazine into a global force. He never lost his love of the great game: Every election day in my time at Newsweek, there would be a phone message from Oz, saying simply: ‘My soul craves exit polls.’ ”

Where some saw conflict between journalism and political activism, Elliott saw opportunity. Whether directing a special edition of Newsweek that prescribed solutions to black poverty or leading a “Save Our Cities” march on Washington, he sought to turn the news into a tool to improve society.


The Asia Society, which named an annual journalism prize for Elliott, called him “one of the earliest practitioners of ‘civic journalism’ -- the deliberate focusing of the journalistic enterprise on urgent issues of public policy.”

Elliott left Newsweek after 21 years to serve as New York deputy mayor in charge of economic development, then spent eight years as dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Elliott was born Oct. 25, 1924, into a prominent New York City family. His mother, Audrey Osborn Elliott, had been active in the women’s suffrage movement early in the 20th century and later became a leading Manhattan real estate broker. His father, John, was an investment counselor.

He attended high school at St. Paul’s in Concord, N.H., and graduated from Harvard College in an accelerated two-year wartime program, before joining the Navy. He served two years as a naval officer.


After beginning his career at the Journal of Commerce and at Time magazine, Elliott joined Newsweek in 1955 as senior editor of business news. He was promoted to managing editor in 1959 and editor in 1961, when the magazine was bought by the Washington Post Co.

Elliott became editor in chief in 1969 and within three years took on the additional roles of president, chief executive and chairman.

In 1976, New York Mayor Abraham Beame offered Elliott the newly created job of deputy mayor of economic development, in charge of reversing the city’s alarming loss of jobs. He accepted, at an annual salary of just $1, and served for Beame’s final 15 months in office.

The move ended Elliott’s association with Newsweek.

Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism named him dean in January 1978. After stepping down in 1986, Elliott remained at Columbia as a journalism professor.

Elliott had three daughters with his first wife, Deirdre. That marriage ended in divorce. In 1973, he married Inger Abrahamsen McCabe and became stepfather to her three children.

Survivors include daughters Diana Lidofsky, Cynthia Elliott and Dorinda Elliott; stepchildren Kari, Alec and Marit McCabe; two foster children, Pui and Bing Wong; 17 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.