George Randolph Hearst Jr. dies at 84; L.A. Herald-Examiner publisher

The demise of the Hearst newspaper empire in Los Angeles began in 1962 when publisher George Randolph Hearst Jr. abandoned the morning newspaper market.

Hearst and the company that owned the Los Angeles Times made what some viewed as a back-room deal: At almost the same time, they folded editions that directly competed with each other.

A sister paper of The Times, the afternoon daily Mirror, stopped publishing while the Hearst Corp. “merged” the morning Examiner with the afternoon Herald-Express. The new hybrid was called the Herald Examiner, and it was then one of the largest afternoon newspapers in the United States.

The Herald Examiner would last until 1989, a victim of changing newspaper readership — afternoon audiences increasingly turned to television news — and a crippling newspaper strike that lasted 10 years, in part because George Hearst had been set on breaking the unions, The Times reported in a 1978 article with the headline: “L.A. Herald Examiner: Signs of Life.”

“George bet on the wrong horse,” said Dennis McDougal, author of “Privileged Son: Otis Chandler And The Rise And Fall Of The L.A. Times Dynasty,” a 2002 history of the Los Angeles Times. “He thought that afternoons would continue to be a growth market and that the Herald-Examiner would hold onto its blue-collar constituency.... That turned out not to be the case, and it helped spell doom for the paper.”

Hearst, 84, died Monday at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto of complications following a stroke, the Hearst Corp. announced.

He was the eldest grandson of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who founded the Hearst Corp. in 1887 and the Los Angeles Examiner in 1903. The first of several newspapers he would own in the city, the Examiner was often sensationalist and crusaded for causes.

In 1948, George Hearst Jr. joined the advertising staff of the Los Angeles Examiner. After spending two years at his family’s San Francisco Examiner, he was named business manager of the Los Angeles Herald-Express in 1957 and three years later was publisher.

As publisher of the Herald Examiner in 1967, Hearst felt whipsawed by the dozen unions he had to deal with and “was determined to break them,” according to the 1978 Times article.

When the strike ended in 1977, circulation had been cut in half to 330,000 and advertising had evaporated, partly because of aggressive tactics by organized labor. The paper never fully recovered.

That same year, he became a vice president of Hearst Corp., a privately held media conglomerate. He managed the company’s real estate holdings before succeeding his uncle, Randolph A. Hearst, in 1996 as chairman of the board, a position he held for the rest of his life.

“As chairman of the board, he brought his vast experience and wisdom to bear during a time of incredible growth and helped guide us through periods of enormous change,” Frank A. Bennack Jr., chief executive of Hearst Corp., said in a statement.

The Hearst Corp.'s 15 daily newspapers include the San Francisco Chronicle and the Houston Chronicle. The company also owns many magazines, including Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan, and runs 29 television stations.

His first name was in honor of two Georges, his father and his great-grandfather, who got into publishing in 1880 when he acquired the San Francisco Daily Examiner to settle a gambling debt.

George Randolph Hearst Jr. and his twin sister, Phoebe, were born July 13, 1927, in San Francisco to a Hearst executive and his wife, Blanche. His father was the eldest of five sons of William Randolph Hearst.

Near the end of World War II, George joined the Naval Air Corps. His military service spanned nearly a decade and included service in the Army during the Korean War.

Hearst also helped lead two Hearst family foundations that fund education, medical and culture activities across the U.S.

He married Mary Thompson in 1951 and had four children before divorcing in 1969. Another marriage, to Patricia Ann Bell, ended in divorce in 1985.

His daughter Mary “Bunny” Hearst Ives, who had cancer, died at 51 in 2004.

His son George R. Hearst III is publisher of the Albany Times-Union in New York, and another son, Stephen T. Hearst, is vice president and general manager of Hearst’s Western Properties.

In addition to his two sons, Hearst’s survivors include his wife, Susan; his daughter, Erin Hearst Knudsen; a stepdaughter, Jessica Gonzalves; six grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.