Former Gazette publisher Peter DeRose, who died Monday at 85, helped usher in contemporary era of journalism in Valley

Peter DeRose, left, with his brother, Charlie, at a Gazette alumni reunion in 2018. Peter DeRose died Monday at the age of 85.

Peter DeRose, left, with his brother, Charlie, at a Gazette alumni reunion in 2018. Peter DeRose died Monday at the age of 85. DAILY HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE ALUMNI FACEBOOK PAGE

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 06-13-2024 4:59 PM

Modified: 06-13-2024 5:08 PM


NORTHAMPTON — Former Daily Hampshire Gazette publisher Peter L. DeRose, who alongside brother Charles W. DeRose brought the family-owned company into a contemporary era of journalism and modernized the technology used to get information to readers, died Monday. He was 85.

Despite lacking any formal training in the newspaper business, with a college degree in physics, Peter DeRose joined his brother in taking over as co-publishers from their father, Charles N., in 1970, continuing in the role for the next 36 years, the first 29 as a team.

“He was the techie and I was the people person, so we made a good partnership,” brother Charlie DeRose said in a phone interview Thursday. “The Gazette was doing things in those days that papers our size couldn’t or wouldn’t do, so we were lucky.”

With a history dating back to 1786, the DeRose family owned the Gazette, the oldest continuously published newspaper in Massachusetts, from 1929, when Harriet Williams DeRose, then the business manager, bought it, until it was sold to Newspapers of New England in September 2005. Harriet DeRose and Minnie Ryan Dwight, publisher of the Holyoke Daily Transcript, were among the first female newspaper publishers in the country.

It wasn’t until the brothers brought in Ed Shanahan, then at the Berkshire Eagle, in 1972 that the newspaper’s journalism changed.

“Peter was a model of a publisher who grew into the job and understood what the role of a newspaper was,” Shanahan said.

Stanley Moulton, a retired reporter and editor who now serves on the Northampton City Council, credits the DeRoses’ decision to hire Shanahan as a turning point.

“A brilliant move, in my opinion,” Moulton said. “Ed was a young editor who brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm for doing a lot of investigatory and exploratory journalism.”

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This also led to ambitious reporters joining the staff. “The vision to hire a vibrant editor really made the Gazette a much more aggressive newspaper in covering the news,” Moulton said.

Jim Foudy, who began as editor in 1986, said Peter DeRose was a careful leader of the newspaper and that, while a businessman like his brother, father and grandmother, he saw the Gazette’s mission as not only to make money, but to help connect neighbors, build community and serve the public good.

“He understood the newspaper as more than a business — it’s an institution, with a very important mission in the community,” Foudy said.

Foudy said he had his share of disagreements with Peter DeRose, describing him as a demanding boss, but that things never got personal.

Shanahan observed that at the time, he too worked closely with the brothers, often meeting with them and helping to decide the direction for the newspaper.

“We had a very, very good relationship,” Shanahan said. “Peter was in some ways a very good publisher because he not only had a very strong sense of production, but bringing the newspaper to the future with technology.”

He brought knowledge, too, of how the news needed to be presented. “A solid notion of what a newspaper should do, getting news right and important to publish what was news,” Shanahan said.

While Peter DeRose offered suggestions for coverage, he left editors and reporters to do their jobs and never interfered in their judgment, Moulton said. This sort of hands-off approach was appreciated, Shanahan said.

Peter DeRose had worked at the Gazette while a student at Northampton High School and only returned after getting a degree in physics and working as an engineer. His brother said he was involved in an advanced laser project while working in New Orleans, an indication of his understanding of technology.

Charlie DeRose said his brother was reserved by nature, gaining one of his hobbies while at MIT. “He joined a model railroad club there and that became a lifelong passion,” he said.

Peter DeRose became the Gazette’s sole publisher in 1999, a position he held through the end of 2006, more than a year after the company’s September 2005 sale to Newspapers of New England, when the newspaper left the family after 76 years.

During the DeRoses’ time, the newspaper earned numerous industry awards for public service journalism, writing and reporting, photography, advertising and page design and promotion, and underwent other changes, such as the move from Armory Street downtown to 115 Conz St., where the building grew over time and the Gazette remained until December 2022.

Pip Stromgren, who spent 15 years as the community relations director and began the newspapers in education program at the brothers’ request, remained friends with Peter and his wife, Florence. She found Peter DeRose a very caring person who, working with his brother, ensured success of the company and let independence guide the staff.

“Both were very strong on the management side, and [made sure] that the editorial side saw no pressure from the advertising side,” Stromgren said.

Another who remained close to the couple was former advertising representative Linda Conklin, who said Peter DeRose cared about his employees, even if not showing it on the outside. Conklin recalls DeRose once quickly leaped into action to ensure a longtime employee got the medical attention she needed. It was similar for the company’s operations.

“If something happened on the press, he would run, not walk,” Conklin said.

Shanahan said the company had the right values in the treatment of employees, ensuring that people got satisfaction from their jobs.

“Over time both Peter and Charlie made a large effort to make the Gazette workplace someplace people wanted to come to,” Shanahan said.

“They really cared about people who worked at the Gazette — they certainly wanted a family atmosphere,” Moulton said.

Debra Scherban, who worked as a reporter and editor at the Gazette for a number of years, said the DeRose brothers were dedicated to running a newspaper that provided strong coverage of the community, and never wavered from that commitment.

“He and Charlie gave the newsroom the resources a talented staff needed to do their jobs well and, as one of those people lucky enough to work under those conditions, I am grateful for that,” Scherban said.

Peter DeRose was community-minded as well, supporting Cooley Dickinson Hospital, the Hampshire YMCA and the Northampton Rotary, and Moulton said that as someone who had grown up in Northampton, Peter DeRose understood the fabric of the city and the region.

“He was a very smart guy, very well read, and had a lot of foresight,” Foudy said. “He pushed to create the online presence in the mid-1990s, sensing the way business was going to be going.”

Stromgren said Peter DeRose always advocated for new technology, such as an upgraded printing press and replacing the electronic typewriters with computers in the mid-1980s.

Moulton noted that Peter DeRose wanted to make sure the best technology was in place. On Nov. 1, 1996, the Gazette, with the launch of GazetteNet, became one of the first smaller community newspapers to have its content available on the World Wide Web.

“He really was visionary to see the presence on internet for distributing the news,” Moulton said.

In a 2005 interview, a few months after Newspapers of New England acquired the company and brought the Gazette and Amherst Bulletin into the fold, Peter DeRose talked about being proud of the modernization and innovations during his tenure, including the Gazette’s first computer system, expansion of color printing and the creation of GazetteNet.

“It was the perfect way for me to combine my training and knowledge of the community being born here,” DeRose said at the time. “If I had to invent a job for myself, I probably could not have invented a better one.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.