The editor known as 'E.A.' left a lasting imprint

Election officials once discovered that someone had cast a write-in vote for “Eric Allen Knucklehead” for county commissioner. Another detractor publicly called him “the little lord dictator of Jackson County,” something he took with a good sense of humor.

Editor's note: This is the third in a six-day series on the 100-year history of the Mail Tribune.

While Robert W. Ruhl dominated the first third of the Mail Tribune's history, another name that would become famous dominated the second third. He didn't own the newspaper, but his editorials, news judgment and civic activities had a profound effect on the community.

His name was Eric W. Allen Jr.

The signature "E.A." at the end of editorials was a trademark from the 1950s to early 1980s. Allen wrote as many as 16 editorials a week.

Allen joined the Mail Tribune in 1948 as its first city editor. He became managing editor in 1956 and then editor in 1964. He wrote prolifically until his retirement in 1985. He died 21 months later at the age of 66.

"One of my great efforts in editorial writing is to be fair," said Allen in a 1985 interview. "I've always had some supporters, even when things got pretty hot. I've always been opposed to bigotry and prejudice, and I've always been in favor of civil liberties."

When Allen retired, Mail Tribune Publisher Gil Bogley said, "Eric Allen earned for himself and this newspaper a reputation for editorial strength coupled with genuine humanitarian concern."

Stephen Ryder, publisher from 1973 to 1982, added, "Eric represented the highest standards of editorial integrity and quality."

The going was not always easy. Some readers viewed Allen as too far to the left for what they perceived as a conservative community. Allen himself would sometimes joke that when he made an editorial endorsement during a political campaign, it could be a "kiss of death." Some readers would routinely vote the opposite of what he suggested.

Election officials once discovered that someone had cast a write-in vote for "Eric Allen Knucklehead" for county commissioner. Another detractor publicly called him "the little lord dictator of Jackson County," something he took with a good sense of humor.

During the middle part of the century, Allen ran the news operation. He didn't hesitate to let reporters and editors know when they had erred or praise them when they'd done a good job. He was a stickler for accuracy and proper use of the English language.

He didn't believe in using bylines on most local news stories, feeling that the news was what counted, not the personalities who wrote the stories. Reviews and commentaries carried only the writer's initials, at the end. An occasional byline had to be earned.

He also liked to see as many stories as possible on Page 1A. The paper was wider in the 1960s and early '70s — nine columns compared to six columns today. One edition during Allen's tenure ran with 36 stories on the front, counting all the briefs and fillers.

Also in the 1970s there was a trend in journalism toward using short, colorful opening sentences in news stories. Instead of "Susan Jones, 8, won the 4-H rabbit club competition at the county fair Saturday," a reporter might have said, "A cute girl with freckles wowed them." Allen thought this technique was a bit ridiculous and overdone. To illustrate his point, he came up with a satire for staff eyes only: "Dead. That's what the man was when police found him."

Allen was born Sept. 14, 1920, in Eugene. Journalism and writing were a logical pursuit for him. His father, Eric W. Allen, founded the University of Oregon journalism school and served as its dean for 30 years. His mother, Sally Allen, was a nationally known poet, playwright and author.

Prior to coming to the Mail Tribune, Allen worked for United Press (which later became United Press International). He headed the bureau in Fresno, Calif., as the agency's youngest bureau chief. He transferred to Salem in 1944. He also served as private secretary to two Oregon governors, Earl Snell and John Hall. While in Fresno, in 1943, he married the former Betty Magee. A noted artist, Betty Allen was one of the founders of the Rogue Gallery & Art Center in Medford. She died in 1982.

While many present-day editors shy away from civic involvement in order to avoid any possible conflict of interest, Allen did the opposite. He served on many boards and commissions, ranging from the Rogue River National Forest Advisory Council and State Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Association and Medford Public Library Board of Trustees. He was a co-founding trustee of Mercy Flights Inc. and served as its treasurer from 1950 to 1985.

A 1993 Mail Tribune story about Eric W. Allen Jr. noted that, after his death, one reader wrote: "Self-examination is important to us both as individuals and as members of a democratic form of government. I hope that those who resented Eric Allen's occasional criticisms will come to realize that they were done in the spirit of asking how we can do better."

Now retired, Cleve Twitchell was a member of the Mail Tribune news staff from 1961 to 2002. E-mail him at clevelinda@msn.com.


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