Howard H “Tim” Hays Jr., the Harvard-educated lawyer who chose a newspaperman’s life and led what became The Press-Enterprise into national prominence as a Pulitzer Prize-winning advocate of open government and defender of the First Amendment, died Oct. 14, 2011, at age 94.
Hays is a 2012 inductee into the California Newspaper Hall of Fame.
Hays spent 51 years at The Press-Enterprise. He was an FBI special agent during World War II and joined the newspaper as assistant editor in 1946.
His subsequent roles included editor, co-publisher, publisher and chairman. He continued as chairman until 1997, when The Press-Enterprise was sold to the A.H. Belo Co., ending 67 years of family ownership of the Riverside-based newspaper.
Courtly, soft-voiced and with a penchant for remembering anyone’s name, from civic leaders to cleaning crews in the hallways of his newspaper, Hays’ personality contrasted sharply with flamboyant news-executive contemporaries. His memos were to his “Fellow Employees.”
But his reserved manner was matched with a steely resolve. He stood up to pressure and confrontation, taking two open-government cases to the U.S. Supreme Court and winning both.
Media attorneys refer to the landmark cases as Press-Enterprise One and Two.
In January 1984, the newspaper won a case establishing the public’s right to attend jury selection in criminal trial proceedings. In a 1986 case, the court asserted the right of the public to attend pre-trial hearings in criminal cases with few exceptions.
Hays oversaw articles in 1967 that exposed malpractice in the conservatorship program for Agua Caliente Indians in Palm Springs. Editorials combined with more than 100 stories earned the newspaper the Pulitzer Prize for meritorious public service in 1968.
Hays also stood by his reporters, even as advertisers took their business away in protest over investigative pieces.
Hays established the Hays Press-Enterprise Lecture in 1966, underwritten in 1998 by a $100,000 endowment after the newspaper was sold. The free lectures, open to the public, featured leaders in news media, including retired Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee and Gene Roberts, former managing editor of the New York Times.
Hays was among civic leaders who worked to get the University of California, Riverside, opened in 1954. He also undertook the cause of preserving the Mission Inn in Riverside. The Press-Enterprise under Hays also quietly helped to underwrite local cultural and arts organizations.
*Hall of Fame inductees are selected annually by a committee appointed by the California Press Foundation. They recognize career achievements of weekly and daily publishers in California who were important and influential in their era, as judged by their peers in the association. The write-ups are a historical and journalistic snapshot in time and not official biographies.*