YOUNGSTOWN — Longtime publisher of The Vindicator Betty J.H. Brown Jagnow was remembered fondly over the weekend as a woman who was ahead of her time in the newspaper industry.
Jagnow, 92, of Canfield, died Friday.
She had served as publisher of The Vindicator for 38 years until 2019. In all, she worked at the newspaper for 71 years. She also served as president of WFMJ Television, and was president of The Vindicator Printing Company in Youngstown for nearly four decades.
Robert McFerren, who worked for 30 years as graphic arts director at The Vindicator on Sunday said Jagnow achieved much success as a publisher since taking over in 1981, after the death of her husband, William Brown. Jagnow started in the newspaper industry in 1948.
“Betty was known throughout the Valley as a leader. She had a remarkable life,” McFerren said, noting that Jagnow blazed a trail as one of the few women in America to serve as publisher of a major family-owned daily newspaper while also serving as president of a Top 100-market television station.
“She came into the newspaper industry at a time when mostly men were in the field. She worked hard and rose through the ranks. She was a great example of a leader and was great to work with,” McFerren said, also recalling Jagnow’s “razor-sharp wit.”
“She was a very funny lady and would often come back with some of the best one-liners,” McFerren said.
He added, though, that Jagnow also was a very private person who often preferred to stay behind the scenes.
“She never enjoyed being the center of attention,” he said.
Bertram de Souza, who worked for many years as The Vindicator’s editorial page editor and political writer, described Jagnow, whom he and many others referred to as “Mrs. J,” as “a reporter’s publisher” who backed him and other staff to make sure the newspaper fulfilled its mission as watchdog to hold local politicians and influencers accountable.
“She always had my back as a hard-hitting columnist. I would write my column and would write comments about people, and she would tell me never to pull back. After she read my column for Sunday, she would tell me she expected a phone call from someone Monday morning demanding that I be fired. She always backed me in what I did,” de Souza said.
“She was a wonderful woman to be around and fun to hear her stories of the olden days,” de Souza said. “I found comfort and confidence in the fact that Mrs. J. always had my back. Although she was my boss, she also was my friend.”
De Souza said when he first came to The Vindicator, he planned to stay only a few years.
“I ended up staying for four decades because of Betty Jagnow and Mark Brown. They encouraged me as a journalist and to be part of their family, and I will always appreciate that,” he said.
David Marburger, who served as the newspaper’s First Amendment lawyer for decades, on Sunday described Jagnow as “gracious, decisive, kind, practical and principled.” He added, “She was loyal to the newspaper and the community. … Even though she was publisher of a large daily newspaper, she was unpretentious and unassuming.”
Marburger said Jagnow worked to make sure The Vindicator was a newspaper of “merit over policy,” and had a mentality that it was the newspaper against political corruption.
“I think it is fair to call her Northeast Ohio’s Katharine Graham,” said Marburger, referring to the longtime publisher of the Washington Post.
William Brown was publisher and president of The Vindicator until his death in 1981. After that, Jagnow served as publisher and president. Their son, Mark Brown, served as general manager.
On June 28, 2019, as the newspaper celebrated its 150th anniversary, Mark Brown announced the paper would cease production Aug. 31, 2019. Brown, along with his mother, were third- and fourth-generation family newspeople. The Vindicator name was sold to the Tribune Chronicle to continue its publication.
Charles Jarvis, The Vindicator’s current publisher, on Sunday recognized Jagnow as a powerful media icon in the Mahoning Valley and northeast Ohio.
“Her decades-long leadership at The Vindicator and WFMJ-TV ensured high-quality journalism that served the region extremely well,” Jarvis said.
Jagnow’s family had subsidized newspaper operations for more than 20 years in order to ensure that publication continued in Youngstown. Jarvis described her 2019 decision to allow a competitor, the Tribune Chronicle, to continue producing The Vindicator, as “courageous.”
“Her passing is a tremendous loss for the community, her friends and family,” Jarvis said.
Jagnow was born in 1929 and was raised on Youngstown’s West Side. She was a graduate of Chaney High School and attended Youngstown College, now Youngstown State University. She married publisher William J. Brown on April 15, 1972. She later married Paul C. Jagnow, the paper’s managing editor, in March 1986. Paul Jagnow preceded her in death on Sept. 20, 2017.
Arrangements are being handled by the Shriver-Allison-Courtley-Weller-King Funeral Home in Youngstown.