As a media executive for nearly 50 years, J. Stewart Bryan III stood up to state and local governments and businesses trying to thwart the public's right to know.
"We have kept an eye on government," Bryan said. "I think the press has played an enormous role in the history of the United States. I have been a proud part of it."
Bryan has considered himself a lifelong newspaperman. The Richmond native is the fourth generation of his family to hold major roles in the media business. His great-grandfather acquired what is now the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1887. In 1969, his father created Media General Inc., which has evolved into a broadcast company with 71 television stations, including WRIC in Richmond.
Bryan has served as chairman of Media General since 1990 and was publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 1978 to 2004.
Even though Media General exited the publishing business in 2012 when it sold its newspapers, including The Times-Dispatch, Bryan said he believes newspapers will be around for decades to come because of the vital roles they play in being watchdogs of government and business.
"The people's business should be held in public," he said.
Bryan was honored in 2012 as the recipient of George Mason Award for his significant contributions to the advancement of journalism in Virginia. The award, presented annually by the Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, cited his long-term support for open government.
But Bryan said publishing news and opinion hasn't always been easy: "I was friends with a lot of people and became enemies when we would take positions they didn’t like."
He remembered when, as a young publisher of The Tampa Tribune from 1976 to 1978, he received a phone call from the top executive of a major corporation threatening that several companies would pull their advertising if the newspaper ran a story about possible corruption at a local nonprofit.
After consulting with editors, Bryan determined the story was too important to be kept out of the newspaper. The threat never materialized.
"It was not a cataclysmic event in any way. I wouldn't have much problem with that decision today or the last 20 years. I had a real problem with it as a youngster trying to do what is right," he said.
Over the years, Bryan has been involved in the community in many ways. He served as campaign chairman for the United Way operations in the Richmond and Tampa areas. He has served on a number of nonprofit boards, including being chairman of what is now Goodwill of Central & Coastal Virginia and Junior Achievement of Central Virginia.
When a governor nominated him to serve on the board of visitors of a state university, he turned it down. "I felt a newspaperman should not be involved."
He said he misses owning newspapers. "The relationship a newspaper has with its community is different," Bryan said. "Television stations don't have the time to cover the news to the degree that newspapers do, so their relationship with the community is different. At least it has been in the past. I don’t know what it will be in the future."
IN HIS WORDS
Something that might surprise others
The most fun I have had as an adult was being a newspaper reporter in Vermont, Florida and Virginia, especially covering state politics.
My favorite book read in the past five to 10 years is "Citizens of London" by Lynne Olson because it describes so fully the terror and hardships of London citizens during and after the Nazi bombing, the bravery and courage of the Londoners who faced it, the reluctance of the United States to lend significant assistance to the British, and the relative luxury of the American way of life. One of my all-time favorite movies is "The Quiet Man" (1952) with John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Victor McLaglen because its cinematography of the Irish landscape was magnificent, as was the almost comic fistfight between Wayne and McLaglen, and the simplicity of Irish life of the time.
Alternate profession or course of study
Learn foreign languages and, perhaps, work in the U.S. Foreign Service, because I think we need to upgrade our diplomacy to help lead the world in both peaceful and perilous times.
Something you’d like to do
Learn to fly an airplane.
My father and mother (D. Tennant and Mary Bryan) and their friends for their principles and the way they lived their lives; and Gen. George Catlett Marshall for his dedication to the United States of America and its ideals.
A small moment in life with a big impact
When, as a relatively young man in a responsible position at a newspaper, I was told by an important businessman in the community that we should not publish a particular important and valid story, and that if we did, his company and others would stop providing advertising dollars. We chose to publish anyway.
Having worked in all aspects of the newspaper business, enjoying them all and striving to produce honest and accurate journalism.
Favorite thing about Richmond region
Three things: four roughly equal seasons; our many and diverse cultural and educational activities and opportunities; and the topographical and man-made beauty and serenity of our surroundings.
J. STEWART BRYAN
Position: board chairman, Media General Inc.
Born/hometown: May 4, 1938; Richmond
College: University of Virginia (bachelor's degree)
Family: wife Lisa-Margaret "Lissy" Stevenson Bryan, daughters Talbott and Anna, five grandchildren