NEW YORK, N.Y. – Donald Forst, a veteran newsman who led New York Newsday and the Village Voice as they won Pulitzer Prizes and also worked at more than a dozen other newspapers, died Saturday at age 81.
He died at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany of complications of colon cancer, Forst’s companion, Val Haynes, said..
Forst’s journalism career started in the mid-1950s and included stints as cultural editor of The New York Times, assistant city editor of the New York Post and editor in chief of the Boston Herald. He also worked at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, the Houston Press and Boston Magazine.
Forst was best known for the decade he spent as editor in chief at New York Newsday, where he nurtured reporters and columnists such as Jim Dwyer and Gail Collins before the paper folded.
Dwyer, who won a Pulitzer for commentary at New York Newsday in 1995, said that he and many others were “mentored, nurtured, prodded, tormented by Don into writing lively, accurate stories.”
“He might send somebody to go live in an obscure village in the Dominican Republic for three months,” said Dwyer, now a New York Times columnist. “He might send someone else to write about the subways three times a week because that was the defining experience of a New Yorker. He wanted to be first and exclusive with everything so he pushed and pushed and pushed.”
Collins, now an op-ed Times columnist, said Forst “really believed in the life of the tabloid. He believed in that hard news reporting. He believed in big headlines. He believed in newspapers for the common man.”
Newsday’s other Pulitzer under Forst’s leadership was for coverage of a 1991 subway derailment that killed five passengers.
Glenn Kessler, a New York Newsday alumnus who now writes the Fact Checker blog for The Washington Post, credited the Pulitzer win to Forst’s “eye for talent and skilful, demanding editing.”
“Don was an inspirational and exacting editor who took a wisp of an idea— a quality New York tabloid— and turned it into a reality,” Kessler said.
After New York Newsday folded in 1995, Forst surprised many by taking a job as editor in chief of the Voice, the alternative weekly then struggling for an identity. The Voice won a Pulitzer for international reporting for a series on AIDS in Africa in 2000.
Forst left the Voice in 2005, but Haynes said he continued to get up every morning and design a front page for a year and a half after that for his own enjoyment.
“He lived for newspapers and he lamented the death of the print newspaper,” she said.
Forst spent the last seven years teaching journalism at the University at Albany, where he inspired a new generation of reporters.
“We will greatly miss his intellect, wit, and kindness,” said Nancy Roberts, director of the university’s journalism program.
Forst is survived by his wife, Starr Ockenga. He was formerly married to food writer Gael Greene.