Donald S. Kellermann, who gained attention as a young Newsday...

Donald S. Kellermann, who gained attention as a young Newsday reporter by committing a crime so that he could report on life in jail, then went on to help start an influential public opinion research organization, died Nov. 10 of liver cancer, in Washington, D.C. He was 83. Newsday's obituary for Donald S. Kellermann
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On the eve of Valentine's Day 1952, Donald Simon Kellermann wrote in a first-person newspaper story, he kissed his wife goodbye, took a last look at his newborn baby and strolled out the door.

Kellermann said he headed to Riverhead that day to break into a tavern, and he wanted to get caught.

The Brooklyn-born Kellermann - a Newsday police reporter who would go on to become a vice president at Times Mirror Co. and founding member of the company's Center for People and the Press - planned to shed his identity that day, get arrested and sent to Suffolk County jail so he could document life behind prison walls. It worked, and the new father spent 42 days incarcerated.

The undercover tactic, which was not so unusual in that era of journalism, led to a series, "Assignment Jailbird." It detailed mistreatment, jail fights, drug buys and poor conditions.

"A guard threw a torn gray Army blanket at me along with a single cotton sheet. As I walked upstairs with door after door shuddering shut in back of me I felt further and further away from the world I knew as Don Kellermann," the reporter wrote.

Kellermann died Nov. 10 of liver cancer, in Washington, D.C. He was 83.

Kellermann grew up in Valley Stream. He and his family lived in Levittown and Farmingdale before moving to Manhattan when their kids left for college. During his career, he served as a print, radio and television journalist, television producer, documentary filmmaker, campaign manager and chief of staff to Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.). With Javits, he co-authored the 1973 book "Who Makes War." He spent 11 years at CBS as a producer and later was director of cultural programming for National Education Television, a predecessor to PBS.

Then he cofounded the Times Mirror Center for People and the Press, a public opinion research center that later became the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press after the news company cut funding. The center provided real-time studies about the press, politics and people's perceptions.

"There was really nothing quite like that," said Pew president Andrew Kohut, founding researcher of the center. "He was just a man who had great vision."

Kellermann's career centered on public policy and public service, which is how he thought of journalism, said his daughter Carol Kellermann, 59. "He tried to see what was coming, embrace it and get out ahead," she said.

His undercover series, which like many of his other stories ran under a byline that dropped the second "n" in his surname, was published in October 1952 and led to an investigation into the Suffolk County jails.

The articles were thought to be the first independent reporting about life behind bars by someone who actually offered to become a criminal, according to an introduction to the series in Newsday.

"It reformed some of their practices and some of their vigilance," said friend and fellow journalist Richard "Dick" Aurelio, 82, of Oyster Bay. "It took a lot of courage for him to do what he did, to pretend, while he was in jail, to be a thug."

Few in the newsroom knew of Kellermann's plans to go undercover, said Aurelio, who would later serve as Newsday's news editor. "Don was a guy who put it all on the line to get the story out," Kohut said.

As for his court case, the judge dismissed it because Kellermann had no actual intent to commit a crime.

He is survived by wife, Joan, of Washington, D.C.; daughters Carol, of Manhattan, and Lynn, of Boston; a sister, Claire Kemper, of Los Angeles; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 12.

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