Lou Schwartz, who rose to executive editor of Newsday as he helped shape it through its years of greatest growth, died Saturday in hospice care in an assisted living home on Merritt Island, Florida.
He was 86 and had been in failing health for several years, said his son David, of Astoria, Queens.
Schwartz’s focus at Newsday was in so-called soft news: features, entertainment, arts and culture, where his ability to foster strong writing and lively presentation helped launch both the paper’s Part II feature section in 1970 and, in 1972, the paper’s new Sunday edition.
“By temperament and talent he brought a magazine sensibility to a daily newspaper,” said Howard Schneider, former editor of Newsday and founding dean of the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University. “He was easygoing, fun to be around, but he always realized compelling feature stories, and coverage of arts, entertainment and culture could have as much impact on our readers as so-called hard news.”
When the Part II section was proposed by then-executive editor David Laventhol, who became editor and publisher, “Lou Schwartz took that idea and turned it into a real daily magazine,” Schneider said. ‘‘It was a very classy sophisticated daily magazine and we produced it every day.”
Schwartz arrived at Newsday in 1957 as a reporter and quickly rose through the ranks. He was feature editor, entertainment editor, and editor of the Saturday magazine, Weekend with Newsday. In 1966, he won the University of Missouri’s $1,000 Penney Award as editor of the best women’s pages in the country.
Four years later, he was named assistant managing editor for features, then managing editor for special sections, sole managing editor eight years later and, in 1981, executive editor when he oversaw New York Newsday, which closed in 1995.
Schwartz left Newsday in 1985 to become president of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.
“We had both come up through the glory days of Newsday and he was a consummate newspaper man,” said Anthony Insolia, who arrived at Newsday two years before Schwartz, and retired as editor in 1987.
When Insolia arrived at Newsday in 1955, its circulation was 236,532. When Schwartz left Newsday in 1985, the paper was selling 549,052 copies daily, 616,440 on Sunday.
While at Newsday, Schwartz chipped in with eight fellow Newsday writers and a literary agent to start a racing stable they called Qwert, for the first five letters of a typewriter’s top row of letters. Their horse ran a few times in New York and Massachusetts, David said, noting his father was a horse racing fan.
“He was a very human guy,” said Harvey Aronson, professor of narrative journalism at Stony Brook and a longtime writer and editor at Newsday. “He was aggressive, but he was charming, very funny.”
Schwartz and his twin, Paul, of Sunnyvale, California, were born in January 1932 in Manhattan to Beatrice and Harry Schwartz, who soon moved the family to upstate Poughkeepsie. There, Harry Schwartz owned an Ace Auto supplies store, said David.
At age 5, Lou Schwartz was editor of his day camp paper. He edited his high school paper, then the Daily Orange at Syracuse University’s School of Journalism, from which he graduated in 1953.
After college, he served four years as a Navy officer on the destroyer USS The Sullivans.
In 1990, he left the Los Angeles Times Syndicate after five years “to pursue every journalist’s dream’’ when he became co-owner and co-publisher of a startup weekly newspaper, the Keystone Gazette, in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, according to Jean Patman, Schwartz’s second wife, with whom he ran the paper. They divorced later. The Keystone Gazette failed during the early 1990s recession.
Schwartz retired soon afterward to Merritt Island, where he took up photography, sailing and golf and edited a newsletter for a local jazz society. “He was a big supporter of the Space Coast Jazz Society, and they have a scholarship fund,” David said.
Schwartz also is survived by wife Sandra Schwartz, of Merritt Island; and daughter Jill Schwartz, of Washington, D.C. Jill and her brother David are the children of Schwartz and his first wife Stella, from whom he was divorced.
He is also survived by two grandchildren. An older brother, Stanley, predeceased him.
Schwartz’s remains were cremated. A memorial observance is planned for the summer at one of his favorite spots from his days at Newsday, Manducatis restaurant on Jackson Avenue in Long Island City, Queens, his son said.
Donations to the scholarship fund may be made in Lou Schwartz’s name at spacecoastjazzsociety.org/scholarships.