AP Chief Stayed Arkansan to the End

In journalism circles in Arkansas and far beyond, Robert Shaw wasn’t the movie star of “Jaws,” “The Sting” and “A Man for All Seasons.”

Instead, he was a reporter, Associated Press correspondent and bureau chief who began and ended his long career in Little Rock. This Robert Shaw died last month in a Dallas suburb, surrounded by his family, the AP reported. He was 79.

A Conway native and graduate of what is now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Shaw covered air crashes, tornadoes, politics and an early notable mass shooting in 40-plus years at AP. He was meticulously accurate and left no stone unturned, colleagues recalled, but was also an unassuming and perceptive bureau boss with an astute eye for talent.

“He was very competent at his job, did it calmly, did it without fanfare, and was widely respected both within the staff and outside the staff, among the members,” former AP President Lou Boccardi said. Boccardi, 94, was CEO of the wire service until his retirement in 2003.

A typical picture of Shaw in action shows him, mustachioed and bespectacled, at the Paragould Daily Press in 2001, demonstrating something technical to Daily Press Editor Richard Brummett, also mustachioed and bespectacled.

Shaw started as a reporter at the Arkansas Gazette and joined the AP in St. Louis in 1965. He joined the Little Rock bureau the following year, and after numerous postings elsewhere retired as the Little Rock Bureau chief in 2007.

He led important bureaus in Oklahoma City and Indianapolis, but remained an inner Arkansan through it all, keeping up with news, politics and nuances of his home state even in his new homes, said colleague Kelly P. Kissel.

Kissel, a 20-year AP news editor in Little Rock, left the wire service three years ago to become metropolitan editor of his hometown paper, The Advocate of Baton Rouge. It was his dream job, about the only thing that could have pried him away from AP.

“I was Robert’s longest-serving news editor, almost 10½ years,” Kissel said in a phone call. “Our initial collaboration occurred well before he arrived in Little Rock, however.”

In fact, the unseen hand of Robert Shaw had helped shape Kissel’s career long before the two men actually met.

We’ll let Kissel pick up the story:

“In 1987, sight unseen, [Shaw] asked that I cover Oklahoma State’s appearance in the Sun Bowl, reaching out to the West Virginia bureau chief and asking whether the sports writer covering the Mountaineers could also cover his team… . I thought nothing more about it when the assignment was done.”

Then in 1990, Shaw brought up Kissel’s name to Philadelphia AP Bureau Chief George Zucker, who had an opening for a correspondent in State College, home of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

“A few days later I was on my way to Pennsylvania,” Kissel recalled in an email. “Robert and I finally met after Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996 and Robert’s 1997 start as bureau chief in Little Rock, where I had been news editor since 1994. At our first official meeting, I offered to resign, move to the Little Rock staff, or transfer to another bureau so he could bring his own newsroom leader.”

Shaw was having none of it, and the two were a team until Shaw’s retirement.

“The influence Robert Shaw had on my journalism career, at The Associated Press and now beyond, is beyond measure.”

What was his secret?

“I think you’ve got to be a good person to be a truly good journalist,” Kissel said. “You have to want to inform people, want to entertain, want to educate.”

Now that doesn’t mean some journalists aren’t jerks, he said. “But the good ones desire to do the things that make the world and the country and the state and the city a better place to live.”

The humanity that made Shaw a good person and a good journalist also made him a great guy to work for, Kissel said. “I think it is a natural outgrowth of that. Robert listened to people, and he operated from a sense that people want and need to be informed about the world around them.”