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C. David Burgin, editor often brought in to save troubled newspapers, dies at 75

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HOUSTON - C. David Burgin, a longtime editor who gained a reputation as a troubleshooter for fading newspapers, died Monday at his home in Houston after a lengthy illness. He was 75.

Burgin died of the effects of four serious strokes he had suffered since 1997, said his wife, Judy Burgin.

Burgin had served as editor-in-chief of seven U.S. daily newspapers, starting with New Jersey's Paterson News in 1977.

His first top management jobs came at The Washington Star, where he rose through the ranks of sports editor and city editor to assistant managing editor and hired such young talent as future New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and sportswriter Ira Berkow. He talked two Washington bartenders, future Boston Globe business writer Chris Reidy and future Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Daley, into trying newspaper work.

After getting his first assignment of running a newspaper in 1977, as editor-in-chief of the Paterson News in New Jersey, The Tribune Co. hired him a year later to merge two of its San Francisco Bay area dailies into the Peninsula Times Tribune, then later sent him to improve and expand the Orlando Sentinel.

In 1985, Hearst Newspapers hired Burgin to revive the fading fortunes of its flagship San Francisco Examiner. In a 1996 profile published in the alternative publication SF Weekly, Burgin said he was fired seven months later after spurning an invitation to meet with the Hearst Corp. board.

After doing consulting work for a year, Burgin took the offer of former Washington Star colleague William Dean Singleton to be editor-in-chief of the Dallas Times Herald, which Singleton had just bought from the Times Mirror Corp. From 1986 to 1990, Burgin worked to try to save two Singleton dailies from extinction, running the Dallas daily for two years before the owner of its crosstown rival, The Dallas Morning News, bought and folded it.

Singleton took the proceeds to buy The Houston Post, another struggling No. 2 newspaper in its market, and hired Burgin as its editor-in-chief for the next two years. In 1990, Singleton hired Burgin to run a newspaper group he had just bought in the San Francisco Bay area. Singleton sold the Post in 1995 to its dominant crosstown rival, the Houston Chronicle, which folded the Post.

Burgin began to acquire a reputation for trying to revive fading and dying newspapers, having been associated with so many of them, Judy Burgin said.

"He was brought in when there was trouble. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it was too late," she said.

He remained as editor and vice-president of the Alameda Newspaper Group — which included such newspapers as the Oakland Tribune and later became part of the Bay Area News Group — until 1997 when he suffered the first of a series of four serious strokes.

But convalescing easily bored him, his wife said, so he took over a book publisher, Woodford Publishing, and in 2000 rejoined the no-longer-Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He was fired a year later. His health continued to deteriorate, but he never lost his penchant for ideas for an increasingly struggling newspaper industry, Judy Burgin said.

"It was heartbreaking to him what was happening. He had ideas for how to fix it, but he was too sick to act on them," she said.

A memorial is tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, June 22, at the Houston Country Club.

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