James O’Flaherty Jr
Class of 1895
James O’Flaherty Jr. was founder and publisher of the Bronx Home News, the borough’s only daily newspaper. He began the publication as a four-page weekly broadsheet, the Home News, in 1907 and built it into a daily with a circulation of more than 110,000 at his death in 1939. Just a few years earlier, the paper had gained world's attention for its role in efforts to solve the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case.
O’Flaherty’s success was ascribed in part to his introduction of local journalism into the metropolitan area and his use of country-newspaper approaches. He stressed the neighborhood angle, almost to a fault: the headline for the Bolshevist uprising of 1917 was “Bronx Man Leads Russian Revolution,” Leon Trotsky having been a resident of the borough.
He stimulated reader interest with personal items under the heading “Bokays and Brikbatz,” social notes on wedding anniversaries, bar mitzvahs and dances of cellar clubs, followed by “brikbatz” about almost everyone present. He increased circulation by another small-town method, the home-delivery system.
O’Flaherty launched the Home News from a wooden shack on Willis Avenue with a staff of four, backed financially by his father, an Irish immigrant who became wealthy after starting an advertising agency that catered to New York City's suburban dailies and a company that made printing mats for the ads of major department stores.
The Willis Avenue location was a print shop owned by the senior O’Flaherty. Then a bachelor, the younger O’Flaherty used the attic as his sleeping quarters. In 1912, he expanded the paper to a semi-weekly and two years later was printing three days a week. In 1917, he started editions for Harlem, Washington Heights and Yorkville. In 1922, he merged the four and began publishing daily. From the wooden shack the publication progressed in 1919 to a newspaper plant around the corner on 148th Street with modern Linotype machines, presses and a fleet of delivery trucks.
The paper was a journalistic stepping stone for many. O’Flaherty once remarked there was not one New York daily that did not have on its staff one or more graduates of his publication. And he played an important part in development of the Bronx and in obtaining needed civic improvements. He was an exponent of clean journalism and banned “scare headlines.” When he died, Mayor LaGuardia said it was “a distinct loss of a real, courageous and fair fighter for the public good.” The mayor said O’Flaherty “was one of the fine type of the old school of journalism. He always retained his fine sense of humor without losing any strength in any public issue in which he was interested.”
Following the kidnapping in 1932 of Charles A. Lindbergh Jr., toddling son of the famed aviator, the Home News broke the story of Bronx educator John F. Condon's role as intermediary between the kidnappers and Lindbergh, in an unsuccessful attempt negotiate a ransom for the return of the child, later found murdered.
O’Flaherty’s last will and testament left The Bronx Home News in the care of long-time executives along with his widow and two sisters. A dispute over control eventually forced the group to sell the paper in May 1945 to Dorothy Schiff, publisher of the New York Post. She recast the broadsheet Bronx Home News as a tabloid and published the paper until 1949, when it was folded into the New York Post as its Bronx Edition. As late as 1960, when Schiff suggested to Post executives they shut down the paper’s home-delivery system in the Bronx, she was reminded that the Bronx advertising and circulation – a system O’Flaherty had devised – was contributing mightily to the Post’s bottom line.