ST. GEORGE — Former Deseret News editor and publisher Mark E. Petersen, one of the pre-eminent newsmen of the West during the 20th century, was inducted into the Utah Newspaper Hall of Fame during meetings Saturday of the Utah Press Association.
The honor is somewhat ironic, for Petersen often wrote anonymously during his 60-year career, telling friends "the thrill is in the story, not the byline."
Besides penning thousands of editorials in the newspaper's Church News and reporting and editing countless news stories, Petersen wrote and co-wrote 43 books. In directing the Salt Lake daily during the 1940s, '50s and '60s, he built the News' staff and doubled the paper's circulation.
Petersen, who passed away in 1984, was also a long-time and well-known member of the Quorum of the Twelve for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Born in Salt Lake City on Nov. 7, 1900, Petersen attended West High School and the University of Utah and served an LDS mission in Nova Scotia.
His love of writing grew while serving his mission. He landed a position writing weekly articles for a New Glasgow paper and for other Nova Scotia publications. Petersen was hired as a cub reporter for the Deseret News in 1923 and became a full-time reporter in 1925 — earning $90 a month. A few years later, he was appointed news editor.
For Petersen, both news and writing were passions. According to one story, to stay atop breaking news he purchased a red Chevrolet and asked city officials if he could mount a siren on top of it to move through traffic faster. His request was denied.
After brief stints at the Cincinnati Enquirer, New York Sun and Christian Science Monitor, Petersen returned to the Deseret News, where he became general manager in 1934. In 1941, he became managing editor, directing the news operations, but no word of the appointment was ever made in the paper. In fact, Petersen told his staff he did not want his name or face to appear anywhere in the paper.
As managing editor, Petersen pushed reporters to improve news coverage, attain greater accuracy and write better headlines while making the financial stability of the paper a high priority.
The production of "extras" during an era of notable news events became one of Petersen's trademarks.
He was named head of the Deseret News as publisher in 1946 and subsequently made the newspaper a seven-day publication by issuing the first Sunday edition in 1948.
To help the paper's bottom line, he entered into a joint operating agreement with the Salt Lake Tribune in 1952, and the Newspaper Agency Corp. was created. Petersen was vice president of the NAC until his retirement in 1971.
His day-to-day supervision of the paper ended in 1950 when he was appointed president and chairman of the board of Deseret News Publishing Co.
After his retirement, Petersen remained active with an exhaustive schedule from his church calling, which took him around the world before his death on Jan. 11, 1984.
Today the newspaper continues to honor his memory and impact, annually presenting its top in-house honors, the Mark E. Petersen Awards, to the finest writers and reporters at the Deseret News.