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Richard C. Wald, TV news executive at NBC and ABC, dies at 92

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Richard C. Wald, a longtime newspaper and television executive who was president of NBC News in the 1970s, helped create ABC’s “Nightline” and was instrumental in making ABC’s “World News Tonight” — the country’s most-watched evening newscast — died May 13 at a hospital in New Rochelle, N.Y. He was 92.

The cause was complications from a stroke, said his son Jonathan Wald, a longtime television news executive and producer.

Mr. Wald began his career as a reporter at the old New York Herald Tribune, a fabled newspaper known for its stylish writing and international coverage, and became its final managing editor before the paper closed in 1966. After brief stints at The Washington Post, where he was an assistant managing editor, and the short-lived New York World Journal Tribune, Mr. Wald joined NBC News in 1967.

Despite spending more than three decades in broadcasting, he considered himself a newspaperman at heart.

“I didn’t leave newspapers,” he said. “Newspapers left me.”

Mr. Wald was named president of NBC News in 1973 and supervised the network’s coverage of the Watergate investigation, the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon and the final years of the Vietnam War. At NBC, he revamped the “Today” show, selecting Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley as co-hosts in 1976.

After clashing with the network’s corporate bosses, Mr. Wald resigned in 1977. The next year, he joined ABC News as its second-ranking executive after Roone Arledge, his college roommate. At the time, ABC’s evening newscasts ranked third among the three major networks, prompting Mr. Wald to quip, “They would have been fourth, but there were only three.”

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When U.S. hostages were seized in Iran in 1979, ABC began special nightly coverage, led by Ted Koppel. The broadcasts were so well received that in 1980 the network launched a new late-night news program, which Mr. Wald called “Nightline” — a name derived from the “morning line” betting odds in horse racing.

Mr. Wald hired many journalists for ABC News, including former NBC anchor David Brinkley, who began a 15-year run in 1981 with a new program, “This Week With David Brinkley.” It soon became the top-rated Sunday morning news show.

In 1983, Peter Jennings was named anchor of “World News Tonight” and, over the next few years, made it the country’s No. 1 evening news program.

“This is an overnight success that took 10 years,” Mr. Wald said in 1988.

In 1993, Mr. Wald was put in charge of monitoring the standards and ethics of the network’s newscasts. Dubbed the “ethics czar,” he reviewed scripts and videotape, sometimes minutes before airtime.

“In my position,” he said, “you get all of the blame when things go wrong and none of the praise when things go right.”

When Mr. Wald retired from ABC in 1999, Arledge summed up his contributions to the news division: “Back then we needed credibility, and we needed stature at ABC News, and that’s what Dick brought.”

Richard Charles Wald was born March 19, 1930, in Manhattan. His father owned a dressmaking business, and his mother was a homemaker.

Mr. Wald was a 1952 graduate of Columbia University. He worked for the campus newspaper, the Spectator, and began contributing to the Herald Tribune as a student. He shared an off-campus apartment with three classmates who also became major figures in journalism: Arledge, Max Frankel, the future executive editor of the New York Times, and Lawrence K. Grossman, who later was president of PBS and NBC News.

After Columbia, Mr. Wald spent two years studying literature at England’s University of Cambridge, from which he received a master’s degree.

He joined the Herald Tribune as a reporter, worked as a foreign correspondent in England, Germany and Africa, then returned to New York, where he became the Herald Tribune’s city editor. He was named managing editor in his mid-30s, leading a staff that included writers Jimmy Breslin, Gail Sheehy and Tom Wolfe.

“Wald’s undeniable gifts as a writer and thinker tagged him as a comer,” Richard Kluger wrote in “The Paper,” a 1986 history of the Herald Tribune. The paper’s top editor, Jim Bellows, “found in him a man of calm and reliable news judgment, an excellent liaison with the Washington bureau, and a crack writer who could be thrown into the breach whenever something really important had to be composed.”

The Herald Tribune never recovered from a four-month strike in 1962 and 1963 and struggled for three years before finally closing.

“It may not have been a world-shaking enterprise,” Mr. Wald told Kluger for his book, “but it was pretty darned good paper, and to those of us who were living inside that bubble, it had a special kind of glory.”

Mr. Wald, who lived in Larchmont, N.Y., was married for 67 years to the former Edith Leslie, who died in December. In addition to Jonathan Wald, a former executive with NBC and MSNBC of New York City, survivors include two other children, Matthew L. Wald, a former New York Times reporter of the Montgomery County community of Friendship Heights, Md., and Elizabeth T. Wald, a lawyer of Golden, Colo.; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

From 1999 to 2018, Mr. Wald taught at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, often leading classes with his son Jonathan. He was chairman of the board of the Spectator and was also a board member of several groups presenting journalism awards, including the Pulitzer Prizes, the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards and Peabody Awards.

After the Herald Tribune was shuttered in 1966, Mr. Wald and Bellows, the paper’s final top editor, were alone in the empty newsroom.

“We stepped around the battered furniture that would soon be under the auctioneer’s gavel,” Bellows wrote in his memoir, “The Last Editor,” “and spent a few minutes improvising a game of baseball. Dick pitched, I hit. My bat was a 20-inch cardboard tube from the inside of a paper roll. The balls were wadded up newsprint. As usual, I swung for the fences. I think I hit three desks.”

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