Former Union editor Somerville dead |

Former Union editor Somerville dead

Eureka Times-Standard Managing Editor Rich Somerville, known as a gifted conversationalist and passionate journalist, was found dead at his Trinidad home late Saturday night after being ill for several days. He was 61.

Somerville took over as the Times-Standard’s managing editor in September 2006, after serving as president and founder of Media Foresight Associates, a Nevada County-based newspaper consulting firm. Previous to his consulting work, Somerville was editor of The Union.

A career journalist, Somerville was editor of his high school newspaper in Des Moines, Iowa, at age 16 and spent more than 20 years at the Pulitzer Prize-winning Des Moines Register and its sister publication, the Des Moines Tribune.

In a career that took him from newsrooms in Sioux Falls, S.D., Honolulu, Hawaii, and Grass Valley, to academic pursuits at the University of Hawaii and the University of Missouri, Somerville was respected as a dedicated and innovative journalist.

“We here at the Times-Standard are shocked and saddened by this loss,” said Times-Standard City Editor Kimberly Wear. “He was a man who truly loved and lived for newspapers and the journalism profession.”

County Coroner Frank Jager said his death was “probably heart-related,” but that a conclusive cause of death would not be determined until today at the soonest. He was found in his home close to midnight Saturday by a co-worker who had gone to check on him.

With an advanced degree in Alternative Futures, Somerville spent years studying the interests and habits of newspaper readers, then extrapolating that information into forward-looking theories and applications. He was a futurist, always looking for ways to adapt daily newspapers to the changing times.

At the University of Missouri, Somerville worked in a program called “New Directions for News,” teaching classes and brainstorming with leaders from other industries. He also participated in the Readership Institute, a newspaper think-tank launched by Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

There he studied the details of reader behavior and newspaper management, looking for innovative ways to increase relevance and readership in the industry.

In his tenure at the Times-Standard, Somerville reached out to the community, inviting the public to join in on regular “Coffee with the editor and publisher” discussions along with Publisher Greg Stevens.

“Rich was a big man who leaves big shoes to fill at the Times-Standard,” Stevens said. “I really enjoyed working with him.”

His strongest professional strengths came in part from his broad experience in newsroom leadership positions at many newspaper operations over the course of his long career, Stevens said.

“Not only a gifted writer, (Somerville was) an engaging, inclusive conversationalist and natural verbal presenter,” Stevens said. “He would have made an excellent professor.”

Somerville’s time working for newspaper industry think-tanks and as a newsroom consultant afforded him invaluable perspective on the relationship between news events and content, writers and all-importantly, readers, he said.

“Unlike so many editors who fall prey to the temptation to produce a newspaper for themselves or newsroom staff, Rich always sought and paid special attention to feedback from our readership, striving always to produce a newspaper in sync with our communities’ preferences and needs to know,” said Stevens. “I’m going to miss Rich. And I know I am not alone.”

Somerville is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Gary and Margaret Somerville, his nieces Elizabeth and Malia, of Buffalo, New York, and his cousin Judy Weiker and her husband Ted, of San Mateo. A memorial service is being planned.

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