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Scott Shuger, 50; Internet Journalism Pioneer, Columnist for MSN's Slate

June 18, 2002|JON THURBER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Scott Shuger, an influential figure in online journalism as the first writer and editor of the "Today's Papers" column for Microsoft's online newsmagazine Slate, has died. He was 50.

An experienced scuba diver, Shuger died Saturday in the ocean off the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Details of the accident were sketchy, and the cause of his death will be determined by an autopsy.

Begun by Shuger in 1997, the "Today's Papers" column offers summaries and critiques of the major news stories in the five leading American newspapers: the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.

Shuger's column was sent out to leading figures in American journalism and politics who were interested in tracking the performance of the print media and had a wide following.

"It became for many people indispensable in their lives," said Larry Pryor, a professor of Journalism at USC's Annenberg School for Communication. "His newsletter raised issues and problems in coverage that even experienced newspeople don't automatically think of. It helped me to think about how the news is playing out."

Born in Baltimore, Shuger earned a bachelor's degree at Carleton College in Minnesota and a doctorate in philosophy at Vanderbilt University.

After earning his doctorate, he joined the Navy and was in naval intelligence from 1978 to 1983.

In an interview with Michele Botwin for the Annenberg School of Communication's Online Journalism Review, Shuger said that even though he never worked for a newspaper, his Navy career gave him a strong background in reporting.

"One of the things that's great about the Navy is that there's a tremendous emphasis on accurate information, quickly," he said. "I worked on admiral staffs where pretty high-powered people wanted stuff 'now,' and I had to get it from people who weren't necessarily happy to give it to me."

After leaving the Navy, Shuger found work as an editor and writer with the Washington Monthly from 1989 to 1991.

When his wife took a professorship in medieval studies at UCLA, Shuger left the Washington Monthly and found work as a freelance writer and producer developing stories for ABC News.

His introduction to online journalism was as a book reviewer for Amazon.com in the mid-1990s. He went to work for Slate in 1997.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Shuger was reassigned to new duties covering the war on terrorism with a column called "War Stories," which brought his naval intelligence background into play.

"He was a pioneer in the fact that he created an audience of regular readers turning to his column online as a news source," said Botwin, who is now an editor at the Los Angeles Times' Web site.

Shuger is survived by his wife, Debra; a daughter, Dale, a Harvard University graduate who is now a graduate student at New York University; his parents, Sewell and Virginia Shuger of Baltimore; and two sisters, Nancy of Baltimore and Lisa Shuger Hublitz of McLean, Va.

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