Sid Yudain, 90, Dies; Created Congress’s Community Newspaper
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: October 26, 2013
Sid Yudain, who created what he called a community newspaper — Roll Call — for what he called “the most important community in the world, probably” — Congress — died last Sunday at his home in Arlington, Va. He was 90.
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The cause was cancer, said his wife, Lael.
Mr. Yudain had scant experience as a professional journalist — he had been a reporter in Hollywood — when he arrived in Washington in 1951 to work as a press secretary for Representative Albert P. Morano, a freshman Republican from his home state, Connecticut. He quickly recognized, however, that senators, representatives and the people who worked for them had no convenient way of learning about one another. At a start-up cost of $90, he began publishing a slender weekly out of his Congressional office in 1955.
Roll Call quickly became a small-town bible, a chronicle of the benign activities of the locals, with need-to-know tidbits about births and deaths, retirements and weddings, personnel changes to Congressional staffs and pictures of elected officials on vacation proudly displaying the fish they had caught.
It covered more serious things as well — filibusters and changes in Senate rules and the manipulations behind committee assignments, for example — but rarely legislation, at least in the early years.
When Lyndon B. Johnson, then a senator from Texas, had a heart attack less than a month after Roll Call made its debut, he wrote in it about his recovery. Vice President Richard M. Nixon wrote an obituary for a favorite doorman.
Mr. Yudain described Roll Call as a hybrid: part local newspaper, part trade paper, part movie fan magazine, part New Yorker.
“One of the things we had that we got some criticism for was, we ran a Hill pinup every week,” Mr. Yudain recalled in a 2011 interview with Roll Call. “Regardless of the criticism, congressmen loved it. It was the first thing they looked at in the paper. A big change from looking at The Congressional Record and all the blah blah blah of speeches.”
Sidney Lawrence Yudain was born in New Canaan, Conn., on May 6, 1923, the seventh of eight children born to Morris Yudain and the former Berta Jaffe, who emigrated as newlyweds from Russia in 1907. His father owned a clothing store and later a real estate brokerage. The family had a journalistic bent.
“For some reason or other, we were all spirited kids, but we didn’t have real fights,” Mr. Yudain recalled in an interview with Roll Call in 2005. “When we got mad at each other, we published these newspapers. We had a little Remington portable typewriter — I guess it was one of the first ones that came out, and we all learned how to use it, even when we were really small — and we published these newspapers, writing editorials against each other instead of staging fists or rocks or something.”
Mr. Yudain, who never went to college, joined the Army after graduating from New Canaan High School. During World War II, he was stationed in Malibu, Calif., where he established a base newspaper. After the war he remained in Southern California, working as a Hollywood columnist for a Connecticut newspaper and writing freelance articles about movies and movie stars for fan magazines.
Mr. Yudain was a bachelor until age 50. He met Lael Bairstow, an aide to Senator William B. Saxbe, an Ohio Republican, in 1972 on a junket to Spain. They married in 1973. In addition to her, Mr. Yudain is survived by a son, Raymond; a daughter, Rachel Kuchinad; and three grandchildren.
Roll Call was published with a skeleton staff, and Mr. Yudain wrote much of the copy himself. His column “Sid-Bits” was the progenitor of the current, more corporate Roll Call gossip blog, “Heard on the Hill.”
In 1986, Mr. Yudain sold Roll Call to Arthur Levitt, then the chairman of the American Stock Exchange. Since 1992, the paper, with more robust coverage of legislative policy, has been owned by the Economist Group, which bought CQ (a k a Congressional Quarterly) as a companion publication in 2009.
Roll Call’s print edition is published four times a week and has a circulation of more than 22,000. The company says its Web site, rollcall.com, has 1.5 million unique visitors a month.
The neighborliness that Mr. Yudain encouraged, both in his work and in his personal dealings, had numerous side effects. The pianist and political humorist Mark Russell told The Washington Post he was discovered by Mr. Yudain when he was working at a Washington strip club. Mr. Yudain got him a job in a hotel lounge frequented by politicians and aides.
“He saw the Hill as a friendly neighborhood, and Roll Call was the neighborhood paper,” Mr. Russell told The Post.
But Mr. Yudain began to change his mind as the weather in Congress grew stormier and the members more careerist.
“During the 1950s and 1960s, it was an honor to serve your country,” he said to The New York Times in 1985. “Today, most of these people who come here are starting their careers. It’s a steppingstone to another job.”
Previously, he said, legislators “got by on their own — on their wits, their brains, their ability to charm an audience, mesmerize a rally.
“There wasn’t any TV, and they didn’t have a lot of staff people to tell them what to say,” he said. “They had to be raconteurs, thinkers, statesmen, showmen. Now a person only has to comb his hair the right way and say what someone has written for them.”