Robert Joseph “Bob” Dowling, the publisher and editor in chief of the Hollywood Reporter for 17 years who helped transition entertainment trade journalism into the digital age, died Dec. 30 in Santa Monica following a short illness. He was 83.

Dowling began his career in magazine publishing during his 20s, becoming editor and publisher of a variety of publications, including American Druggist, High-Tech Marketing, Menswear and Sports Marketing News. He joined the Hollywood Reporter in 1988 as president before being named publisher and editor-in-chief. He moved his family from Westport, Conn. to Los Angeles to take the position despite having no experience in entertainment or any understanding of how the business worked.

Throwing himself into the job with energy and humility, Dowling took more than 300 meetings with the leaders of the film, television, music and live entertainment industries in his first year on the job, educating himself about each realm from the inside. A series of innovations, special editions and events spearheaded by Dowling — including a major ramping up of international coverage — led the Reporter into close competition with Variety throughout his time with the publication.

Dowling also pushed to create an online presence for the Reporter in 1995 with the creation of THR.com. Dowling also oversaw the publishing of a special issue on Sept. 12, 2001 following the 9/11 attacks, when editors produced a 16-page, ad-free paper during the heat of the subsequent national chaos and fallout. 

Born on Long Island on Sept. 16, 1939, Dowling was given up by his birth mother and spent his first three years in a series of foster homes before his final adoption. Dowling met his wife, Juanita Rich, in 1965, and together they raised three sons.

Dowling was well-liked by THR staffers during his tenure. He revamped and expanded the editorial operation, adding reporters and pushing the newspaper to deliver more substantial journalism. He presided over THR’s successful year-long 75th anniversary celebration in 2005.

A low note for Dowling came in 2001 when THR’s longtime gossip columnist, George Christy, became wrapped up in scandal and a Screen Actors Guild investigation. The issue stemmed from allegations that Christy used his industry connections with producers to be credited for work in small movie roles in order to qualify for SAG health care coverage. There were other unflattering revelations about how Christy, who died in 2020, operated behind the scenes that eventually led to his ouster and the end of his photo-filled “The Great Life” column that ran twice a week on the inside backpage when THR was still a Monday-Friday daily publication.

Dowling is survived by wife Juanita, three children Rob, Michael and Matthew and seven grandchildren, PJ, Larissa, Lena, Devan, Ella, Miles and Radley.

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