Mr. Naughton’s career spanned the most influential era of the modern newspaper in American society. He was both a player and an observer during that period, from his days as a young reporter covering the Watergate scandal to his leadership at the Inquirer to his career-capping tenure as president of the Poynter Institute, the influential Florida journalism organization.
Mr. Naughton made perhaps his greatest impact as a journalist at the Inquirer. He was in charge of news-gathering when the newspaper won Pulitzer Prizes for stories that helped free a man wrongly convicted of murder, exposed corruption in the Philadelphia court system and highlighted ineptitude by the Internal Revenue Service. He edited and nurtured writers including Richard Ben Cramer, Mark Bowden and Buzz Bissinger.
“In many respects, he was the very soul of the paper,” Gene Roberts, the newspaper’s former executive editor, said in an interview. “It would be impossible to overestimate his contributions, and he was an absolute delight to work with — upbeat, mischievous and with extremely high standards and ambition for the paper.”
For all of his accomplishments as a reporter, writer, editor and thinker, Mr. Naughton reveled in his reputation as a joker. His exploits were many, but the best known of them happened during the 1976 presidential race between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Discouraged by the lack of news during the campaign, Mr. Naughton showed up at a Ford news conference wearing a chicken head. He was egged on by Ford’s chief of staff, a young Dick Cheney, who told Mr. Naughton to ask the president a question “or you’re a chicken.”
Mr. Naughton had planned to say, “Mr. President, your campaign puts me in a fowl mood.” Although he never used the line, several members of the press corps lifted him onto their shoulders. The scene was featured on the next morning’s “Today Show” and “CBS Morning News,” and NBC’s Tom Brokaw recounted the episode years later at Ford’s memorial service. The chicken head now resides at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.
During the same campaign, Mr. Naughton arranged for a sheep to be delivered to the hotel room of Newsweek correspondent Thomas DeFrank, an “Aggie,” as graduates of Texas A&M are known. The animal was intended to make the reporter feel at home on the road, as recounted in Stephen Bates’s book “If No News, Send Rumors.”
On his expense report, Mr. Naughton charged the New York Times five dollars for “ewe rental.” The newspaper reimbursed him in full.
Such pranks were a hallmark of Mr. Naughton’s philosophy — that great journalism should be a service to society but also a creative enterprise.
“I did my part, mostly through tomfoolery-by-example, to provoke giggles,” he wrote in a 2011 memoir, “and I want to spread the gospel of workplace fun before the efficiency experts have been allowed to squeeze the joy out of work everywhere.”