Monday, June 22, 2015

Carroll was 'generation's best, most respected, most beloved editor,' change agent and role model

By Al Cross
Director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Giants of journalism gathered and spoke in Lexington, Ky., today at the memorial service for John S. Carroll, who as editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, The Baltimore Sun and the Los Angeles Times made each paper greater and a winner of Pulitzer Prizes. But the most telling line at the historic First Presbyterian Church may have come from the pastor, the Rev. Mark Davis, who told the overflow crowd, "Journalism matters."

Carroll's career proved that, as witnessed by Norman Pearlstine, chief content officer of Time Inc. and his classmate at Haverford College in Philadelphia; Bill Marimow, former editor of the Sun and The Philadephia Inquirer and news vice president for National Public Radio; and New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, who was managing editor under Carroll in Los Angeles.

John Sawyer Carroll
"John was our generation's best, most respected, most beloved editor," said Pearlstine, who said there was a consistent theme of the tributes to Carroll on Caring Bridge: "You changed my life."

Marimow said he and Carroll talked every day from January 1973, when he went to work as an Inquirer reporter under Carroll in his first editing job, until Carroll left Baltimore for Los Angeles in 2000. "He was a superb and sensitive listener," Marimow said. "He saw the forest, clearly, when most of us were lost in the trees."

Baquet recalled how the L.A. Times newsroom, when Carroll arrived, was hurt and angry after being disrespected by its owners. "What followed over the next several years should stand as one of the finest acts of leadership in a newsroom or anywhere else in modern times," he said, adding later: "We came to believe we were the best newspaper in the world, and we had the prizes to prove it." Under Carroll, the paper won 13 Pulitzers.

"People who went to work for him came out different, with bigger, larger ideas and fewer limits, and with a belief in the power and honor of journalism that we were a part of something much larger," Baquet said. When he took over the New York Times newsroom, he told the staff that it could be run with humanity and respect, and "John was deep in my head and in my heart when I said that."

Davis's homily was based on the parable of the sower in Luke 8:4-15. "John Carroll sowed seeds, in communities across this country, and in the hearts and souls and lives of his family, his friends, his colleagues. So now the crop that John had planted, decade after decade after decade, is harvested . . . literally across the world."

Carroll died June 14 at the age of 73. His family has asked that memorial gifts be made to the News Literacy Project, which helps educators teach students how to separate fact from fiction, and which he once chaired; or to the scholarship named for him at Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Ky. The scholarship was created from prize money won by the "Cheating Our Children" series in the Herald-Leader that helped lead to landmark educational reforms in Kentucky.

UPDATE, June 30: Steve Wilson, who as editor of the old Lexington Leader was Carroll's competitor, writes in a tribute in The Paducah Sun, which he now edits, that "If you could construct the ideal editor, Carroll would be the model." The Sun is behind a paywall, but you can read it on our site here.

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