SAN JOSE, Sept. 10, 2001 - Knight Ridder today announced 14 winners (including three teams) in its fifteenth annual James K. Batten Excellence Awards competition, designed to recognize and celebrate the successes of Knight Ridder people.
The winners will be honored at a special dinner hosted by Chairman and CEO Tony Ridder on Oct. 22 in San Jose. The winners will receive stock options and a total of $35,000 in prize money.
The top prize, the John S. Knight Gold Medal, was awarded to Bob McGruder, executive editor of the Detroit Free Press, for his strength of leadership at the newspaper over years that included times of unusual stress and strife, and for the wide-reaching impact of his efforts to promote diversity in journalism.
Knight Ridder Chairman and CEO Tony Ridder said: “When the judges started reading about Bob McGruder this year, they encountered a lot of words and phrases like ‘focus ... commitment to values ... graceful composure ... helping others grow ... commitment to diversity ... great journalism.’ Bob is all of these things: a professional who is able to focus himself and others even amid the instability of a pending JOA or a strike in progress; a journalist who cares deeply about both the big picture and the small flourishes; a leader who helps others to succeed by listening and suggesting; and a champion of diversity both within and beyond his own newspaper. Bob is one of Knight Ridder’s treasures. It is a privilege to honor him now with this highest award we have to bestow.”
McGruder arrived at the Free Press during the years leading up to a joint operating agreement with Gannett’s Detroit News. The Free Press had been labeled the “failing newspaper” in that petition, and morale was sometimes low. One editor recalled that McGruder would “quietly remind us that we must concentrate on our primary missions of producing great journalism and treating people fairly…. If we stayed focused, we could uphold the Free Press values and produce great journalism for readers.” It was the kind of message that would help the newsroom again in the months of rebuilding after a strike against the two newspapers several years later.
McGruder is also widely known for his work in promoting newsroom diversity. One former colleague wrote, “He came up in this business when African-Americans had to prove they belonged. Racism was a much more naked reality. There were incidents…. Bob could have easily given up and become bitter. Instead, his trials stiffened his resolve.”
Another editor recalled a speech McGruder gave to the Associated Press Managing Editors convention in 1996. One key to connecting to readers, he said, “is the ability to understand, respect and learn from diversity. Too many of us area hobbled by our inability to deal with difference….. We talk about the need to connect with communities, but the theory break down when we start to unfairly judge communities or people, when we fail to respect the differences and strengths of communities or people, when we fail to help communities or people connect with each other.”
McGruder has worked tireless for increased diversity within Knight Ridder. He led a task force in 1999 that compiled a diverse list of journalists for the company to pursue for top editing posts. Several of those people now work for Knight Ridder. He was the principal author of a report that described the company’s diversity challenges and made recommendations for fixing them. His voice is valued.
The jury said, “Bob is an extraordinary editor, as testified to by many people who have worked with him. He showed great leadership after the Detroit strike, pulling his newsroom together by focusing on producing a top-quality newspaper. He’s been a leader in the industry, as well as at the Free Press. The scope of his work has affected so many talented people.
“He exemplifies everything we hope a person would be in this business: a strong leader, a good editor, a fine human being and a great role model.”
Stephanie Donnis, major accounts representative for The Charlotte Observer, won the Customer Commitment award for providing “standard-setting” levels of service - and ideas her colleagues can benefit from. Among her initiatives is a monthly “power package” of updated marketing information, competitive linage and copies of news articles specific to each business and the market that she sends to all her accounts.
Donnis has been named Salesperson of the Year four times in her 17 years with The Observer. She was singled out by one client for an award of its own: the Dayton Hudson Corporation Media Outstanding Service Award in 1997. Target executives said she “serves as our eyes and ears in the marketplace… she is able to walk that fine line of being in close contact without being a nuisance.”
Donnis demonstrates daily that she takes a personal interest in the advertiser’s business and wants to partner with them.
“Her work is clearly appreciated by her customers - and she handles big, sophisticated accounts,” the Excellence jury said. “She’s an industry pacesetter - her ‘power packages’ are an idea that can be used by others. We are also impressed with the consistency of her efforts over an extended period of time.”
Claudia Schmitt, single copy operations coordinator for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, won the Community Service award for her steadfast commitment to helping those in need, quietly and reliably year-round.
Schmitt’s job requires long and varying hours, including nights and weekends. She attends college part-time. She also makes time to volunteer with a long list of organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Contact and the House of Time, a halfway house for women given a last chance before serving prison terms.
But that just scratches the surface. Schmitt spends countless hours mentoring women and teens trying to turn their lives around. She recently bought and renovated a house for use by women and teens who have just completed assistance programs.
Her efforts, her colleagues point out, go on all year, not just at holiday time, when many think to extend a hand.
The jury said, “Her direct volunteer work with women in need is impressive. She is indeed a Good Samaritan. She has a difficult job that requires her to work all kinds of hours, and she’s going to school, and to somehow be able to do all these other things is inspiring.”
Javier Aldape, publisher of La Estrella, a twice-weekly Spanish-language newspaper published by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, won the Diversity award for his broad impact throughout the newspaper.
As publisher of La Estrella, Aldape has been actively involved in the community on behalf of the Star-Telegram. Under his direction, La Estrella has developed an independent voice, and has successfully expanded its circulation area into Dallas County.
But Aldape has been influential throughout the Star-Telegram, as well. He has been a champion of developing Spanish-language talent throughout both newsrooms, helping the English-language newspaper better serve its diversifying community. He regularly offers specific suggestions about coverage.
Aldape serves on the corporate diversity team and is involved with recruiting and with minority journalists’ associations. This year, Aldape was editor of Latinos in the U.S.: A Resource Guide for Journalists, a joint publication by Knight Ridder and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
“Javier’s efforts help the Star-Telegram be a truly multicultural workplace,” the jury said. “He’s doing a great job in making the company more diverse. He has encouraged non-Spanish-speakers to learn the language, making them more aware of and able to cover the community.
“He’s a strong advocate for La Estrella throughout the newspaper and in the community. And he’s carried over the things he’s learned with La Estrella to the entire Star-Telegram, in his work with recruiting and internships. This is the new frontier in diversity efforts: how newspapers report on their communities, what products they offer and where they circulate - and Javier is involved in all of these things.”
Marty Merzer, senior writer for The Miami Herald, won the Journalism Excellence award for the style, ingenuity and clarity of his reporting and writing in more than 20 years with the newspaper.
Merzer’s editor says, “If Armageddon breaks out, Marty’s the guy I’d send out with a cell phone and a laptop, knowing full well that he’d have the story done by deadline and written with the elegance of Hemingway (or close to it.) He seems to be on call seven days a week and his interests span everything from national politics to NASA space shots, with room to churn out obits of recently deceased movie stars in between.”
Merzer is known as the consummate “big story” writer. He can find, report and write complicated pieces on his own, and he is masterful at anchoring big breaking news, rewriting and refining continuously through multiple edition deadlines as the story evolves. Some of his biggest efforts recalled by his colleagues include the 2000 presidential elections (when he sometimes stayed at a nearby hotel rather than risk being 45 minutes away at home if a development broke during the vote recount), Clinton’s White House victory, Hurricane Andrew, the ValuJet crash in the Everglades and the explosion of the shuttle Challenger.
First hired as a business writer, Merzer later spent several years in the Mideast, covering conflict and struggling to make sense of it all for readers in South Florida. His Viewpoint pieces captured the people and the flavor of the region, just as his news pieces detailed the actions.
“He’s a wonderful writer and a great reporter. He can do the job on all the big stories,” the jury said. “Readers come to the newspaper to be educated, to be informed and enlightened, and he does that. He’s an absolutely extraordinary reporter, and he has been for years and years.”
Les Weatherford, assistant copy chief for The Kansas City Star, won the first ever Behind-the-Scenes Journalism Excellence award, designed to recognize the achievements of those who labor behind the scenes in the newsroom, without bylines or credit lines.
Weatherford was honored for his contributions in three areas critically important to a successful newspaper: training, accuracy and utility. He has been a wonderful resource for younger copy editors, as well as his more experienced colleagues.
He initiated a monthly teaching program for the copy desk focusing on the basics of editing, headline writing and caption writing. He also helped establish verification standards for the newspaper. The results are in: Factual errors in the newspaper have been reduced.
He also is the resident champion for making the newspaper more useful to readers, reminding the desk to create more “help” boxes and other reader aids.
The jury said, “Les keeps a quality focus - he’s a demon for accuracy. The verification standards manual can and should be used everywhere. We always talk in the newsroom about needing these kinds of things, and he went out and did it. He has taken on a teaching role that is extremely beneficial to his colleagues.“
David Sharp, publisher of Marketplace Advertising for Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., (PNI) won the Marketing award for his success in converting a failing real estate publication acquired by the company into the foundation for a market-leading presence.
Marketplace Advertising was losing money when PNI bought it in 1997. Today, it is the leading real estate magazine distributor in the region, with a healthy profit and a fast-growing revenue base.
Nearly 40 percent of Marketplace’s 2000 revenue came from new magazines Sharp added to the portfolio: a semi-annual about adult communities; a homes-and-living section that expanded Marketplace’s core business into new suburbs; a quarterly zoned home insert into the Sunday Inquirer. And all of this took place during a time of retrenchment in the real estate advertising category.
“He’s an energetic entrepreneur who shows strong talent in developing new business,” the jury said. “He took charge of a failing publication and did the job against strong competition. He’s had tremendous success.”
Mary Gillette, publication manager for The (Columbia) State, won the New Business/Innovation award for her initiative in conceiving, researching and building a magazine for horse lovers in the region.
A long-time reader of the Equine Journal in New England, Gillette arrived in South Carolina and went to work as administrative assistant to the publisher of The State. During a strategic planning brainstorming session, she proposed exploring the idea of a regional magazine for the equine industry - a group comprised largely of women, a key market that newspapers work hard to reach.
Mustering help from her colleagues, Gillette set out to build a business case. She formed an advisory council of industry members. The newsroom helped create a prototype of the magazine. People all over the building helped type up distribution and subscriber lists. Plans were approved to produce several issues utilizing in-house resources.
Southeast Equine Monthly, launched in December, is scheduled for profitability by year end. It’s bringing in revenue from more than 300 new advertisers.
Holly Rogers, vice president/human resources for The State, said, “I saw with my own eyes what I had only read about in books on organizational theory. What I witnessed was a group of people with different talents, from different parts of this company, who worked together seamlessly to pull off a new publication. We’ve had a great adventure!”
The jury said, “Mary is resourceful and energetic, and she has tremendous stick-to-it-iveness. She took advantage of a market opportunity and made it work - she embodies the definition of an entrepreneur. She involved people in many departments, and her efforts had a stimulating effect on the whole organization.”
The Cofax Team from Knight Ridder Digital won the Technology Innovation award for developing an easy-to-use system for updating Web sites.
Team members include: Rajiv Pant, vice president/tech development and team leader; Patrick Carter, senior director/technology; Karl Martino, developer; Don Henry, senior producer/project leader; Hung Dao, developer; Charles Harvey, manager/leader site operations; Derek Dinh, developer; and Robert Tartamosa, then-Web site usage analyst who is now employed by Comcast.
Knight Ridder’s Real Cities Network of Web sites aims to be the “Go Local” button for people seeking information in its markets. It is critical that content from the local newspapers be part of the sites.
The Cofax team developed a proprietary content management system that allows newspapers to automate news feeds and to archive news stories. The software, which utilizes templates to simplify the process, allows the newspaper people to focus on their primary jobs - editing and designing the daily newspaper - without having to spend valuable time posting material to the Web site. It turned what had been eight hours of work for a single newspaper into a 45-minute task.
Launched by Philly.com in collaboration with newsroom colleagues at The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, the Cofax system was being used by 20 Knight Ridder newspapers by mid year. Another 10 are scheduled by year end.
The jury said, “The product they developed has been a tremendous help to all of Knight Ridder’s newspapers. It saves time and money - and will be a revenue stream when sold to other publishing companies. We are impressed with the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit of the team.”
Todd Brownrout, senior vice president/advertising, and Kirk Trautmann, director/Total Market coverage (TMC) and database marketing for Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. (PNI), won the Advertising Excellence award for their leadership in creating a successful TMC product.
StreetSmart, a new program combined with existing shopper publications, is billed as “the most technologically sophisticated, cost-effective targeted-saturation print product in America. Bold words, but the industry is watching - and early reports are good.
StreetSmart is built around two shoppers with 100 percent penetration in their communities. Advertisers’ sections can be inserted in the shoppers for those markets. With inserts already in The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, this leaves a manageable number of nonsubscribers to get their ads in a special mailing. For the advertiser, it’s cheaper than direct mail, and reaches just the customers they want.
Advertisers report strong results from being able to target specific demographics or geographic areas. StreetSmart is expected to become a strong new revenue stream.
“Database marketing is an increasingly important part of our business,” the jury said. “and with StreetSmart, Philadelphia has taken a giant step forward in its profitable applications. Not only have Todd and Kirk made TMC coverage viable in Knight Ridder’s largest market, they have shown the way for address-specific delivery wherever the company has complex packages of advertising material.”
Jim Lamm, vice president/circulation and marketing for the Bradenton Herald, won the Circulation Excellence award for his success at turning around falling circulation.
When Lamm arrived in Bradenton in 1998, circulation had been declining for several years. That trend was reversed in eight months. Over the next two years, daily numbers grew steadily and the Sunday decline slowed dramatically, while other newspapers in the area continued to decline.
In 2000, the Bradenton Herald was the second-fastest-growing daily in Florida, and had the best daily growth in Knight Ridder.
Improved service was the key. Coordinating closely with production and newsroom managers, Lamm was able to guarantee 5:30 a.m. delivery of the paper. He also worked to correct a turnover problem in his department; among district managers, turnover had exceeded 100 percent each year; last year, it was zero.
Lamm came to Bradenton from a former Knight Ridder paper, the Gary Post-Tribune, where he also reversed declining circulation.
The jury said, “He led an impressive turnaround in circulation - he’s got the experience to know how to do it. And he has had great results in reducing turnover. His leadership has been essential to the success of the Bradenton Herald.”
Three awards were given in General Excellence.
Renee DeKemper, trainer/organizational development specialist for The Charlotte Observer, won for her contributions throughout the organization through training and group facilitation.
DeKemper designs her programs to support company strategy. And she listens to her customers: when they suggested classes were too long, she created “Talkabouts,” two-hour bite-sized classes held in a conference room converted into a living room setting. Her class promos said, “This will be like friends chatting… a relaxed, informal atmosphere - think warm muffins, hot coffee, overstuffed sofas and soft lamps.” Participation increased 60 percent in the next year.
As group facilitator, DeKemper designed the startup training for an employee team developed to incubate innovative ideas. She essentially became a part of the team, her colleagues said, offering suggestions and making sure the process moved along.
The jury said, “She has been very effective in developing the kind of training that develops employees and makes them want to remain with the company. Her colleagues value her input, and call on her for coaching and guidance. She’s an invaluable asset to The Observer.”
Joel Allen, packaging center manager for the Lexington Herald-Leader, won for his leadership of an extremely efficient operation that has helped the newspaper satisfy its customers and attract new business.
The packaging center, formerly known as the mailroom, is the place where advertising inserts are assembled and newspapers are bundled and labeled for distribution. Errors here create problems up and down the line.
Under Allen’s leadership, the Herald-Leader has built a tremendous reputation. For the last eight years, the center has inserted an average of 30 million pieces of advertising without a mistake - without sending one advertiser’s message into another’s territory, or missing a thousand households the advertiser has paid for.
Allen is also known for the excellence of his team’s work in meeting deadlines, controlling expenses and serving customers inside and outside the building. He knows his success depends on a well-developed team.. Facing a 142 percent turnover rate, he reached out into Lexington’s growing Hispanic community and began recruiting for a new team. Half his crew is now Hispanic. Allen has brushed up on his Spanish and is promoting Spanish lessons for the rest of his staff. Turnover is now just 14 percent.
The center’s work is so precise that the Herald-Leader can assure that inserts are targeted down to the carrier route level. This has helped the advertising department bring in millions of dollars in new revenue.
“He’s done an impressive job wrestling with the problems of what we used to call the mailroom,” the jury said. “His outreach into the area’s growing Hispanic community to find employees, and his efforts to make sure they succeed are noteworthy. He has reduced turnover and created a strong team.”
The Monterey County Herald’s U.S. Open Team, captained by Sports Editor Scott Brown, won for its extraordinary coverage of the big event in an effort that involved every department in the newspaper.
The 100th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June 2000 was a big story for golf. But the story of how the 36,000-circulation Monterey County Herald covered the event is even bigger.
This small newspaper has a two-writer sports department and two-photographer staff, a modest news hole, and sales, marketing, operations and circulation staffs appropriate for its size. But it produced, in the words of the president of the U.S. Golf Association, “the best coverage I’ve ever seen from any media outlet - not just in golf, but in any sport.”
For the nine-day tournament, The Herald had grown the newspaper’s size by 50 percent (upping the sports section alone from four to 16 pages), filled premium advertising positions and developed a 120-page special section that brought in thousands of dollars in revenue. It developed a nine-day mail subscription package, increased hotel sales, put specially dressed hawkers on the street and increased single-copy sales by 48 percent and bulk by 66 percent. It set up a Web link to feed stories on the Internet, and reorganized production to produce a paper twice its normal size and with 500 more color positions than normal.
Using freelance photographers and friends from other newsrooms willing to camp out and work for peanuts, the copy and photos were produced. Working internally as one body instead of as disparate departments, The Herald, led by Sports Editor Scott Brown and a team of just about everybody in the building, did the (almost) impossible. In doing so, it distinguished itself among its peers and among those who would have not considered the little paper their peer.
The jury said, “This is a small newspaper that found itself in the big time with that tournament. They really extended themselves, and produced an extraordinary set of newspapers that impressed regular readers and visitors who relied on them for news of the event. The amount of cross-department planning and innovating really put them over the top.”
A 13-member judging panel led by Joan Ridder Challinor, member of the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science and a retired Knight Ridder Board member, selected the winners. Other panel members were Jeanne Fox Alston, executive director, National Association of Minority Media Executives; Jim Bettinger, director of Knight Fellowships, Stanford University; Leo Bogart, columnist, PressTime magazine; Don E. Carter, retired vice president, Knight Ridder; Felix Gutierrez, senior vice president, Newseum; Barbara Barnes Hauptfuhrer, Knight Ridder Board member; Larry Jinks, retired publisher, San Jose Mercury News; Carl Morris, editor, The Morris Memo and former executive director, National Association of Minority Media Executives; Linda O’Bryon, senior vice president, Nightly Business Report/WPBT; Orage Quarles III, publisher, Raleigh News and Observer; Roberto Suarez, retired publisher, el Nuevo (Miami) Herald and Associates; and Bill Winter, president and executive director, American Press Institute.
For more information, call Vice President/Corporate Relations Polk Laffoon IV at 408-938-7838 or Director of Corporate Communications Lee Ann Schlatter at 408-938-7839.