Robert G. McGruder 2003
Detroit Free PressThe Chairman's Citation was given in 2003 to Robert G. McGruder, the late editor of the Detroit Free Press and a leading figure in American journalism. Mr. McGruder died in 2002 after a 20-month battle with cancer. He was 60.
He is remembered as a person who spent his life breaking racial barriers and while upholding the highest standards of journalism. After surviving childhood polio, poverty and the sting of segregation, McGruder went on to become the first black person in a number of positions at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, the Detroit Free Press and a variety of newspaper organizations. He nudged the Free Press and the United States news industry to hire more women and minorities.
He also never forgot the difficulty of practicing journalism. “He would quietly remind us that we must concentrate on our primary missions of producing great journalism and treating people fairly," a colleague remembered.
He was named Free Press executive editor on Jan. 1, 1996, after having served as deputy managing editor, managing editor/news and managing editor. Under his leadership the paper won two Pulitzer Prizes.
In 2001, when he received the John S. Knight Gold Medal, the highest award within Knight Ridder, which owns the Free Press, he reminded company officials and friends that he represented change: "Please know I stand for diversity. I represent the African Americans, Latinos, Arab Americans, Asians, Native Americans, gays and lesbians, women and all the others we must see represented in our business offices, newsrooms and our newspapers if we truly want to meet the challenge of serving our communities."
He held many senior positions within industry associations, including Associated Press Managing Editors; the American Society of Newspaper Editors; the National Association of Minority Media Executives and the Journalism Advisory Committee for the Knight Foundation. He once said his model for leadership could be summarized by the words of a Chinese philosopher: "As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next the people fear, and the next, people hate. When the best leader's work is done, the people say, 'We did it ourselves.' "