Consummate Leader at USA Today and in Atlanta
“Ron Martin, USA TODAY’s first executive editor and lauded as a consummate newspaperman who helped set the paper’s tone, died Saturday. He was 84,” Elizabeth Weise reported Monday for USA Today.

“Originally from Joplin, Missouri, Martin began his journalism career at small papers after graduating from the University of Missouri. He worked at a series of increasingly larger papers including several owned by Gannett, the newspaper chain that would launch USA TODAY in 1982.

“Prior to coming to USA TODAY, Martin worked on the staff of the Detroit Free Press, the Baltimore News-American and as managing editor of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in New York and the Miami Herald.

“When he left USA TODAY in 1989, Martin went to Atlanta where he helped oversee the merger of the city’s two newspapers into the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, according to the paper. He is credited with bringing the Journal-Constitution into the internet age and giving it a shorter, newsier style.

“His daughter, Jen Martin, told the Journal-Constitution her father was a voracious reader who read as many as eight newspapers a day and often a book a day as well.

“Martin was also known for working to make newsrooms look like the face of America at a time when that wasn’t an emphasis in the news industry.

” ‘While others wouldn’t ‘take a chance’ on women or people of color, Ron saw it as an opportunity,’ said Julia Wallace (pictured), a USA TODAY reporter under Martin and later editor-in-chief of the Journal-Constitution.

” ‘There are so many women and people of color in news today because of him,’ said Wallace, now chair of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in Phoenix.

“Martin was also someone who intuited what technology would mean for journalism and pushed hard for the Journal-Constitution to be ready, already focusing his attention in the mid-1990s on creating digital products and audiences.

” ‘He understood the way people consumed news was changing and used the readers-first mentality he honed at USA TODAY to transform those concepts for a digital world,’ she said.

Writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ty Tagami added Monday, “Cynthia Tucker (pictured), a Black woman, said Martin gave her her best job ever: ‘He had enough confidence in me to make me the editorial page editor.’ She oversaw first the opinion pages of the Constitution and then of the combined newspaper. She was the first Black person and first woman to do so, and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. . . .”

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Ron Martin Saw Diversity as ‘an Opportunity’
by richardMay 17, 20220335
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Consummate Leader at USA Today and in Atlanta
. . . He Set an Example for Today’s Editors to Emulate

Homepage photo: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In September 1983, a year after USA Today debuted, C-SPAN spent a day looking at the operations of USA Today. Ron Martin was featured. (video)
Consummate Leader at USA Today and in Atlanta
“Ron Martin, USA TODAY’s first executive editor and lauded as a consummate newspaperman who helped set the paper’s tone, died Saturday. He was 84,” Elizabeth Weise reported Monday for USA Today.

“Originally from Joplin, Missouri, Martin began his journalism career at small papers after graduating from the University of Missouri. He worked at a series of increasingly larger papers including several owned by Gannett, the newspaper chain that would launch USA TODAY in 1982.

“Prior to coming to USA TODAY, Martin worked on the staff of the Detroit Free Press, the Baltimore News-American and as managing editor of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in New York and the Miami Herald.

“When he left USA TODAY in 1989, Martin went to Atlanta where he helped oversee the merger of the city’s two newspapers into the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, according to the paper. He is credited with bringing the Journal-Constitution into the internet age and giving it a shorter, newsier style.

“His daughter, Jen Martin, told the Journal-Constitution her father was a voracious reader who read as many as eight newspapers a day and often a book a day as well.

“Martin was also known for working to make newsrooms look like the face of America at a time when that wasn’t an emphasis in the news industry.

” ‘While others wouldn’t ‘take a chance’ on women or people of color, Ron saw it as an opportunity,’ said Julia Wallace (pictured), a USA TODAY reporter under Martin and later editor-in-chief of the Journal-Constitution.

” ‘There are so many women and people of color in news today because of him,’ said Wallace, now chair of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in Phoenix.

“Martin was also someone who intuited what technology would mean for journalism and pushed hard for the Journal-Constitution to be ready, already focusing his attention in the mid-1990s on creating digital products and audiences.

” ‘He understood the way people consumed news was changing and used the readers-first mentality he honed at USA TODAY to transform those concepts for a digital world,’ she said.

Writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ty Tagami added Monday, “Cynthia Tucker (pictured), a Black woman, said Martin gave her her best job ever: ‘He had enough confidence in me to make me the editorial page editor.’ She oversaw first the opinion pages of the Constitution and then of the combined newspaper. She was the first Black person and first woman to do so, and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. . . .”

. . . He Set an Example for Today’s Editors to Emulate
By Wanda S. Lloyd

Ron Martin hired me in two daily newspaper newsrooms. For a long time, he supported me, encouraged me and often pushed me beyond the limits of what I believed I could do. In so many ways, he was a mentor for me (pictured)

Ron passed away at age 84 on Saturday, May 14, 2022, according to his family. I’m
usually not one to write about passings, but in this case my spirit tells me that the example of
Ron’s contributions may be lost on current and future generations of journalists who should
know that newsroom diversity doesn’t just happen. It takes leaders to push for the institutional
values that are important. Diversity is one of those values and Ron Martin was one of those
leaders.

He was a soft-spoken man who spoke mostly with his actions, never with a booming or
threatening voice. He knew how to find good people to work in newsrooms. An avid reader of
books and newspapers (and later digital sites, I’m sure), Ron would scan dozens of publications
daily and follow journalists who were doing outstanding work. When he had his sights set on
prospects, he would tell his sub editors something like “Here’s a good person we should
consider.” At USA Today, there was always the running phrase “Ron wants …,” which meant we
should get it done.

Diversity was one of those things Ron always “wanted,” and he gave me the agency to go after talent, even at times when we didn’t have a job opening. “Find good people,” he would tell me and then we’ll figure out how use their talent.

Original planning editors for USA Today: From left, John Curley, editor; Richard Curtis, design, graphics and photography; Bill Tudor, systems; Henry Freeman, sports; Dave Doucette, Money; Ron Martin, executive editor; Nancy Woodhull, news; Sheryl Bills, features. (Credit: USA Today, August 1982).
My first encounter with Ron was when, as managing editor, he interviewed me for a copy desk position at The Miami Herald. He was second in command there at a time when media organizations were grappling with the demand to enlarge the pool of journalists of color, especially African Americans in 1973 when I accepted his job offer.

I left a newsroom in Providence, R.I., where I was often an “only,” the sole person of color. In Miami, I realized how serious Ron and his team were about diversity. I joined a group of African American journalists that included Gayle Pollard (Terry), Courtland Milloy, Tom Morgan, Dorothy Gaiter, Bea Hines and others. It was the first time I worked with a “group” of African Americans in a newsroom and it made the job much more palatable.

After I left Miami and eventually ended up at The Washington Post for more than a decade, Ron made it possible for me to join the USA Today newsroom across the Potomac River from The Post. That’s where the mentoring began.

A year after I was hired as a deputy managing editor (a title I frankly didn’t expect to get), Ron encouraged me to stretch personally and professionally by attending what was then the Management Training Center (MTC), a Maynard Institute program at Northwestern University that would increase the number of people of color as publishers, executive editors, and advertising, circulation and finance department directors.

On the day he presented me with a brochure about MTC, I quickly said it would be difficult to leave my family — including my four-year-old daughter — for such a long time to study in Illinois. He encouraged me to take the brochure anyway and discuss it with my husband. I returned the next day and told Ron I would go to Northwestern, provided he would spring for extra weekend trips home. He agreed. That’s another lesson learned from Ron. In order to retain good people, find ways to reasonably accommodate their personal needs. (Pictured: USA Today’s first issue, Sept. 15, 1982)

On the day I returned to USA TODAY, Ron grilled me about what I learned in the program, and then he promoted me that same day to managing editor for newsroom administration, a role that included recruiting many more women and people of color to work at USA Today. Three years later, yet another promotion to senior editor, which put me in a position to lead two of the daily meetings of top editors and hold all accountable for the then-unique practice of positive stories and images of women and people of color above the fold on Page One every day.

Ron also encouraged me to join and get active in ASNE, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (now the News Leaders Association), and again, my agency increased when I was elected to the ASNE board and chaired the Diversity Committee. From there, my ability to make it possible for many more women and journalists of color to be trained for newsrooms across the nation.

I still hear Ron’s voice in my head, his admonition to just find good people and position them for success, not failure. In 2020, as soon as I received the first shipment of my memoir, “COMING FULL CIRCLE: From Jim Crow to Journalism,” one of the first signed copies went to Ron, a tribute I couldn’t wait to share with him.

Wanda S. Lloyd is a member of the Journal-isms Inc., Board of Directors.

Journal-isms: 25 Years Ago, It Was “the Place to Be” (Sept. 12, 2007)
Journal-isms: Al Neuharth, Diversity Champion, Dies at 89 (Nov. 7, 2014)
Journal-isms: John Quinn Dies, Insisted on Diversity (July 13, 2017)
Journal-isms: Gannett Gets Bolder on Diversity (Aug. 25, 2020)
Wanda Lloyd, Savannah Morning News: I was vaxxed, masked and careful, yet still caught COVID-19 (Feb. 16)
Julia Wallace, LinkedIn: One of the most important editors in 20th Century American journalism died this weekend, and most journalists today have never heard of him. But, of course, he would have liked it that way.
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