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McGruder, Robert 1942–2002

Robert McGruder 19422002

Journalist, editor

At a Glance

Selected writings

Sources

At the time of his death in 2002, Robert McGruder was one of the top African-American editorial executives in the American newspaper industry. As executive editor of the Detroit Free Press, he oversaw a paper with a daily circulation of 400, 000 readers spread across a diverse metropolitan area. Professionalism and a marked calmness under fire helped fuel McGruders rise at the Free Press. He was known as principled, resolute andunusual in his professionsoft-spoken, reported Jim Naughton after interviewing several of McGruders colleagues in the Detroit Free Press.

McGruder was born in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, and had an unusually trying childhood. His parents divorced when he was five years old and, one year later, he was stricken with polio. McGruder was hospitalized and also spent time in a rehabilitation facility. He attended a school for disabled children and later moved with his mother and younger brother to Campbellsburg, Kentucky. His mother, who was a school teacher, took a teaching job at Campbellsburgs school for African-American children and enrolled McGruder in the fourth grade.

Eventually, the McGruder family moved to Dayton, Ohio. In addition to working on a library science degree, McGruders mother took a second job so that her two sons could attend private schools. In 1959 McGruder graduated as salutatorian from Chaminade Catholic High School and enrolled at Kent State University. His career in journalism began when he started working at Kent States student newspaper. There were all of these smart, fun people, who welcomed me in and showed me how to write stories, take pictures, lay out pages McGruder recalled in an interview with John Carroll of American Editor. Then I became the editor and they actually paid me to do it.

Two days after his graduation from Kent State in 1963, McGruder landed a job as a cub reporter at the Dayton Journal-Herald. Three months later, he was hired by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as its first African-American reporter. In 1964 McGruder was drafted into the U.S. Army and served for two years as a public information specialist in Washington, D.C.

McGruder returned to the Plain Dealer in 1966 and, because of his years of military service at the Pentagon, became the papers military reporter. During the Vietnam War, this assignment was particularly difficult for McGruder because he had to interview people throughout the Cleveland area who had lost loved ones in the war. He also reported on the violent anti-busing battles and urban riots that plagued many American cities during the 1960s. Eventually promoted to the city hall beat, McGruder made a name for himself during a fiery, scandal-ridden era in Cleveland city politics. Along with a colleague at the Plain Dealer, McGruder investigated the citys financial records and wrote a series of articles that exposed Clevelands dire financial circumstances. Eventually, Cleveland became the first major American city to declare bankruptcy.

Despite his successful career at the Plain Dealer, McGruder encountered many difficulties as one of the nations few African-American journalists. There were no senior black editors to go to, McGruder recalled in an interview with American Editor. There was no

At a Glance

Born Robert Grandison McGruder Jr., on March 31, 1942, in Louisville, KY; died on April 12, 2002; son of Robert Sr. and Nancy (a teacher) McGruder; married Annette Cottingham, December 7, 1968. Education: Kent State University, B.A., 1963. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1964-66.

Career: Dayton Journal-Herald, Dayton, OH, reporter, 1963; Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland, OH, reporter, 1963-66, and 1966-71, assistant city editor, 1971-73, reporter and editor, 1973-78, city editor, 1978-81, managing editor, 1981-86; Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Ml, deputy managing editor, 1986-87, managing editor for news, 1987-92, managing editor, 1993-96, executive editor, 1996-02.

Memberships: American Society of Newspaper Editors; Associated Press Managing Editors; American Press Institute; National Association of Black Journalists; National Association of Minority Media Executives; Michigan Press Association; Knight Foundation; Foundation for American Communication; Institute for Minority Journalism at Wayne State University.

Awards: William Taylor Distinguished Alumni Award, Kent State University School of Journalism, 1984; member of nominating juries for the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, and 1998; Knight-Ridder Duke University fellow, 1991-92.

[National Association of Black Journalists]. I was on my own. Nevertheless, he was named the assistant city editor of the Plain Dealer in 1971. McGruder also co-authored a political biography of Clevelands Carl B. Stokes, the first African-American mayor of a major city. The book, Promises of Power, was published in 1973.

Between the years 1973 and 1978, McGruder served as both reporter and editor at the Plain Dealer and was promoted to city editor in 1978. In 1981 he became the Plain Dealers managing editor. McGruder left the Plain Dealer in 1986 to become the deputy managing editor of the Detroit Free Press. One year later, he was named managing editor.

During the next several years at the Free Press, McGruder would face adversities that were greater than any he had faced in Cleveland. In the late 1980s, the Free Press was attempting to implement a controversial Joint Operating Agreement with the other Detroit daily, the Detroit News. The agreement, which went into effect in late 1989, merged the business, advertising, production and delivery sides of the two papers; the news and editorial areas remained independent.

In 1993 McGruder was named managing editor of all Free Press operations. During this time, tensions between management and staff at both newspapers had increased dramatically. In the summer of 1995, a bitter labor dispute evolved between the management of the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News and several labor unions. McGruder served on the negotiating committee that worked with the unions in an attempt to avoid a newspaper strike. However, the talks were unsuccessful and thousands of employees at both newspapers, including typesetters, delivery drivers, and columnists, walked off the job at midnight on July 13, 1995.

McGruder and other members of the management teams at the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News worked with an extremely limited staff to produce a newspaper each day of the strike. During the early days of the strike, the two papers published a joint edition newspaper. However, as large numbers of replacement workers were brought in from around the country, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News resumed publishing separate editions.

The strike, which became Detroits most contentious labor dispute in decades, was tough on McGruder. I was a Guild activist when I was a reporter, he told Mark Fitzgerald of Editor & Publisher. I went on strike. And being on the other side of the table is strange; its not easy. The strike was resolved over a period of several months, and during the strike, McGruder was named executive editor of the Free Press. Reflecting on the devastating effects of the newspaper strike, McGruder told Carroll in an interview in American Editor, Many of us could not understand the forces that got us into such a horrible situation. We lost some of our best people; many of our best have returned. We have tried to keep people focused on journalism.

McGruder was involved in numerous professional activities. In 1995 he became the first African-American president of the Associated Press Managing Editors group. He was an active member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the National Association of Black Journalists, and several other organizations. McGruder also served on the nominating juries for the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism on several occasions.

As a highly respected journalist, McGruder used his position to speak frankly about the need for increased minority representation in the newsroom. Although Americas urban centers have become more racially diverse, the staffing of most newspapers does not reflect this trend. Along with other executives in the industry, McGruder attempted to correct this shortcoming. In American Editor, McGruder remarked that editors need to work harder at developing minority journalists. Hiring is not enough. Training, retention and listening are vital. McGruder supported a mentoring program at the Free Press and sat on the advisory board of the Institute for Minority Journalism at Wayne State University. Ive been at the Free Press long enough now to see kids who used to come around my office when they were in high school, talked to when they were in college, and now are working here and elsewhere as professional journalists, McGruder told American Editor. One former protege, Jim Crutch-field, later became the executive editor of the Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram. I flourished under him, Crutchfield said of McGruder in an interview in the Detroit Free Press. He gave me the chance to just expand as I could.

At the time of his death, McGruder lived with his wife in a high-rise waterfront complex within walking distance of his Free Press office. Although he was nicknamed Darth Vader for his quiet intensity, he was widely admired and respected by his colleagues and subordinates. McGruder lost his long fight with cancer on April 12, 2002.

Selected writings

(with Allen Wiggins) Promises of Power, 1973.

Sources

Periodicals

American Editor, June 1998, pp. 22-24.

Detroit Free Press, October 23, 1995, p. 1A; August 18, 1996, p. 3E; September 22, 1996, p. 3F.

Editor & Publisher, November 18, 1995, p.16; April 22, 2002, p13.

Washington Post, April 13, 2002, p C8.

Other

Additional information for this profile was provided by the Detroit Free Press.

Carol Brennan and Pat Donaldson

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"McGruder, Robert 1942–2002." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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McGruder, Robert 1942–

Robert McGruder 1942

Journalist

Vietnam and Race Riots

Moved to Detroit

An Embattled Executive

Crusader for Increased Diversity

Selected writings

Sources

Detroit Free Press executive editor Robert McGruder is one of the top African American editorial executives in the American newspaper industry. He oversees a paper with a daily circulation of 400,000 readers spread across a diverse metropolitan area. Professionalism and a marked calmness under fire have helped fuel McGruders rise at the Free Press. He is known as principled, reso-lute andunusual in his professionsoft-spoken, reported Jim Naughton after interviewing several of McGruders colleagues, past and present, for a profile on him in the Detroit Free Press.

McGruder was born in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, and had an unusually trying childhood. His parents divorced when he was five years-old and, one year later, he was stricken with polio. McGruder was hospitalized and also spent time in a rehabilitation facility. He attended a school for disabled children and later moved with his mother and younger brother to Campbellsburg, Kentucky. His mother, who was a school teacher, took a teaching job at Campbellsburgs school for African American children and enrolled McGruder in the fourth grade.

Eventually, the McGruder family moved to Dayton, Ohio. In addition to working on a library science degree, McGruders mother took a second job so that her two sons could attend private schools. In 1959, McGruder graduated as salutatorian from Chaminade Catholic High School and enrolled at Kent State University. His career in journalism began when he started working at Kent States student newspaper. There were all of these smart, fun people, who welcomed me in and showed me how to write stories, take pictures, lay out pages McGruder recalled in an interview with John Carroll of American Editor. Then I became the editor and they actually paid me to do it.

Two days after his graduation from Kent State in 1963, McGruder landed a job as a cub reporter at the Dayton Journal-Herald. Three months later, he was hired by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as its first African American reporter. In 1964, McGruder was drafted into the U.S. Army and served for two years as a public information specialist in Washington, D.C.

Vietnam and Race Riots

McGruder returned to the Plain Dealer in 1966 and,

At a Glance

Born Robert Grandison McGruder Jr., March 31, 1942, in Louisville, KY; son of Robert Sr. and Nancy (a teacher) McGruder; married Annette Cottingham, December 7, 1968. Education: Kent State University, B.A., 1963.

Career: Dayton Journal-Heratd, Dayton, OH, reporter, 1963; Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland, OH, reporter, 196366, and 196671, assistant city editor, 197173, reporter and editor, 197378, city editor, 197881, managing editor, 198186; Detroit Free Press, Detroit, MI, deputy managing editor, 198687, managing editor for news, 198792, managing editor, 199396, executive editor, 1996. Military service: U.S. Army, 196466;

Awards: William Taylor Distinguished Alumni Award, Kent State University School of Journalism, 1984; member of nominating juries for the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, and 1998; Knight-Ridder Duke University fellow, 199192.

Member: American Society of Newspaper Editors; Associated Press Managing Editors; American Press Institute; National Association of Black Journalists; National Association of Minority Media Executives Michigan Press Association; Knight Foundation; Foundation for American Communication; Institute for Minority Journalism at Wayne State University.

Addresses: HomeDetroit, MI. Office Detroit Free Press, 600 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226.

because of his years of military service at the Pentagon, became the papers military reporter. During the Vietnam War, this assignment was particularly difficult for McGruder because he had to interview people throughout the Cleveland area who had lost loved ones inthe war. He also reported on the violent anti-busing battles and urban riots that plagued many American cities during the 1960s. Eventually promoted to the city hall beat, McGruder made a name for himself during a fiery, scandal-ridden era in Cleveland city politics. Along with a colleague at the Plain Dealer, McGruder investigated the citys financial records and wrote a series of articles that exposed Clevelands dire financial circumstances. Eventually, Cleveland became the first major American city to declare bankruptcy.

Despite his successful career at the Plain Dealer, McGruder encountered many difficulties as one of the nations few African American journalists. There were no senior black editors to go to, McGruder recalled in an interview with American Editor. There was no [National Association of Black Journalists]. I was on my own. Nevertheless, he was named the assistant city editor of the Plain Dealer in 1971. McGruder also co-authored a political biography of Clevelands Carl B. Stokes, the first African American mayor of a major city. The book, Promises of Power, was published in 1973.

Moved to Detroit

Between the years 1973 and 1978, McGruder served as both reporter and editor at the Plain Dealer and was promoted to city editor in 1978. In 1981, he became the Plain Dealers managing editor.McGruder left the Plain Dealer in 1986 to become the deputy managing editor of the Detroit Free Press. One year later, he was named managing editor.

During the next several years at the Free Press, McGruder would face adversities that were greater than any he had faced in Cleveland. In the late 1980s, the Free Press was attempting to implement a controversial Joint Operating Agreement with the other Detroit daily, the Detroit News. The agreement, which went into effect in late 1989, merged the business, advertising, production and delivery sides of the two papers; the news and editorial areas remained independent.

An Embattled Executive

In 1993, McGruder was named managing editor of all Free Press operations. During this time, tensions between management and staff at both newspapers had increased dramatically. In the summer of 1995, a bitter labor dispute evolved between the management of the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News and several labor unions. McGruder served on the negotiating committee that worked with the unions in an attempt to avoid a newspaper strike. However, the talks were unsuccessful and thousands of employees at both newspapers, including typesetters, delivery drivers, and columnists, walked off the job at midnight on July 13, 1995.

McGruder and other members of the management teams at the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News worked with an extremely limited staff to produce a newspaper each day of the strike. During the early days of the strike, the two papers published a joint edition newspaper. However, as large numbers of replacement workers were brought in from around the country, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News resumed publishing separate editions.

The strike, which became Detroits most contentious labor dispute in decades, was resolved over a period of several months. During the strike, McGruder was named executive editor of the Free Press. Reflecting on the devastating effects of the newspaper strike, McGruder told Carroll in an interview in American Editor, Many of us could not understand the forces that got us into such a horrible situation. We lost some of our best people; many of our best have returned. We have tried to keep people focused on journalism.

Crusader for Increased Diversity

McGruder is involved in numerous professional activities. In 1995, he became the first African American president of the Associated Press Managing Editors group. He is an active member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the National Association of Black Journalists, and several otherorganizations. McGruder has also served on the nominating juries for the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism on several occasions.

As a highly respected journalist, McGruder has used his position to speak frankly about the need for increased minority representation in the newsroom. Although Americas urban centers have become more racially diverse, the staffing of most newspapers does not reflect this trend. McGruder and other executives in the industry are attempting to correct this shortcoming. In American Editor, McGruder remarked that editors need to work harder at developing minority journalists.Hiring is not enough. Training, retention and listening are vital. The FreePress features a mentoring program, and McGruder sits on the advisory board of Institute for Minority Journalism at Wayne State University. Ive been at the Free Press long enough now to see kids who used to come around my office when they were in high school, talked to when they were in college, and now are working here and elsewhere as professional journalists, McGruder told American Editor. One former protege, Jim Crutchfield, later became the executive editor of the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. I flourished under him, Crutchfield said of McGruder in an interview in the Detroit Free Press. He gave me the chance to just expand as I could..

McGruder, who lives with his wife in a high-rise waterfront complex within walking distance of his Free Press office, hasbeen nicknamed Darth Vader for his quiet intensity. However, he is widely admired and respected by his colleagues and subordinates. For relaxation, he enjoys old Western films on television, Cohiba cigars and Jamaican holidays.

Selected writings

(With Allen Wiggins)

Promises of Power, 1973.

Sources

Periodicals

American Editor, June 1998, pp. 2224.

Detroit Free Press, October 23, 1995, p. 1A; August 18, 1996, p. 3E; September 22, 1996, p. 3F.

Other

Additional information for this profile was provided by the Detroit Free Press.

Carol Brennan

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"McGruder, Robert 1942–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"McGruder, Robert 1942–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mcgruder-robert-1942

"McGruder, Robert 1942–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mcgruder-robert-1942