John L. Dotson Jr., Publisher of Beacon Journal, Dies at 76
By DANIEL E. SLOTNIK
Published: June 25, 2013
John L. Dotson Jr., a prominent journalist who became one of the nation’s first African-American publishers of a general circulation daily newspaper and who guided the paper, The Akron Beacon Journal of Ohio, to a Pulitzer Prize for a series on race relations, died on Friday at his home in Boulder, Colo. He was 76.
Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
The cause was mantle cell lymphoma, his son, John Dotson III, said.
When Mr. Dotson became president and publisher of The Journal in 1992, he had been a reporter for big-city newspapers, an editor at Newsweek, the publisher of a Colorado paper and a founder of an institute for minority journalists. Two years later The Journal won the Pulitzer for public service for the five-part series “A Question of Color.”
The final installment solicited pledges from readers to fight racism; the names of 22,000 respondents were later published in a special supplement.
James Crutchfield, who succeeded Mr. Dotson as publisher, recalled in The Journal’s obituary that he had been concerned that the series might be too inflammatory. Mr. Dotson, who as a reporter covered the Detroit race riots of the 1960s, counseled him not to hold back.
“I felt we were pushing the envelope,” Mr. Crutchfield said. “We ended up pushing it even further.”
In 1977, Mr. Dotson and eight other journalists, including Earl Caldwell, Dorothy Butler Gilliam and Robert C. Maynard, founded a nonprofit organization devoted to training and expanding opportunities for minority journalists. Based in Oakland, Calif., it was renamed the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education after Mr. Maynard’s death in 1993.
Mr. Dotson spoke openly about the pressures on a black executive in a predominantly white industry and the guarded way he often dealt with white colleagues early on. “When I came along, I would get up in the morning and I would put on this armor and go to work,” he said in 2000 when interviewed by The New York Times for its series “How Race Is Lived in America,” which also won a Pulitzer.
Some colleagues saw him as cautious and alert to how he was perceived.
“I think it’s kind of funny how a lot of people in the newsroom, white people in the newsroom, think he bends over backwards to appease and please the black community and black reporters in the newsroom,” Carl Chancellor, who is black and a former columnist at The Journal, told The Times. “When I think if you polled the black people in the newsroom, they’d probably think that it’s the other way around.”
Early in his career Mr. Dotson was a reporter for The Newark Evening News and The Detroit Free Press. He joined Newsweek in 1965 and became a senior editor there. In 1983, he was named president and publisher of The Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo.
John Louis Dotson Jr. was born on Feb. 5, 1937, in Paterson, N.J., to John Dotson and the former Evelyn Nelson. He served as a lieutenant in the Army and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Temple University in 1958.
Mr. Dotson served on the boards of The Washington Post and the Pulitzer Prizes, which are administered by Columbia University. He led a Pulitzer committee that studied whether to accept nominations for online journalism. Its proposal to do so was accepted and adopted by the Pulitzer board in 1997. He retired from The Beacon Journal in 2001 and was elected to the Hall of Fame of the National Association for Black Journalists in 2007.
In addition to his son John, he is survived by his wife, the former Peggy Burnett; another son, Christopher; a daughter, Leslie Van Every; a brother, Ronald; a sister, Beverly Spidey; and eight grandchildren. Mr. Dotson also had a home in Marco Island, Fla.
Gene Roberts, who as metropolitan editor of The Free Press in the 1960s hired Mr. Dotson, said on Monday that Mr. Dotson’s experience as a reporter had shaped his attitudes in the executive suite.
“John was very supportive of the newsroom,” said Mr. Roberts, who was later executive editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and managing editor of The Times, “and had a sensitivity and feeling about news and the role of a newspaper in democratic society that you wish more publishers had.”