James K. Batten
By Melissa Studley, class of 2003
James K. Batten received the William Allen White Award for Outstanding Journalistic Merit for his civic journalism ideals and practices. In his acceptance speech, Batten expressed concern for the recent decline of civic engagement in communities across the country. He urged journalists to immerse themselves their communities arguing that newspapers "have the best chance for drawing people in from the apathetic periphery to the vibrant center of community life."
Batten loved newspapers all his life, dabbling in publishing as early as second grade. In 1957, Batten took his first professional position as a reporter at the Charlotte Observer. During the course of his career, Batten worked his way up in the Knight Ridder Organization, holding a variety of positions from reporter to editor to senior vice president.
In 1988, Knight Ridder Inc. named Batten chairman and chief executive officer. Batten held this position until his death in 1995. "Batten was probably the greatest of the news executives who came from the ranks of reporters," says Jay Rosen, a New York University scholar. "He had an extraordinary capacity for connecting with people, and motivating them. He was a leader in the classic sense."
In 1993 Batten collaborated with Pew Center Charitable Trust to establish the Pew Center for Civic Journalism. Following his death, the Pew Center established the James K. Batten Award for Civil Journalism in his honor. The Pew Center presents the award annually to journalists who advocate for community involvement through their journalistic work. In conjunction with the award presentation, the Pew Center hosts a symposium to educate journalist on current civic journalism issues and to highlight the year’s best civic journalism efforts.
"I have been blessed with a career that has been endlessly exciting and never dull--in a line of work that on its good days sends you home at night feeling you may have made at least a little difference" — James K. Batten, 1990 Acceptance Speech