During Gene Roberts’ 18 years as executive editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the staff won 17 Pulitzer Prizes. He later became managing editor of The New York Times. In 2007, he won (with Hank Klibanoff) the Pulitzer Prize for “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation.”
Gene Roberts attended a speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. on February 16, 1960 at White Rock Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., where he realized the struggle for equality would not just cause token change in race relations and civil rights.
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Graduating from the University of North Carolina with a degree in journalism, Roberts joins the U.S. Army, serving in the Counter Intelligence Corps for two years.
Returning to North Carolina after the Army, Roberts gets his first reporting job for The Goldsboro News-Argus, his hometown newspaper. He reports on the local government and also writes a farm column called “Rambling in Rural Wayne.”
Roberts is hired by The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot, where he works for one year before going to the Raleigh News & Observer.
Roberts is awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. After the fellowship, he returns to The Goldsboro News-Argus to be the Sunday editor.
Roberts’ first book, “The Censors and the Schools,” with co-author Jack Nelson, is published. He also covers labor relations in Detroit for the Detroit Free Press before becoming its city editor.
The New York Times offers Roberts the job as chief Southern correspondent. He spends two years covering the events of the civil rights movement.
Roberts is assigned to cover the war in Vietnam.
Upon returning to the United States, Roberts becomes national editor of the Times, a position he holds for almost three years.
Roberts becomes executive editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, a newspaper that was looking to increase its revenue and its journalistic integrity. During his 18 years as executive editor, the newspaper wins 17 Pulitzer Prizes.
While serving as executive editor, Roberts co-edits his second book, “Assignment America,” with David R. Jones.
He joins the Pulitzer Prize board, where he would serve for nine years.
Roberts joins the World Press Freedom Committee and serves on it for seven years.
Roberts leaves the Inquirer because the company was making cutbacks in the newsroom, and he did not want to see its journalistic reputation decline.
He also serves as chairman of the Pulitzer Prize board.
Roberts becomes a professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
The National Press Club awards Roberts its Fourth Estate Award for Distinguished Contributions to Journalism.
He takes a three-year hiatus from teaching to be managing editor of The New York Times. In a JournalismJobs.com interview a few years later , Roberts discusses his goals for the newspaper: “I think the general goals were better writing, more depth, greater accuracy, and a step-by-step review of each section of the paper. I think especially major strides were made in the arts and business sections. I would like to think that response to breaking news got better and faster and more in-depth.”
Roberts becomes vice chairman of the board for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Returning to the University of Maryland, Roberts resumes teaching journalism courses, including writing the complex story, the press and the civil rights movement, and newsroom management.
Roberts serves as editor-in-chief of the American Journalism Review’s State of the American Newspaper Project . The 18-part series, which explores the increasing consolidation of newspapers into media conglomerates and the impact that has on readers’ ability to receive quality information, is published over two years.
“Leaving Readers Behind: The Age of Corporate Newspapering,” which is based on the State of the American Newspaper Project, is published, with Roberts serving as editor-in-chief.
A follow-up, “Breach of Faith: A Crisis of Coverage in the Age of Corporate Newspapering,” also based on the State of the American Newspaper Project, is published, with Roberts again serving as editor-in-chief . The essays focus on the media’s shift of focus from politics and government to entertainment stories.
Roberts wins the Pulitzer Prize for History. He shares the prize with co-author Hank Klibanoff for “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation,” which chronicles the journalists and organizations that covered the civil rights movement.
Roberts receives the George Polk Career Award in recognition of his many years working as a journalist, author and educator.
Additional Information and References
- 1989 National Press Club Distinguished Contributions to Journalism Award
- 1993 National Press Club Fourth Estate Award
- 1996 Columbia University’s Journalism Award
- 2007 Pulitzer Prize for History (with Hank Klibanoff)
- 2007 Goldsmith Book Prize
- 2007 American Journalism Historians Association Book of the Year Award
- 2009 George Polk Career Award
- “The Censors and the Schools” (with Jack Nelson). Boston: Little Brown, 1963.
- “Assignment America” (editor, with David R. Jones). New York: New York Times Co., 1974.
- “Leaving Readers Behind: The Age of Corporate Newspapering” (editor-in-chief). Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2001.
- “Breach of Faith: A Crisis of Coverage in the Age of Corporate Newspapering” (editor-in-chief). Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2002.
- “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation.” (with Hank Klibanoff). New York: Knopf, 2006.