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From AJR,   April 2000  issue

AJR Cheers a New President   

Editor and author Tom Kunkel takes office in July.


By Reese Cleghorn
Reese Cleghorn is former president of AJR and former dean of the College of Journalism of the University of Maryland.     

There was joy in Evansville. Not to mention here, and everywhere coast to coast where journalists heard the news.

Tom Kunkel will succeed me as dean at the University of Maryland College of Journalism on July 1. That means he also will be president of AJR.

When the news became official, Rem Rieder and I hastily assembled the AJR staff on the second floor of the Journalism Building. When I made the announcement, the cheers were loud and enthusiastic.

Our staff has known Tom for two-and-a-half years. He has worked in the AJR offices as editor of the Project on the State of the American Newspaper. Our Gene Roberts chose him for this, the biggest study of American newspapers ever, and he worked closely with Gene.

So the staffers knew him well.

Tom, 44, has been a first- rate daily newspaper editor. Right now, he is attaining notice nationally because of his excellent new book, "Letters from the Editor," which Tom edited. It's a collection of wonderful letters Tom discovered written by Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker, to a wide and fascinating array of people. Earlier, Tom had written the best biography of Ross, "Genius in Disguise."

Here is a superb journalist who has become the leading scholar on the founder of the world's greatest magazine. (We'll admit that.)

Upon completion of the newspaper project, Tom became director of our Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. We knew when he came we had to find some way to keep him here permanently.

But his latest career move came as a surprise to many people.

A national search for the new dean was conducted by a powerhouse search committee that included distinguished faculty members, distinguished journalists and others.

From many applications, the committee chose half a dozen to interview. In the end, the committee concluded the best choice was right here.

Tom began his newspaper career at 16 with the Evansville, Indiana, Courier. His parents still live in Evansville, and his old paper ran a great hometown-boy-makes-good story about his appointment.

He had been, at 29, the youngest top editor in Knight Ridder history, at the Columbus, Georgia, Ledger-Enquirer. He has worked at the Miami Herald, New York Times, Cincinnati Post and San Jose Mercury News, where he was a deputy managing editor. He served as editor and publisher of a monthly magazine, Arizona Trend. And he has written two books (his second was "Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the Priesthood," a portrait of 28 Catholic priests) and edited a third.

You will see his column in this space beginning with the July/August issue.

If I had tried to invent my successor as president and as dean, I could not have done better than this classy and talented Hoosier.