Courier-Journal Executive Editor Bennie Ivory is Retiring

Courier-Journal Executive Editor Bennie Ivory’s long tenure leading the paper’s newsroom ends on Friday.

Ivory announced his retirement today.

The Courier-Journal reports: 

Ivory, a 62-year-old native of Hot Springs, Ark., said he plans to stay in Louisville in retirement but will spend more time with his granchildren and visiting Arkansas.

“This is where I wanted to be,” he said of Louisville. “This is where I wanted to end it. And that’s what I’m doing this week. It’s been a great ride. It really has. Here and elsewhere.”

Jean Porter will run The C-J newsroom while a “national search” is undertaken to find a permanent executive editor, the newspaper added.

Porter has been The C-J’s managing editor—the No. 2 newsroom post—since 2009. She’d previously served as metro editor and neighborhoods editor, among other posts. She is a Louisville native.

The search for Ivory’s replacement will consider candidates who work within the newspaper’s parent company, Gannett, and candidates who don’t, Publisher Wesley Jackson told WFPL. Jackson said he expects candidates may also come from The Courier-Journal, too.

Jackson said he’ll make the final decision on who will replace Ivory, but he will likely look for feedback on candidates from within Gannett.

“We want to move quickly to identify the candidates, but we’re going to take the appropriate amount of time to identify the best candidates for the role and make a great decision,” Jackson said.

“This is an important job and an important set of responsibilities for The Courier and, I believe, it has an enormous impact on the community.”

Ivory became executive editor of The Courier-Journal in 1997 and is the first African American to hold the newspaper’s top newsroom post. 

He was executive editor of The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., (like The C-J, owned by Gannett) before being appointed to lead The C-J’s news staff. 

(Ivory has not responded to a request for comment.)

In his tenure in Louisville, Ivory has presided over a news operation that has undertaken aggressive coverage of what The C-J staff calls “First Amendment journalism.” Recent examples include coverage of the proposed merger between University of Louisville Hospital and Catholic Health Initiatives and issues with the state’s handling of child abuse cases.

In recent years under Ivory, The C-J’s staff has shrunk as revenues have decreased—in step with a national trend that has troubled practically every newspaper in the U.S.

“His leadership has been important to maintain the focus on producing good journalism as we go through reorganization and, in some cases, reductions historically—producing award-winning journalism in our community,” Jackson said. 

(And, as a disclaimer, I was a reporter for The C-J until last year, when I moved to WFPL. For a very brief spell, I was laid-off from the newspaper until being re-hired into another C-J reporting job.)

In a 1997, the Columbia Journalism Review looked into how The Courier-Journal was faring since the Bingham family sold it to Gannett in the mid1980s. Ivory’s predecessor, Mark Silverman, was credited for doing some good things in Louisville, but he was not particularly well-liked, CJR reported. 

CJR noted:

“Many staffers, however, contend newsroom give-and-take decreased during what some still refer to as Silverman’s ‘reign of terror.’ ‘It was like a kink in a garden hose,’ says one. When Ivory took over, he detected tension. ‘Never,’ he remarked at a brown-bag staff lunch, had he ‘seen so many tight asses.’ Now, Ivory says, he wants to create a ‘loose and communicating newsroom.’ Some feel he is off to a solid start; some say he represents ‘Gannett lite’; many watch and wait.”

That was 16 years ago.  I contacted a current and a former C-J staffer today to reflect on Ivory’s time at the newspaper. 

“Bennie’s Courier-Journal tenure was filled with more challenges and changes than any that came before at the newspaper,” said Eric Crawford, who left a sports columnist job at The C-J for WDRB TV. 

“Those of us who are from Louisville often compare the paper today with the paper 20 or 30 years ago with a degree of sadness. But when you compare the paper today to papers in similar and larger markets, it has more than held its own. Bennie’s leadership is a big part of that. His legacy, in part, will be that he continued to push aggressive First Amendment journalism against a backdrop of major cutbacks in the industry, cuts that, frankly, might have been worse with someone less committed at the helm.”

Deborah Yetter is a C-J editorial writer. Before taking that post, she was a C-J reporter. She said:

What I think I and the staff like most about Bennie is his dedication to what we would call ‘hard news.’ Despite all the changes to t he industry, he hasn’t lost sight of that and has focused as many resources as possible on project reporting and investigative work that does make a difference.

I have my current job because of his commitment to keeping a strong editorial presence at The Courier-Journal even as some papers have scaled back or essentially eliminated the editorial presence. True we have fewer people overall at the CJ but I believe he has worked in difficult times to preserve news and editorial and keep them a strong voice in the community.

On a personal note, he’s a pretty good guy and we are going to miss him around here.

Joseph Lord

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

@joseph_Lord

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