John S. Knight

John S. Knight

John S. Knight at his desk. photo: Tony Spina

John S. Knight was committed to high quality, independent journalism that served local communities and the public interest.

Knight built one of the most respected newspaper companies of the 20th Century, Knight Ridder Newspapers. He believed that the key to editorial independence was financial success and his newspapers succeeded at both. He insisted that his newspapers have their own local voices and priorities and he gave their editors lots of freedom. The result: For much of the second half of the 20th Century, Knight Ridder papers consistently produced some of the best and most important journalism in the United States.

Jack Knight began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the newspaper his father, C.L. Knight owned, the Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio. He later became managing editor and inherited the paper when his father died. Soon, Knight began buying other newspapers around the country – in Miami, Detroit, Philadelphia, Charlotte, N.C., to name a few.

Knight had a simple philosophy about journalism: “Get the truth and print it.” He fought against efforts to limit press freedoms and for open government.

Even after he left the daily newsroom to run his growing newspaper empire, Jack Knight continued for years to write a weekly column for the Beacon Journal. And in 1968, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, for his vigorous opposition to the Vietnam war and his support for the free speech rights of anti-war protesters. Two of his other newspapers, Detroit Free Press and the Charlotte Observers also won Pulitzers that year, making Knight newspapers the first publisher to win three in one year.

The following year, 1969, he took his company public. Around that time, Knight reinforced his newspapers’ commitment to independent, top-notch journalism. “We do not sacrifice the quality of our newspapers on the altar of the counting house,’ he said. “As responsible purveyors of information and opinion, we are committed to the philosophy that journalism is likewise a public trust, an institution which serves, protects and advances the public welfare.”