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Remembering John Carroll: An Iconic Newspaper Editor and the News Literacy Project’s Guiding Light

One year ago today, the newspaper world lost a true luminary — and the News Literacy Project lost one of its guiding lights.

John S. Carroll, the revered newspaper editor and a founding member of NLP’s board, died June 14, 2015, at the age of 73. He was one of NLP’s first two board members, served four years as its chairman and remained on the board until his death.John Carroll at WBEZ

“To this day, John’s spirit, values and impeccable standards are reflected in everything we do,” said NLP President Alan Miller. “He was excited about the prospect of moving to national scale. I believe he would be enormously gratified to see how far we’ve come since we lost him — far too soon.”

Carroll was the editor of the Los Angeles Times from 2000 to 2005, during which time the paper won 13 Pulitzer Prizes. He also was the editor of The Baltimore Sun (1991-2000) and the Lexington (Ky.) Herald Leader (1979-1991). He served on the Pulitzer Prize board from 1994 to 2003 and was its chairman in 2002. Earlier in his career he was a reporter at The Sun and metro editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

During Carroll’s memorial service in Lexington, Dean Baquet, whom Carroll hired as his managing editor in Los Angeles, quoted a former colleague who said that watching Carroll edit was "like watching Willie Mays play baseball.” Baquet, who is now executive editor of The New York Times, recalled Carroll’s abiding belief in “the honor and power of journalism.”

Norm Pearlstine, a classmate of Carroll’s at Haverford College and the chief content officer at Time Inc., called him “our generation’s best, most respected, best-loved newspaper editor."

NLP is honoring Carroll’s memory through classroom and digital programs supported by a memorial fund and with an annual award to recognize the valuable contributions of the project’s volunteer journalist fellows.

Two classroom units are being dedicated to Carroll, as are more than 1,000 seats in the spring pilot for the project’s checkology™ virtual classroom, which launched May 2 and is NLP’s primary path to national scale. Both the classroom and digital programs focus on underserved communities.

The first classroom unit was completed in the fall of 2015 in Silver Spring, Md.; the second unit, in the fall of 2016, will take place in Chicago. The virtual classroom seats are spread across schools in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington.

As their final project for the first classroom unit, students at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring wrote letters to Lee Carroll, John’s widow, thanking her and describing the value of their experience with NLP. Miller and reporter David Willman, who both won Pulitzer Prizes while working closely with Carroll at the Los Angeles Times, delivered lessons focusing on investigative reporting overseen by the highly respected editor.

“Your esteemed late husband, John Carroll, has left a legacy that will not be forgotten by the world,” Laura Espinoza, a 10th-grade student, began her letter. “It’s inspiring to meet someone who helps you grow as a person and a professional. Your husband was that person to many people.”

NLP also plans to honor Carroll by recognizing the outstanding contributions of one or more of its journalists annually. The winner or winners of the first John S. Carroll Journalist Fellow of the Year Award will be announced this summer.

Volunteer journalist fellows have been a key to NLP’s success from the start, bringing their distinctive real-world expertise and experience into the project’s partner schools. There are nearly 300 journalists in NLP’s online directory; collectively, they have delivered more than 600 lessons, in person and virtually, since 2009.

This year, in an extension of Carroll’s involvement with the Pulitzer Prizes, NLP is partnering with the Pulitzer Prize Centennial’s yearlong celebration. Two of the project’s students from a school in Brooklyn asked thoughtful questions of Pulitzer Prize administrator Mike Pride during the announcement of the 2016 prizes at Columbia University in April. All three newspapers that Carroll edited won Pulitzers during his time there, and as metro editor in Philadelphia he directed reporting that won the awards in two consecutive years. His father, Wallace Carroll, a widely admired newspaper editor, also served on the Pulitzer board.

Carroll joined NLP in late 2007 as one of its first two board members and was elected chairman on Jan. 1, 2011. He skillfully, tirelessly and selflessly led the board and NLP through a period of dramatic success and growth before stepping down on Dec. 31, 2014.

“For me, being chair has been an education and a privilege,” Carroll said. “We’ve demonstrated the value of news literacy and the ways it can be taught. Having done so on a retail basis, we’re going to make the training available digitally at no cost to any school that asks for it. If we’re successful — and I’m confident that we will be — we stand to reach hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, of young people with training that will be good both for them and for society.”

Gwen Ifill, co-anchor and co-managing editor of “PBS NewsHour,” host of “Washington Week” and a member of NLP’s board since 2011, said at Carroll’s final meeting in December 2014, “We would not have launched this successful project without the credibility that the name ‘John Carroll’ brings to the business. We couldn’t even have dreamt of being in this position.”