John J. "Jack" Powers · 1994
Some reporters love to bash their bosses for having little guts and less wisdom. To some, the word editor is a pejorative.
But not when it applies to Jack Powers, former managing editor and executive editor at the South Bend Tribune. When Powers’ former reporters talk about him, even now nearly four years after his retirement, it is with respect, thankfulness, admiration and more than a little fondness.
“As a reporter who worked under Powers’ direction for over two decades,” said The Tribune’s long-time political columnist Jack Colwell, “I can attest to his desire for accuracy, ability to inspire dedication in informing the public and determination to uphold the highest principles of journalism.”
And reporter James Wensits, who drew the plum assignment of writing the story of Powers’ retirement for The Tribune in 1990, said of his former boss: “Jack was no passive editor-he was always right there on the front lines. We could also count on him to back up his reporter-when the reporter was right–no matter how important the protesting politician or community bigwig might be. Nobody intimidated Powers, including his own bosses. No reporter who worked for Powers could could ever complain about being sold out because the boss didn’t have the guts to back him up.”
Powers went to The Tribune right out of college, a little Golden-Domed school across town called Notre Dame. An Irishman from Brooklyn, N.Y., Powers came to school there in 1948, graduated cum laude in 1952 and started working for The Tribune the same year.
He wrote features, did rewrite and, as he would again more than 30 years later, wrote editorials.
At 29, five years after joining the paper, he became managing editor in 1957.
He kept the job for 27 years, developing and expanding the paper’s news coverage; nurturing its young writers, editors and photographers; pioneering the paper’s summer internship program; and earning respect inside his newsroom and outside in the community.
In 1984, he became executive editor and returned to editorial writing, award-winning editorials that mixed acerbic wit with wisdom in a pursuit he called “getting paid to smite Philistines.”
Here’s the lead from one of his editorials: “In a spasm of pietistic clucking, CBS Inc. fired Jimmy `the Greek’ Snyder last week for making racist remarks, a thing the network should have done years ago on grounds no more profound than the fact that he is an uncouth boor.”
And Powers smote not only boors, but bores.
“Sen. Jesse Helms, the noted North Carolina art critic, is after the National Endowment for the Arts again,” Powers wrote in an editorial in 1990. “He wants the sinners purged, on suspicion of showing dirty pictures. Since senators have a certain amount of clout when it comes to the federal budget, The Carolina Gasbag has to be listened to.”
Nearly five decades after matriculating at Notre Dame, Powers is still working inside its classroom. He teaches journalism there now, as he has for the last decade.
Powers and his wife, Barbara, are the parents of 10 children.