William R Burleigh · 1996
Bill Burleigh’s newspaper career is a classic example of starting young, getting a foot in the door, working hard and climbing the ladder of success in a profession one loves.
At 15, he went to work for his hometown paper, The Evansville Press, doing part-time sports reporting while going to Evansville Memorial High School.
Then it was on to college at Marquette University where he was editor of the campus and from which he was graduated magna cum laude and as the outstanding journalism graduate. During his summers back at home from college in Evansville, he moved from department to department at The Press, learning the business.
After a post-college stint in the U.S. Infantry Service, Burleigh came back to the Press and began to cover education and labor.
One of the hottest stories of the late 1950s was school integration in the South, and Burleigh went on the road to bring that national story home to Evansville readers. From that, it seemed a natural evolution to become the paper’s first urban affairs reporter.
After covering the Indiana General Assembly and just nine years after joining the paper as a high-schooler, Burleigh was promoted to assistant city editor in 1960 and, two years later, to city editor.
He moved up another notch in 1969 when he became managing editor. Then in 1975, at age 40, he became both editor and president of the Press and corporate secretary of the Evansville Printing Corp.
During this time, his editorial writing won awards from the Hoosier State Press Association (1972 and 1973), the Press Club of Evansville (1977) and the Indiana UPI (also 1977).
Eight years later in 1977, another Scripps Howard paper came calling, attracting Burleigh away from Evansville to be editor of the Cincinnati Post.
Burleigh was editor for nearly seven years before moving from the newsroom to the corporate office as vice president and general editorial manager for Scripps Howard, which is based in Cincinnati.
Over the next 10 years he would move up the Scripps Howard ladder four more times: to senior vice president for newspapers and publishing in 1986, to executive vice president in 1990, to chief operating office in May 1994 and to his current position as president and chief operating officer in August of 1994.
Now he oversees a company that publishes 24 daily newspapers; operates one of the world’s largest wire services; owns a dominant feature syndicate, United Media; and also operates television and radio stations and cable TV companies.
As one would expect from the head of a major media company, his memberships and involvements remain numerous.
His affiliation with the Associated Press includes membership on its executive committee, chairmanship of its News Committee and service as one of its directors.
Burleigh has been a Pulitzer Prize juror four times: 1983, 1984, 1992 and 1993.
He is a founding trustee of the First Amendment Congress and was active in committee work with the American Society of Newspaper Editors, specifically on press/bar relationships and freedom of information.
Burleigh co-edited a joint report by ASNE and the American Newspaper Publishers Association called “Free Press & Fair Trial” in 1982. In the forward of that booklet, Burleigh and his co-editor wrote:
“Crimes and criminal proceedings are of legitimate interest to the public. Court rules or rulings that discourage or suppress public discussion and debate can foster gossip, rumor and misinformation. It is of course true that, because the press is free to publish facts and comments about crimes and criminal proceedings, there may be occasion when what is published will be false or misleading or perhaps even prejudicial.
“The publication of erroneous material is liable to punishment, and remedies exist to mitigate the damage that may result. But rumor and gossip, and the ignorance and prejudice they promote, are not subject to any control, nor are they liable to punishment.”
He also has served as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors Foundation.
His community involvements include serving on the Board of Governors of the Queen City Club; being a director of the Hebrew Union College Ethics Center, Cincinnati Nature Center and Ohio National Life Insurance Co.; being chairman emeritus of Good Samaritan Hospital; and memberships in the Literary Club of Cincinnati and Commercial Club.
At age 60, Burleigh says he’s ready for more of the profession that has been his since those days at 15 when he wrote sports for the Evansville Press. “I am flattered [to be inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame], humbled and much too young to be embalmed.”
Burleigh’s wife, Anne Husted Burleigh, is an author. They have three children: David, Catherine and Margaret.