N E W S R E L E A S
401 N. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
January 8, 1984
RALPH OTWELL RETIRES
AS SUN-TIMES EDITOR
Ralph Otwellretired as editor of the Chicago Sun-Times Jan. 8, 1984, upon sale of the newspaper by Field Enterprises to Rupert Murdoch.
Having served more than a combined 15 years as managing editor and then editor, he was a top newsroom executive longer than anyone in the newspaper’s history. The Sun-Times won six of its eight Pulitzer Prizes during that period. When he retired, the paper was the nation’s seventh largest daily.
He became managing editor in 1968, a little more than 15 years after joining the Sun-Times. He was appointed editor in November, 1976, and was named to the additional post of executive vice president in June, 1980.
Professional concerns have occupied much of his time and attention throughout his career. In 1973 Otwell was named a charter member of the National News Council, an 18-member public interest group established to hear complaints against the media. He served until 1980, and was vice chairman of the council’s Freedom of the Press Committee.
He was elected president of the national Society of Professional Journalists in 1973, having served earlier as the organization’s first vice president, secretary and treasurer.
His service on the national board began in 1966, when he became the regional director for the area comprising
, Kentucky , Illinois and Indiana . Earlier he had served as president of the Wisconsin chapter (the Headline Club). Chicago
Among his honors is the Wells Key, the highest honor bestowed by the Society of Professional Journalists. In retirement, from 1987 to 1989, he was president of the society’s Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, which honors outstanding journalists and supports educational programs in journalism.
Six years after joining the Sun-Times Otwell won a Nieman Fellowship to attend
for an academic year (1959-60) . He concentrated in economic and urban affairs studies. Harvard University
He was honored as statewide Journalist of the Year by
(DeKalb) in 1975. He was cited for his leadership “across the whole range of professional concerns—from protection of the public’s right to know to the development of high journalistic standards and strengthened journalism education.” Northern Illinois University
Four years later he became the first nonlawyer selected as member of the Fair Trial-Free Press Committee of the Illinois State Bar Association.
In 1983 Otwell was honored jointly by the Chicago Press Club, the Chicago Headline Club and the National Center for Freedom of Information Studies at Loyola University for his “service to freedom of information.”
Otwell served as juror for the Pulitzer Prize awards in 1976, 1980 and 1981. In 1976 he was chairman of the Ethics Committee of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and earlier was a member of the committees that formulated codes of ethics for both ASNE and the Associated Press Managing Editors Association.
Otwell began his newspaper career at the age of 16 as a reporter for the
( Hot Springs ) New Era and Sentinel-Record. By the time he was drafted into the U. S. Army at 18 he had become telegraph editor. Ark.
He was an Infantry officer in World War II, ending his tour of active duty with the occupation forces in
. In 1951, in the same week he received his Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from Germany , he was recalled to active duty for the Korean War. He served as news editor of the Pacific edition of Stars and Stripes in Northwestern University and Japan until 1953. Korea
Days after his release from military duty he joined the Sun-Times as a copy editor. He was named assistant city editor in 1957, news editor in 1960, assistant managing editor for weekend editions in 1963, assistant to the editor in 1965 and managing editor in 1968. He also served in the features and financial departments and on the picture desk.
In 1963 he won the Chicago Newspaper Guild’s Stick-O-Type award for “excellence as an editor.”
Otwell was born
June 17, 1926, in He attended the Hot Springs, Ark. one year before transferring to Northwestern, where he was the top graduate in 1951 at the Medill School of Journalism. He received the Sigma Delta Chi Achievement Award upon graduation and has remained close to the university for many years as a part-time lecturer, alumnus member of the University Board of Student Publications, a member of the university’s Alumni Council and later the board of the Northwestern Alumni Association.. Universityof Arkansas
He received the university’s Merit Award for professional achievement in 1969 and its Alumni Service Award in 1995. He is a member of the Harvard Club of Chicago and the Northwestern Club of Chicago and a retired member of the Economic Club of Chicago. He is listed in “Who’s Who in America”.
His wife, Janet, received a master’s degree in journalism, also from Northwestern. They have three sons and live at 34 Knox Circle,