N E W S  R E L E A S E
401 N. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611

January 8, 1984


Ralph Otwell retired 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, Indiana and Wisconsin. Earlier he had served as president of the Chicago chapter (the Headline Club).

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 Harvard University for an academic year (1959-60) .  He concentrated in economic and urban affairs studies.

He was honored as statewide Journalist of the Year by Northern Illinois University (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.”

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 (Ark.) New Era and  Sentinel-Record.  By the time  he was drafted into the U. S. Army at  18  he  had become telegraph editor.

He was an Infantry officer in World War II, ending his tour of active duty with the occupation forces in Germany.  In  1951, in the same week he received his Bachelor of Science degree  in journalism  from  Northwestern  University, he  was  recalled  to active duty for the Korean War.  He served as news editor of the Pacific edition of Stars and Stripes in Japan and  Korea  until 1953.

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 Hot Springs,  Ark.   He attended the University of Arkansas 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..

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, Evanston, Ill.

(Updated 1/20/1997.)