Hollis R. Towns wins the 15th annual Robert G. McGruder Award for Diversity Leadership
The McGruder Award for Diversity Leadership is given annually to individuals, newsrooms or teams of journalists who embody the spirit of McGruder, a former executive editor of the Detroit Free Press, managing editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and a graduate of Kent State University. McGruder died of cancer in April 2002. A past president of APME and former member of the American Society of News Editors' Board of Directors, McGruder was a relentless diversity champion. The award will be presented during the lunch on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at the ASNE-APME News Leadership Conference in Philadelphia.
Towns will each receive $2,500 and a leadership plaque.
"I've known and admired Hollis for many years, and he truly has carried on the work of Robert G. McGruder and is an outstanding recipient of this honor,” APME President Laura Sellers said. "This award underscores how vital it is for news organizations to reflect and report on all of our communities. Hollis lives that goal, each day, in exemplary ways. I'm so thrilled he has received this honor.”
"Hollis knows the commitment to diversity is critical to providing multiple perspectives in communities, and fair and accurate coverage," Pam Fine, ASNE's president, said. "We commend him for making diversity a priority for his own newsroom and for his overall leadership on this issue. "
Towns is being honored for championing diversity in both hiring and news coverage at the Asbury newspaper. He raised minority employment at the Press from less than 10 percent in 2008 to 25 percent in 2016. The senior management team at the newspaper is 44 percent women and 33 percent minority.
In addition to leading a diverse newsroom, Towns has led his news team in tackling difficult issues of race, ethnicity and bias. The coverage has included exposing the imbalance of the state's property tax system; ending the abusive use of police mug shots that stereotyped minorities; and exposing inequities in local school districts.
Towns' influence extends to newsroom across Gannett, the parent company of the Asbury Park Press, and the USA Today network.
"Hollis has been a relentless recruiter of minority talent and has worked with the Gannett recruiting team for a number of years at NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) and UNITY conferences,” said Virgil Smith, former vice president for diversity for Gannett. "Hollis is an editor who not only recruits some of the best and brightest, he hires them and then he provides mentorship. The commitment from Hollis carries over to his passion for diversity, not only in his newsroom but in the industry.”
Before coming to the Asbury Park Press in 2008, Towns worked as managing editor and then executive editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer; managing editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette; and as a reporter and editor at the Atlanta Constitution. He has a bachelor's in journalism from Fort Valley State University in Macon, Ga.
Hollis also has served as an industry leader for APME, joining the national board in 2006 and overseeing the organization's mentoring program. He was elected to the leadership ladder and served as national president for 2011-12 and foundation chairman for 2012-13. He co-chairs the ASNE Diversity Committee with Karen Magnuson.
"I am particularly pleased to nominate Hollis because I have been inspired by his leadership as a Gannett colleague and former APME president,” Magnuson wrote in her nominating letter. "As a McGruder recipient myself, I know that no one who takes on the tough work of advancing the cause of diversity is doing it for any recognition or glory. Hollis Towns is a believer who lives and breathes the spirit of Bob McGruder every day.”
Robert G. McGruder