Pam Johnson, editor of The Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette, dies

Pam Johnson, a pioneering journalist who ran the newsroom of The Arizona Republic and that of the sister Phoenix Gazette for 13 years, died Jan. 20 in Overland Park, Kansas, at age 74 after a long battle with dementia.

“She was very peaceful and comfortable, and we were very lucky to have the opportunity to bring her home on Christmas Eve to be with the family for a few hours,” her son Matthew said in an email. . “It was a wonderful occasion, and she was very happy.”

In addition to a long career in media management, Johnson has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, judge for writing awards at the American Society of Newspaper Editors, chairman of the Associated Press Managing Editors, and member of various boards. Of the industry.

“When it’s in your blood, journalism is what you live for,” she once said in a 2013 oral history conducted by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute’s school of journalism. University of Missouri.

She was named the institute’s first executive director in 2004, after leaving Phoenix and working for three years at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in Florida.

At the Reynolds Institute, she oversaw projects to improve the practice of journalism, experiments to understand new technologies for journalism and advertising, and programs to strengthen the quality of journalism.

Johnson was also a founding member of Journalism and Women’s Symposium, a networking group. She recounted her struggles early in her career and credited networking with women with helping her land editor-in-chief positions first at the Phoenix Gazette and later at The Republic.

“It was hard for a woman to be heard,” Johnson said of her early career, in oral history. “I could say something in a meeting and it would go over anyone’s head.”

Stages of Increasing Accountability

Pamela Jean Eliason was born and raised in Carthage, Missouri. After graduating from high school in the city and attending a local college, she landed a part-time job at the Globe in Joplin, Missouri, according to a biography compiled by the Missouri School of Journalism, where she was graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1969. .

“Her children remember her as a driven and bright woman, an avid Missouri Tigers fan and a patient mother who encouraged them to pursue their goals,” said Matthew Johnson.

After graduating from college, Johnson was hired at the Binghamton Evening Press in New York City and a year later joined the Kansas City Times copy department, later joining the Kansas City Star. She shared a Pulitzer Prize in 1982 with a Star and Times team that covered a hotel walkway collapse that killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds.

After rising through the ranks to deputy editor of the Star, Johnson moved west in 1988 to become editor of the Phoenix Gazette, then was named editor and later editor of The Republic.

Don Nicoson, whom Johnson promoted from The Republic’s economics editor to executive editor, described her as “one of those people you couldn’t wait to see in or out of the writing”.

He remembered her as having small-town Midwestern values. “I remember how she backed off when someone put ‘Butt-head’ in a title on the ‘Beavis and Butt-head’ show,” he said.

But Johnson was never rude or petty, Nicoson added.

“Bored was about as angry as she could get, at least in front of others. If she had a problem with you, one-on-one sessions were the rule. She was fair and listened, but once she pulled her line in the sand, it didn’t move.”

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An editor and mentor

Keven Willey, who was promoted by Johnson from writer to editor of The Republic’s editorial page, described her as a caring editor who taught many valuable lessons.

One of them was: Get the facts right, but also get the facts right.

“It was his way of saying context matters,” Willey said. “Just because something is factual doesn’t necessarily mean it’s relevant or important. Be sure to provide readers with the proper perspective, so that in these times of information overload, they can sort through the important unimportant.”

Another lesson: if you urge me to get an answer right now, the answer is no.

“It was her way of reminding a new editor that she doesn’t have to respond immediately to every tough judgment call,” said Willey, who later became vice president and editor-in-chief of the Dallas Morning. News. .

In other words, it’s usually wise to take the time to really think through decisions.

“That’s what good publishers do,” Willey said. “Don’t let your desire to please an anxious reporter rush you to a rash conclusion. Thinking is the mark of good judgment.”

Randy Picht, who succeeded Johnson as executive director of the Reynolds Institute, described her as “smart, detail-oriented, and (with) plenty of experience in all areas of the news industry”. Johnson, he added, gave the institute a good start. “We benefit from it every day.”

Creation of a scholarship fund

Matthew Johnson said his mother loved her time at The Republic. “I know how fondly she thought of the people she worked with there,” he said.

Survivors include sons Matthew and Brad Johnson, daughter Sheila Dalton Crews, a sister, four grandchildren and a beloved dog. She was predeceased by her second husband of 16 years, Jim Dalton, who died in 2017. Johnson was a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Carthage.

Memorial donations to the Pam Johnson Journalism Scholarship can be made online at:

Checks made payable to Missouri School of Journalism, indicating the donation is for the Pam Johnson Journalism Fellowship, may be mailed to Missouri School of Journalism, Office of Advancement, 103 Neff Hall, Columbia, MO, 65211.

Online condolences can be expressed at

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