2006 Frank W. Mayborn Leadership Award

Ashton Phelps Jr. honored

Posted

2006 recipient:
Ashton Phelps Jr., president and publisher
The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, La.

Victor H. Hanson III, president and publisher of the Birmingham (Ala.) News and president of SNPA, said the 2006 recipient of the Mayborn Award "has long been a driving force in his community, but his leadership became legendary in the wake of Hurricane Katrina."

Phelps' team was forced to evacuate, but the storm could not curtail the paper's commitment to its readers. The staff provided not just news, but the essential information that people needed to reassemble their lives.

Here's a comment from one reader that sums up the job Phelps' newspaper did:

It truly brought home to me the massive enormity of the loss that is Hurricane Katrina. The loss of lives is devastating, but the loss of basic human dignity is a tragedy of its own. I'm not sure who my heart goes out to the most: those mourning the loss of their loved ones, or those who have to live with the memories of surviving Katrina, of surviving the filth, the hunger, and the fear.

The fact is these journalists voluntarily embraced those experiences, a heroic act in and of itself. But, by listening, simply listening, to the stories of the survivors, by saying 'your suffering matters, please let me tell others about it...' and being the survivor's voice in a dark and dangerous hour, they did more than just their jobs; they returned to the survivors a small measure of their human dignity. A Pulitzer Prize can't begin to touch that. No award can."

The Times-Picayune did, in fact, win two Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of Katrina - one for breaking news, one for community service.

In addition, the paper also was awarded by King Juan Carlos I of Spain the third Antonio Asensio Prize for Journalism "for its extraordinary spirit of resilience and willingness to serve its readers."

The Asensio Prize Jury also praised the newspaper for its 2002 series that warned of the community's vulnerability to hurricanes.

Phelps is a life-long resident of New Orleans. He received his bachelor's degree from Yale University in 1967 and his law degree from Tulane University Law School in 1970. While in law school, he was a member of the Board of Student Editors of the Tulane Law Review and of the Order of the Coif.

Upon graduation from law school, he went to work for The Times-Picayune, training in the news, production, advertising and circulation departments.

He was named assistant to the publisher in 1971 and also vice president and secretary in 1975. He succeeded his father, Ashton Phelps Sr., as president and publisher on Dec. 1, 1979.

Six months after he became publisher, the morning Times-Picayune and the afternoon States-Item combined into an all-day newspaper, the Times-Picayune & States-Item. The paper was renamed The Times-Picayune in October 1986.

Phelps is a past president of SNPA and has served both on the Board of Directors of SNPA and on the Board of Trustees of the SNPA Foundation. He is a past president of the Louisiana Press Association and a member of the Board of Directors of the United Negro College Fund.

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