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SPJ mourns death of Bill Small, its 58th national president


Patricia Gallagher Newberry, SPJ National President, 513-702-4065,
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134,

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists mourns the death of its 58th president William J. Small. The veteran news executive died Sunday at the age of 93.

“We send our condolences to Mr. Small’s family, friends and former colleagues,” said Patricia Gallagher Newberry, SPJ national president. “While I did not know Bill personally, I know his work. He was a champion of women journalists when it wasn’t so easy to get into the business, and he dedicated his life and outstanding career to journalists and journalism.”

Small was the former CBS News Washington bureau chief, NBC News president, United Press International president and Chairman of the News & Documentary Emmy Awards.

Small served as SPJ, Sigma Delta Chi, national president in 1974-75 and was awarded the Wells Memorial Key, SPJ’s highest honor, in 1979. He also served as the national president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association and was on the executive board of the National Association of Broadcasters and the Washington Journalism Center.

In addition to the Wells Key, Small also twice received SPJ’s Distinguished Service Award for Research in Journalism.

SPJ members who knew Small recall good times spent with him and his wife, Gish, at SPJ events.

“Bill and his wife were a dynamic, charming couple,” said Casey Bukro, of Evanston, Illinois. “I encountered them at SPJ conventions, where his wife encouraged people to learn and sing the lyrics to, ‘Milkman, keep those bottles quiet.’ She said there would be a test at the next convention.”

Jim Plante, SPJ national president in 1987-88, first met Small at the Philadelphia convention in 1975.

“We huddled on several resolutions. At that point I worked at ABC News, but my oldest brother Bill was one of the correspondents assigned to the CBS News Chicago Bureau. So, we sort of had that in common,” Plante said. “The next year when the convention was in LA, I was sitting outside the hotel near its pool area the day before the board meeting. Bill had just arrived and walked up to me. He told me he had just gotten my brother transferred to the Washington Bureau, because he thought he'd give the Bureau, which he was in charge of, something to talk about while he was gone and I got a kick out of knowing about it almost as soon as my brother did.”

Small and Plante would see each other at other Society events. That networking and friendship ultimately resulted in Small suggesting Plante for a job at NBC running the domestic news desk.

At the SPJ National Convention in 2002, Small was credited by CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer as one of three men who had the biggest impact on his career.

In addition to Schieffer, Small hired journalists Ed Bradley, Bernard Shaw, Bernard Kalb and Bill Moyers, according to CBS News. “And he championed the hiring of women: Lesley Stahl, Diane Sawyer, Connie Chung, Martha Teichner, Rita Braver and Susan Spencer.

“Small's team helped make the ‘CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite’ number one in its slot for 20 straight years,” CBS News says on its website. 

“Once a great while, a person comes along who changes lives. And then there are those who change the world. In the world of journalism such a man was Bill Small…” said Michael Freedman, president of The National Press Club.

According to the Associated Press, Small and his late wife, Gish, had two daughters and six grandchildren. He is the author of two books on the role of the media in politics and society, taught communications and media management at Fordham University and was on the sociology faculty at the University of Louisville.

Small spent the last decade of his career as chairman of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which hands out Emmy Awards for television news and documentaries, retiring in 2010.

In 2014, the organization honored Small with its lifetime achievement award. In its presentation, it recognized him as a television news icon whose work in Washington was “paramount in the dramatic evolution of network news that continues today.”

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.


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