Father of 'Project Watchdog,' honored with GM gift
The Sigma Delta Chi (SDX) Foundation, the education arm of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), has received a $30,000 gift payable over three years from the General Motors Foundation in honor of the late R.T. Kingman.
Kingman, who was a reporter in Kansas and Missouri for nearly 15 years before joining the corporate public relations staff of General Motors, created SPJ/SDX's Project Watchdog, in 1982. His idea of an ambitious public service ad campaign aimed at educating the public about the value of a free press in America was immediately embraced by his journalism colleagues.
Kingman raised $1 million in cash and in-kind contributions to develop the "Project Watchdog" campaign which ran as newspaper and broadcast ads for four years -- 1987 to 1991 -- to coincide with the bicentennials of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The theme of the campaign was "If the Press Didn't Tell Us, Who Would?"
Kingman was director of GM's Washington communications office when he died in 1986 at the age of 61.
"R.T. Kingman was an immensely creative man who cared deeply about press freedom, " said William H. Noack, director of GM's Washington communications office. "That's why he worked so hard to make Project Watchdog a reality.
"We at General Motors are honored to present this gift in R.T.'s name and with the hope that more of our fellow citizens will come to understand that America is great because America is free," said Noack.
Howard Dubin, president of the SDX Foundation and publisher of Manufacturers News in Chicago, said the gift was "a very welcome and appropriate one for a widely regarded colleague who placed an extremely high value on press freedoms. These funds will be put to good use to further the
cause of a strong and free press in America," said Dubin, who began working with Kingman when Project Watchdog was an idea on paper.
Reginald Stuart, SPJ president and assistant news editor in Washington for Knight-Ridder, added: "Even when his objectives as a journalist, his first calling, may have conflicted with those of his employer, R.T. remained ever faithful to the values of the press in America. His employer remained ever respectful of how important this was to R.T. and supported him along the way. This gift reinforces that vote of respect."
Dubin said the funds will be used in two ways:
• Over the next three years, the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation of Washington, D.C., the education arm of the Washington professional chapter of SPJ, will receive $3,500 of the GM Foundation gift to support the R.T. Kingman scholarship.
The Kingman scholarship has been awarded each year since 1987 by the Washington SDX Foundation to a college student seeking a journalism degree. The scholarship is currently supported with donations from SPJ members, the Gridiron Club and Mrs. Jean Kingman.
• The balance of the funds will be used to support Freedom of Information/Sunshine summits sponsored each year by SPJ. These programs are extensions of Kingman's Project Watchdog agenda. The next session is scheduled for November.
A native of Kansas City, Kansas, Kingman began his career in journalism while a high school stringer. Jean Carey, whom he would eventually marry, was a competing stringer for another high school. He joined Sigma Delta Chi while in college.
After graduation in 1947 from the University of Kansas, where he edited the campus newspaper, Kingman held a variety of reporting positions for newspapers and trade journals in Kansas and Missouri and also wrote for The Associated Press.
Kingman joined the public affairs staff of General Motors in 1957, holding a variety of posts with the company across the country, eventually landing as GM's chief of public affairs in the nation's capital.
During his GM tour, Kingman stayed ever active and loyal to SPJ/SDX, working in local chapters wherever he was based, promoting the public watchdog role of the press and helping organize four national conventions--two in California, one in Detroit and one in Washington, D.C. His Project Watchdog idea gave him a permanent place in journalism history and helped raise public consciousness about the valuable role of the press in America.