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Hearst executive George B. Irish receives 2008 Casey Award

irishGeorged.jpgSJMC director Albert Tims presented the 2008 Ralph D. Casey/Minnesota Award to Hearst Corporation executive George B. Irish during the Inland Press Association's annual meeting, held Oct. 28, 2008, in Chicago.

by Jen Keavy

irishGeorge.jpgLast year marked the 60th anniversary of the Ralph D. Casey/Minnesota Award. Ralph D. Casey, a onetime newspaperman, came to the University of Minnesota in 1930 and led the journalism program for nearly three decades. Casey, known for his interdisciplinary approach to journalism studies, saw the opportunity for journalism to serve a higher purpose. He was an advocate for journalists who could put the day's news in the context of the greater forces shaping our communities and our society. In the words of longtime University of Minnesota president James Morrill, Casey's work exemplified the "conviction that newspapers and all the media of communication shall accept the obligation of social trusteeship--and shall exercise this trust with courage and an unremitting sense of responsibility to the public interest and welfare."

Like the previous recipients of the Casey Award, George Irish was recognized for his commitment to this obligation of social trusteeship. From his first job in journalism as a carrier for the Toledo Blade to his most recent role as president of Hearst Newspapers and senior vice president of Hearst Corporation, Irish has demonstrated a strong sense of leadership and stewardship, not only in his professional roles but also through his generous involvement and volunteerism in education, in the industry and in the communities where he has lived and worked.

After graduating in 1968 from Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., Irish began his newspaper career with Lindsay-Schaub Newspapers. He joined Hearst in 1979, when the corporation acquired the Midland (Mich.) Daily News. While at Hearst, he served as publisher of the Midland Daily News, president and publisher of the Midland (Texas) Reporter-Telegram, publisher of the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise, group publisher of the Hearst Texas division and publisher of the San Antonio (Texas) Light. From 2000 to 2008, he served as president of Hearst Newspapers and senior vice president of Hearst Corporation, where he oversaw one of America's leading newspaper groups, with more than 6,000 employees, 16 dailies and 49 weeklies. In December 2008, he retired as president of Hearst Newspapers and senior vice president of Hearst Corporation to become vice president and eastern director of the two Hearst Foundations, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation of California and The Hearst Foundation Inc. of New York, which are independent entities separate from Hearst Corporation.

Irish has served on many high-profile boards and committees, including the board of directors of the Newspaper Association of America, the board of visitors of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and the Newseum board of trustees for the Freedom Forum.

Irish's nomination for the Casey/Minnesota Award received deep and extraordinary support from his colleagues within the industry.

John Sturm, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, noted Irish's "aggressive support of the highest in journalistic values and the deep ties to the communities where he has published newspapers."

Thomas Curley, president and CEO of the Associated Press, has known Irish for 25 years and worked with him closely for the past decade, especially during his term on the AP's executive board. According to Curley, Irish worked many extra hours on AP business, helping to engineer an impressive financial turnaround. "Most impressive," he wrote in endorsing Irish for the Casey/Minnesota Award, "he knew when to sit in the chorus, working toward a solution built on many voices; or when to play Gretzky, getting the job done while others bickered."

The Inland Press Association honored Irish with its Distinguished Service Award in 2003, and the American Press Institute recognized him with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

In presenting the award to Irish, Tims said, "The AP's Thomas Curley seemed to sum up the other nominators' sentiments well: 'Above all,' he said, 'George is genuine. Whether in pinstripes and surrounded by New York power players or in short sleeves walking the streets of his Ohio hometown, George fits. He knows who he is and where he is, and the rest of us are so much better for having him with us.'"