Michael L. Blackman — an esteemed reporter and editor who expanded the scope of the Star-Telegram during the late-1980s and ‘90s, and a man who loved ones say could make a friend out of anyone — died late Wednesday after dealing with several of illnesses. He was 77.
Born in 1943 in Anson, Texas — about three hours west of Fort Worth — Blackman began his professional journalism career at the Baytown Sun in 1967.
From there, Blackman worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati Post, New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer. His career spanned more than three decades, and he held myriad roles, including foreign desk editor and deputy sports editor at the Inquirer during the 1970s and ‘80s.
Blackman was known as a writer’s editor and a lover of the written word. He was a 1967 graduate of Baylor University and received his master’s from The Ohio State University in 1974.
Henry Holcomb, former deputy foreign editor for the Inquirer, worked with Blackman at the Inquirer, the Star-Telegram and Cincinnati Post. Blackman knew how to get the best out of reporters and helped his colleagues see stories clearly, he said.
Holcomb said Blackman was also a resourceful and supportive editor while running the Inquirer’s foreign desk during a busy time, with both presiding over the coverage of the Bhopal disaster in India, Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in the Soviet Union, famine in Ethiopia, civil wars in Lebanon and El Salvador and much more.
“He helped people stay focused and calm while their lives were at risk,” he said.
He was hired as the Star-Telegram’s vice president and executive editor in 1986, a role he filled for eight years. He was then editor of the paper for two years and editorial director for three until his retirement in 1999. He then worked as a writer and editor at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and taught journalism at Sam Houston State University.
During his tenure as executive editor at the Star-Telegram, Blackman led a growth of the newspaper from about 200 to about 300 staff members, Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy said.
Blackman oversaw expanded beats and state coverage, and brought in unique writers and storytellers that widened the scope and ambition of the newsroom, Kennedy said.
“He wanted to bring back the glory of the Star-Telegram as the newspaper of West Texas,” he said.
As editor, Blackman hired columnist Molly Ivins, known for her witty and unflinching column that was carried by nearly 400 newspapers.
Blackman also encouraged Kennedy to write more personal and lengthier columns early in his career.
“He encouraged people to experiment,” he said. “He encouraged people to be personal. He encouraged people to tell the best story they could.”
Beyond his talents as a reporter and editor, Blackman was regarded as a caring, attentive and thoughtful individual both in and out of the newsroom.
News of Blackman’s death reverberated within journalism circles Thursday, with hundreds of journalists and friends expressing their sadness and memories of Blackman on social media.
Robert J. Rosenthal, former editor of the Inquirer, said in a Facebook post that he is grateful for all that Blackman did to guide and teach him when Rosenthal was a foreign foreign correspondent and Blackman was the foreign editor.
“He put up with everything I did and supported me everyday for four years,” he said. “He was not only a superb editor but a caring, good man who knew when you had a good story.”
Roy Bode, former editor of the Dallas Times Herald, said in a Facebook post that he saw Blackman flourish everywhere he worked, first with his own writing, then with his talent in recognizing, recruiting and nourishing talented writers and editors.
“But Mike’s unique accomplishment was not as a journalist or as a writer. It was as a human being,” he said. “In nearly 50 years as his friend, I never heard him say anything mean or hurtful about another person. People from every niche of American society realized from the moment they met him that he would be a loyal and trusted friend.”
His wife, Dorothy Pomeroy Blackman, said he always wanted to be a friend to everyone, and spoke and treated every person equally, whether they were a young reporter or a head of state.
She said was a selfless community volunteer, a lover of Christ and a wonderful parent to his four children.
Later in his life, Blackman enjoyed family trips to Disney World and attending his son’s games. But he also struggled with health problems over the past years, including the aftermath of a stroke he suffered in 2000 and various surgeries.
Loved ones and colleagues alike say his legacy lives on as one of kindness, wisdom and focus to bring the best out of his newsrooms, peers and neighbors.
“A lot of people are going to be writing better, thinking better and doing things [better] for generations to come,” Holcomb said. “It’s kind of a ripple effect of what Mike did.”
Blackman is survived by his wife, Dorothy; two sons, Jay and and Sawyer; and two daughters, Molly and Emily.