James N. Crutchfield Biography
Newspaper president, publisher
James N. Crutchfield is president and publisher of the award-winning Akron Beacon Journal newspaper. The publication is well known for its in-depth reporting and is the oldest continuously operated business in Summit County, Ohio. It circulates in a five county area and has a daily readership of 300,800. The Akron Beacon Journal serves a predominately middle-class readership with an average income of $55,329 and is staffed with 752 employees. Crutchfield is also a trustee for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and sits on the board of numerous organizations in and around Akron, Ohio.
James Nicholas Crutchfield was born on December 7, 1947, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, and raised in Pittsburgh's Hill District after his parents separated, then divorced. Like many African Americans, Crutch-field's parents had migrated from the South, seeking better employment opportunities. His father, Charles, found it in the steel industry. "He was well-liked and smart in an era that offered few opportunities for a black man," Crutchfield told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). His mother, Nancy, was quiet, but possessed a lot of resolve. Her life revolved around her faith and her three sons, and from her boys she expected much. She encouraged them constantly to do their best. "If we didn't do well in school, she didn't like it," Crutchfield remembered. "She expected perfect grades. She also felt we should be as good as anyone else, and above all we should be good people who respected others. I only realized recently how much she taught me." Crutchfield said another influence in his life was someone he met as a kid, baseball player Roberto Clemente. "He played hard and he died because he cared about people," Crutchfield said.
Life in the mixed-income black community of the Hill District was not unlike life in other black communities of its size. Crutchfield remembered well the dice games, police harassment, and sidewalk chalk markings, evidence of neighborhood violence. But much of Crutch-field's youth was spent playing baseball and reading. "I was a bookworm who liked to read everything, Poe, sports, anything I could get my hands on," Crutchfield told CBB. He finished high school in 1965, and later began work as a reporter for The Pittsburgh Press in 1968. He left there in 1971, to work for the Pittsburgh Model Cities Program as its public information officer. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette hired him in 1971, and he remained there until 1976. He held another reporting job with the Detroit Free Press from 1976–79.
Crutchfield's next job offer came from Senator Carl Levin of Michigan as his press secretary. It took him to Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Senate. At that time, black faces were in very short supply on Capitol Hill, but Crutchfield remembered one in particular and recalled an interesting glimpse he got of that person's political views during a discussion with a black Senate page. The page was surprised that Crutchfield's opinions and the other black's opinions never seemed to agree. The other gentleman's opinions would later become a subject of national controversy, sparking a high-profile battle for his confirmation as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The other gentleman was Justice Clarence Thomas. Crutchfield learned a lot about people from his time in Washington, particularly that politicians are like everyone else. "Some are shady, some are trustworthy, the majority are in the middle," he said.
In 1981, Crutchfield returned to Michigan as the bureau chief for the Free Press in Lansing. Next he earned several editor's spots with the Free Press in Detroit between 1983 and 1989. The Akron Beacon Journal was his next stop in 1989, when he was offered the managing editor's position. In 1993, Crutchfield went west to Long Beach, California, as senior vice-president and executive editor of the Press-Telegram until the paper was sold in 1997. Moving back east to Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., that year, Crutchfield became assistant to the publisher and director of single copy sales and distribution. In January 2000, Crutchfield was named general manager of the Akron Beacon Journal, and in 2001 he became its president and publisher.
"Making decisions that affect the news and seeing my staff succeed is the greatest thing," Crutchfield told CBB. When asked about the qualities of his most successful people, Crutchfield said, "The best writers are the best reporters. I also find that lots of people can write smoothly, but most don't rely on their senses. The passion, the music, the feeling is missing. And the best journalism has a lot in common with great fiction writing." Crutchfield said black journalists, in particular, need to be willing to take more risks if they are to set themselves apart. "We have to be willing to establish our own style and not be like other writers because we want to be accepted," he noted to CBB.
A typical week for Crutchfield starts out by "finding the lay of the land and staking out the week ahead," he told CBB. "Tuesday is a big day as well. I meet with my top staff to see how they are doing journalistically and financially. It means one decision after another. Some involve figuring out what we need to do short and long term." One of the most difficult decisions for Crutch-field comes if he has to lay off employees. Although it is his job to make these necessary business decisions, he said it is "very hard and I've spent sleepless nights over it." Crutchfield finds that when it does happen he does it in a manner that allows the employee to "land right." He prefers to handle this personally because he knows that he will have their best interest at heart.
Even though some may describe him as easy-going like his mother, Crutchfield said he can also be intense and relentless, because he expects the best from his staff. These are all useful traits that serve him well in the newspaper business. He has the track record to prove it. Crutchfield was instrumental in "setting the stage" for the Pulitzer Prize the Akron Journal Beacon earned in 1994 for Meritorious Public Service, just after his departure from the paper in 1993. Back at the paper Crutchfield set as his goal to "change the direction of the paper and make it a company of the future," he said. Like his hero, Roberto Clemente, he'll do it with hard work and compassion.
"James N. Crutchfield," John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, www.knightfdn.org/about/trustees/james_crutchfield.html (September 20, 2005).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with James N. Crutchfield on September 17, 2005.
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