Michael L. Blackman, who described himself on his Facebook page as “Just a boy from West Texas lucky enough to work with some of the best journalists in the business,” died Sept. 23. He was 77 and had been in poor health for a number of years.
Mr. Blackman became editor of the Star-Telegram in 1986 and led what many described as the transition of the newspaper into a top-rated news organization.
“Mike Blackman was a West Texas small town boy from Anson who had big city talents as an editor, a reporter and a writer that will ensure he stands among the ‘Best of the Best’ journalists of his time,” said Richard Connor, publisher of the Business Press and former president and publisher of the Star-Telegram.
“Mike had worked at the Star-Telegram twice before,” said Connor. “I lured him back to the Star-Telegram from the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1986 where he had just been named editor of its famed Sunday magazine. He was a superb talent but an even better friend. My heart aches at his loss.”
“There are editors who edit with a sledgehammer and others with a much lighter touch,” he said. “Mike had the keen eye and instincts to make a story measurably better using his laid-back touch of velvet. Reporters loved him.”
“Because of his skills, his personality, and his background, Mike attracted outstanding talent to the Star-Telegram in the 1980s and 90s never seen before or after,” Connor said.
Wes Turner, who followed Connor as publisher of the Star-Telegram, said Mr. Blackman was “one of the most gifted writers and editors of our time. His edits made the story clearer and more crisp than any other. He wrote a number of eulogies that I wept through for many close friends.”
But he did have his quirks.
“Blackman never understood the meaning of the word deadline. Which in the newspaper businesses was something we lived by. His definition of a deadline was when a phone did not work. I will miss my sweet and wonderful friend. God Bless you Mike. You made us better,” Turner said.
“This is heartbreaking,” Gerald Zenick, a longtime former Star-Telegram executive in multiple roles, said in a Facebook post.
“Mike brought a new attitude to the Star-Telegram when he took command of the newsroom. He was determined to make us one of the best papers in the nation. He was affable, professional and had a sharp mind that all associated with him benefitted from. Another pillar of Journalism has passed away,” Zenick said.
Mr. Blackman was a 1967 graduate of Baylor University and The Ohio State University in 1974.
“He was the best friend and coworker I ever had,” Henry Holcomb, a former senior editor at the Star-Telegram, said in a Facebook post.
“Starting in 1967, right after Mike graduated from Baylor University, Mike and I worked together at the Baytown Sun, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and on the foreign desk of The Philadelphia Inquirer. He was talented, wise, gracious and fair in his work and life,” Holcomb said.
Mr. Blackman was a foreign desk editor and a deputy sports editor at the Inquirer during the newspaper’s golden era. He also worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cincinnati Post and the New York Times. He was born in Anson, Texas.
“Saddened to learn of Mike’s passing. He was a wonderful friend and colleague, a key player in Gene Roberts’ plan for building The Inquirer in the 1970s and 1980s,” said Gene Foreman, who filled a variety of positions at the newspaper including managing editor, executive editor and deputy editor.
Mr. Blackman was vice president and executive editor for the Star-Telegram for eight years, editor for two years, and editorial director for three years. After retirement in 1999 he also worked as senior writer/editor at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He held the Fred Hartman Distinguished Chair in the Baylor journalism department at the end of his career and also taught journalism at Sam Houston State University.
He was a military policeman in the U.S. Army Reserve and a flight-line mechanic in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and supervised staffs that won numerous local, state and national newspaper awards.
“I met Mike Blackman when I was 23, and I decided then I wanted to grow up to be like him. He was a great writer and journalist, a soft soul in a rugged Texan’s body, and able to hold his own with anyone at the Pen & Pencil in Philadelphia,” Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy said on his Facebook page.
“I am proud that I got to work for him at the Star-Telegram and was along to see it when his award-winning short story about a West Texas nursing home, the Golden Shadows Old West Museum, became a play by Larry L. King.
“He encouraged me to write long-form pieces at the Star-Telegram – including from Jasper on James Byrd’s death – and he has been a friend and supporter for more than 40 years. How lucky he was to have a family that brought him so much joy. Please keep them in your thoughts now,” Kennedy said.
“I remember Mike best as a writer’s editor. When I was seeking a feature writing job at the Star-Telegram, he said the job was there but the money might keep us apart. I’m glad I didn’t let that be the case,” former Star-Telegram reporter Jim Brady said in a Facebook post.
“Mike supported the best journalism and unfailingly stood up for the staff. He was part of the legendary Pulitzer team at the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’m so sorry he is gone. He’ll never be forgotten,” Brady said.
Among his hires at the Star-Telegram was the late and legendary – and controversial – columnist Molly Ivins. She once said the fact that he showed up on a motorcycle was part of the reason she accepted the job.
The motorcycle figured prominently in his life as long as he could ride it.
“Mike hired me to open a Dallas bureau for the S-T in the late 80s with Ashley Cheshire, and was involved in bringing me back in the mid-90s. He had a unique presence,” said former staffer Steve Kaskovich.
“One day, he rode his motorcycle to Dallas to meet with us, telling us we had a spot waiting on 1A for our stories. He challenged us to write impactful stories and had a big view of the S-T’s role in Texas journalism and our storytelling potential,” Kaskovich said on Facebook. “So sorry to hear about the passing of this great guy and newsman.”
Former Star-Telegram reporter Jack Z. Smith said Mr. Blackman “was a great guy whom I always enjoyed working with at the Star-Telegram. Mike and Henry Holcomb played a huge role as top editors in transforming the Star-Telegram into a first-rate newspaper.”
James Walker, also a former staff member and editor at the Star-Telegram, said Mr. Blackman was one of the most important and impactful people in his newspaper career.
“Mike was smart and the best all around editor I ever worked with. But he was a lot more,” Walker said on Facebook. “He had the ability to recognize and appreciate ability and intelligence in the most unlikely and perhaps misunderstood human packages.”
“There is a whole generation of excellent journalists from the 1980s-era Fort Worth Star-Telegram who will readily tell you that he was the single most influential person in their professional development,” Walker said.
Former Star-Telegram sportswriter Jim Reeves said on Facebook that besides being “the smartest person in the room on most occasions, Mike also had a big heart and a gentleness in dealing with people that he couldn’t hide, even when he might want to. I admired him greatly.”
Survivors include his wife, Dorothy Pomeroy Blackman; two sons, Jay Blackman and wife Emily and children Audrey, Juliette and Madeleine in Houston, and Sawyer Blackman, a student at Texas Tech in Lubbock; and two daughters, Molly Blackman of Austin and Emily Blackman of Los Alamos, California.
A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m., Oct. 8, at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, 917 Lamar St., Fort Worth 76102.
A personal note here: I first met Mike Blackman at Baylor University when I hired him to work on the student newspaper, The Lariat. I was the editor. He was a lifelong friend and was a groomsman in my wedding. He tried to hire me at several newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer. I had already accepted a job as an assistant managing editor at the Star-Telegram when he was hired to be the editor of the paper. It was the first time I worked with him since we graduated from Baylor. – PKH