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Davis Merritt
Davis “Buzz” Merritt began his newspaper career in high school as sports editor of the Hickory (North Carolina) Daily Record. He attended the University of North Carolina as a Morehead Scholar, graduating in 1958 with a degree in journalism. For the next 11 years, he found a home at The Charlotte Observer, owned by Knight Newspapers, an organization known for its commitment to journalistic integrity. Starting as a sports writer, he worked his way up to government reporter, assistant city editor, city editor, copy desk chief, and national editor. In 1969, he became the Observer’s Washington correspondent. In 1970, he was named editor of another Knight newspaper, The Boca Raton (Florida) News. In 1972, he was called back to the nation’s capital to serve as a news editor in Knight Newspapers’ Washington bureau. Two years into his assignment, Knight Newspapers merged with Ridder Publications, an organization known for making a hefty profit in the newspaper business.

In 1975, Merritt accepted the job as executive editor of two Knight Ridder newspapers, The Wichita Eagle and Wichita Beacon, along with the challenge of whipping both into journalistic shape. For the next 23 years, he strove to give his readers in-depth, objective, and relevant information while dealing with increasing bottom-line pressures. In 1980, the afternoon Beacon was killed, with the goal of improving the morning Eagle, the largest daily newspaper in Kansas. In 1994, he took a year’s leave of absence from the Eagle to write a book, Public Journalism and Public Life: Why Telling the News Is Not Enough. When he returned, he found it more difficult than ever to maintain his journalistic ideals while managing with Knight Ridder’s financial objectives. In 1997, he was given the august title of senior editor and the privilege of working on public journalism projects with two dozen Knight Ridder newspapers and journalists across the United States, and in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Jamaica, Jordan, Puerto Rico, and Sweden. He retired from Knight Ridder, with his values intact, on January 1, 1999.

Since his retirement, Merritt has been an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Kansas and Wichita State University, a public journalism consultant to newspapers and broadcast stations, and a columnist and writer. In his latest book, Knightfall: Knight Ridder and How the Erosion of Newspaper Journalism Is Putting Democracy at Risk (AMACOM), he tells the story of the merger and evolution of his former employer, with a cautionary note about the future of newspaper journalism—a process of gathering and disseminating information vital to the public’s ability to make decisions about issues that affect individual lives and the whole country. “Newspaper companies have an obligation to public service and a special obligation to democracy that outweigh all other considerations, save actual survival,” Merritt believes.

Born in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, Davis Merritt lives in Wichita, Kansas, with his wife of more than 45 years, Libby. They have two sons, a daughter, and six grandchildren.



Breaching the wall
COMMENTARY | April 18, 2005
In this excerpt from his new book, Knightfall, Davis 'Buzz' Merritt looks at the Los Angeles Times' infamous Staples Center incident as only one example of how corporate newspaper management has breached the wall between the advertising and news departments, sacrificing the public interest for quarterly profits.

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