Retiring leader has long history with newspaper

David Ray
David Ray

By Tim Harmon • South Bend Tribune

David C. Ray and the South Bend Tribune go a long way back.

Back 11 years, when he became editor and publisher. Back 21 years, when he joined the staff after a 22-year career in the Navy.

Back to high school, when he worked summers as a copy boy and in the ad department. Back to childhood, when his mother would take him to visit The Tribune, where his grandfather, Charles Crockett, was business manager for about half a century and his grandfather’s cousin was longtime Publisher Frederick Miller. And even farther back than that: Ray’s great-grandfather, Elmer Crockett, was one of the two founders of the newspaper.

Ray’s great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Miller, is said to have set the first line of type in the first edition of The Tribune in 1872.

Fast-forward more than 100 years.

Last week, a few days after his 65th birthday, David Ray retired.

His ties to The Tribune and its parent company, Schurz Communications Inc., will remain strong. (SCI is in the process of hiring a replacement for Ray.)

He will continue to serve as a member of the SCI board of directors, a position he’s held since 1992.

Born in South Bend, Ray went to Redford High School in Detroit and graduated from Harvard College.

He joined the Navy, where he spent 15 years in its nuclear program.

He joined The Tribune when he retired from the Navy in 1990.

His first role was a daunting one: project manager for construction of a new mailroom building, a new press building and the installation of a new printing press.

In 1995, Ray was named a vice president and, later that year, general manager. His next major task was huge by a different measure: He coordinated the newspaper’s change to an all-morning newspaper after 124 years of predominantly afternoon publication.

Ray became publisher in 2000. Under his leadership, the newspaper underwent several changes in zoning and configuration. It added niche products and saw enormous growth in its Internet audience. The paper was named Blue Ribbon Daily by the Hoosier State Press Association in 2006.

Ray has seen his newspaper ride ever-faster waves of changing technology.

“I think that technology changes have allowed us to reduce our costs and to do our work faster, and to provide information in the form of pictures and graphics that we never were able to do before.

“But while technology is completely changed, it doesn’t change the fundamental job of journalists – or of an advertising department, for that matter.”

Ray does not pretend to know what’s ahead for the newspaper industry in these perilous times.

“I think there’s general agreement that in the past, strong newspapers have been essential for defining a community and helping it to grow,” Ray says. “If the current financial pressure on newspapers continues, it’s not clear to me how they will be able to fulfill that vital role.

“Somehow,” he continues, “we need to figure out how to work with the multitude of emerging technologies to present that content to the communities where we live.”