Jonathan Wolman: Journalism's champion

Daniel Howes
The Detroit News

In a career spanning 46 years, Jonathan Wolman covered and managed some of the biggest stories of his time — as longtime Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press, as the wire service's executive editor in New York and, finally, as editor and publisher of The Detroit News, the city where he had his first AP posting outside his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.

Detroit News Editor and Publisher Jonathan Wolman sits in the conference room adjacent to his office in the old Detroit News building in 2009.  Like his predecessors, he met with countless movers and shakers in this room.

In his dozen years leading The News, he edited and directed coverage of some of the region's most consequential stories in the past half century: the bankruptcies of two automakers and later the city of Detroit, the public-corruption conviction of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the Flint water crisis, the continuing revitalization of Detroit, the improbable victory in Michigan of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race.

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Jon nurtured generations of journalists during his career, many of who now fill the top ranks of the profession.

"He found a profession he was sort of made for," said Bridget Mary McCormack, chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and a close friend of Mr. Wolman and his wife, Deborah Lamm, for the last decade before his death on April 15, 2019, at age 68. "He's a metaphor for the Washington we wish for."

He evinced the values of a bygone Washington, friends and colleagues say, an ability to disagree without being disagreeable, a keen interest in policy less freighted with politics than the archly partisan capital of today. In Detroit, he worked the back channels of power, Republican and Democrat, business and philanthropy.

"Jon dug into this community," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn. "He cared about how people felt. He cared about fair and balanced. He cared about mentoring people. He'd try to find common ground. But if he thought somebody was doing something wrong, he'd shine a harsh light on it."

Jonathan Wolman talks with Judge Damon Keith as Butch Hollowell, right, managing partner of the Miller Law Firm, shares a laugh with others  on February 14, 2018, during the judge’s 31st Annual Soul Food Luncheon at the U.S. federal courthouse in  Detroit.

For Jon, shrinking staffs and resources were not an excuse for a diminished news product. He pushed the newspaper to find creative ways to do more with less. He championed hard news coverage and investigative reporting and took great pride in keeping The Detroit News among the best regional newspapers in the country.

Jon had a passion for journalism, and for Michigan. 

In a well-traveled life, he made this state his final home and set about using the newspaper he led to make it better. 

Name: Jonathan Wolman

Occupation: The late publisher of The Detroit News

Education: University of Wisconsin, B.A. philosophy

Family: His widow, Deborah Lamm, and son Jacob, daughter Emma and her husband, Ian Irvine, and daughter Sophie

Why honored: For taking great pride in keeping The Detroit News among the best regional newspapers in the country.