J. Bruce Baumann · 2011
While editor of the Evansville Courier & Press J. Bruce Baumann once said, "My job is to stand in the middle of the newsroom, flap my arms and convince us all that we can fly," Baumann understood that success requires collaboration and can only be achieved by inspiring those around him.
A competitive spirit fueled Baumann to approach each job from an angle different from his peers. It started with the first photography assignment for his first photography course as a senior in high school. While his classmates were shooting a school bell tower from the ground, Baumann talked his way up a nearby church tower that gave him a different perspective.
That spirit continued through his newspaper career and extends to his current project of photographing and editing a free online magazine featuring his home county of Posey (www.poseymagazine.com) that is drawing praise from around the world with hits from 73 countries.
And that spirit has propelled him into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.
Baumann was born in Evansville in 1943. He was not quite 2 years old when he lost his father, John Beyers, in World War II. Baumann was raised by his mother and stepfather, Gloria and Allen Baumann.
His connection to journalism came via his role model, grandfather Hyman Skelton, who lost his job as advertising manager for the Evansville Press in a power struggle with the business manager in the late 1940s.
Baumann had planned to pursue writing, but he became fascinated with the magic of the dark room and the possibilities of photography (he earned $5 for that first picture of a bell tower).
Baumann joined the Evansville Sunday Courier and Press as a photographer and sports reporter when he graduated, working while he attended college. He left for photography jobs at newspapers in Dubuque, Iowa, and Mansfield, Ohio.
"He photographed everything from sports to fashion to breaking news," says Charlene Tolbert, former colleague and current magazine collaborator. "He went to tiny gymnasiums in small-town Indiana for that most Hoosier of all events — a high school basketball game. He went to Detroit in 1967 during the riots of the Civil Rights era to show Evansville what might be coming its way. And he did it all with great good spirits and with an eye for the original."
Baumann returned to Evansville repeatedly, first in 1964 as director of photography for the Sunday Courier & Press, in the mid-1990s as editor of the Scripps Howard book publishing arm, and finally as managing editor of the Evansville Courier & Press in the late 1990s. He was named executive editor and then editor in the early-2000s, which he saw in some way as a vindication of his grandfather's struggle.
Between those stints, his career took him around the world as a photographer for National Geographic magazine, where he also served as picture editor and designer, and to jobs at newspapers in Grand Rapids, Mich. (women’s editor), San Jose, Calif., Pittsburgh, Pa., and Monterey, Calif.
Bill Burleigh, member of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame and chairman of E.W. Scripps, says Baumann was a "brash and somewhat radical young photographer” who was a pathfinder, and he credits Baumann for his role in bringing two Pulitzer Prizes to the Pittsburgh Press.
Angus McEachran, retired editor of the Pittsburgh Press, had heard Baumann was “difficult to manage,” but he charged him with the task of redesigning the newspaper and improving the paper.
“He delivered, coming up with a redesign in three months that drew raves, not only from peers but, more importantly, from readers,” McEachran said. “His recruitment was unbelievable. We landed two Geographic photographers and five or six other stars.”
Along the way Baumann's expertise in photography and design expanded into management and ultimately to other areas of the newsroom.
It didn't take much of Baumann's arm flapping before members of staff after staff realized they were part of something special. Honors followed.
The Evansville Courier & Press had never been named a Hoosier State Press Association Blue Ribbon newspaper until Baumann became the managing editor and then the editor. Under his direction, the newspaper received that honor twice during his nine years of leadership.
These weren't the first times his attention to excellence had earned him honors.
Baumann was the National Press Photographers Association Region 4 Photographer of the Year in 1968 and 1969 while at the Sunday Courier & Press, and in 1970 while working for the Grand Rapids Press in Michigan. He was a national Picture Editor of the Year International (POYi) four times. He was runner-up to the National Newspaper Photographer of the Year 1970 and Missouri Penny Award women's editor of the year in 1972.
He received NPPA's highest honor, the Joseph A. Sprague Award, in 1992, an NPPA President's Award in 1973, the Jim Gordon Editor of the Year Award in 2005 and the John Durniak Mentor Award in 2007.
Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame member Alan Horton said, "For many of Bruce's most successful years, he looked more like a maverick –with his beard and pony tail — than a buttoned-down executive. And, at meetings (even those at corporate headquarters), he would interrupt to say exactly what was on his mind even to his ultimate boss (me)."
Along the way, Baumann has willingly shared his knowledge and vision, creating and directing the San Jose Conference and the Pittsburgh Conference, both interdisciplinary seminars and workshops for newspaper journalists and university students, for a total of 12 years.
In 1989, when asked for help in setting up a scholarship for picture editors, Baumann suggested instead the formation of a picture-editing workshop that would train large numbers of picture editors in an intensive program, using the talents of the best picture editors in the country. The Stan Kalish Picture Editing Workshop came to life in 1990. Baumann served two years as director, including the year the workshop was moved from Marquette University to Baumann's to Ball State University, where it remains today.
Although he retired from newspapers in 2007, his journalistic passion continues. He has been teaching photojournalism, newsroom leadership and picture editing at Southern Illinois University. Those efforts recently earned him the National Press Photographers Association's Clifton C. Edom Award for his ability to motivate photojournalists to reach new heights. So he is still teaching students to believe they can fly, even in the difficult times that journalism faces.
Baumann approaches everything with excellence and with passion. His wife, Alison, was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer in 1999. Baumann and the Courier & Press adopted the Race for the Cure cause in Evansville.
Each year in advance of the Race for the Cure, he didn’t just promote the race so much as he took it on as a cause, revealing the effects of cancer on an individual and families. The coverage, which focused on patients and their families, is credited with making the Evansville race one of the fastest growing in the country and one of the largest.
Mary Beth Owen, who coordinated the race at that time, says it best: "I have always owed most of the success of the early years of the race to Bruce. Without question — it was due to Bruce. Bruce has helped save women's lives in the Tri-State. Period, end of story. That is more than just an impact on society."
Baumann understands the impact journalism can have to lead a community to be better, and as editor he established an editorial advisory board to make sure he was hearing the community’s concerns.
Baumann is still able to rally a staff around his vision. Last year, he returned to photography to chronicle his home county, along with conceiving the online magazine.
Baumann and his wife, Alison, live on a farm in rural Posey County. He has two grown children, daughter Jennifer Ann Baumann Malone and stepson Joseph D. Poccia, and he and Alison are proud grandparents to Charlie Malone, 3, and Maddie Malone 2.
Horton says Baumann "is that rare combination of world-class talent (as photojournalist, photo editor, page designer, writer, editor, motivator and teacher) and intense and contagious passion – passion for readers, colleagues, fairness, accuracy, ethics and, most of all, powerful storytelling."
By Linda Negro
Managing Editor, Evansville Courier & Press