Upon learning he had been selected for the award, Decherd said, "The First Amendment Leadership Award is a great affirmation of our company's long-standing commitment to press freedoms and exceptional journalism. I feel privileged to have led this effort at Belo over the past three decades."
Decherd is Chief Executive Officer of A. H. Belo Corporation. A. H. Belo Corporation owns and operates The Dallas Morning News, Texas' leading newspaper and winner of nine Pulitzer Prizes; the Denton Record-Chronicle; The Providence Journal, the oldest continuously-published daily newspaper in the U.S. and winner of four Pulitzer Prizes; and The Press-Enterprise, serving southern California's Inland Empire region and winner of one Pulitzer Prize. A. H. Belo's newspapers and related assets were spun off in February 2008 from Belo Corp., which Decherd led as CEO for the prior 21 years.
A. H. Belo owns and manages various websites associated with the newspapers, as well as certain niche products, direct mail and commercial printing businesses. A. H. Belo had annual revenue of approximately $462 million in 2011 and carries no debt, making it the least leveraged pure-play newspaper company in the country. The Dallas Morning News, The Providence Journal and The Press-Enterprise have total combined circulation of 651,019 daily and 971,490 Sunday. The total audience reach of the three newspapers is 3.8 million when the Company's online businesses are included.
Decherd has worked for A. H. Belo Corporation and Belo Corp. since his graduation cum laude from Harvard College in 1973. During his years as Belo Corp.'s CEO, the Company grew in revenue from $397 million to $1.6 billion. Net income grew from $20 million to more than $130 million. The Company's three major newspapers and 20 television stations, including six stations in the top 14 markets, have won 14 Pulitzer Prizes, 29 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, 25 George Foster Peabody Awards and 54 national Edward R. Murrow Awards, the most prestigious journalistic awards in the newspaper publishing and television businesses. The companies’ websites have been recognized as some of the leading sites supported by legacy media companies.
Aside from his corporate duties, Decherd has played a significant role in the newspaper and television broadcasting industries, and in freedom of information organizations. He has served on the boards of the Newspaper Association of America and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, which he helped found 1979, serving as its first president from 1979-82. For the next 20 years, Belo Corp. provided the majority of the FOIFT’s financial support and created a permanent endowment that now underwrites its activities on an ongoing basis. Under Decherd’s direction, Belo has also lobbied in Texas and in Washington for reporter shield laws and other press protections.
Decherd served as a member of the Presidential Commission on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters appointed by President Clinton in 1997 and the FCC Media Security and Reliability Council appointed by Chairman Michael Powell in 2002. More recently, he was one of 15 members of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.
Decherd received the James Madison Award from the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas in 1989 and the Freedom of Speech Award from the Media Institute in 1998. He was recognized as "American Newspaper Executive of the Year" in 1985 by AdWeek magazine and received the Mayborn Award for Community Leadership from the Texas Daily Newspaper Association in 1997.
Decherd has participated in Dallas civic affairs for more than three decades, with an emphasis on education and inclusiveness, and a leading role in city and urban planning issues. In 1988, he was named an Honorary Member of the Texas Society of Architects for distinguished service in Dallas over time, and received an American Institute of Architects "Citation of Honor" in 1981 for his work to establish the Dallas Arts District in Downtown Dallas. He has chaired or organized numerous civic initiatives promoting city and urban planning, including the creation of The Dallas Plan in 1991, and chaired or co-chaired three concurrent planning efforts from 2003-2005 that resulted in a comprehensive physical plan for the center city of Dallas. In 2012, Decherd received the Kessler Award from the Greater Dallas Planning Council for this work and similar planning initiatives over the prior two decades.
Decherd orchestrated a series of acquisitions that substantially changed Belo Corp.'s asset base beginning in 1981. He led Belo’s initial public offering in December 1981, and the Company's $606 million acquisition of the Corinthian Broadcast Group from The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation in 1983 was the largest television acquisition in history at the time. Belo purchased WWL-TV in New Orleans, Louisiana (1991); The Providence Journal Company (1997); and, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise Company (1998). The $1.8 billion dollar acquisition of The Providence Journal Company solidified Belo's position as one of America's premier newsgathering and advertising sales organizations. The spin-off of A. H. Belo Corporation in 2008 was an industry-leading initiative aimed at achieving shareholder value and operational focus in a market environment that no longer supported the convergence strategy Belo Corp. and others pursued over the prior three decades.
Decherd has served on the board of directors of Kimberly-Clark Corporation since 1996, and from 2004-2008 was Kimberly-Clark's lead director and chairman of its executive committee. Previously, he was chairman of Kimberly-Clark’s audit committee. He also serves on the Advisory Council for the Center for Ethics at Harvard University and has been a member of the Graduate Council of The Harvard Crimson since 1973. As a former president of The Crimson (1972-73), Decherd has been one of that newspaper's strongest advocates and financial supporters. He currently serves on the Board of Visitors of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.
Also being honored at RTDNF's 23rd annual First Amendment Awards event are the microblogging service Twitter; Candy Crowley, Chief Political Correspondent, CNN; and Lloyd Siegel, Vice President, NBC News Partnerships.
The honorees are expected to make remarks at the dinner, which is attended by more than 500 people. The black-tie event begins with a reception at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 14 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 1150 22nd Street NW, Washington, DC.
Tickets for the event are available by registering on the RTDNF website.
Funds raised at the First Amendment Dinner help support RTDNF’s work to promote excellence in electronic journalism through research, education and training for news professionals and journalism students. The foundation’s work is also supported by contributions from foundations, corporations, members of the Radio Television Digital News Association and other individuals.