Much could be said to describe Garrett Ray, Morley Ballantine and Randy Bangert. Some depictions differ, and some overlap. One phrase will always unite them: They are the 2018 Colorado Press Association Hall of Fame inductees.
The three were honored April 14, 2018, at the CPA Annual Convention’s Hall of Fame luncheon. They are part of the second class to enter the CPA Hall of Fame, which started in 2017 with Robert Rawlings as the initial inductee.
Garrett Ray was one of those news junky kids who launched his journalism career in junior high by printing a newspaper about his Greeley neighborhood on a hand-crank mimeograph machine.
After honing his skills at his college paper, and then reporting for weeklies in rural Utah and Colorado, he spent two decades as editor and publisher of the award-winning Littleton Independent and Arapahoe Herald newspapers. Those years, he says, were “by far the most rewarding” of his career.
“At a small paper like that, you do everything. You do things you didn’t even know you could do.”
Now 81 and retired, Ray says it would be unfair to recognize his achievements without also recognizing those of his longtime business partner, the late Vernon Bangert, at The Independent: “He was out there in the back shop putting the pages together and working as hard as I was in the front. We worked like crazy together those 16 years.”
Ray chuckles at the bad fortune of having been absent from the biggest story The Independent covered during his tenure there: the 1965 flood of the South Platte River. He was in Washington, D.C. on a Congressional Fellowship when the torrent decimated parts of Littleton. Upon his return, he and his staff spent several years covering the city’s recovery and reinvention.
He reinvented his own career after selling The Independent in 1980, hosting and producing community TV programs and then joining the journalism faculty at Colorado State University. Dozens of journalists in Colorado learned their craft in his reporting, editing, management and media ethics classes. “What would Garrett do?” is a question they still ask themselves when writing ledes, planning for interviews, or faced with ethical conundrums in an increasingly tricky media landscape.
Ray’s work has earned him a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University, the Golden Quill and Eugene Cervi awards from the International Society of Weekly Newspapers Editors, the Keeper of the Flame Award from the Colorado Society for Professional Journalists, and the presidencies of ISWNE, Colorado SPJ, and the Colorado Press Association.
It also earned him the affection of generations of journalists whom, either as their editor or professor, he inspired to keep asking harder and better questions both of their sources and of themselves.
Morley Ballantine earns a place in the Hall of Fame not just as the first woman to chair the Colorado Press Association’s board of directors. The longtime chairwoman and editor of The Durango Herald was far ahead of her time championing civil rights, cultural awareness and social justice in Southwest Colorado.
Elizabeth Morley Cowles was born to a longtime newspaper publishing family in Iowa. She and her husband, reporter Arthur Ballantine, moved in 1952 to Durango, where they bought The Durango News and The Herald Democrat, then combined them into the Durango Herald in 1960. The couple eventually bought The Cortez Journal, The Mancos Times and The Dolores Star, as well.
She worked for decades as a principled editor and award-winning writer who contributed weekly columns about local, national and international issues. In an era when so many women journalists were relegated to society and home and garden coverage, she rallied for equal pay for equal work, reproduction rights, and protection from workplace harassment.
Ballantine took over leadership of The Herald’s business operations after her husband’s death. Under her watch, the paper gave voice to native people of the region who long had been overlooked in news coverage. It also pursued stories exposing unsafe drinking water and low-wage employers in La Plata County, despite drops in ad revenues because of the business community’s displeasure. She saw newspapering as an extension of her activism and believed it was journalists’ role to challenge wrongdoing and prod readers toward progress.
“She had an uncanny knack for knowing how far you could push society to do the right thing,” former Gov. Dick Lamm said in her Denver Post obituary.
Ballantine died in 2009 at age 84. She was a pivotal funder for Planned Parenthood in Colorado and helped found the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. Her family’s foundation helped turn Fort Lewis from a two-year agricultural program into a four-year college, launched the Durango Arts Center and a women’s resources center in the city, and established the Center of Southwest Studies.
Forty-four years is an eternity in the newspaper business, an industry that is constantly reinventing itself. But at The Greeley Tribune, one thing hasn’t changed in the past four decades: the keen news eye, sound judgement and undeniable decency of Randy Bangert.
It was fellow Hall of Fame inductee Garrett Ray who inspired Bangert to become a journalist. Ray was the longtime business partner of Bangert’s father, Vernon Bangert, at The Littleton Independent. He helped him snag a part-time sports reporting job at The Tribune during his sophomore year in college in 1973. That led to a full-time sports writing job, then to jobs as city editor, managing editor and editor – a position he held from 1999 until last month.
Journalistically, Bangert is most proud of a series on traffic safety The Tribune reported in the late 1990s when fatalities in Weld County had skyrocketed. There were 40 fewer traffic-related deaths the year after it published. “That was like, holy cow, that’s so cool. We actually saved lives.”
Bangert had the chance over the years to leave The Tribune and Greeley, but time and again opted to stay. He still considers the community he spent his whole career covering to be “a tremendously interesting news town” because of its racial, cultural, socio-economic and political diversity.
“In a way, it feels like this job chose me. Greeley choose me to do it,” he says.
Just as massive shifts in the economics of newspapering “blindsided the industry” over the past decade, Bangert says, a far more personal development blindsided his own career when he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in October 2017. He has spent a half-year undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. The good news is that his cancer is getting smaller. The bad news: He is still in pain. As stories go, the one about his own illness is especially tough to tell, even to the community that in ways big and small has rallied around him.
The 62-year-old editor who two years ago was named CPA’s Newspaper Person of the Year stepped aside in March to serve, instead, as The Tribune’s editor emeritus. His first assignment in that new role is to focus on getting well. After that, says the veteran newsman, there is, as always, a large stack of “news projects that I’d love to get involved in.”