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Randy Bangert named 2015 Newspaper Person of the Year

Colleagues aren’t shy about putting longtime Greeley Tribune Editor Randy Bangert in prestigious company when discussing his contributions to the newspaper, the community it covers and Colorado journalism.

Tribune Features Editor Dan England said Bangert is to The Tribune what “John Elway is to the Broncos.”

Jerry Raehal, Colorado Press Association chief executive officer, called Bangert the “Bill Walsh of Colorado journalists.”

But it was a person less heralded, though far more significant, who flashed in Bangert’s mind on May 14, during CPA’s 138th annual convention in Denver. With family, friends and co-workers at his side, he was surprised with CPA’s Newspaper Person of the Year award.

The late Vern Bangert once ran the Littleton Independent’s print ship and press before becoming owner and publisher. He cast a big presence during the Saturday night event.

“I definitely thought of my dad really quickly,” said Bangert, 61, a Tribune pillar for 43 years. “It was kind of a bittersweet moment for me. … He’d have been incredibly proud. He would have had tears in his eyes, I’m sure.”

An out-of-state judge, who determined the award winner from several nominations, described Bangert’s selection:

“He is a crusty veteran, who not only survived industry changes, but thrived,” the judge wrote. “Randy has led the Greeley Tribune in the accumulation of many outstanding awards. He is actively engaged with being a leader and a mentor to his team.

“He’s engaged in his newspaper’s community, but has never backed down from a story. … There are a lot of good editors in our business, but there are few who are truly good leaders. Randy is clearly all of these.”

Bangert oversees a newsroom of 26, including editors, reporters, page designers and part-timers as well as freelancers. He started with the newspaper as a part-time sports writer in fall 1973 and was promoted to full-time in 1974. He eventually crossed from sports into news, and his career has been spent entirely in Greeley.

Publisher Bryce Jacobson said Bangert makes it a priority to be active in the community and maintain relationships with journalism programs throughout the state. The Tribune has a “great editor” wholly deserving of the honor bestowed on him, he said.

“In a small town, you walk through the town and everybody knows you and so on and so forth,” Jacobson said. “But in a town the size of Greeley, with 125,000 people, still everybody knows him. He’s made his mark, both in his relationships and storytelling.”

England, who Bangert hired in 1999, had his own big night at the convention’s culminating event, winning CPA’s Best of Show award for “A life against death,” his story about attorney Tamara Brady defending Aurora theater shooter James Holmes. He also introduced Bangert, and wrote the nomination letter to the judges on his longtime editor’s behalf.

Bangert, England said, has overseen “terrific journalism” at The Tribune, but the trait that stands out is his leadership. Situations and stakes change, though Bangert’s management doesn’t, England said.

“Newsrooms are very stressful places to work, there are a lot of diverse personalities, and yet Randy is so even-keeled and always listens,” he said. “On tight deadlines and with the everyday, constant pressure to put out a paper, that’s a huge skill to have.”

“And yet, he’s not a pushover. If he feels strongly about something, he’ll push back on you, but does it in a way that doesn’t piss you off. And, even in pretty extreme emotional situations, he always has your back.”

Raehal said he’s constantly impressed by how revered Bangert is around all corners of the state among Colorado’s best journalists and editors.

“I’m always struck by how many people worked for Randy when they were reporters and editors, and how highly they speak of him and what he taught them,” he said. “… People know if they go to Greeley, they’re going to get a good training and a good education.”

In the scheme of things, Bangert said Newspaper Person of the Year ranks among his most memorable career highlights — “a night I’m never going to forget” — but he’s hesitant to say it’s the capstone.

That, he said, is reserved for each new day at the office, when he and the Tribune are given a fresh opportunity to serve and inform.

“The highlight of my career is just doing what we do, putting out a really good newspaper, a good website and hearing back from readers,” he said. “… You begin to realize over time that we really do play an important role in our community. It matters to people what we do day in and day out.

“Those conversations (with readers), more than anything, give me the warm feeling in my stomach at the end of the day that makes it all worth while.”

As for the Elway and Walsh comparisons, Bangert reached back to a memory that keeps with the football theme: Elway describing Peyton Manning in 2012 as a leader “who raises all boats in the harbor.”

“I remember thinking, ‘What a great description of leadership,’” he said. “That’s what I’ve tried to do. … This award, I have to say, reflects on the paper as much as it does me because we have a lot of really good, solid people in our newsroom. They help me, they make it easy for me to raise all boats in the harbor. All I do is just go along for the ride.”

Bangert also credits the Greeley community and his family as instrumental contributors. The city that he’s called home since 1972, when he started school as a journalism major at Northern Colorado, fits his Midwestern sensibilities, and has been a good place to raise a family. It’s also a great news town, a microcosm for America in a sense, he said.

“Many of the issues that are being debated nationally, especially now in the presidential election, like illegal immigration, like income inequality … Greeley is kind of the epicenter for those,” he said. “Having a good newspaper to tell those stories of diversity binds the community. It’s made for a really fun place for a journalist to be.”

Bangert has been married to Jan, the Tribune’s “most loyal reader in the county, and one of its biggest critics,” for 38 years. They have three children, Scott, 36, Mary, 33, and Robyn, 23, who are also avid readers.

Once upon a time, decades ago, Bangert was a 19-year-old “on top of the world,” beginning his career as a professional journalist. That alone was a dream, he said. He couldn’t have written how the story unfolded, and wouldn’t change it, he added.

“Maybe it was fate that I ended up in Greeley and ended up as editor,” he said. “So many positive things happened to push me in this direction. … In my wildest dreams I never would have imagined being editor of the Tribune. Now, I think I was born to be editor of The Greeley Tribune. It feels so natural, and so right.”