Robert H. Giles, Newspaper Editor and Nieman Curator, Dies at 90

Robert H. Giles, who oversaw Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage at two newspapers — including reports on the fatal shooting of four antiwar protesters by National Guard troops on the Kent State University campus in Ohio in 1970 — and later served as curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University for more than a decade, died on Aug. 7 in Traverse City, in northern Michigan. He was 90.

The cause of his death, in a hospice facility, was complications of metastatic melanoma, said Ellen Tuttle, a spokeswoman for the Nieman Foundation.

A lifelong journalist and author and a former Nieman fellow himself, Mr. Giles (pronounced with a soft “G”) presided over the Nieman Foundation from 2000 to 2011.

He enhanced the prestigious foundation’s primary mission: educating midcareer journalists. He also presided over the online expansion of its quarterly magazine, Nieman Reports, as well as the Nieman Watchdog Project, which examines and supports public-interest journalism; the Nieman Journalism Lab, which helps prepare journalists for the digital future of the profession; and the Nieman Storyboard website, which promotes long-form narrative storytelling.

He also introduced several awards; raised funds to expand the foundation’s campus headquarters; offered a haven to international journalists who were persecuted because of their profession; wrote about issues confronting his colleagues; and created fellowships to address subjects he felt were not being sufficiently covered, including global health and local government.

“Bob leaves behind a community of devoted Nieman fellows who treasured him for his grace and generosity,” Ann Marie Lipinski, the current Nieman curator, said in a statement. “He well understood the pressures the journalists had been laboring under and worked hard to create a program that offered inspiration and a path forward.”

Robert Hartmann Giles was born on June 6, 1933, in Cleveland to Robert Hamilton Giles and Grace (Hartmann) Giles.

He graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and went on to earn a master’s from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. After serving in the Army, he was hired by The Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio.

He studied as a Nieman fellow in 1965 and 1966 and then returned to Akron, where he was managing editor of The Beacon Journal during an anti-Vietnam War rally on May 4, 1970, that resulted in the killing of four unarmed students and the wounding of nine others by Ohio National Guard troops on the Kent State campus.

His newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for spot news reporting for its coverage. In 2020, he published “When Truth Mattered: The Kent State Shootings 50 Years Later,” in which he recounted how his staff covered the story.

In 1975, after 17 years as an editorial writer, city editor, managing editor and executive editor, he left The Beacon Journal to teach at the University of Kansas School of Journalism.

From 1977 to 1986, he was executive editor and then editor of The Democrat and Chronicle and The Times-Union in Rochester, N.Y.

He was named executive editor of The Detroit News in 1986 and later served as editor and publisher. During his 11-year tenure there, he experienced a 19-month strike and the implementation of a joint operating agreement with the rival Detroit Free Press. He also oversaw The News’s exposé of embezzlement at the Michigan House Fiscal Agency, an arm of the state House of Representatives, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994.

In 1997, he retired from The News to join the Freedom Forum, a nonprofit First Amendment advocacy organization, as a senior vice president and executive director of its Media Studies Center in New York City.

Mr. Giles was the author of “Newsroom Management: A Guide to Theory and Practice” (1987) and a past president of the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Managing Editors Association.

He is survived by his children, David and Rob Giles and Megan Cooney; four grandchildren; two step-grandsons; and his sister, Lois Eynon. His wife, Nancy (Morgan) Giles, died in 2021.

“I think one of my strengths as a leader, editor, curator, has been my ability to enable people to succeed, to give them a lot of freedom to do their jobs, to come up with ideas, to fail, to take risks, to support them but not to meddle, because they know more about what they’re doing than I do,” Mr. Giles told Nieman News in 2011 when he retired at 77.

“To be in a position to give this opportunity to a group of people every year,” he added, “is quite extraordinary.”


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