Former Arizona Republic publisher and Gannett executive Sue Clark-Johnson dies at age 67

PHOENIX – Sue Clark-Johnson, a pioneering figure in the newspaper industry who served as publisher of the Arizona Republic and Reno Gazette Journal during a lengthy career at Gannett Co., has died. She was 67.

The Arizona Republic reported Wednesday that Clark-Johnson died after a short illness.

Clark-Johnson’s career in the newspaper business spanned more than four decades, including becoming the first female head of the newspaper division of Gannett. She had that job from 2005 to 2008 before she retired.

She rose to the top ranks of the U.S. newspaper business in an era when very few women were serving in top management posts in the industry, landing her first publisher job in 1977.

“Sue was a true pioneer as a top newspaper executive at a time when precious few women held those positions. She was extraordinarily smart, gracious and graceful. But when she needed to be, she could be fierce and as tough – or tougher – than any man in the boardroom,” said Christopher Callahan, dean at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Clark-Johnson’s vision was on display in a speech to Arizona State University journalism graduates in 2006 as she foretold the transformation of the news business long before the onslaught of changes brought on by social media.

“One thing is for sure: Like the old Royal typewriter that once produced my byline on countless newspaper stories, time has passed by the traditional newsroom,” she said. “This wild-fire transition terrifies many of my newspaper colleagues in spite of the urgent need to change. But for you – at the dawn of your professional careers – this New World Order of Newsgathering will be the most exciting, fast-paced and rewarding era in journalism history.”

Clark-Johnson began her career in 1967 as a reporter at Gannett’s newspaper in Niagara Falls, N.Y. She became publisher of the newspaper 10 years later. She was named publisher of the Press & Sun Bulletin in 1983 and Gannett’s East regional vice-president in 1984.

She later was promoted to senior group president of Gannett’s West region while serving as publisher of the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Along with being the Republic’s publisher for five years, Clark-Johnson also was chairwoman and chief executive officer of Phoenix Newspapers Inc. after Gannett purchased the company in 2000.

While in the Phoenix position, she also served as senior president of Gannett’s Pacific Newspaper Group, overseeing 32 companies including several newspapers. Clark-Johnson also served as the chairwoman of the Newspaper Association of America in 2007 and 2008.

“The passing of Sue is a loss for the community and the very many lives she has touched,” said John Zidich, CEO and publisher of Republic Media, which includes The Republic, and Phoenix TV station KPNX. “She was a dear friend and mentor, as she was for so many in the Gannett company.”

The Republic said Clark-Johnson and her husband, Brooks Johnson, lived in Paradise Valley after her retirement from Gannett. At the time of her death, she was a director at Pinnacle West Capital Corp., parent of Arizona Public Service Co.

Funeral plans and a list of her survivors weren’t immediately available Wednesday.


Information from: The Arizona Republic,