Jon Wolman Tributes: Detroit Journalists Salute 'a Great Teacher' and 'Incredibly Kind' Person

April 15, 2019, 4:24 PM by  Alan Stamm

Inspiring recollections of Jonathan Paley Wolman, editor and publisher of The Detroit News since 2007, flow online after his death Monday from complications of pancreatic cancer.

Newsroom folks often try to appear crusty rather than sensitive. They can be more brash or brusque than emotionally effusive. But when a respected figure who's one of their own passes, talk gets poignant and passionate.

This 68-year-old newsman is recalled as "a calming influence," "incredibly kind" and "a decent human being." 

"Jon Wolman was a reporter's editor, always looking out for his troops," Chad Livengood tweets." (Twitter photo: Chris King)

"Jon Wolman was a hell of a newspaperman," writes Nolan Finley, editorial page editor throughout his boss' time in Detroit.

He pulled out every budget trick he could find to minimize layoffs. . . .

He pushed us to find creative ways to do more with less. He championed hard news coverage and investigative reporting and took great pride in keeping The Detroit News among the best regional newspapers in the country.

"He challenged his reporters and editors to question conventional wisdom and to distrust our own assumptions," Ron Fournier, a past Associated Press colleague, writes in a guest column for The News. "He was a great teacher . . . [and] a great leader. . . . I wish you had known him."

He was "such a steady and calming hand on the wheel amid the constantly chaotic news scene," tweets former News reporter Paul Egan, now a Lansing correspondent for the Free Press.

Oralandar Brand-Williams, in her 26th year as a News reporter, salutes Wolman as "among the great bosses I’ve had in my career. [He] rewarded hard work and talent." 

A similar sentiment comes from Chad Livengood, who reported for the paper from the state capital from 2012-16. "Jon Wolman was a reporter's editor, always looking out for his troops," tweets the senior reporter at Crain's Detroit Business. "He gave me an incredible opportunity to shine . . . and I will forever be grateful for his keen eye for news, steady hand during turbulent times and his endearing humanity."

Wolman's funeral is at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Temple Beth El, 7400 Telegraph Rd. in Bloomfield Township. 

Among survivors are his wife of 40 years, Deborah Lamm, and their three children: Jacob, Emma and Sophia. The family also includes siblings Natalie Wolman, Ruth Henderson and Lewis Wolman, and the late Jane Wolman. 

The Ira Kaufman Chapel, handling arrangements, lists three memorial gift recipients suggested by the family. The first, fittingly, is the Committee to Protect Journalists, 330 7th Ave., New York, NY 10001 (

Jon Wolman in 2009 on C-Span.

Here are more words of respect and fondness posted Monday afternoon:

  • He was a steadying, calming influence who put a priority on the big picture: the accuracy and fairness of our news report. He was incredibly kind. Some [layoff] decisions clearly pained him. But he kept the long-term interests of The News, its staff and its readers, paramount." -- Gary Miles, News managing editor (joined staff in 2000)
  • He has kept his newspaper relevant and engaged in the community. -- Peter Bhatia, Free Press editor
  • Jon Wolman was a class act, a relentless competitor, a champion of our state and city and a good guy. -- Robert Huschka, Freepster (including executive editor) from 1999-2017 
  • His budget skills saved scores of reporters' jobs and kept Detroit a two-paper town. Not the legacy he wanted. But a hell of one anyway. -- Joel Kurth, a 2000-17 News vet who's now managing editor at Bridge Magazine
  • No paper of The Detroit News' size has had such a commitment to Washington journalism as Jon Wolman's Detroit News." -- David Shepardson, 1995-2015 News reporter now at Thomspon Reuters in Washington, D.C.
  • Besides being an amazing journalist, he was a decent human being. -- Maryann Struman, 1984-2009 News alumna who's breaking news editor at the Freep
  • You all have no idea all he did to support my career. A great guy. -- Darren Nichols, News reporter 1992-2015
  • He gave everyone a seat at the proverbial table. He believed in diversity and inclusion of his staff. His news judgment was spot on and was indicative of his years as a news reporter. -- Oralandar Brand-Williams, News reporter since 1993
  • When there were tough moments -- layoffs, difficult internal decisions -- he would sit and answer all questions. Didn't send out someone else or HR department. He took the tough questions himself. -- Mike Wilkinson, now a Bridge Magazine reporter
  • I never saw him happier than when he was working with writers on a big story or with a team shaping a report on a major investigation. He was a newsman, through and through. -- Louis C. Boccardi, Associated Press president, 1985-2003
  • He read more than anyone I know. He didn't sleep much. He was demanding, sometimes blunt and direct. But always fair -- Terrence Hunt, past AP White House correspondent and deputy bureau chief, 1981-2017

Related coverage:

Jonathan Wolman, The Detroit News' Editor and Publisher for Last 12 Years, Dies at 68

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