A few dozen folks gathered Friday afternoon (Dec. 3) in the fourth-floor lunchroom of The Dallas Morning News at 1954 Commerce St. on the east side of downtown. There were refreshments — even booze — and light snacks, but it was by no stretch a party. Another several dozen who couldn’t make it in person tuned in to the reception via Zoom.
It was a chance to tell one of our own, and all those in attendance, how much he means to us.
We all listened intently, laughed, reflected and reminisced. And I’m quite sure some tears were shed as the reality sank in that a member of our newsroom family was really leaving — after pouring every ounce of his talent, passion and soul into this newspaper for the past 31 years.
His name is Keith Campbell, and he first walked through the doors of The News’ longtime home at 508 Young St. to begin working the Monday after Thanksgiving 1990. He walked out the door of the building we moved to in December 2017 for the final time Friday evening after having served as our managing editor since March 2018.
Director of newsroom operations Mark Konradi, who worked with Keith in our sports department for six years — and has been at the paper about as long as Keith — summed it up best as he reached in for a hug in front of us all: “I’m gonna miss the ever-livin’ hell out of you.”
Other colleagues talked about Keith’s unwavering support of them and their careers, the care he showed for their families, and his passion for the important journalism we produce 365 days a year. I’ll always appreciate Keith for his dedication to the newspaper, his work ethic and his undying commitment to first-rate journalism.
As for Keith, he summed up 31 years by handing off credit — not surprising for a guy known for his flow of emails handing out kudos and thanks to staffers for their hard work, dedication and many awards.
“I was just really fortunate all along the way,” he said. “I worked really hard, and I tried to do the right thing at all times. … On my best days, we produced journalism that was extraordinary. And any success I’ve had is strictly due to your all’s success.
“This team is a remarkable team. The people care so passionately about the purpose of their work, about their place in society and what this means, particularly at this time in our country’s history.”
When our editor, Katrice Hardy, who’s been on the job only since August, sent out the email Oct. 25 announcing Keith’s retirement, one of the stunned reply-all comments came from Laurie Joseph, graphic artist extraordinaire:
“Keith? Leaving? That’s just crazy talk. Like you’re telling us a corner of the building collapsed.”
Keith had been a copy editor and page designer at the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times for only nine months when The News hired him away to be an assistant news editor, designing pages for one of the country’s largest and most respected papers — one he told us he’d always wanted to work for and where he’d previously applied unsuccessfully.
A native of Louisville, Ky., with a degree from the University of Missouri’s prestigious journalism program, Keith also worked at the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser and the Wichita Eagle, where he met Sara, his wife of 34 years. When The News hired Keith, it was a package deal — Sara also grabbed a position as a senior copy editor on the Universal Desk and would stay at The News for 16 years.
When they arrived in Dallas, Keith told us, he fell in love not only with the newspaper, but the city. He and Sara raised their two amazing kids, Emily and Evan, here and proudly and joyfully watched Emily marry her love, Matt, last month.
During his three-plus decades at the DMN, Keith was always a steady, calming influence in whatever role he filled. I’ve been around for nearly 22 of those years, having arrived at the paper in February 2000 as a senior copy editor on the Universal Desk while Keith was managing editor over the News Desk and UD.
When I interviewed, I started by having lunch with Keith and Joel Thornton, the UD chief, at Chili’s in Dallas’ Knox-Henderson area. I was a bit nervous facing the two of them across the table in our booth as they peppered me with questions. I’d been at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram almost 13 years and was rusty at job interviews, but I felt confident about my chances because The News had hired several other S-T editing colleagues in the previous few months who’d recommended me.
I already knew the DMN had a top-notch reputation and thought Keith and Joel were extremely professional. I recall Keith’s question about what I thought of the paper’s coverage of the Texas A&M Bonfire collapse three months earlier — having seen on my resume that I’m a Aggie — and what I would’ve done differently. Within a few days, Joel called to offer me the job.
Keith, a fan of Bruce Springsteen like few others in this world, filled a number of leadership positions at The News, starting with his years overseeing the News Desk and then the News and Universal Desks. He was part of the paper’s coverage and presentation of numerous huge events, including the Iraq War, several presidential elections (among them the “hanging chad” fiasco of 2000), the Branch Davidian siege (1993), the Oklahoma City bombing (1995), Y2K and, biggest of all, 9/11. Keith oversaw the pressure-packed team effort to publish an “extra” edition on the day of the 9/11 attacks. For years, Keith was in charge of the meetings each afternoon to discuss which stories would appear on the next day’s Page 1A.
In 2007, Keith took on a new challenge, moving to the sports department as a deputy editor for six years, working with reporters covering, at various times, baseball, colleges, Olympics, high schools, the Dallas Mavericks, Dallas Stars — even running and rodeo. He developed The News’ digital and print coverage plans for multiple Olympic Games and traveled to Beijing to coordinate our coverage of the Summer Games in 2008.
“I had this remarkable time in that department, doing things that I never dreamed of being able to do, like go to the Olympics in Beijing and help cover two World Series (Rangers losses in 2010 and 2011),” Keith told the group. “It helped me grow and understand and do even more.”
In 2013, Keith returned to the news department to lead Neighborsgo, our 13 suburban weekly editions and websites. He became interim managing editor in 2014, overseeing what at the time was a newsroom of almost 300 journalists (sadly, around 130 now). In his second week in that role, Ebola came to Dallas, a huge story on which Keith oversaw coverage. When new editor Mike Wilson was hired in early 2015, Keith worked with him to guide our transition to the digital-first newsroom Mike envisioned.
Keith and Mike developed a tight relationship during their years working together before Mike announced his resignation last fall (he later became a deputy sports editor with The New York Times). Thanking Mike, who attended Friday’s reception, Keith spoke candidly about how he took to Mike upon his arrival and decided he’d like to lose the interim tag on his managing editor title. But when Mike hired someone else for the role, it didn’t sit too well.
“He went a different direction and it really pissed me off,” Keith said as the room filled with laughter.
But he stuck around and became deputy managing editor over news, business and the Sunday edition for three years — continuing, as he said, to learn and grow. During that period, Keith directed our border and Mexico coverage, and The News was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for its coverage of the slayings of five Dallas police officers in 2016.
Finally, in 2018, Mike named Keith managing editor and a company vice president. For those unfamiliar with the newspaper business, it’s the managing editor who really oversees a newsroom’s daily efforts, makes most of the critical decisions and is responsible for the content of the website and paper. That doesn’t mean the editor isn’t deeply involved too, but an editor’s role can differ broadly from one paper to another. Mike was always a big part of our coverage, but he wore many other hats. Keith’s role as managing editor basically meant he was on 24/7.
After Mike left, Keith also took on editor duties for several months until Katrice joined us during the summer. So Keith’s days were overwhelmingly jammed with responsibilities during the last year-plus.
In his farewell words, Keith shared his two favorite things about working at The Dallas Morning News. One happened whenever the staff was working on a major story, an investigative piece, a project or reported narrative — all the time, it seems.
“That moment when we had it all done and had worked hard on it and were about to publish, it was like Christmas Eve to me,” he said. “I was so excited.”
His second cherished memory: “The moment when somebody who I’d mentored or who asked for my advice or who I’d challenged, when the light bulb went off and they realized, ‘I can do more, I want to do more, or I can make this story better.’”
Knowing that the newsroom is full of young, eager journalists with their careers in front of them, Keith offered some closing inspiration:
“I encourage everyone in the room, particularly those journalists who are young in their careers, to be comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s OK to go into a job you don’t really know how to do, but you have an opportunity and you make the most of it. I had that opportunity when I was in sports.”
During his nearly 15-minute speech — speaking from the heart, not notes — Keith reminisced about the times of plentiful resources and staff at The News in the 1990s and early 2000s. We are a shadow of both, but he exits with pride and confidence in the friends left to carry on.
“I think great days are ahead for The Morning News, and I will be watching from afar and reading every day, and rooting for everyone’s success.
“I love you all. I love this place.”
We love you too, Keith.
We took this photo with Keith (center) on the rooftop patio at The News after the reception — it’s the members of our copy desk who were in attendance. From left, it’s me, Denise Beeber, Michael Apuan, Alma Lozoya, Tatia Woldt and Tim Connolly. Tatia is retiring this month, making her the fifth member of our desk to retire or leave for a new job this year!