Jerry Ceppos, a former editor and executive at the Miami Herald who also led Pulitzer winning news teams and two journalism schools, died Friday. He was 75.
He died from a severe infection that caused sepsis, according to his wife, Karen Ceppos.
At the time of his death, he was serving as a media ethics professor at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication, where he was dean from 2011 to 2018. Before his time at LSU, he was a managing editor for about 18 years at San Jose’s The Mercury News, where led a team that won two Pulitzer Prizes.
In 1985, his team won the Pulitzer for international reporting after playing a role in exposing the hidden wealth of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. Five years later, The Mercury News won the staff Pulitzer for its coverage of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake under Ceppos’ leadership.
He also led a team covering Silicon Valley’s early tech boom and expanded diversity efforts in the newsroom. He helped create Nuevo Mundo and Viet Mercury, expanding the paper’s outreach to other languages.
“The paper did a great job of explaining what was happening both in the business community and in the, the diversity of the community, and was beloved as a result of it,” said Joe Natoli, a former executive at the Miami Herald who worked with Ceppos. “The community embraced the paper in a way that I had not seen.”
The Society of Professional Journalists awarded Ceppos in 1997 after he helped correct the record on the “Dark Alliance” series, which tied the CIA to drug trafficking during Los Angeles’ crack epidemic. He assigned new reporters to re-visit the allegations after the series of news reports were criticized for inaccuracies and personally took responsibility for the misstep.
“I believe that we fell short at every step of our process — in the writing, editing and production of our work. Several people here share that burden,” he wrote. “But ultimately, the responsibility was, and is, mine.”
His career in journalism spans back to 1969, when he worked as a an editor at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle for three years.
Ceppos went on to be an editor at the Miami Herald through the 70s until he left for San Jose. He worked with the Miami Herald again in 1999 when he became vice president for news at Knight Ridder, Miami Herald’s parent company at the time.
While working as a Knight Ridder executive, he oversaw the diversification of Knight Ridder’s 32 newspapers and led efforts to digitize the papers.
Following 36 years in the journalism industry, Ceppos started his career in academia in 2007 as a fellow in media ethics at Santa Clara University. He became dean of the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism and Advanced Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2008, where he expanded the school’s curriculum and diversity.
His time at UNR ended in 2011, when he moved to become the dean at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. There, he created a news service for student journalists, which helped expand the LSU Cold Case Project in which students helped solve Klu Klux Klan murders from the 60s.
“He was obviously very successful in his career, but he didn’t have a lot of ego and was very welcoming,” Natoli said. “He was very much a people person.”
He will be buried in Miami at a private family ceremony before a public celebration is held at a later date, according to The Daily Reveille, LSU’s student newspaper.