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In memoriam: Susan Clark-Johnson, 'a pioneer in journalism'

Susan Clark-Johnson
January 28, 2015

Susan Clark-Johnson, former executive director of Morrison Institute for Public Policy, a professor of journalism at Arizona State University and a longtime journalist who capped her storied career as president of the Gannett Newspaper Division, has died at age 67.

"Sue was a pioneer in journalism who dedicated her life to making her communities better by telling their stories to all. She was immensely helpful in advancing Arizona to higher levels of success and ASU as a leader for change. We will all miss Sue and her energy and drive and commitment to a better Arizona,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow.

“Sue provided invaluable leadership, energy and ideas to help make Morrison Institute what it is today – Arizona’s premier think tank for public policy,” said Thom Reilly, who succeeded Clark-Johnson after she left Morrison Institute last year to join the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication as a faculty member.

“She was well connected and furthered Morrison Institute’s mission as a credible leader in examining Arizona and regional critical issues, and to be a catalyst for public dialogue. She will be missed,” Reilly said.

Among her accomplishments at Morrison Institute were the creation of the State of Our State Conference, which has become an annual signature event featuring panel discussions, reports and interactive discussion regarding Arizona’s key challenges and opportunities. Also launched was the Morrison Institute Latino Public Policy Center, and she played an integral role in the early stages for forming the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Morrison Institute.

“Sue worked tirelessly for the common good of all Arizonans. I had the utmost respect for her passion, her energy and her vision. She was a giant among us. Besides that, she was a wonderful human being,” said Richard Morrison, chairman of the Morrison Institute Advisory Board.

She was recognized at the November 2014 conference for her deeds, including elevating the profile of Morrison Institute, which is part of ASU's College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“Sue’s passion for public discourse, deep ties in the community and commitment to addressing shared challenges leaves an indelible print not only on the Morrison Institute, but also on our state,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Since 2010, Clark-Johnson served as a professor of practice at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU, where she was the driving force behind the creation of the school’s New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab, which brings together students from across the university to develop cutting-edge digital products for media companies. She also pioneered the schools’ partnership with Chyron Corp., an innovative digital broadcast graphics products and services, to bring a new graphics management system to the school, and served as an adviser and advocate for other school initiatives.

“Sue was a powerful figure in journalism and a pioneer in a largely male-dominated industry,” said Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School. “She also was an important civic leader in the Valley, and a good and loyal friend to Cronkite and journalism. She will be greatly missed.”

Clark-Johnson joined Morrison Institute in May 2009 after retiring as president of the Gannett Newspaper Division a year earlier. She worked for 41 years in a variety of news and executive leadership roles with the company, which owns about 85 daily U.S. newspapers, including The Arizona Republic.

Clark-Johnson previously served as chairman and CEO of Phoenix Newspapers, Inc. as well as senior group president of Gannett's Pacific Newspaper Group with oversight responsibility for 32 companies throughout the West, including Hawaii and Guam.

During her newspaper career she worked in Niagara Falls, New York; Binghamton, New York; and Reno, Nevada.

In addition to her role as newspaper executive for Gannett, she also served a term as chairwoman of the Newspaper Association of America.

She was recognized by numerous organizations, including lifetime achievement awards from The Washington Women’s Center and the National Association of Female Executives. She was awarded the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Diversity efforts from the National Association of Minority Media Executives and the Jerry J. Wisotsky Torch of Liberty Award from the Anti-Defamation League.

She was a member of the Council of Foreign Relations; on the board of directors of Pinnacle West, the parent company of APS, and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGEN). Clark-Johnson also was a member of the O'Connor House board of directors and chair of the O'Connor House advisory group. She was a former board member of Morrison Institute.

Clark-Johnson is a graduate of State University of New York at Binghamton, from which she also received an honorary doctorate. She and her husband, Brooks Johnson, lived in Paradise Valley, Arizona, and Lake Tahoe, Nevada.