Friday, January 22, 2016

‘30’ for Doug Balz

Doug Balz
Doug Balz, BJ  reporter in the 1970s, has passed away, former BJ Columbus Bureau reporter Bill Hershey, passed along the sad news.

His widow is one-time Knight-Ridder Features Editor Jane Scholz. They live in Washington, DC.

A loving, eloquent and stirring Facebook post by Jane Scholz:

My husband Doug Balz died peacefully at home in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday,

January 19, 2016, succumbing to cancer that was diagnosed only last fall and

that spread rapidly through his body. His passing came quickly, but only after a

rich and full life. His death leaves a void in all of us.

Doug grew up in a small, Midwestern town and went on become an award-winning

newspaper editor and reporter. His work touched thousands of lives throughout

the country. After retiring from newspapering, he used his talents as a teacher,

mentor and volunteer, enriching more lives with his generosity and wisdom.

“I understand writers and know what makes them tick,” he once said about

himself. “I know how to get the best work from writers—how to stimulate them,

how to challenge them.” Those who worked with him have been echoing those words

for many years.

Slowed in his last years by a condition that eventually robbed him of his

mobility, he nonetheless never stopped moving, traveling and doing. He loved his

family, his work and his hobbies. He was beloved for his sharp sense of humor,

his intellect and a searing commitment to a fair and equal society. He was 72

when he died.

Doug will be remembered by his daughters, Sarah and Annie, for his unconditional

love, affection and support throughout their younger years and on into

adulthood. He inspired in them a lifelong love of education and social justice.

He was playful and funny, making use of his talent for puns and corny jokes,

resulting in many teenage eye-rolls from his girls. He was always a supporter of

their pursuits, whether it was a love of tropical fish in childhood, a quest for

the perfect penne arrabbiata recipe or a dream to become a professional


In support of his younger daughter Annie’s passion for Monet, Doug and Annie

took a trip to Paris together after her high school graduation, visiting every

museum with Monet’s work and making a day trip to Monet’s Giverny in the French

countryside. When his older daughter Sarah visited Paris later that year, while

studying abroad, he sent her his personal guidebook of the city, detailing some

of the same places he and Annie had visited.

His daughters also remember fondly the summer vacations they took together with

Doug and his wife Jane. Long, hot car trips with Paul Simon’s “Graceland” as a

soundtrack. Beach combing on Martha’s Vineyard. Listening to wild loons in the


Doug was born on June 30, 1943, in Freeport, Illinois, a town of roughly 25,000

people located in northwest Illinois about 100 miles west of O’Hare Airport. The

town is best known as the site of one of the most famous of the Lincoln-Douglas

debates, which as an adult Doug memorialized with a Lincoln bust and a Douglas

autograph in his study. Freeport was a vibrant community during Doug’s early

years and he led a rather idyllic childhood.

He was an avid reader even as a boy, often winning contests at the local public

library for the number of books read during the summer. At Freeport Junior High,

he met Barbara Penson, who would later become his first wife and the mother of

his daughters. In high school, he took her to the junior prom. He played in the

high school band, was a competitive debater and served as co-editor of the

yearbook, known as the Polaris, during his senior year. He was graduated in


After high school, he was off to the University of Illinois, eventually finding

his way into the journalism program. He was a gifted writer as a student, and

some of the papers he submitted for required classes showed the deft touch of

someone much more mature who knew and cared about the language and could

skillfully turn a phrase.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1966 and a master’s degree in

communications, also at Illinois, in 1968. While there, he won a Ford Foundation

fellowship to spend a year studying the Illinois legislature in Springfield,

where he spent time as an aide to the speaker of the House. In 1968, he won one

of the first fellowships at the newly created Washington Journalism Center.

After graduating, Doug began a doctorate in American Studies at the University

of Minnesota. While in the program, he taught English and journalism at the

University of Wisconsin at River Falls. He worked part-time at KUOM, the local

public radio station, where he produced programs on current events for children.

Among his colleagues at the station was a young Garrison Keillor. Doug found the

future chronicler of life in Lake Wobegone to be shy but talented.

Doug’s work on his doctorate came at the height of the era of New Journalism.

Like many young writers he was shaped by the works of Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese and

others who were developing a new form of journalism, one that combined

techniques of fiction to enhance nonfiction. Few took on the challenge of

writing novelistic nonfiction more enthusiastically than Norman Mailer, whose

coverage of the 1967 antiwar March on the Pentagon became the Pulitzer

Prize-winning book, “The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel; the Novel as


Doug was drawn to Mailer’s work, and his doctoral dissertation was an

examination of Mailer’s writing. It was entitled, “Art and Power: The

Interaction of the Fiction and Journalism of Norman Mailer.” A copy of the

dissertation is included in the collection of Mailer’s papers at the Harry

Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

As he finished his dissertation, Doug went to work at the Akron Beacon Journal.

There he was part of what Lary Bloom recalled a group of “whippersnappers who

thought they knew everything and were going to save the newspaper business with

their wit and wisdom.”

It was while he was at the Beacon Journal that Doug was awarded his Ph.D. Bill

Hershey, a fellow reporter, remembers some of Doug’s friends from the newspaper

parading through Doug’s house to the music of Verdi’s “Triumphal March from

Aida” to mark the milestone.

In 1976, Doug won first prize in the Ohio Press Association awards for an

investigation into the cause of leukemia deaths of workers at an area Goodyear

plant. The investigation contributed to a U.S. Labor Department decision to

limit benzene concentrations in work areas.

Doug also won an award for an investigation into irregularities in a local

counterfeiting case and for spot news coverage of education. Hershey recalled,

“He made life uneasy for the Akron School Superintendent but still got along

with him. The superintendent respected Doug because his work was good and


Doug showed off other talents in Akron. Bloom was the editor of the Sunday

magazine, and Doug played a variety of roles. It turned out that he was

particularly skilled at punning. Bloom recalled, “For a little item . . . about

a place that let customers cut down their own Christmas trees, he came up with

the headline, ‘Axe and Yule Receive.’ For a vegetarian restaurant, it was ‘Peas

in Our Time,’ and for gourmet dog food, ‘Clams on the Arf Shell.’”

In those days newspapers’ Sunday magazines were undergoing a major evolution, an

effort to bring great writing and big topics to what often were lowbrow

publications filled with cheesy advertising. Doug’s knowledge of literature and

Mailer in particular made him especially well equipped to take on the challenge.

Not long after, Doug moved from the Beacon Journal to The Miami Herald,

recruited by Bloom to become associate editor of Tropic magazine. His job

interview with the paper’s editor, John McMullan, was memorable. McMullan was a

gruff and sometimes intimidating editor. Over lunch in the executive dining

room, McMullan asked Doug what he could offer Bloom and the magazine if he got

the job. Doug thought about the question for a moment and replied with a

one-word answer: “support.”

Bloom at first thought it was an odd answer but later came to see how cogent

Doug had been. “He didn’t feel a need to offer a treatise on narrative

journalism, or the high ground, or anything like that. It was all implied,”

Bloom said.

McMullan told Doug, “That’s a good answer.” Doug was soon on his way to Miami.

He began working at Tropic in late 1978, and the Sunday magazine became one of

the finest in the country, stirring the pot in Miami by addressing Liberty City,

the Mariel boatlift and the city’s remarkably high murder rate, among other


“Doug was an unheralded force behind a great—if short-lived—phenomenon in

journalism, one that through storytelling and attaching themselves to a human

point of view was able to dig into the heart of issues in a way that news

stories couldn’t,” Bloom said.

With Doug as her editor, writer Madeleine Blais won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for

feature writing.

“If anyone asks, I always say I owe my Pulitzer to my extraordinary colleagues

at Tropic Magazine of The Miami Herald, most especially to Doug,” she wrote.

In “Zepp’s Last Stand,” she told the story of a World War I veteran, a pacifist

who was dishonorably—and unfairly—discharged, who was going to Washington to

clear his name and record. With a pile of notebooks surrounding her, Blais

struggled to write the opening paragraph.

She recalled, “Doug sensed the agony in my inertia and said, gently, ‘When in

doubt, put the reader on the road. Learn from the best. If the journey motif was

good enough for Homer, surely it’s good enough for . . .’”

The lede flowed from there and, with Doug’s gentle hand and encouragement, so

did the rest of the story.

In Miami, Doug later oversaw an ambitious Cuba project that marked the 25th

anniversary of Fidel Castro’s rise to power. Eventually he was named editor of

Living Today, a department that included a daily features section, plus a weekly

food section, a weekly fashion section and a religion page. In 1985, he accepted

a Penney-Missouri Award for one of the three best feature sections in

large-circulation newspapers.

While in Miami, Doug and his first wife, Barbara Penson Balz, were divorced.

Even though he had a private office in Tropic, he often liked to edit amid the

hubbub of the city room. While sitting at a terminal on the city desk, he met

Jane Scholz, a fellow Herald editor. They were married on New Year’s Day 1983,

at the Vizcaya estate on the shore of Biscayne Bay. In the mid-1980s, Jane was

named publisher of the Gary, Indiana, Post-Tribune. Doug went to work for the

Chicago Tribune.

Within a few years, he had risen to become editor of the Tribune’s Arts section.

Later he was named managing editor of the Tribune’s Sunday magazine.” Doug was

one of the smartest, most exuberant, most curious and best-read editors I’ve

worked with,” recalled Mary Schmich, whom Doug would later describe as one of

the best writers he worked with in Chicago. “He loved to talk and argue. If

memory serves, he carried a fat Filofax (that dates a person!) in which he would

write down books he wanted to read.”

Schmich’s fondest memory is of the story that never actually came to pass, a

profile of Oprah Winfrey. “It was 1997 and Oprah rarely gave interviews but he

put in a call to her, hoping to make the Tribune’s case,” she said. “Some days

passed. It was clear she wouldn’t call back. Then one late afternoon she did.”

Doug stayed on the phone as long as he could, cajoling and trying to persuade

the reluctant Winfrey. In the end she said no. “I always admired his tenacity in

that and other pursuits,” Schmich said. “He was known as a meticulous editor not

afraid to think big.”

One of his think-big ideas came in the early 1990s. In the fall of 1992,

7-year-old Dantrell Davis was killed by a sniper’s bullet on his way to school

with his mother. Dantrell lived in the infamous Chicago public housing project

known as Cabrini-Green.

As a tribute to Dantrell, Doug conceived of the idea of an architectural

competition, sponsored by the Tribune, to reimagine public housing and to

redesign the acreage encompassing Cabrini-Green. “We’re saying to the community

that we’re all in this together,” Doug told Newsweek magazine at the time.

The competition, which promised no money and no likelihood that the design would

ever be built, drew 300 contestants from 10 countries, including architects

whose work was prominent in the city. The winners were a design team from Fargo,

North Dakota. The whole project spoke to Doug’s journalistic ambitions, his

creativity and his belief in the power of newspapers to make people’s lives

better and cities more livable.

In 1998, Doug took an early retirement from the Tribune and moved to Washington,

to join Jane, who had been moved several years earlier to become editor of the

then Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service.

In Washington, he pursued a variety of activities. For a time, he served as an

adjunct professor of journalism at George Washington University. As a volunteer,

he mentored young people, helping them to learn to read and more. He taught

reading to a retired cleaning woman who had left school as a youngster to

support her family and wanted to learn to read well enough to enjoy novels and

join a book club. Thanks to Doug, she did. He also worked part-time in

bookstores and volunteered in the Prints & Photographs Division at the Library

of Congress.

Through painstaking genealogical research, he traced the Balz family of Freeport

back to its roots in Nurtingen, Germany, and a drawing of the church where he

found some key records hangs in his home. He also was the keeper and promoter of

the Balz Family Dressing, a somewhat heavy concoction of bread, potatoes and

sausage. “The BFD” was a staple of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

Doug was as widely read as almost anyone we knew. He was an expert student of

photography, both of the work of well-known photographs and as a skilled

photographer in his own right. One of the finest photos he ever took, of a group

of restaurant workers at rest in downtown Chicago, hangs in his study.


Doug is survived by his wife Jane; two daughters from his first marriage, Sarah

Balz and Annie Balz Florin (Luke); two grandsons, Jack and Andy; and a brother,

Dan (Nancy). A memorial service will be held in March or April in Washington.

Memorials to the Library of Congress.


A final note from Sarah and Annie: Doug loved his daughters with tenderness and

tenacity. The most memorable demonstration of his love was the tradition of

ending every phone call for 20 years of childhood with the words, “I love you, I

miss you, and I think about you all the time.”

Dad, we do, too.
Condolences may be sent to Douglas Balz Facebook page and cards may be mailed to:

Jane Scholz

800 25th Street NW

Apt. 302

Washington, DC 20007

For the earlier BJ Alums article on Doug being ill, click on

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