James K. Batten, who dedicated his life to newspapers and the communities they covered and was one of the nation’s foremost news executives, died Saturday from brain cancer. He was 59.
He was taken off life support earlier in the day and died about 6:30 p.m. surrounded by family, said Knight-Ridder spokeswoman Lee Ann Schlatter.
Batten, who joined Knight-Ridder Inc. in 1957 as a cub reporter at The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer and became the media giant’s chairman 32 years later, was diagnosed with cancer last year.
Batten was a member of the board of directors of The Associated Press from 1984 to 1993 and vice chairman from 1992 to 1993.
Batten underwent surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor in July 1994. He had been undergoing chemotherapy and checked into Jackson Memorial Hospital on June 9 for treatment of an infection.
Batten’s sense of compassion stretched beyond the offices of Knight-Ridder, which owns 29 daily newspapers including The Miami Herald and The Philadelphia Inquirer.
He helped lead recovery efforts from Hurricane Andrew, which devastated parts of South Florida in 1992. He helped fight crime and heal racial and ethnic divisions in Miami by encouraging diversity in the community’s leadership.
In October 1993, Batten was involved in a car accident that was later attributed to a seizure brought on by the cancerous tumor in his brain.
Batten was born Jan. 11, 1936, in Norfolk, Va. He graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina and received a master’s degree from Princeton University.
After starting as a reporter, he went on to hold a series of editorial and management positions, including Washington correspondent and executive editor, before becoming a vice president of Knight-Ridder in 1975.
He became company president in 1982, chief executive officer in 1988 and chairman in 1989.
Besides its newspapers, the company owns electronic retrieval services, cable TV systems with 300,000 subscribers and other businesses.