Editors note: We are posting articles about the special club award winners honored May 5 at the annual SPC Awards dinner.
By Mike McAndrew
Michael J. Connor speaks with a fiery passion about the importance of watchdog journalism and the public’s thirst for local news.
But economic realities pinching all of Syracuse’s media organizations means there’s fewer boots on the ground and the city’s news is being covered less thoroughly now than 10 or 20 years ago, The Post-Standard’s executive editor said.
“I can remember a time when all or most of the three network affiliates in broadcast TV had court reporters and municipal reporters. There was pretty fierce competition in government and institutional coverage. That’s gone away. Radio reporting is almost nonexistent,” he said. “There’s less competition. There’s just fewer reporters (in Syracuse) than there were at one time. That can’t help but reduce the amount of basic reporting and contextual reporting made available to residents of the area.”
“If fewer institutions are being covered on a regular basis because you have a smaller total reporting staff in the community, at some point readers are missing something,” he said.
Connor — who is being awarded the Gus Bliven-Joe Ganley-Mario Rossi Career Achievement Award by the Syracuse Press Club — has spent his entire 36-year journalism career at The Post-Standard.
While a student at Cornell University, he decided to pursue a newspaper career after being inspired by a speech by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.
Connor started out in 1976 as a bureau reporter based in Oneida. After working in a series of reporting and editing positions, he became the paper’s managing editor in 1983.
Under Connor’s leadership, The Post-Standard in 1993 was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for explanatory journalism for a series of stories about poor medical care provided to inmates in state prisons. The prison series remains among Connor’s favorite stories published by the newspaper.
That same year, Connor was named executive editor of The Post-Standard. When the morning paper merged in 1997 with The Herald-Journal, Connor became executive editor of the combined news operation.
These days, the 59-year editor is overseeing the transformation of The Post-Standard from a newspaper into a news organization that delivers stories, photos, video and audio recordings to readers via the newspaper, syracuse.com, Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.
“The Post-Standard is the best-read newspaper in America. Syracuse.com is one of the strongest newspaper websites in America. Why? Because of Mike Connor,” said Stephen A. Rogers, editor and publisher of The Post-Standard. “He built a great staff and pushed it to the top.”
Connor has two sons, Jeff, 25, who is a musician, and Adam, 21, who graduates this month from the University of Vermont.
Outside of the job, Connor spends his time biking 10 to 15 miles per day before work. On weekends, he sometimes takes 40-mile rides around Skaneateles Lake.
He also volunteers Thursday nights at Matthew House, serving terminally-ill people at a hospice residence in Auburn.
“It’s an extraordinary place of great peace, for families and individuals preparing for that transition, that next phase. It’s about as caring and loving a place as you can imagine,” he said.