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Raul Ramirez, 1946-2013
KQED News Staff | November 15, 2013
Raul Ramirez, reporting from a Honduran refugee camp, circa 1984. The children had fled mass murders in a Salvadoran village. Raul not only wrote their stories, he helped guarantee their safety by helping them return home. (Photo courtesy Adam Kufeld)
Raul Ramirez, executive director of news and public affairs at KQED Public Radio and a remarkable journalist, teacher and mentor known throughout the Bay Area journalism community and beyond, has died.
Ramirez had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late July and died this morning at age 67 at his home in Berkeley. He was born in 1946 in Havana. In April 1962, more than three years after the Cuban revolution overthrew the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, Ramirez’s parents — disillusioned by what they perceived as Fidel Castro’s failed promises — sent him and his sister to live with relatives in South Florida. He first started to explore journalism as a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville; he once told a colleague that he had studied it to improve his English. In the process, he discovered his calling.
Ramirez’s newspaper days began in the tumultuous 1960s and ’70s, when he reported for the Miami Herald, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Examiner. He gained a reputation for immersing himself in the subjects that he covered, always seeking to gain in-depth understanding before publishing. In 1970, he wrote a prize-winning series for the Wall Street Journal about farmworkers in Michigan after working in the fields alongside them. At the Miami Herald, he accompanied undercover agents on raids of suspected heroin dealers. And for a San Francisco Examiner article on jail conditions, he worked several days as a deputy sheriff.
In May 1976, after months of investigation, Ramirez and freelance journalist Lowell Bergman broke a story for the Examiner about a Chinatown gang murder case titled “How Lies Sent Youth to Prison for Murder.” The article detailed how an assistant district attorney and two police inspectors had pressured witnesses into lying, resulting in the conviction of Richard Lee. The three law enforcement officers sued the Examiner, Bergman and Ramirez for libel, seeking $30 million in damages.
When the Examiner, then owned by the Hearst Corp., refused to provide counsel for the freelancer Bergman, leaving him without representation, Ramirez as a matter of principle and conscience refused to be represented by the Examiner’s lawyer and joined with Bergman to seek outside counsel. A group of journalists and lawyers rallied around the two reporters and raised enough money to hire a lawyer and fight the case. Though they initially lost in Superior Court and were ordered to pay $4.56 million in damages, Bergman and Ramirez spent the next decade fighting the verdict. Ultimately, the libel ruling was overturned by the California Supreme Court in 1986. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that decision, ending the matter once and for all.
Ramirez in his office at KQED.
Ramirez in his office at KQED. (Ian Hill/KQED)
Ramirez has long been a central figure in many Bay Area journalism institutions. For many years he served as president of the board of directors of the Center for Investigative Reporting during a difficult period in the 1990s, when the organization had to rebuild after losing staff and funding. He was also a fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, as well as at the University of Hawaii’s School of Pacific and Asian Studies.
He taught for many years at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley, where he inspired students with his classes in introductory journalism and investigative reporting. Many have gone on to successful reporting careers at KQED, NPR and other media outlets. He also led investigative reporting and civic journalism training workshops in the Netherlands as well as training workshops in several Ukrainian locations.
Ramirez ventured into broadcast journalism for the first time in 1991 when he was hired as news director for KQED Public Radio. He was later promoted to executive director of news and public affairs. In his 22 years at KQED, he was instrumental in building it into a top-rated public radio station and leading its award-winning state and regional news service. Today, KQED’s broadcast and online coverage includes KQED News, KQEDnews.org, “Forum” and “The California Report.” Its statewide service operates news bureaus in Sacramento, Fresno and Los Angeles.
He also was executive producer of “Pacific Time,” a program that explored the ideas, trends and cultural patterns flowing between Asia and North America. “Pacific Time” aired for seven years before ending in 2007.
During his career, Ramirez received many honors and recognitions, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter, and most recently from the same organization the 2013 Distinguished Service to Journalism Award. He was deeply committed to preserving the high standards of journalistic integrity, public service and investigative reporting, and diversity in journalism. Recently, dozens of KQED colleagues sent Ramirez a tribute honoring his great breadth of ideas, his commitment to journalism ethics and his kindness as a colleague, supervisor and friend.
Raul Ramirez is survived by his husband, Tony Wu; the couple married on Oct.18, 2013, in San Leandro. He is also survived by his sister, Miriam Gargiulo of West Palm Beach, Fla.; two brothers, Michael Greenhill of Wellington, Fla., and Eduardo Ramirez of Reddick, Fla.; three nephews and three nieces.
As one of his final acts, Ramirez established the Raul Ramirez Diversity in Journalism Fund at San Francisco State University. The fund will be administered by the Journalism Department, where Ramirez taught for 30 years. Ramirez told department leaders that he wanted the money to be used to honor a journalism student whose work demonstrated the importance of promoting diversity in journalism.
In lieu of flowers or other tributes, Ramirez hoped that those who wish to honor his memory will contribute to the fund. Plans for a memorial service are underway and will be announced at a later date.
| Nov 17th 2013
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