Ralph Langer: “As Editor, He Built Up the Staff of The Dallas Morning News and Won the First of Nine Pulitzer Prizes”

From an obit in The Dallas Morning News by Maria Halkias headlined “Ralph Langer, former editor of The Dallas Morning News, has died”:

Ralph Langer, a retired editor of The Dallas Morning News who led the newsroom during one of the most closely watched daily newspaper wars of the 1980s and 1990s, has died….

He joined The News in 1981 as managing editor, became editor in 1983 and retired in 1998, covering two decades of some of the strongest growth for the industry and the paper. Langer and the late Burl Osborne, who was editor when Langer arrived, were at the top of a team of journalists who expanded sections, built up the newsroom staff, opened national and international bureaus, and led the newspaper to its first of nine Pulitzer Prizes….

Langer had an appreciation for photojournalism as well as good storytelling and built up what was considered one of the best photography departments at any major newspaper.

“More than most editors, Ralph thought visually,” said John Davidson, former photo editor of The News. He remembered almost losing a battle over publishing the now-iconic photo of the fireman holding the baby after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing until Langer returned that afternoon from a meeting in Austin and approved it.

Bob Mong, who succeeded Langer as editor of the newspaper and retired from The News in 2015, said, “The News never won a Pulitzer until Burl and Ralph got there.”

They were mentors to younger editors, Mong said. “They were patient with us and helped bring us along. Ralph could be tough and thoughtful.”

Gilbert Bailon, editor of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said he was one of many beneficiaries of Langer nurturing people so they could be promoted and go on to other places and do well.

“He could be quiet, observant and analytical and didn’t have to have the last word,” Bailon said. “He didn’t intimidate new managers even though Ralph was under a lot of pressure in the competition with the Times Herald.”…

In the early 1980s, women struggled with glass ceilings in American newsrooms, but Barta said Langer was receptive early to letting women advance….

Langer was also early in reaching out to the Black community when he invited local leaders who were upset with coverage to talk with staff, Bailon said. “Now it’s more common to reach out to communities that don’t feel they are covered well, but he saw a need to do that way back then.”

Osborne and Langer planned their initial strategy to win the newspaper war by focusing on building up business and sports coverage.

“When Robert Decherd took over, the paper was called the Dallas Morning Snooze,” said Dave Smith, who was a contemporary of Langer’s and was hired to be sports editor. “Ralph was a worrier. He was a stabilizing force and could carry out whatever had to be done to compete and beat the Times Herald.”

“Ralph and Burl knew each other professionally before they came here, and it was a fast start,” Decherd said. “Speed was important.” The two were able to capitalize on the moment in Dallas with new brand-building sections such as High Profile and Fashion Dallas. Both were “a stretch, newspapers weren’t doing that, catering to society,” Decherd said, and both were lucrative sections for many years.

“We had a pantheon of good ideas in the early ‘80s and ‘90s. Ralph could find talent like Bob Mong who could delegate the tasks and find great writers and photographers,” Decherd said.

Langer was the calming influence to Osborne’s flow of new ideas, Decherd said. “Ralph was the interpreter. He also had the management ability of accountability and making sure we did what we said we would, and did it well.”

It was Langer’s idea to put an emphasis on photography, Davidson said, and the newspaper was nationally recognized for it. Photography was a personal passion for Langer….

Langer was president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas in the 1980s and served for many years on the organization’s executive committee. He was instrumental in making it a statewide organization and worked with Decherd to secure a seed grant from the parent company of The Dallas Morning News.

After retiring from The News, Langer was asked by Southern Methodist University to help it build up its journalism department and stayed for four years. Again he succeeded in recruiting new people and worked with Decherd to secure funds from the newspaper company to build a broadcast studio and pay for an endowed chair….

Before coming to Dallas, Langer worked for the Detroit Free Press, the Dayton Journal-Herald and The Everett Herald in Washington state.

He was a native of Michigan and a graduate of the University of Michigan.

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