Austin Kiplinger, a journalist and philanthropist whose family name is synonymous with contributions to journalism and business/finance reporting, died Nov. 20 at age 97.
He joined SPJ – then Sigma Delta Chi – as a journalism student at Cornell University in 1936, remaining active since that time. At the time of his death he was the longest-serving active member known to SPJ still living.
His longevity in SPJ and journalism were preceded by his father, Willard, who founded the Ohio State University chapter of Sigma Delta Chi. Austin Kiplinger’s contributions to the field were recognized in 2009, at SPJ’s centennial-year convention in Indianapolis, when he was named a Fellow of the Society, the highest award given by SPJ for contributions to the profession.
A Washington Post obituary detailed Kiplinger’s work – and that of his family – in the journalism and business world:
Mr. Kiplinger was the son of a prominent journalist-entrepreneur and the father of two others. After an early career as a reporter and broadcast news commentator, he joined the family business and oversaw its steady expansion.
Kiplinger Washington Editors, founded in 1920 by his father, Willard M. Kiplinger, included business and economics forecasting publications that carried great influence. Many columnists, particularly those writing on finance, cited the company’s findings as authoritative.
The company, which Austin Kiplinger led for more than three decades as president or chairman, was valued at more than $100 million when he passed control to his sons, Todd and Knight Kiplinger, in about 2000. Mr. Kiplinger then served as board chairman for several years.
Under Mr. Kiplinger’s stewardship, the family’s cluster of publications was known for three things: surviving and prospering even after Time Inc. began Money magazine in 1972; steadfastly remaining a private company; and paying generous profit-sharing bonuses to employees each year.
SPJ national president Paul Fletcher and Sigma Delta Chi Foundation president Robert Leger issued a joint statement after his death, writing:
“For the past several years, the Kiplinger Foundation has donated $10,000 annually to the foundation of the Washington, D.C., SPJ chapter, supporting one of the most generous journalism scholarship programs in the nation, which awards up to $25,000 to students studying in Washington-area colleges and universities. Friends and colleagues describe him as an optimist, a good listener and a thoughtful giver of advice. He’s described by many as an ethical journalist, compassionate and kind man, and someone who stayed grounded through much business and financial success. Kip will be deeply missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him. His absence will surely be felt at SPJ and SDX.”
A well-known member of the Washington D.C. social and philanthropy scene, Kiplinger “invited three former presidents to a bash at the Capital Hilton hotel. Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford attended. Richard M. Nixon did not. Regardless, Mr. Kiplinger gave $100,000 gifts that evening to each of the three presidential libraries,” according to the Washington Post’s obituary.
Kiplinger was active with SPJ’s Washington D.C. chapter and a member of the chapter hall of fame, along with his father. He helped mark the chapter’s 75th anniversary in 2011 – the same year he himself marked 75 years as an SPJ member.
Speaking at that anniversary celebration, Kiplinger said, “As far as longevity is concerned, I’d like to quote our good friend and our wonderful, esteemed colleague Dick Straut,” noting something Straut said after receiving an award about advice to younger journalists. “Just hang in there,” Kiplinger recalled Straut saying, “and sooner or later someone will mistake longevity for merit.”
He went on to address the dynamic changes in the journalism and information technology industry over his career, and how journalists should respond to a changing, digitally focused industry.
“We respond by doing the job that we do,” he said. “And we’ve done it now for many centuries. It consists of producing the content. That is going to be essential regardless of how it’s delivered.”
Kiplinger noted that in an age of much change and many voices online, sorting out reliable information for the public is hard, and it’s important for journalists’ voices to stand out.
“Eventually, the more important thing is how the public, whether we call them readers or viewers or listeners or whatever they are, they’re going to have to figure out some sort of common sense way of separating the wheat from the chaff.”
Closing his remarks to his fellow journalists and SPJ members, Kiplinger ended on a positive tone.
“Congratulations on your picking the best profession in the world.”