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Motor City media mogul humbled by award

By Daphne Thompson
posted May 26, 2011

The bronze-plated faces adorning the W Wing will soon be joined by the likeness of Detroit Free Press editor Paul Anger, who is the recipient of the 2011 Distinguished Alumni plaque and award. Since graduating 44 years ago, Anger has worked with the Miami Herald and the Des Moines Register, before being named the editor of Detroit’s largest daily newspaper. Although the 1972 UW-Oshkosh alumnus lives and thrives in the Motor City, Anger found the return to his roots heartening.

“I’m really proud to be from this school. This means as much to me as any kind of recognition I’ve ever gotten,” he said. “I’m just really thrilled. What better feeling than to be honored by folks from your home?”

The comments are high praise coming from a Pulitzer Prize winner. At the helm of the Detroit Free Press, Anger has exposed some of his city’s deepest wrongdoings. In 2008, The Free Press uncovered a twisted tale of corruption, bribery, and outright lies from then-mayor of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick. They eventually won the 2009 Pulitzer for Local Reporting, but Anger is more pleased in the newspaper’s ability to bring villains to justice.

“I think I’m most proud of the fact that I chose a career that, if done right, can help people,” he said.

Although Anger never showed any journalistic inclinations, the foundation for Anger’s success was laid in his days at the small-town school.

“You get put in situations where people are demanding something of you, and there may be a little bit of pressure, and then you’re getting used to responding to that kind of pressure and trying to keep your standards high,” said Anger.

Active in A Cappella Choir and a varsity player on the baseball team, Anger bonded with classmates and formed friendships that lasted the years.

“There are faces in there I’ll always remember,” he said. “No matter what happens in the years ahead, you’ll always have some people who mean the world to you.”

Anger recalled some of the fondest moments of his high school years, painting the picture of a quintessential American adolescence.

“I remember going up on the Eiffel tower with A Cappella and standing there. I remember thinking ‘I’m from Oshkosh. I’m really proud of it. This is the time of my life’,” he said. “I remember throwing my cap in the air at graduation. I remember I was pitching my junior year against Fond du Lac and got the last out of the game, struck the guy out, and that meant that we won the conference championship. There’s just so many wonderful memories of school here.”

Nevertheless, Anger was swept away from his hometown by a series of jobs with different newspapers.

“I urge you to expand your horizons. Travel,” he said. “The more you can expose yourself to different folks, you’ll see how other people’s needs and dreams are pretty much the same anywhere and you’ll move beyond stereotypes.”

Anger currently resides in Detroit, a city much maligned in the media and perceived to be as dead as the automotive companies it houses. As the editor of the Detroit Free Press, Anger and his staff published a front-page editorial pleading with lawmakers to “Invest in America” and support US auto companies, even bringing one congressperson to tears.

“Detroit has issues. And it can be tough living in some neighborhoods. But people there have the same goals we all do,” he said. “The American auto industry is turning out profits and world-class vehicles again. There are world-class museums in Motown, historic architecture, a cool river walk, modern stadiums, and an incredible skyline. None of that would fit the stereotypes of Detroit.”

Anger’s words to students ended on an inspirational note.

“Remember hard work and attitude and remember to thank people who have been demanding and those who have stood by you. Remember to thank your families,” said Anger. “This is a school to be proud of. I know I am.”

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Paul Anger, West’s newest distinguished alumni, takes time to talk with Index and Notebook staff. Speaking on his approach towards the field of journalism and his memories of high school, Anger gave insight to many students of how to persevere.

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