Dolph Tillotson, who, during a career spanning nearly 50 years, earned a reputation for developing hard-edged community newspapers, was among four journalists inducted Friday into the Texas Newspaper Foundation Hall of Fame.
Established in 2006, the Hall of Fame honors up to four visionaries, innovators and community builders of all eras, according to the organization.
Tillotson retired as president and publisher of The Galveston County Daily News in 2011, and now serves as president of Southern Newspapers Inc., a private company that owns The Daily News and 14 other community newspapers.
The nomination came as a surprise, Tillotson, 68, said.
“Honestly, I used to think you had to be dead to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, so this was out of the blue and completely unexpected,” Tillotson said. “I was flattered and very honored, but the biggest payoff for my career, much more than any honor or award, has been the opportunity to work with so many wonderful people.”
Tillotson, who moved to Galveston in August 1987, grew up in Tuscaloosa, and began his full-time career as a reporter in 1969 while working his way through the University of Alabama. He graduated in 1972. He has published newspapers in Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa and Texas.
During his journalism career, Tillotson considers himself to have been lucky enough to work for only two newspaper owners — Lissa Walls and her family, and Jim Boone, of Boone Newspapers Inc., his original mentor, he said.
The Walls family bought The Daily News in 1967 and operated it through Galveston Newspapers Inc. Lissa Walls is Southern Newspapers’ chief executive and the sole shareholder of Southern Newspapers.
“These are people I both love and respect, and that’s a powerful combination,” Tillotson said. “Those people recognized my talents, such as they were, while pushing me to be my best. How many people can say they’ve had the privilege of working for 50 years with people they really love and respect? Not many.”
Still connected to Galveston and The Daily News, Tillotson has served in various capacities across the island, and said Galveston is the gift that keeps on giving in terms of big, bizarre stories.
Tillotson’s fondest memory in Galveston was the period right after Hurricane Ike, he said.
“It was a terrible time, but it made me so proud watching the way our staff responded to that terrible event,” Tillotson said. “Some of our staff literally lost everything they owned in the storm, but they showed up and did the work. They were hopeful and brave, even joyous in a weird way, and they helped to set the tone for the community.”
Setting the tone in his current position, Tillotson looks forward to the challenge of preserving the life and mission of the 15 community newspapers he’s responsible for — it’s what gets him up every morning, he said.
“Newspapers are threatened today as never before,” Tillotson said. “There are economic threats from the internet and from the slow death of old-fashioned retailing, which has long been our industry’s economic base. The industry is being undermined by people who should know better, like our president, who don’t know or understand the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“Yet newspapers — the news media in general — have never been more important to democracy. Without responsible news media, our world will be ruled by malicious, selfish and dishonest manipulators of social media. That’s truly frightening to me.”
Tillotson, who lives in Galveston with his wife, Teri, has two children and five grandchildren, who they enjoy spending time with.
Tillotson shows no signs of slowing down. He’s a avid hiker, mountain climber, daily exerciser, reader, writer and amateur photographer.
“Honestly, I want to keep on doing what I’m doing for the foreseeable future — and what I do is really just two things: work and family,” he said. “My health is good, and the work I do is both fun and challenging to me. I can’t imagine not being involved with newspapers. Of course, I also want to find ways to spend more time with my wife, and with my children and grandchildren. I just turned 68, but I feel like I’m 18, and I have absolutely no inclination to slow down.”
The nonprofit Texas Newspaper Foundation exists to honor the past, protect the present and build the future of journalism in general and newspapers in particular as a vibrant force in a democratic society, according to the organization.
The induction ceremony will be at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Moody Gardens in Galveston.