2017 Movers & Shakers - Stuart Warner

Written by Keridwen Cornelius Category: People Issue: August 2017
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Gentleman Muckraker

“We’ve become too acclimated to fair and balanced. Our job is to call bullshit ‘bullshit.’” That’s Stuart Warner, speaking with characteristic bluntness about journalists’ raison d’être and his MO as Phoenix New Times’ new editor-in-chief.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist took the helm last January, after calling out BS at newspapers nationwide. “If you read my columns, you would probably consider me a fairly liberal person,” Warner says. “But I – and my teams – have put more Democrats in jail or got them ousted from office than Republicans. You go after whoever’s trying to screw the public… To me, the people who abandon the mission are the ones who will go after only the liberals or only the conservatives… Good journalists don’t care. They just want to get the story.”

Warner has been getting the story for 47 years. He started covering sports – first as a high schooler in Lexington, Kentucky, then as executive sports editor at the Akron Beacon Journal. But by his third day at the Beacon, he’d rattled off a feature about an abusive minister, proving he could not be put in a box. “I guess I have a contrarian nature,” he says.

To wit: Warner was the lead writer on a Pulitzer Prize-winning series about Sir James Goldsmith’s attempted takeover of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. When he heard Goldsmith had a rubber phobia, Warner urged readers to mail rubber bands to Goldsmith’s address.

At the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Warner ran the investigative team and became a writing coach. Under his direction, the writers earned more than 55 national awards, and the paper won a Pulitzer. In 2013, Warner became senior content manager at The Arizona Republic, where he served for four years.

New Times marks a change in tone, Warner says. “I’ve never used ‘f*ck’ in a headline before.” Still, he’ll continue focusing on engaging narratives – with one difference. “I let the writers have an attitude,” he says. “We’re the little rebels, and we try to be contrarian.”