Steve Dorsey: “It’s always been about helping people and making things better”

I like to think my friendship with Steve Dorsey is unique.

I had been assigned an independent study in my final semester at Kent State. It was easy enough: interview prominent design bosses about the business and career paths. I had no idea that a cold call to Steve in Spring 2001 would change my life and kickstart my professional career.

Steve answered prescriptive questions during the call, but he asked questions of his own. “What are you doing this fall? Interested in an internship?” My clips weren’t good enough for his internship at the Detroit Free Press I explained, but Steve saw potential and took a chance anyway. I started on the last day of September.

The design feedback and mentoring began there, but as Steve has done numerous times, it was his personal touch that made the difference. He made sure I was involved in newsroom extracurricular activities and that Detroit was treating me well. Trips to Lafayette for coney dogs were a lunch staple, and even to this day, I can’t buy Steve a meal or a beer; it’s just not his way.

Even after I left the Freep, Steve took time to answer questions, offer career perspective and continue the mentoring process. This guidance and interaction is not unique to me; it’s commonplace with Steve and the countless other Society members he has helped.

And that is his greatest contribution to the Society for News Design and why it’s sad to report that for the first time in 13 years, Steve does not hold a position on the Sociey’s Board of Directors.

Steve with Bill Gaspard at Varsity Pizza on Syracuse University campus after SND's 2012 annual competition was in the books. Dorsey has assisted in some form or another at most of the competitions since 1992.
Steve with Bill Gaspard at Varsity Pizza on Syracuse University campus after SND’s 2012 annual competition was in the books. Dorsey has assisted in some form or another at most of the competitions since 1992.

“If ever there was a face of SND, it would have to be Steve,” said Bill Gaspard, a past president of the Society. “He’s too young still for it even to be possible, but you’d think he was there at the founding of the Society.”

Steve’s dedication to the Society and sense of volunteerism are epitomized by his resumé:

– Editor, Design Journal, 2000-04
– President, SND Foundation, 2004-08
– Secretary/Treasurer, SND Board of Directors, 2008-09
– Vice President, SND Board of Directors, 2010
– President, SND Board of Directors, 2011
– Past President, SND Board of Directors, 2012

But a resumé doesn’t begin to sum up the countless conversations, Power Points, critiques and discussions that Steve has been apart of. Nor does it mention the yearly conferences, quick courses, board meetings and annual competitions that he’s not only attended, but oftentimes planned or played a major role in producing. Or all the other hats he has worn in the Society.

“He’s the Swiss Army knife of SND leadership,” said David Kordalski, AME/Visuals of the Plain Dealer and current SND Vice President.

Steve’s first taste of the Society came as a student at Syracuse University in the early 90s, when he was taking a design class taught by Marshall Matlock. From there Steve would become a student helper at the annual judging, where he would met Jim Jennings, AME/Graphics of the Lexington Herald Leader and a former president of the Society.

Dorsey remembered Jennings being “intimidating and a little gruff,” but also very gracious and genuine during their first encounter at Syracuse. When Jennings asked to see clips, Steve didn’t have much to present.

“The only work samples I had to show were a foreign student exchange newsletter that I was designing on my 9-inch Mac Classic and printing on a dot matrix printer,” Steve said. “To Jim’s credit, he didn’t laugh at me. I guess he saw promise or he had no other options. He gave me a huge opportunity to intern in Kentucky.”

Steve credits that internship with opening career opportunities that he didn’t know were possible. He would eventually become the paper’s Presentation Director and lead the Herald Leader to the prestigious World’s Best Designed newspaper award in 1998. The next year he would arrive at the Free Press in Detroit, where he still works today as Vice President for Research and Development at the Detroit Media Partnership.

“It’s always been about helping people and making things better,” Steve said when asked about what he cherished most while on the SND Board of Directors.

Steve made me and countless others better, although he will not take any credit. So, thanks, Steve, for all you’ve done for the Society. I speak for myself and the countless others who have benefitted from your hard work, dedication and enthusiastic spirit.

(Jon Wile is the Creative Director for American City Business Journals. He still owes Steve and Melanie a wedding present and hopes to deliver it to Detroit before the couple celebrates their first anniversary this summer.)



Reliable. Consistent. Generous. It’s impossible to imagine how SND could have progressed without him. Thanks for everything you’ve done for the organization–and me–over the years. You’re a gem.

Jon has it right, great essay. Steve is incredible. I’ve learned so much from him over the years. What’s funny is how often a question would come up and the answer would always be … “I don’t know, but Steve would.”

And indeed he would know and have a great, creative, innovative answer complete with historical perspective.

Steve, you’re awesome!

During countless board meetings, over many years, I found Steve always to be an advocate for the international members of SND. Our society would not be as widespread as it is right now without his efforts! Looking forward to see you in Lou!

Steve is always there! Personally as a mentor, as a good ear, as a support… I recall how he drove to Toronto after his shift to participate in Quick Courses or other SND leadership stuff without hesitation. Always giving to the organization! As an SND leader he is a solid person with so much integrity who gave our organization so much energy and support. Steady, passionate and true! And now he has become my personal supportive friend. Thank you Steve for being who you are!

Well said, Jon. Steve made me a better visual journalist by having to compete with him for ten years. And trust me, that was not easy. Now that we don’t battle head-to-head, as Steve’s current role enables him to promote the efforts of both the News and Free Press, I have gained an even greater appreciation for him.

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