Remembering C. Marshall Matlock

1943–2020

C. Marshall Matlock discusses the status of the annual SND competition on the eve of SND31. Photo: Steve Dorsey (2010).

Veteran journalism educator and indefatigable SND volunteer C. Marshall Matlock died Nov. 28, 2020. As a professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University for the majority of his career, he taught and guided generations of journalists. 

He was also a decades-long Society volunteer and standard-bearer. He was essentially the “godfather” of the modern format of the annual Best of News Design Print Competition, and ushered it through decades of growth and expansion when it was hosted at SU. To many generations of judges, and professional and student facilitators, he was the face of SND, and the doorway to their engagement with the very best news design work being done internationally. 

Matlock, 77, began teaching at Newhouse in 1973, and was a professor emeritus at the time of his death. He taught mass communications, news writing, advanced reporting, editing, graphics, and news design. He also had served as director of student affairs and as executive assistant to three deans. 

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Marshall Matlock as a young professor.

Matlock was born in Benton Harbor, Mich. He attended Central Michigan University, graduating in 1967, and later teaching at Arthur Hill High School in Saginaw, Mich. From then on, he never stopped working with students. He volunteered with ESSPA (Empire State Student Press Assoc.) for many years.

While at CMU, Matlock served as managing editor of CM Life, but it was through teaching that he provided his greatest contribution to journalism. Matlock earned his master’s degree from CMU and in 1973 took a position on the faculty of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University. He started out teaching an introduction to communications lecture that held about 450 students, then later moved on to teach newspaper design, news writing and advanced reporting courses. He retired in 2006, after 33 years of teaching at the university and was named a Professor Emeritus. From early in his career, he inspired future journalists through the classroom. He would go on to win, in 1976, Columbia University’s Gold Key Award, and in 2007, CMU’s Hall of Fame honors.

C. Marshall Matlock and the 2007 Central Michigan University hall of fame inductees (Courtesy CM Life)

The CMU Journalism Hall of Fame shares the name C. Marshall Matlock with an international award in newspaper design, the “SND Matlock Designer of the Year Award.” 

In 2006 Matlock received SND’s highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award, for his 17-year leadership of the Best of News Design Creative Competition. In recounting his many accomplishments since taking over the competition in 1989, then-president Christine McNeal noted that entries had more than doubled, to nearly 15,000 per year, during his tenure. Matlock guided annual Competition Committees in recruiting more than 400 judges worldwide and thousands of facilitators to manage the competition judging and logistics during those years. He also oversaw the publication of the annual book displaying the winners.

Christine McNeal, Scott Goldman and Michael Whitley prepare the annual awards presentation in Orlando. Photo: Steve Dorsey (2006).

“What heading the competition all these years means is that Marshall has spent every Valentine’s Day sorting through entries since 1990,” McNeal said during her presentation that year in Orlando, FL. Matlock had also received six President’s Awards over the years.

“It was a total surprise,” Matlock told the Syracuse University Daily Orange at the time.

Matlock was usually the backstage director at each workshop’s awards ceremony. So it was a total curveball when the plan changed during the show in Orlando. Two former students approached Matlock and asked him to follow them. He was then shown to a chair and listened to McNeal’s speech before accepting the award.

“I didn’t place myself in the same caliber as those who had won before me, but apparently others did,” Matlock said.

“It’s hard to put into words exactly what Marshall’s impact was for Newhouse and Syracuse University, not to mention an entire generation of newspaper design students,” said Scott Goldman, a former SND president and student of Matlock’s from 1987-90. “Marshall brought the SND print competition to SU, and then gave everything he had toward making it a rousing success. Marshall literally made our school an international home for excellence in news design for decades — and at every turn, he made sure students got to step up and learn from some of the best visual journalists in the world.”

“Personally, Marshall introduced me to the craft of newspaper design at Syracuse, and changed my life. I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.”

Through the years the competition has been judged at SU, Matlock always said he focused on giving as many students as possible a chance to be involved. Matlock said he hoped the experience students got from being involved with the competition opened doors to them.

“The students make the university,” Matlock said. “Any chance to involve them with the profession helps.”

C. Marshall Matlock takes a break from the steady stream of congratulations at the president’s reception following his SND Lifetime Achievement Award — which was a total surprise earlier in the night. Photo: Bill Gaspard (2006)

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Marshall was a friend and coach, who remained very passionate about media and the Society. Our thoughts are with Shamus Walker, and Matlock’s close friends and family. 

Friends and colleagues from throughout his career remember Marshall:

Nanette Bisher

Bisher Design, Bisher Projects

Long-time creative director

Former SND president and Lifetime Achievement honoree

“Marshall took on SND’s largest project and owned it. Few really understand what it meant to have the competition hosted at Syracuse. … They used to iron the newspaper pages to remove wrinkles and make the page photograph better. Those who only know a competition of PDF pages cannot imagine the years of organizing, storing and moving all the newspapers. It took an army. … One night in Syracuse at the end of a judging, sipping from the lovely bottle of good tequila Marshall would have on hand, we were just a small group talking into the night. Marshall said the nicest thing I ever heard. His words buoyed me through the years. Those long days and diminished assets of a profession elevated by giants and left scratching along guided by no ones.” 

SU’s Marshall Matlock checks in with LAT’s Michael Whitley behind the scenes at the SND Orlando closing ceremony. Later that night Marshall received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Photo: Steve Dorsey (2006)

Matt Mansfield

Partner at MG Strategy + Design

SND past president and Lifetime Achievement honoree

“Marshall Matlock was the SND competition’s great standard-bearer. I came to know Marshall while serving on the SND board. I came to appreciate how deeply Marshall cared about making winning an SND award meaningful — at the judging and at the awards ceremony itself.

Later, when we brought the annual workshop to San Jose in 2004, we worked with Matlock to show all the competition winners during the event. Marshall worked tirelessly to get us scans of every single winner. We showed them all, each and every one, on flat-screen TVs at the Circle of Palms. It was immensely painstaking work, but Marshall didn’t seem to mind. He was proud the competition winners were receiving recognition.

I also remember my first time going to Syracuse University as a judge for the Best of News Design competition. The airline lost my bag. Marshall called me promptly when he learned. And, magically, new clothes appeared at my door at the Sheraton — all SU gear, of course. A classic Marshall Matlock thing to do!”

Dr. Mario Garcia

CEO/Founder, García Media

Long-time SND supporter and international design guru

SND Lifetime Achievement honoree, and early Matlock SU colleague

“My family and I were good friends of Marshall Matlock, and he was a key person in my coming to teach at Syracuse University, and was essential in helping me and my family settle in North Syracuse. He was a meticulously dedicated man who gave much of his career to the cause of scholastic journalism, which is how I met him as he was head of the Empire State Scholastic Press Association. He was an associate dean at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. One funny anecdote that comes to mind. When we were living in Syracuse and my children were little, one day before Halloween we were visiting Marshall at his home, so my wife, Maria, asked the children what they wanted to be for Halloween. Without skipping one beat, my oldest son, Mario, said: ‘I’d like to go out as Marshall Matlock this year!’ Marshall said: ‘Well, go in my closet and help yourself!’ That was Marshall for you, always ready to give to all, especially for the cause of journalism. May he rest in peace!”

Randy Stano

Professor, University of Miami 

Former SND president and Lifetime Achievement honoree

“I have lost a good friend and colleague. Marshall will be missed. He gave so much to the scholastic and professional worlds of journalism. Marshall was a former high school publication adviser before moving onto Syracuse University to teach and direct the Empire State School Press Association. He encouraged thousands of scholastic and collegiate students to pursue a career in communication. Marshall helped opened the door for SND to anchor the news design print competition at Syracuse University for nearly 30 years. He will be missed and I will always be reminded of his quote: “No one said it would be easy.” My thoughts and prayers go out to Shamus.”

Matlock with Dean David Rubin. Rubin was a long-time supporter of SND and the annual competition that visited campus.

David Rubin

Dean, S.I. Newhouse School of Communications, Syracuse University (retired)

“Before I even arrived at SU to become Dean, in the summer of 1990, Marshall was the very first Newhouse faculty member to call me. He wanted to tell me about his work with SND and to gauge my interest in supporting it. I knew nothing about it at the time, of course. Marshall was a very effective lobbyist. He turned me into a fan before I had set foot on the campus.  

When Marshall was passionate about something, as he was about SND, he was a real tiger.  I supported him in commandeering a large space in the School every year to store all the entries and do the judging. Indeed, all the faculty members in the School were happy to help Marshall with the competition.

Near the end of his tenure, his back was bothering him a great deal, to the point that sometimes he could not attend the judging and stand for a long period of time.  I had a bad back myself, so I was very sympathetic. Other than that health problem, however, Marshall let nothing get in the way of the competition. Marshall put the Newhouse School on the map with this competition, and he helped many of our students get into the design field.”

Matlock in an early Newhouse computer lab.

Rosanna Grassi

Associate Dean for Student Affairs at Syracuse University (retired)

“He was such a kind person. I always enjoyed working with him… He played a major role in getting Graphic Design back on its feet with new course work which eventually lead to the major at Newhouse. He was responsible for the first computer news labs in the school with Joan Deppa. There was no other computer technical support, and he was in charge of the high school scholastic journalism programs… Marshall was a character, so inevitably we’d have some fun even when we were working hard.”

David Kordalski

Kordalski Studio, principal

Former SND president

“Marshall Matlock was truly one of a kind — a genuine force in making Society for News Design and news design in general a relevant journalistic discipline. Proud to have known him as a friend and SND colleague. And like all his friends, I’ll feel this loss profoundly. Deepest condolences to Shamus.”

Jonathan Berlin

Data and Graphics Editor, Chicago Tribune

Former SND president

“Marshall gave so much over so many years to SND. He is truly one of our greatest volunteers. I met him in Syracuse, naturally, and his mastery — and command — of that important institution (the Competition) was obvious from before moment one. We had some complicated interactions over the years, agreements and disagreements, but I am certain about what he gave to our industry and that we all should be thankful for it.”

Peter Moller

Newhouse faculty, Syracuse University (retired)

“I joined the Newhouse School at the same time Marshall did. We worked together in many capacities. But most importantly, he was a good and genuine friend to me all these years.”

Randy Stano (Univ. of Miami), John Butler (director of Iowa Scholastic Press Association), Barbara Hines (Howard University) and C. Marshall Matlock having a “break out meeting” at Pat O’Brien’s, from an early ’90s mid-winter AEJMC meeting in New Orleans.

Dr. Barbara B. Hines

Professor Emerita-Journalism and Founding Chair 

Communication, Culture & Media Studies

Howard University

“As a former award-winning high school journalism teacher in Michigan, Marshall wanted to help any adviser wanting to improve their classroom or student publication. It’s why his work with the Empire State School Press Association was so important to him. When he went to Syracuse, he developed innovative summer programs for students and teachers, and a student press day and competition that was second to none.

Marshall volunteered for events held by scholastic press associations across the U.S. Each year in March at the Columbia Scholastic Press Association conference (NY), Marshall would host journalism teachers and advisers for Irish coffee at Syracuse’s Lubin House in Manhattan. It was always a festive affair – and people became more aware of the programs at Syracuse. It was a great recruiting tool for the university. In 1979 he secured a grant from the Gannett Foundation to host a “think tank” at Syracuse on “Scholastic Journalism in the ‘80s.” That week-long session would help to lay the groundwork for enhancing scholastic journalism and journalism education. 

As vice head of the Scholastic Journalism Division of AEJMC, Marshall was responsible for establishing the mid-winter meeting at the Poynter Institute in the early ‘80s. He valued his close relationships at Poynter: Mario Garcia, Pegie Stark, Bob Haiman, Roy Peter Clark and others and believed journalism educators and press association directors from around the U.S. should have the opportunity to study “with the great minds” at Poynter in January.  Who could resist sun in January?

He was a stickler for accuracy with the SND competition. Together, Marshall and Shamus Walker would log entries from around the globe (they came in all shapes and sizes before electronic submissions). They spent hours caring for the entries and more time afterwards documenting the winners for the Best of News(paper) Design. He was often plagued by back pain; he moved a recliner from his home into the audit room at the Sheraton so he could take breaks and still be able to be on his feet all day coordinating the judging. 

He deeply cared about his students-maintaining friendships and professional relationships with them long after they left Newhouse. Many of them became leaders in SND and the news industry (Randy Stano, Steve Dorsey and Scott Goldman to name just a few). 

Susan Mango Curtis

Professor, Northwestern University Medill School

SND past president and Lifetime Achievement honoree

“He dedicated so much of his time to educating the next generation at Newhouse. Marshall was a treasure of academic achievement. I am proud to have served on the SND board with my friend Marshall Madlock and his  extraordinary contributions to the SND contest and Best of Design book.”

C. Marshall Matlock and the SND competition coordinator from editions 33 through 35: Melissa Angle, Josh Crutchmer and Colin Smith. Photo: Mitchell Franz (2012)

Josh Crutchmer

SND33 Competition Coordinator 

Planning Editor, The New York Times

SND Print Competition Committee Chair, 2013-18

Competition Committee Member, 2010-2018

“Marshall’s dedication to order and the integrity of the print competition were the impressions he left on me. If we could not finish in three days, the logistics and finances would break down. And if we could not ensure judging standards continued year-over-year, the credibility of the competition would break down. When I took it over from him, and then for most of the past decade, I never forgot that. When I handed it over to Greg Mees in 2019, my only advice was to keep up the pace and keep raising the bar, because that’s the way Marshall had handed it over to us. My favorite Marshall anecdote, annually, was his insistence on ending each competition with a pep talk, when the judges and facilitators were worn out and bleary-eyed. He’d thank us all, insist on a round of applause, and then he would say, “Print is not dead!” And now, 10-15 years later, it’s been thrashed about and squeezed, but he’s absolutely right: Print is here and still crucial to journalism.”

Christine McNeal and Marshall welcome a crew of facilitators to Drumlins in Syracuse and explain how the competition will work.

Steve Dorsey

VP/content innovation, Gannett and USA TODAY Network

SND past president and Lifetime Achievement honoree

“It’s difficult to capture all the ways Marshall helped me through the years. He first challenged me as a student in ways most other professors rarely took the time to do. He was my first introduction to the Society and the competition — both would be great catalysts and inspirations for years to come. He helped me connect with a larger network of visual leaders and thinkers, landing at Poynter as I departed Syracuse. And later, he gave me my first shot as a visiting faculty back at SU, when his back pain sidelined him for a semester. So there I was, teaching classes I’d once taken. (Once I even got to deliver a talk in Paris he couldn’t attend.) I can’t thank him enough for all the inspiration, sweating the decades’ of details, and pushing all of us to care as much about visual storytelling as he did. Thank you and godspeed, Professor.”

Lifetime: C. Marshall Matlock after receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award. Photo: Bill Gaspard (2006)

Syracuse University’s Service of Commemoration to be held virtually

MARCH 16: Syracuse University will hold its fourth Service of Commemoration — honoring students, faculty, staff, retirees and trustees of Syracuse University and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) who passed from 2019 to present.

Sara Quinn interviews Matlock for Poynter.org

Matlock featured in Communication Arts

From the 2004 article.

SND’s Design Journal

The 2006 coverage of Matlock’s Lifetime Award.

About Steve Dorsey

@Gannett VP innovation. Boards: @INMAorg, @SND. He was the 2011 president of the Society; 2015 Lifetime Award recipient. Dad to Fiona; partner to @paprgrl76. Relocated Detroiter. Tigers fan. Designer. Editor. SU grad.