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Kansas Hall recognizes Mercury’s publisher

By Katherine Wartell

With a nod to family tradition, Edward Seaton became the fourth Seaton and the sixth in his family tree to be inducted into the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame on Friday.

For 44 years Seaton has presided over the Manhattan Mercury as editor-in-chief and publisher, but throughout the decades his career in journalism has spanned continents.

Most notably, he has served as the president of national and international journalistic organizations, including the Inter-American Press Association, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and as chair to the Pulitzer Prize Board. He has also worked prolifically with the state and local Chambers of Commerce and has taken an active position as chairman of the Landon Lecture Series patrons.

On Friday, Seaton was inducted into the hall of fame along with journalists Paul Stevens and Bill Brown.

“The breadth of his service has spanned from publishing a fine mid-sized daily newspaper in the heart of Kansas to leading the effort to secure press freedom in Latin America to helping keep the Landon Lecture Series viable and relevant through the years,” Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said.

Seaton, who joined the Mercury at the suggestion of his father Richard M. Seaton in 1969, credits his involvement in the Inter-American Press Association—and the national figures he met in the process—with opening several avenues for him throughout his career.

His desire to work throughout Latin and South America first took hold in the mid-60s, when he attended law school in Quito, Ecuador at the Universidad Central as a Fulbright Scholar with his wife, Karen. It was there that he learned of the press association, a non-profit organization that defends the freedom of speech and press in the Americas.

His involvement with the group began in the early 70s and was cemented early on when he attended his first meeting in Chile and met Raul Kraiselburd, the current director of the newspaper El Día in La Plata, Argentina.

It was around that time, Seaton said, that Kraiselburd’s father, the editor-in-chief of El Día, was kidnapped and murdered by the Montoneros, a left-wing urban terrorist group active during Argentina’s “Dirty War” period. Kraiselburd’s own two-year-old son, whom he did not see again, was also kidnapped by the group.

“I’ve known quite a few people who didn’t survive,” Seaton said, of the international journalists fighting for freedom of the press during volatile years. Seaton, who is working on his memoirs, is writing a chapter on each of the “heroes of the press” with whom he has worked. (His memoirs, he said, are primarily for his sons, Ned Seaton, the general manager of the Mercury, and Jay Seaton, publisher of the Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, Colorado, which is also owned by Seaton Publishing.)

In 1989, Seaton became president of the Inter-American Press Association.

Julio Muñoz, executive director of the association, has known Seaton for more than 30 years and said he has been one of the few American members to be a consistent leader with the organization. “His participation in missions is a part of history especially in Argentina, Ecuador and many other countries,” he said.

For his work, Seaton was awarded Columbia’s Maria Moors Cabot prize in 1993, the university’s oldest international award, given for significant contribution to inter-American understanding. He was also awarded the Knight of the Order of Christopher Columbus in 1988 by the president of the Dominican Republic.

Seaton’s international network has led him to secure several dignitaries and foreign presidents as Landon Lecture speakers at Kansas State University.

“I can’t think of the Landon Lecture without thinking of Edward Seaton,” Angela Powers, K-State professor and former director of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications, said. “He’s been a staunch supporter of the series for as long as I’ve been here and has been instrumental in hosting top journalists and media moguls here at K-State such as Brian Williams and Ted Turner.”

“He has had a marvelous impact on Manhattan and specifically the Miller School,” Powers said, adding that the Seaton family established the Seaton Chair in Journalism at the school, an endowed position that allows a professional journalist to join the faculty for five years.  

Seaton’s involvement in the national journalism scene continued in 1976 when he joined the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He was elected president of the organization nearly two decades later in 1998. Seaton attributes that development to his previous work in Latin America, which allowed him to become acquainted with the major figures in the society, including the editors of the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor and the Miami Herald.

Under his helm, Seaton encouraged the goals of diversity, credibility and international news coverage amongst the society’s members. As part of the push for credibility, he promoted the idea that running corrections in newspapers improved, not diminished, a paper’s credibility. 

Seaton was the second Kansan to serve as president of the society, the first being William Allen White, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and leader of the early twentieth century Progressive movement, and a friend of Seaton’s grandfather.

His leadership of the society coupled with his international work helped Seaton to become appointed to the Pulitzer Prize Board—one of the highlights of his journalistic career, he said.

Seaton served on the board for nine years with such writers as Bill Safire, of the New York Times, Louis Boccardi, of the Associated Press, and Donald Graham, of the Washington Post.

“It was fascinating, like going to college,” Seaton said, of the process to choose the prize winners, which required reading the works of multiple finalists. He was elected chair of the board in 2000.

Throughout the years, Seaton has also been active in the business community, serving as president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce in the late 70s and working with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce in the 80s, where he collaborated with former Gov. John Carlin on economic development.

Lyle Butler, current president and CEO of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, said he has known Seaton for the 13 years Butler has lived in Manhattan. He said Seaton brings a global perspective to the community. “He’s very well-traveled and focused and dedicated,” Butler said. “He knows that what happens throughout the world has an effect on our world (in Manhattan).”

Butler said Seaton also understands that having a strong, public media where the people can come together to discuss views is an important part of democracy.

Seaton’s journalistic career first began at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1968, following graduate studies at the University of Missouri, after he attended Harvard University for an undergraduate degree in government and the university in Ecuador. There, Seaton worked as a reporter and copy editor.

For every reporter, there are certain stories they remember for the rest of their lives and for Seaton that was standing at the finish line of the Kentucky Derby in 1969 while covering the race for the paper. That year, the winner, Dancer’s Image, ridden by jockey Bobby Ussery, was disqualified—the only winner to ever suffer such a fate—after a post-race drug test found traces of phenylbutazone.

Seaton covered the post-race hearings on the matter for the paper and to this day throws a Kentucky Derby party every year.

But Seaton said he always knew he aspired to return to the family business—his grandfather, Fay Seaton, had purchased the Mercury in 1915—and when his father offered him the publisher’s position in 1969, he accepted and moved back to Manhattan.

Seaton follows his paternal grandfather, Fay Seaton, his father, Richard M. Seaton, his brother, Frederick “Dave” Seaton, and his maternal relatives Milton Moses Beck and Will Beck as an inductee into the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame. “I’m very proud to join them,” Seaton said.

He said that observing his father, a former president of the Kansas Press Association, work while growing up and reading William Allen White helped to inspire his career choice.

“I saw you could come from a small Kansas newspaper and do great things.”

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