On November 15, 1993, Kenneth F. Bunting (1948-2014) becomes managing editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He is the first African American to run a newsroom at any of Washington’s daily newspapers. A native of Texas, Bunting will later be promoted to executive editor and finally to associate publisher, each title elevating his position as Seattle’s highest-ranking African American daily newspaper executive.
A Highly Recruited Journalist
Bunting was a graduate of Texas Christian University and had worked at the Cincinnati Post, Los Angeles Times, and Fort Worth Star-Telegram, among other papers. He held the position of senior editor at the Star-Telegram when he accepted the managing editor job in Seattle. He was 44. Although the hiring was significant as a racial breakthrough, there was no mention of that in the October 26, 1993, story announcing it. "I am enormously pleased and proud that this highly recruited journalist will continue his distinguished newspaper career by taking on this important leadership role in Seattle at the Post-Intelligencer," publisher J. D. Alexander said. He praised Bunting’s record as a reporter and editor, and added, "His commitment to excellence in his profession is matched fully by his caring for the community" (Jamieson).
The new managing editor brought with him a record of supporting First Amendment rights and government accountability, having served on the executive committee of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. "There should be candor and truthfulness in government at all times. And we should be working to shed sunshine on the actions of government," he said in the story about his new Seattle position (Jamieson).
Bunting led a newsroom and support staff of nearly 200 at the P-I. He was promoted to executive editor in 2000. The paper won numerous awards while he was ranking editor, including Pulitzer prizes for cartoonist David Horsey (b. 1951) in 1999 and 2003. He also earned the respect of his investigative reporters, among them Eric Nalder, who called him "a defender of Freedom of Information, a bright light," and Lewis Kamb, who said Bunting was "an unwavering supporter of quality journalism" (seattlepi.com).
Promotion and Changing Times
Bunting was promoted to associate publisher at the P-I in August 2005, a senior executive position that included oversight of reader and community relations, editorial standards, legal matters, and First Amendment and access issues. He also wrote a weekly column. His new position made him the first African American at a Seattle daily to have "publisher" in his title, but he wasn’t first in the state. Rufus Friday beat him to that distinction by six months, when he was named publisher of the Tri-City Herald.
The P-I closed as a print newspaper in March 2009, when its owner, the Hearst Corporation, converted it to an exclusively digital operation -- a website called seattlepi.com. The change eliminated the jobs of most of the newspaper staff and leadership, Bunting’s included. He continued to write about journalism issues, including a cover story for The TCU Magazine, in which he wrote, "I am confident that America’s news consumers will find a way to discern the crazy, unreliable stuff that permeates the blogosphere from the good, solid journalism that is also present on the Internet" (The TCU Magazine).
In 2010, Bunting was hired as executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, a non-partisan alliance based at the University of Missouri’s journalism school. He held that position until early 2014. On April 20 of that year, he suffered a fatal heart attack while playing tennis in Columbia, Missouri. His friends and former colleagues, especially those in Fort Worth, Seattle, and Columbia, recalled his warm personality and praised his journalistic achievements.