As the 72nd award recipient, Ayers joins an impressive list of previous winners that includes Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, Dith Pran of The New York Times and Nina Totenberg of NPR.
The Scripps School of Journalism dedicated the award in 1968 to the memory of alum and noted journalist Carr Van Anda, who was managing editor of The New York Times for 21 years in the early 20th century.
“I thought I could hear the choir humming ‘Nearer my God to thee,’ ” Ayers said of his award nomination. “It’s awfully nice to have somebody say well done, and with my views and my area, you don’t get somebody saying well done very often.”
Ohio University professor Michael Sweeney said he nominated Ayers for this year’s Carr Van Anda Award after considering his exceptional work and dedication for producing news in the Anniston community.
"I am very impressed with Mr. Ayers and The Star," Sweeney said, "I like the way [he] is determined to produce high-quality journalism in a small market … I have seen some awful, family-owned, small-town papers. Everyone could take a lesson from The Star."
Professor Bill Reader, who also nominated Ayers, said, "Brandt Ayers is a bit of a living legend in the American newspaper industry, and is perhaps the best-known publisher/editor of what we often refer to as ‘community newspapers.’ "
"I heard about Brandt Ayers and The Anniston Star when I was an undergraduate student at Penn State in the late 1980s/early 1990s," Reader said. "The Anniston Star has been a paper to watch for me for my entire career, both as a full-time working journalist and later as a journalist-scholar and journalism professor."
Both professors applauded Ayers’ tenacity in producing stories that challenge the powerful.
"He clearly believes that the journalism business is more about good journalism than it is about good business," Reader said.
As part of the award ceremony Monday, Ayers, who is also chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co., delivered a lecture to faculty and students that focused on the importance of conveying all news as local news. Ayers emphasized the relevance of small-town community journalism and presenting relevant, personalized and factual news to citizens.
He also discussed the slow disintegration of large metropolitan newspapers and their “arid indifference” that dehumanizes the essential values of journalism.
“Excellence,” Ayers said, outlining his core journalism beliefs. “We never get there, but always try.”
Ayers has been recognized for excellence in journalism throughout his career. Time magazine twice named The Anniston Star one of the "best small newspapers in the United States."
As a distinguished journalism scholar, Ayers has served both as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and as a Gannett Fellow at Columbia University and has given several lectures at universities nationwide, including Harvard, Princeton and several universities in Africa. Ayers’ journalism career has taken him across the globe to cover stories in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East and has earned him numerous positions on foreign journalism boards, including the role as former trustee of the American Committee of the International Press Institute.
Adding the Carr Van Anda Award to his repertoire of lifetime achievements, Ayers feels that his accomplishments will project well into the national journalism community and present the importance and value of small town community journalism in the face of larger metropolitan publications.
“There is always a single person who is going to be affected, small groups of people living in real places that are going to be dramatically affected by these events, these policies, these omissions,” Ayers said.
Ayers’ dedication to consistently producing quality news for a small-circulation newspaper has earned respect from many as a prime example of excellent journalism.
"Many of our previous nominees have been ‘big names.’ People such as Don Hewitt, William Raspberry, Hodding Carter, and Margaret Bourke-White have won the Carr Van Anda," said Sweeney of Ayers’ nomination. "I wanted to recognize excellence at a different level -- the dedicated journalist working in his or her hometown."