Frank Daniels Jr., the former president and publisher of The News & Observer, received the North Carolinian of the Year Award on Thursday from the N.C. Press Association.
Daniels, whose family owned The N&O from 1894 until the paper's sale to the McClatchy Company in 1995, said he was honored and surprised when he got the news.
"It's really great coming from newspaper people," said Daniels, 80. "I'm only the second newspaper person who has been recognized. That means a lot to me."
"It's also the benefit of living a long time," he added.
The award was presented during the NCPA's Winter Institute in Chapel Hill, where newspapers from across the state were honored for their work. The N&O won 43 total awards, including second place for general excellence.
"Frank Daniels has spent his life serving his community - from the pages of the newspaper to his support and leadership of many of the major civic organizations that move Raleigh and North Carolina forward," said Beth Grace, NCPA executive director. "The NCPA board of directors wanted to honor and recognize him for making our world in North Carolina, and beyond, a better place."
The only other newspaper person to receive the North Carolinian of the Year Award was Gene Roberts, a former managing editor of the New York Times and executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Roberts grew up in North Carolina and also worked at The N&O.
Other past North Carolinian of the Year winners have included former UNC system president Erskine Bowles, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court Henry Frye.
Daniels, asked to make a speech at the NCPA ceremony, said he would touch on the future of the newspaper industry.
"It's a tough time," he said. "The News & Observer newsroom today is about the same size it was in the 1950s. I don't think anybody appreciates what the growth in classified advertising did for the whole newspaper, because that's what funded all of our expansion of news and news coverage."
Despite the reduced staffing, Daniels said, "You gotta be feeling pretty daggone good with some of the stories y'all have been running and some of the stories that continue to be run throughout the state. And still keeping a daggone good eye on government officials."
Daniels has served as president of both the NCPA and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, and has been chairman of the board of the Associated Press and chairman of the American Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. He was inducted into the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame upon his retirement from The N&O in 1996. His grandfather, Josephus, his uncle Jonathan and his father, Frank, achieved that honor before him.
His community service includes the Triangle United Way, the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County, the Greater Triangle Community Foundation, Rex Hospital and the Governor's Committee for a Competitive North Carolina.