Orage Quarles III
As a young boy in southern California, Orage Quarles never imagined that he would one day meet the leaders of China, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Quarles’ favorite, the late Nelson Mandela of South Africa.
But all that was just part of an acclaimed newspaper career which culminated in Quarles being named the first African-American publisher and president of The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC.
Quarles led the N&O from 2000 until his retirement in June 2016. The paper’s long history of journalism excellence, industry reputation and outstanding staff made for “a great experience.”
“To have the opportunity to go and be a part of that, to lead that, was quite an honor,” Quarles said.
His tenure at the paper coincided with a time of transition within the newspaper industry, with new technologies presenting both opportunities and challenges, even for well-established publications.
“When the great recession and the technology revolution all came at once, it put a tremendous pressure on newspaper companies,” he said. “We made a strategic decision to focus on the few areas that we did best. The things that we knew we could do better than anyone else, we doubled down on.”
One hallmark of Quarles’ leadership was The N&O’s ongoing commitment to community service and strong, fact-based journalism.
“Everything that a newspaper does is local,” Quarles said. “Our whole reason for being is to provide local news. That’s either through entertainment or business reporting, investigative reporting, government reporting, and of course sports.”
Quarles’ path to the publisher’s office began on the sales side of the business. He started at an entry-level job in advertising at the San Bernardino Sun. In 1984, he was promoted to Advertising Director until he was selected for Gannett’s Publisher training program in Reno, Nevada, three years later.
He was named president and publisher of The Coloradoan in Fort Collins, CO in 1987, serving three years before returning to California as publisher at The Stockton Record.
In 1993, he headed east to The Herald in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where he became the first African-American Publisher of a daily newspaper in the South.
Throughout his career, Quarles was a recognized leader within the industry. He served 9 years on the board of the Associated Press and 12 years on the board of the Newspaper Association of America, including one year as Chairman, the first African-American to hold the position.
Honors for Quarles include being named Gannett Publisher of the year in 1988 and being inducted into the Region III Hall of Fame by the National Association of Black Journalists in 1994. In 2002, Editor and Publisher magazine named him the newspaper industry’s Publisher of the Year, and Fayetteville State University conferred on him a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. He was inducted into the UNC School of Media and Journalism Hall of Fame in 2016.
“Life and success is all about following your passion and doing what you truly love.” Quarles said. “Once you do that, it’s not a job. It’s more of a career and you can’t wait until the day begins.”
Quarles’ retirement did not last long. In 2017, just nine months after leaving The N&O, he became the Interim President of The Downtown Raleigh Alliance, an economic development organization that focuses on attracting and retaining local businesses to benefit the city.
“I have been a big believer in the economic power of having a great downtown,” he said. “Getting the chance to be part of all the positive things going on in downtown Raleigh was an opportunity that I could not pass up.”
Quarles continues to be extensively involved in volunteer opportunities. He is on the board of Freedom Forum, which oversees the Newseum in Washington DC., and is a trustee for both the Dix Conservancy and the North Carolina Museum of History. He served as Chairman of the Board of the UNC School of Media and Journalism Foundation from 2009-2015.
Quarles met the future Mrs. Quarles, Linda, while attending the San Bernardino Valley College. They have been married for 46 years and have two daughters and two grandchildren.
— By Eric Carpenter