Larry Lee

Inducted 2024

Larry Lee

part-time owner, Gongwer News Service

Larry Lee was instrumental in building Gongwer News Service into the daily must-read for anyone working in state government or whose jobs centered on state government activities. As reporter, editor and eventually part-owner of Gongwer during his 39-year career, Lee stands as one Michigan journalism’s great builders.

When he arrived at Gongwer in 1970, Gongwer was just nine years into operations in Michigan and still on a tenuous footing, printed on awkward legal sized paper and as much a collection of legislative agate as news stories. Lee, who became editor in 1972, was essential in transforming Gongwer into a respected news operation, devoting pioneering coverage to the state budget and legislative committee hearings that typically attracted little attention.

Raised on a dairy farm in Marion, Michigan, by his parents, Earl and Mary, Lee was one of five boys who would attend Michigan State University, where he would graduate in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. He landed at Gongwer, having worked in college at The State News and interned at his hometown weekly the Marion Press and at what was then called the Pontiac Press, now The Oakland Press.

Lee was known as one of the Capitol Press Corps great mentors. He shared his knowledge, cared for his reporters’ personal lives, knew how to demand more without micromanaging, introduced reporters to sources and could help with how to learn from a setback.

Reporters knew at some point during the day Lee would stroll up to them with the dreaded question, “Whaddya got?” Or at times prior to a major announcement when the competition to break a story was heated, “Whaddya know?”

Innovation was another Lee hallmark.

In 1993, the owners of a web-hosting network approached Lee about putting some of Gongwer’s content onto the Internet, then little known. Three to five years before most other news organizations, Gongwer was online and from the start was behind a pay wall.

While news coverage was Gongwer’s most important product, the legislative activity logs remained key. In 2003, Gongwer launched one of the nation’s first bill tracking services.

Lee retired in 2009 but his generosity continues to help the next generation of journalists. He helped organize and continues to assist in the management of the Mary Adelaide Gardner Scholarship at MSU’s School of Journalism. In 2011, Lee began the Larry Lee Overseas Study Scholarship at the MSU School of Journalism.