Alumni Profiles     

 
Lee Salem, '68
      Distinguished Alumnus,  2008

 

The Distinguished Alumni Awards are given to Park alumni who have distinguished themselves through career service or community achievements. Lee Salem, ’68, is Park University’s 2008 Distinguished Alumnus.

As president and editor of Universal Press Syndicate, the world’s largest independent newspaper consortium, Salem oversees the operation that distributes hundreds of features to newspapers throughout the country and around the globe.

Salem, a native of New Hampshire, came to Parkville in 1963 and made the area his home. At Park, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English, and followed with a master’s degree in English from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He credits his love for the prose and characterizations of Charles Dickens as a guiding force that led to his successful career path. This interest “easily transferred to an appreciation for the eccentricities of cartoonists and writers.”

Former Park University professor Tony Beasley introduced Salem to a friend who happened to be the owner of a new company in town. Salem joined the young Kansas City-based Universal Press Syndicate as an assistant editor in 1974, just four years after the company was founded. He was promoted to managing editor in 1976 and vice president in 1980. In July 2006, Salem became its president. Under his leadership, such pop culture icons as comic greats The Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes, Cathy, Doonesbury, Ziggy and The Boondocks were developed and syndicated. In addition, Salem has been responsible for the acquisition of much of the syndicate’s new talent. He oversees the syndication of such popular features as Dear Abby, For Better or For Worse, Garfield, FoxTrot, Close to Home, Pat Oliphant, Ann Coulter and Roger Ebert.

Salem also became recognized as the face of Universal Press Syndicate by stepping forward in times of controversy. Such controversial clients as Coulter and Gary Trudeau have drawn public attention to their publications, requiring Salem to answer questions and defend their rights to free and uncensored speech.

As his fellow Parkites admire Salem’s accomplishments, his professional colleagues acknowledge his contributions as an industry leader. Bob Andelman, former client and syndicated columnist, describes Salem as “the man responsible for recognizing a slew of creative talent that impacted American pop culture over the last 30-plus years.” In an interview for Hogan’s Alley, an Online magazine for the cartoon arts, editor Tom Heintjes summarized Salem’s role and influence in a changing media world, saying “Newspaper economics and evolving technology are reshaping the way syndicates do business, and Salem plays a leading role, not only in ensuring the continued prosperity of his company, but in creating new opportunities for it.” 

Salem credits his wife, Anita (Parker, ’67), and his two children, Matt and Laura, for preparing him for the demands of his career. All three will acknowledge only that Salem “reads comics for a living.”