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IRE legend Meyer dies at 93

The life of Phil Meyer, a giant in data journalism and an IRE legend, will be celebrated Saturday, Dec. 2, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

A funeral service will be held at Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill at 10:30 a.m., followed by a reception and celebration.

Meyer died Saturday, Nov. 4, at home in Carrboro, North Carolina, surrounded by family.

He was 93.

Meyer was professor emeritus and former Knight Chair of Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“He maintained his humor, grace and mild-mannered reporter’s sense of curiosity and calm till the end,” said Sarah Meyer, one of his daughters.

Meyer died of complications of Parkinson’s disease. He recently had a happy celebration of his 93rd birthday with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, family members said.

The professor and journalist pioneered the use of social science methods to improve reporting and authored numerous books, including the seminal “Precision Journalism.” Earlier this year, IRE celebrated the 50th anniversary of the book at NICAR23 in Nashville.

“Phil was a pioneer in data journalism, who brought higher standards to reporting through data analysis and his own brilliant conceptual thinking,” said Brant Houston, a longtime friend and himself an author of textbooks and the Knight Chair of Investigative Journalism at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“He instructed and inspired students and journalists throughout the world and leaves a deep legacy in the profession.”

Meyer was one of the early proponents of using data analysis for investigative journalism. In a groundbreaking story, he analyzed survey research about the 1967 deadly riot in Detroit to show that college-educated people were just as likely as high school dropouts to have participated in the riot.

His work on the riot helped earn the Detroit Free Press a Pulitzer Prize for local spot news reporting.

Meyer has received numerous awards over the years, and one of journalism’s highest honors is named after him.

IRE’s global Philip Meyer Journalism Award, established in 2005, recognizes the best journalism that uses the social science research methods pioneered by Meyer.

“Phil Meyer embodied all that makes the investigative journalism community great — brilliance, creativity, thoroughness and generosity,” said IRE President Brian M. Rosenthal of The New York Times. “We will miss him, but we know that his legacy lives on in countless IRE Members and other data journalists around the world.”

Meyer was widely recognized as a consummate educator, who enjoyed sharing his passion for numbers and making things better for fellow journalists the world over, including at IRE bootcamps about statistics and mapping.

“He will be remembered for his kindness and patience in his teaching along with a wry sense of humor that made new methods and ways of thinking much easier to learn,” Houston said.

That even-tempered nature was a hallmark of Meyer’s personality, his colleagues said.

“He was very precise and patient,” said Jennifer LaFleur, veteran journalist and now assistant professor of data journalism at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. LaFleur met Meyer when she was a trainer at IRE, studying and working with him. “He was able to seamlessly weave stories of his work in newspapers and his work doing analysis into something we were trying to learn that was much harder, which I think made it a lot easier to learn,” LaFleur said.

Prior to entering academia in 1981, Meyer was a reporter for 26 years, including stints at the Miami Herald, Detroit Free Press and the Akron Beacon Journal.

Meyer is survived by his daughters Kathy (Steve) Lucente, Melissa (the late Thal Massey Jr.) Meyer and Sarah (Teddy Salazar) Meyer and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Sue Quail Meyer, and daughter Caroline Dalton Meyer.

To honor Meyer, contributions may be made to The Fund for PhD Education and Enhancement in memory of Phil Meyer by sending to UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, Attention Danita Morgan; CB#3365, UNC Chapel Hill; Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-3365.

Contributions also may be made to Investigative Reporters and Editors at or to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press at Put "Phil Meyer" in the tribute line.

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