Journalist & Author
2006 Alumni Achievement Award Winner
Major: English Literature
William Barnhart '68 often gets asked how he, an English literature major
with no background in economics, accounting, or math, was able to become
a financial markets columnist at a major newspaper. Barnhart, who worked for the Chicago Tribune for 30 years, credits the "solid liberal arts education" he got while at Knox.
"The Knox faculty imparted the rigor of systematic inquiry -- not knowing the answers but knowing how to hunt for answers," he says. "A good journalist never stops asking or learning. But knowing how to ask and learn -- the essence of my Knox education -- is critical."
Barnhart relied heavily on systematic inquiry when writing the first complete biography of United State Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens -- John Paul Stevens: An Independent Life -- which he co-authored with Gene Schlickman in 2010. With only a layman's understanding of the court, Barnhart found Professor of Political Science Lane Sunderland to be a great resource. "Lane is able to condense his expertise into ordinary language," said Barnhart. "That was very valuable to me."
In addition to the biography on Stevens, Barnhart and Schlickman also co-authored the biography Kerner: The Conflict of Intangible Rights in 1999. Otto Kerner is both renowned for his work as chair of the Kerner Commission report on racial problems in American cities, and notorious for his subsequent prison sentence for bribery.
Barnhart began his career in journalism as a police reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago wire service and later covered state and local politics in Springfield and the Chicago suburbs. Before joining the Chicago Tribune, he worked as a business writer for the former Chicago Daily News and Chicago Sun-Times.
Barnhart was a business writer and editor for the Chicago Tribune for more than 30 years, writing a daily column that gave readers timely, provocative, and useful insights into the complex workings of financial markets and the economy as well as a Sunday investing column that was published by seven newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, the Hartford Courant, and the Baltimore Sun. He gave a daily financial market summary on CLTV, the Chicago Tribune's cable television operation serving the Chicago area and contributed a monthly commentary to the Nightly Business Report on PBS television.
Barnhart is past president of the Chicago Literary Club, a 130-year-old organization that encourages the discovery and expression of ideas and has served for more than 10 years as a board member and officer of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, including a year as president. He received the group's distinguished service award.
For his achievements in journalism, Barnhart received a Knox College Alumni Achievement Award in 2006.