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James Batten, news and community leader

James K. Batten, who dedicated his life to newspapers and the communities they covered, died Saturday from brain cancer. He was 59.

He was taken off life support earlier in the day and died about 6:30 p.m. surrounded by family, said Knight-Ridder spokeswoman Lee Ann Schlatter.

Mr. Batten, who joined Knight-Ridder Inc. in 1957 as a cub reporter at the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer and became the media giant's chairman 32 years later, was diagnosed with cancer last year.

Mr. Batten always emphasized quality journalism and public service.

His sense of compassion stretched beyond the offices of Knight-Ridder, which owns 29 daily newspapers including the Miami Herald and Philadelphia Inquirer.

Mr. Batten played a pivotal, dual role in South Florida civic affairs _ he was an active player in local matters and the head of the company which reported them.

He prided himself on never allowing one to influence the other.

He helped lead recovery efforts from Hurricane Andrew, which devastated parts of South Florida in 1992. He helped fight crime and heal racial and ethnic divisions in Miami by encouraging diversity in the community's leadership.

"Loving our communities, warts and all, is not something most of us were taught growing up in the newspaper business," he once said.

"But getting close to your community and your readers is an essential part of the job."

Mr. Batten's stature among Miami's diverse ethnic communities was evident after he was involved in a car accident in October 1993, a crash later attributed to a seizure brought on by the cancerous tumor in his brain.

Within two hours of the accident, more than a dozen local leaders gathered outside the hospital's emergency room, awaiting word on his condition.

"Every person who touched Jim Batten's life was better for the experience," said Alvah Chapman Jr., Knight-Ridder's former chairman and one of Mr. Batten's mentors.

Mr. Batten is survived by his wife, Jean, daughter Laura, sons Mark and Taylor, a former Associated Press reporter in Jackson, Miss., and two granddaughters.