John Adams, minister and journalist who championed digital storytelling, dies


John Adams, a minister-turned-journalist who expanded the Times’ digital footprint by exploring new forms of storytelling and was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for the newspaper’s coverage of the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting, died after a long battle with cancer. He was 46.

Optimistic, motivated and making friends quickly, Adams died Thursday in Illinois hospice care, a painful ordeal he shared on social media with a mixture of dark humor and unvarnished honesty.

“Today I was labeled a ‘terminal cancer patient,'” he wrote on Twitter days before Thanksgiving. “Yes, I understood that when I went to the hospice, but it’s also different when you first hear it from a rando as a description.”

Adams joined The Times in 2010 as newspapers across America struggled to transition to digital-first operations as print readership dwindled and people increasingly turned to their laptops and cell phones to find out what was happening in the world.

“John really understood digital journalism and the need to make change, and do it quickly,” said Kimi Yoshino, a former editor-in-chief of The Times. “In many ways he was ahead of his time.”

Adams took an unconventional path to journalism. The son of a Baptist minister, he became a youth pastor, working with children in the Midwest, New England, and the Bay Area who were struggling with family turmoil, school, or just life in general. He traveled to Haiti and other countries where natural disasters, poverty and political indifference had turned lives upside down.

His decision to leave the church was complicated, his friends said.

When asked, his standard response was that he “gave up the church for beer.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editor George Stanley said that Republic of Arizona that it went deeper. Adams, he said, had an epiphany on one of his missions and realized that as a journalist he could do more to help people while his church fretted over raising money to buy new carpeting for the foyer.

“He cared deeply about journalism and was involved with it well into his adulthood,” said Megan Garvey, a former deputy editor of The Times who was Adam’s supervisor. “I think that, with his experience as a minister, gave him a really unique perspective on stories and the people we cover.”

In addition to The Times, Adams has worked at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Arizona Republic, where he is credited with helping the newspaper more than double its online subscriptions. He also ran a sports website, podcast, and blog about living with cancer, from the fears and excruciating pain to the beauty of long-lasting friendships.

At The Times, he was part of a team of reporters, photographers, designers and editors that received a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the terrorist attack on the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left 14 dead, 24 injured and a mystery that extended from the Inland Empire to Saudi Arabia.

Adams also taught journalism at USC, where he earned a master’s degree after retiring as minister.

Yoshino said Adams can be intense, but it comes with a playful sense of humor. “He had a way of making someone feel like their best friend when in reality he had hundreds of best friends.”

In his most recent tweets, he crowed after his beloved University of Michigan Wolverines toppled nemesis Ohio State in late November, then chronicled his latest road trip with a group of friends — a long drive to the hospice in a rented RV big enough was for his two dogs.

He is survived by his parents, John and Marsha Adams, and a sister, Stacey Adams Hibbert. John Adams, minister and journalist who championed digital storytelling, dies

Caroline Bleakley

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