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Paper's new editor came up through ranks

Peter Baniak, who came to the Lexington Herald-Leader as a college intern 17 years ago and then worked his way up through the reporting and editing ranks, was named the newspaper's editor Tuesday.

Baniak, 37, succeeds Linda Austin, who left the Herald-Leader in March to become executive director of a national business journalism center at Arizona State University. Baniak, previously deputy managing editor, had been directing newsroom operations since Austin's departure.

Herald-Leader Publisher Timothy M. Kelly, who made the announcement Tuesday, called Baniak's appointment "the right choice, at the right time, for this newspaper."

"I was editor when Peter interned with us," Kelly said. "He was obviously a very talented young journalist then, and I have watched him continue to grow and flourish ever since.

"I'm just thrilled that we've grown our own editor.".

Baniak will oversee the newsroom and will not sit on the Herald-Leader's editorial board. Editorial Page Editor Vanessa Gallman will report separately to Kelly, as she does now.

Baniak, calling his new job "both humbling and very exciting," said his top priority will be continuing the Herald-Leader's commitment to aggressive, watchdog journalism and telling stories that define the city, region and state.

He said he'll also stress new avenues for journalism, and the potential of the Web.

"I've always loved ambitious, provocative journalism, and I want us to continue that," he said. "These are challenging times in the newspaper business, but the journalism we do has never been more important — or more in demand from readers of the paper and on the Web."

Baniak cited recent Herald-Leader stories about spending at Blue Grass Airport and at the Lexington Public Library, as well as reports about the state's multimillion-dollar courthouse building program, as examples of journalism that sheds light on local, regional and state issues and institutions. He said that will continue, despite the tough economic times many newspapers are facing.

Baniak interned at the Herald-Leader as a reporter in 1992, while attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. After graduating with bachelor's and master's degrees, he spent a year at the Chicago Tribune before returning to the Herald-Leader full-time in 1995.

He covered Lexington city government, wrote about growth and development in the Bluegrass and later covered state politics at the Herald-Leader's Frankfort bureau.

Baniak joined the city desk as an assistant editor in 2001, and he led the paper's award-winning coverage of the August 2006 crash of Comair Flight 5191. He was named deputy managing editor in March 2008.

Baniak was born into an Air Force family and lived in many parts of the United States and overseas as a child. He attended high school in Folsom, Calif, a suburb of Sacramento, where his parents had settled.

His first newspaper job, while still in high school, was at the weekly Folsom Telegraph, where he "wrote some stories, took photos, cut the weeds in the parking lot and did anything that would let me hang around."

Baniak lives near downtown Lexington with his wife, Susan, the features editor at Business Lexington. They have three children: Katrina, 8; John Thomas, 4; and Eleanor, 6 months.

Baniak noted that he has lived in Lexington longer than any other place.

"Kentucky gets into your blood. This is a great place to raise a family and be part of a community. We truly consider this to be home, and I consider myself a Kentuckian."