William Hodding Carter III was born on 7 April 1935 in New Orleans to Betty Werlein Carter and Hodding Carter Jr. Hodding III grew up in the Mississippi Delta city of Greenville, where his father served as publisher and editor of the Delta Democrat-Times newspaper.
Hodding III attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and Greenville High School, from which he graduated in 1953. He then attended Princeton University, graduating summa cum laude in 1957. He then married Margaret Ainsworth and spent two years in the US Marine Corps before returning to Greenville, where he served as a reporter/editorial writer, managing editor and editor, and associate publisher at the Delta Democrat-Times. During his eighteen years with his family’s paper Carter was active in many side projects and garnered acclaim for his excellence in public relations and broadcasting. He won the 1961 Society of Professional Journalists’ national award for editorial writing, received a 1965–66 Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, and worked for the presidential campaigns of Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.
Hodding Carter III distinguished himself as one of the South’s most intrepid journalists and organizers. In addition, he served as a board member of the Japan Society, the Center for Policy Alternatives, the George C. Marshall Foundation, the Population Resource Center, the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, the Southern Regional Council, and the International Center for Journalists. Carter was a founding member of the American Council of Young Political Leaders, serving as the group’s chair for five years, and Mississippi Action for Progress, a statewide Head Start agency that served ten thousand children. Carter was also a founder of the biracial Loyalist Democrats of Mississippi during the late 1960s and served as a state delegate to the National Democratic Party Conventions in 1968, 1972, and 1976.
Carter left Mississippi in 1977 to become the spokesperson for the Department of State and the assistant secretary of state for public affairs. He is most noted for his media criticism series, Inside Story, for which he won four Emmy Awards and the Edward R. Murrow Award in the 1980s. Along with his involvement in a number of public affairs television shows throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Carter was a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and United Media/NEA and a contributor to the New York Times, Washington Post, and various other publications. He is a member of the editorial board of Southern Cultures, the southern studies journal of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has written two books, The South Strikes Back (1970) and The Reagan Years (1988).
Along with his experience and success in the world of public affairs and broadcasting, Carter has also served in various capacities in universities across the nation. He served on Princeton University’s board of trustees from 1983 to 1998 and as an adjunct professor at American University in Washington, D.C., and at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Beginning in 1994 Carter served as the Knight Professor of Public Affairs Journalist at the University of Maryland, College Park. He resigned from the position in 1998 to assume the presidency of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing journalism in the digital age and promoting informed and engaged communities. Carter currently serves as University Professor of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Hodding and Margaret Carter had four children, Hodding IV, Catherine, Margaret, and Finn, before divorcing in 1978. Hodding Carter III subsequently married Patricia M. Derian, an author and former human rights official in the Jimmy Carter administration.
- “A Diplomat on the Podium: Hodding Carter, the New Voice of America.” Time (10 December 1979)