Patterson had more than 40 years experience in the publishing field. His journalistic talents earned him the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1966 and the William Allen White National Award for journalistic merit in 1980.
He began his newspaper career with the Temple (TX) Daily Telegram, followed by the Macon (GA) Telegraph. In 1948, he joined the old United Press in Atlanta. During his years with UP he served as New York night bureau manager and London bureau chief.
Patterson returned to Atlanta in 1956 as executive editor of the Journal and Constitution. There he succeeded the late Ralph McGill as editor. He joined the Washington Post in 1968 and served three years as its managing editor. He then spent a year as a professor of political science at Duke University before becoming editor of the St. Petersburg Times and the Congressional Quarterly.
In 1978, he succeeded the late Nelson Poynter as chief executive officer of the St. Petersburg Times and led the newspaper with distinction until retiring in 1988.