The co-owner and executive editor of alternative newspaper chain Village Voice Media has apologized for using a racial slur at a journalism gathering.

Michael Lacey was accepting an award from the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists on Friday when he used the N-word to refer to his late friend, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Tom Fitzpatrick. His short speech also included vulgar phrases.

The group also presented a special recognition award to the mother of late East Valley Tribune sportswriter Bob Moran, a black journalist.

Moran died last month, and his mother was accompanied by fellow Tribune journalist Billye Paulson, who also is black.

Paulson called the speech "offensive" and sent an angry e-mail to Lacey demanding an apology.

"I found your acceptance speech at the April 4 SPJ awards banquet disgusting, inappropriate and vulgar. And I DID take offense. But the obscenities take a back seat to the use of the n-word, which was not necessary and very insulting," she wrote in the e-mail.

On Monday evening, Lacey said he was sorry that "comments about a dead colleague rankled listeners."

"My words, meant to honor a friend, were inappropriate," Lacey said. "All present have my sincere apology. It is regrettable that any phrase of mine offended those attending a First Amendment awards banquet."

Lacey was accepting the SPJ's President's Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions in the field of journalism.

Lacey and business partner Jim Larkin were honored for stories they wrote and published that exposed the Maricopa County attorney's attempts to obtain Internet records of anyone who had ever visited the Phoenix New Times Web site through a grand jury subpoena.

The story led to their late-night arrest on suspicion of violating grand jury secrecy, although charges were soon dropped.

Village Voice Media publishes a chain of weekly newspapers, including the Phoenix New Times.