Monday, October 22, 2007

Pale Men in at Black Papers

I hadn't thought about it a long, long time, but I suppose that most African-American oriented newspapers in the U.S. probably have at least one white editor or reporter. Having been one, I did think about it Saturday when I met and chatted with Dan Devine from the Boston–Bay State Banner.

He's not the Packer's football coach anymore than I am the musical star. What we do share other than famous names is stumbling from college to a Black paper.

Our occasion to meet was the day-long seminar Making the Most of Your Local Advantage: Community Reporter Seminar. Its sponsors were Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism and the Alliance for Community Journalism.

I've done a lot of reporting for newspapers, magazines and in a new-media sort of way for several blogs. Yet, I thought it was well worthwhile, well worth the $25, and useful to blogger sorts as well as the primary audience of reporters for weeklies. If it rolls around again, bloggers as well as weekly reporters should grab spots. It focuses on how to research and write local stories, but the emphasis is definitely on how to write.

If any other bloggers were there, I'm not yet aware of it. I would have suspected that someone from H2Otown would have taken the bus to the square for it. They certainly do a lot more reporting than the type of political blog I favor does.

I'll put up some of what I took away from that seminar here and at Harrumph!

Before we started, Dan approached me and said he liked this blog. There a bit of a love fest, as I try to get the Banner from the box every week. Like Bay Windows, its stuff seems much easier to find on paper. Online, some of the small article aren't obvious and much of the art is gone. I get more about the Black communities in this area from the Banner than any other paper, and with its coverage ad supplementary stories from the South End News and the JP Gazette, I get Latino news that seems to be beneath the Globe or Herald.

At lunch, I sat with him and mentioned that I had run a Black paper for a year a long time ago. His spot and mine are surely not all that unusual, but odd enough to be remarkable. He's the deputy editor of the Banner and I was editor-in-chief of The Palmetto Post, the Black weekly in South Carolina's capital, Columbia. The board folded it after I left and a young Black editor too over, but that's another part of the story.

He was not having much luck finding a reporting job in Rhode Island when he looked around in Boston. I know from experience how hard it is to get job at papers here, even at indentured-servant style wages. They have waiting lists of friends and relatives of owners and employees, thank you very much. Eventually, the Banner offered him a clerical position and promoted him a few times to where he is now.

My case was a little stranger, but along the same lines. At our awards dinner for the college newspaper (honest-to-Zenger, the Gamecock), we heard the Palmetto Post board chair say they were struggling and had a very small pool of anyone Black with any newspaper experience. He asked any of us with some time to do volunteer reporting and maybe help teach neighborhood people.

I was the only one who volunteered. When I met a couple of board members at the office to say I was finishing and would do some reporting for them. He leaned deeply over the desk, took my forearm and said, "What we really need is an editor-in-chief." The board of business folk and academicians had been doing the work for which they were ill prepared.

I told them that I felt uneasy as a white person. He said I was more experienced than anyone they could find and that my writing convinced him that I had solid politics as well as expertise.

There's lots more to both of my story and his. Neither of us really owns the full tale of each other yet. To the central question everyone understandably asks, for the largest part, the community, sources and certainly the almost entirely Black staff are very accepting for him as they were for me. I did have to laugh when I told him of the white folk though.

There were no regular or alternate weeklies in Columbia. The same company owned the morning State and afternoon Record. There was no other Black publication. When I went to press conferences, it was as the representative of the Black community. Quite a few white politicians, including Gov. Robert McNair and the mighty long-term House Speaker Sol Blatt, would stutter and almost cross their eyes when they met me. They didn't get it.

Everybody else gets it here as they did then and there.

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1 comment:

massmarrier said...

I sit corrected. Dan let me know, for those of you who had already seen this post, that he majored in English, not journalism as I did. He got his reporting start freelancing on the Web. Then he went looking for newspaper jobs, in places like what he describes as the smallest newspaper in Rhode Island.

I corrected the J-school reference above.