Reporters Look Back on 50 Years of Covering the News
Edited By Ted Gest and Dotty Brown
In the spring of 1969, 101 students received master’s degrees from Columbia University’s prestigious School of Journalism, where they had learned the trade as it was then practiced. Most hoped to start a career in newspapers, radio, television or magazines, the established forms of journalism of that era. Little did they realize how the news world they were entering would be upended by the internet and by the social forces that would sweep through the country over the next 50 years.
This book tells the story of the news media revolution through the eyes of those in the Class of 1969 who lived it and helped make it happen. It is an insider’s look at the reshaping of the Fourth Estate and the information Americans now get and don’t get—crucial aspects of the vibrancy of democracy.
Chapter Four Diversity: A Work in Progress
Diversity: A Work in Progress
In 1968, six months before I entered the Columbia University School of Journalism, President Lyndon Johnson ordered the publication of the Kerner Commission Report. The report took particular aim at the nation’s mainstream press for failing in its responsibility to report on the oppressive conditions in poor communities, which had contributed to the urban rebellions of the late 1960s. More than 200 people had died in those uprisings and more than 10,000 were wounded.1
“The press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective,” said the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, as it was officially called.
Diversity in newsrooms was virtually non-existent back then. “Fewer than 5 percent of the people employed by the news business in editorial jobs in the United States today are Negroes,” the report said, using the racial terminology of the time. “Fewer than 1 percent of editors and supervisors are Negroes, and most of them work for Negro-owned organizations.”
“Our nation is moving toward two separate societies,” the report concluded, “one black, one white—separate and unequal.”2
This is the journalism world I entered as an African American. The news—especially the way it was presented so viscerally on TV—had long fascinated me. My father was involved in Chicago politics during Mayor Richard J. Daley’s...
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