In the Realm of Black Journalism, ‘We Are Losing Our Lions’

  • Les Payne Praised for Linking ‘Fairness,’ Journalism
  • In Givhan Flap, Post Won’t Reimburse BET
  • Heather Vincent Holley, Network Exec, Dies at 58
  • Tanzina Vega to Host Public Radio’s ‘The Takeaway’
  • PBS Cites a Dozen Complaints About Smiley
  • Podcast Examines Cold Cases From Civil Rights Era
  • Haitians Plan March Over Missing Journalist
Haile Payne reads the obituary of his father, Les Payne, as the journalist’s casket sits wrapped in the American flag at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. The Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts III is at top. Former Newsday colleague Dele Olojede, a native of Nigeria, called Payne “first and foremost an American . . . He had a tremendous love for the country.”
Photo: Richard Prince

Les Payne Praised for Linking ‘Fairness,’ Journalism

Mourners and celebrants at the funeral service for Les Payne Tuesday in Harlem might be forgiven if they thought they were praising one of the last lions of journalism writ large and of the particular kind practiced by culturally aware and skillful black journalists.


They were not alone.

“Les and those guys were about a level of integrity that we are starting to lose,” Elmer Smith, retired Philadelphia Daily News columnist, said afterward. Smith was speaking of such pioneering black journalists as Acel Moore, Chuck Stone and Claude Lewis, all gone.


Joe Davidson, a Washington Post columnist and like Payne, Lewis, Moore and Stone a co-founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, told the more than 500 assembled at Abyssinian Baptist Church, “When needing direction, without talking to him, I would ask myself what would Les do. Now the question is, what will we do without Les?”

Rochelle Riley, columnist for the Detroit Free Press, said simply afterward, “We are losing our lions.”


The service was streamed and is still available for viewing.

Payne’s image greets mourners.
Photo: Richard Prince

Payne, whose career saw him share a Pulitzer Prize, become a co-founder and fourth president of NABJ and a top editor and columnist for Newsday, died March 19 after collapsing outside his New York home. He was 76.

“He had the intellect of [W.E.B.] Du Bois, the fearlessness of Malcolm [X] and the formidable presence of Sonny Liston,” said Randy Daniels, a friend of 40 years. He and Payne met while covering the struggle for Zimbabwe’s liberation in the 1970s. “We were young, gifted and very, very black,” said Daniels, formerly of CBS News.


While Payne held the title of assistant managing editor at Newsday, he was more, said John Mancini, twice editor of the Long Island, N.Y., newspaper. “He was the glue that held many, many tribes together.” He championed reporting on black and brown people and was praised, not marginalized, for it.

As Payne told Bill Rhoden in a 2016 podcast, African Americans in the workplace have a responsibility to organize and try to change the culture toward fairness (audio).


James Klurfeld, a former editor of Newsday’s editorial page who worked with Payne on a series on migrant farmworkers on eastern Long Island, told Newsday’s Bart Jones Tuesday that Payne “was a model for being a reporter. Everybody looked up to him. He did some really gutsy things over the years.”

Payne used his authority to bring aboard more black journalists and to help nurture the careers of those who were already there. “It was about fairness,” Mancini said, “not about race.”


When people would say they couldn’t find qualified black people, Payne would look out at the room and say, “we’ve got plenty of unqualified white people,” added Mancini. He called Payne “the most influential man in my life.”

Former Newsday colleague Dele Olojede quoted Payne as undermining the “can’t-find-anybody-qualified” excuse by saying, “We always hire for potential. Nobody comes ready-made.”


However, according to Olojede, “Les gave you a chance, but [said] the rest is up to you.” He quoted a saying that “The path is made by walking.”

Olojede, a native of Nigeria, also called Payne, who served in Vietnam as an Army ranger and as an information officer under Gen. William Westmoreland, “first and foremost an American. . . . He had a tremendous love for the country.” Payne’s casket was wrapped in an American flag.


The service for Payne drew former colleagues from around this country and others. One was Dwight Lewis, a retired Tennessean editor and columnist who arrived from Nashville carrying a letter of congratulations Payne sent after Lewis was honored in November by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.

“I especially appreciate your being cited by the ACLU for ‘focusing on human rights and the powerless,’ “ Payne wrote. “This, really, is what the authentic black journalist should — but all too often does not dare — bring to the craft of journalism. The industry continues to be as arid of ideas and true practitioners of racial fairness as, well, the Sahara Desert. . . .”


In 1974, Payne shared the Pulitzer Prize for the 33-part Newsday series “The Heroin Trail,” which tracked how the drug that originated in poppy fields of Turkey ended up among users on Long Island, and he was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer for investigative series he did on the black liberation struggle in Southern Africa.

It was Payne who in 1987 broke the story that Tawana Brawley, a young woman who said she had been kidnapped and sexually abused by a group of white men, including a county prosecutor, then left lying in a garbage bag, had lied. He also went undercover as a migrant farmworker for that well-received series.


Africa and young people held special places in Payne’s heart, the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III noted. Payne served on the board of the Abyssinian Fund, which takes as its mandate reducing poverty in Ethiopia, and the journalist credited a brush with death in Africa with returning him to the Christianity he was taught as a child.

Investigating a bloody, 1980 tribal conflict in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, I was arrested by guerrillas loyal to newly elected president Robert Mugabe,” this student of secular journalists Murray Kempton and H.L. Mencken, among others, wrote in 2008 for AARP: The Magazine. “After a three-hour interrogation within a barbed wire camp, I was judged guilty of spying — and prepared to be put to death.


“Sitting on a low bench in a closed room with a small window, rattled, and stripped of all possessions, I . . . prayed.

“I knew I could never return to the purely emotional track of blind acceptance of the religion of my childhood. I knew reasoning must have a place. Yet I promised myself — and whoever else might have been listening — that should I survive this ordeal, I would address my suppressed spiritual yearning, which, despite my existential wanderings, had never really left me. . . .”

Among the attendees at the services for Les Payne were (bottom, from left) Monroe Anderson, Derrick Z. Jackson, Sheila Brooks, Audrey Edwards, DeWayne Wickham, Sarah Glover, Morris Thompson, Johann Calhoun, Tim Reid and Dwight Lewis. Rear: Rod Hicks, William Rhoden, Richard Prince, Elmer Smith and Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Photo: DeWayne Wickham

Davidson said that Payne would at times decline to join his colleagues at NABJ conventions. “I’m going to stay free and make myself available to the young folks,” he would say.


Butts noted that that Payne interviewed activist Angela Davis in the church and left her admiring the rigor of Payne’s questioning. “Wherever heaven is, Les has got to be there,” Butts said, but added, “I just pray and hope that Les doesn’t go into his journalistic mode” when he arrives at the pearly gates. “It was the grace of God that got you there, so don’t blow it, man,” the pastor said.

Jones, reporting for Newsday, also wrote of Payne Tuesday, “The night he died [at] the home he and his wife owned in Harlem, Payne was working on a longtime project, a biography of Malcolm X, according to his family.


“Before the funeral service, Payne’s longtime literary agent, Faith Childs, and his book editor, Robert Weil, of W. W. Norton and Co. Inc., said the book is completed and will be published after some ‘finishing touches.’

“ ‘This was his life’s mission,’ Weil said, adding that Payne had worked on it for more than three decades. . . “


Childs and Weil were among those in attendance Tuesday. A sampling of other attendees includes:

Milton Allimadi, Monroe Anderson, Donna Britt, Sheila Brooks, Earl Caldwell, Johann Calhoun, Leon Carter, Nick Charles, Joe Davidson, Allison Davis, David Dinkins, Djibril Diallo, Audrey Edwards, Peter Eisner, Ron Gault, Alma Gill, Sarah Glover, Leonard Greene, Roy Gutman, Charlotte Hall, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Peter Alan Harper, Rod Hicks


Ron Howell, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Derrick Z. Jackson, Leonard Jeffries, Raymond Johnson, George Jordan, Vernon Jordan, James Klurfeld, Trymaine Lee, Dwight Lewis

Kevin Merida, Marilyn Milloy, Greg Morrison, Ozier Muhammad, Joyce Owens, Erica Pierce, Randall Pinkston, William Rhoden, Gene Seymour, Harris Schrank, Charlotte Sheedy, Elinor Tatum, DeWayne Wickham


Tim Reid, Rochelle Riley, Howard Schneider, Royal Shariyf, Charles Stevens, Doug Smith, Elmer Smith, Fred Sweets, Morris Thompson and many Newsday colleagues.

After the burial in Long Island National Cemetery at Pinelawn in Farmingdale, N.Y., across from Newsday, his former colleagues planned a short ceremony at the newspaper.


Milton G. Allimadi, Black Star News: Les Payne, My “Brother” — Intellectual Reporter — Loved the Roots of His African Tree; Rest in Peace


Herb Boyd, New York Amsterdam News: Les Payne, noted journalist and a founder of NABJ, passes at 76

Jason Daley, Pioneering Black Journalist Les Payne Has Died at Age 76


Paul Delaney, USA Today, Kerner report at 50: Media diversity still decades behind (March 20)

Dorothy Butler Gilliam, The critical role of the black press in the civil rights movement has not received the attention it deserves


Bart Jones, Newsday: Newsday’s Les Payne hailed as journalistic force, ‘superhero’

Rocco Parascandola and Leonard Greene, Daily News, New York: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Les Payne celebrated at Harlem funeral


Les Payne, Newsday: The former Newsday editor’s work

Bill Rhoden and Jamal Murphy with Les Payne and Jamal Payne: Bill Rhoden on Sports Episode 101: 2016 Wrap Up with Les Payne (podcast) (December 2016)


Vanessa Romo, NPR: Les Payne, Pulitzer Prize-Winner And NABJ Founder, Dies At 76

Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett discussed life in the White House at BET’s “Leading Women Defined” conference in Bal Harbour, Fla.
Photo: BET Networks

In Givhan Flap, Post Won’t Reimburse BET

The Washington Post is not considering reimbursing Black Entertainment Television for the lodging and transportation expenses it paid to sponsor Post reporter Robin Givhan to appear at its “Leading Women Defined” conference in Bal Harbour, Fla., last week.


Givhan incurred BET’s wrath when she wrote in the Post March 21 about former first lady Michelle Obama’s appearance at the conference with former presidential aide Valerie Jarrett.

When BET brass saw the story, they kicked Givhan out and canceled a panel she was due to moderate,” Oli Coleman wrote the next day for the New York Post’s Page Six.


“But while claiming Michelle’s talk was private, BET didn’t play by its own rules: The network posted sections of the interview on its website, while Valerie Jarrett, who conducted the chat, teased on social media that fans should ‘tune in to BET’ to hear all that Obama really said.

“The incident spiraled into a social media screaming match, and Givhan was subjected to a barrage of abuse, with one tweeter saying she ‘violated a sacred trust between women, black women.’


“Writer Jamilah Lemieux posted, ‘This is a complete violation of journalistic ethics and Black girl code,’ while other journalists defended Givhan.

“A BET rep insisted Givhan was ‘invited as a guest (not working press) to moderate a fashion panel,’ and her travel and hotel were paid for by BET.”


“ ‘She was made aware that it was an intimate conversation in a sacred space of sisterhood and fellowship.’ “

The National Association of Black Journalists has backed Givhan, its board declaring over the weekend, “BET officials have admitted publicly that at no time was the conference ever off-the-record.”


Since BET paid for Givhan’s trip, and she subsequently became a working journalist, the question arose whether the Post would consider reimbursing BET.

Post guidelines say, “We do not accept payment — either honoraria or expenses — from governments, government-funded organizations, groups of government officials, political groups or organizations that take positions on controversial issues.


“A reporter or editor also cannot accept payment from any person, company or organization that he or she covers. And we should avoid accepting money from individuals, companies, trade associations or organizations that lobby government or otherwise try to influence issues the newspaper covers. Broadcast organizations, educational institutions, social organizations and many professional organizations usually fall outside this provision unless the reporter or editor is involved in coverage of them.”

Post spokeswoman Shani George told Journal-isms that the Post would not consider reimbursing BET because fashion journalist Givhan does not cover the network, so there is no conflict.


(Credit: ABC News)

Heather Vincent Holley, Network Exec, Dies at 58

Tributes are pouring in online, and on air, for Heather Vincent Holley, who died suddenly last Thursday in Atlanta,” Chis Ariens reported Tuesday for TVNewser. She was 58. The cause of death was not immediately available.


“Holley’s 30 year TV news career began at ABC News where she worked in the Los Angeles bureau, and, later, would produce for World News Now, What Would You Do? and 20/20. She was one of the original staffers at Nightline. Holley moved to NBC News in 1993 as a senior producer, and then to MSNBC, in 2000, as vp of program planning. She would go on roles at CBS News/BET and back to ABC, before relocating to Atlanta in 2009 where she began a media event planning business. . . .”

In a note reposted on Facebook, ABC News President James Goldston added, “In addition to her incredible dedication to her work, she was committed to the international women empowerment organization Vital Voices, leading media training sessions for women in business, elected officials and those working for change. She was also a proud board member of The National Black Arts Festival, The Alliance Theater, ArtsATL and The AIDS Memorial Quilt.


“Most importantly, Heather was a devoted wife to her husband Kenny and mother to Cary and Robbie. . . .”

A memorial service is planned for Thursday at noon at Church of the Epiphany, 2089 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta.


Tanzina Vega to Host Public Radio’s ‘The Takeaway’

Tanzina Vega
Photo: Journal-isms

“Yesterday, WNYC,” a New York public radio station,” named Tanzina Vega as the new host of flagship morning show The Takeaway,” Jon Allsop reported Wednesday for Columbia Journalism Review. “She steps into the booth vacated last year by John Hockenberry, who ‘retired’ in August, then faced allegations of sexual misconduct.

“Vega, who has guest-hosted the show several times since Hockenberry’s departure, is an authority on the intersection of gender, race, and class in the media and beyond. After rising through the ranks at The New York Times, she crafted her own race beat at the paper, which drew headlines — and some furor — when it was scrapped in 2015. She’s since reported for CNN, and served as a fellow at The Nation Institute and as a journalism professor at Princeton. . . .”


In a Q-and-A, Vega said, “One of the things I’m interested in is unpacking the narratives around class and race. Along with this idea of the white working class, one of the pieces I wrote for CNN actually looked at the empathy gap: how we empathize with white working class Americans, but there seems to be a disconnect when we talk about empathizing with black and brown working-class Americans.

“These areas are intimately connected, but those connections aren’t often made because we seem to be very uncomfortable with going against the narrative that ‘you can make it in America, this is a meritocracy, just work hard and you can get there.’ That’s not always the case and money has a lot to do with that.


“We also have to think about class in newsrooms. . . .”

PBS Cites a Dozen Complaints About Smiley

PBS has filed a countersuit against former talk-show host Tavis Smiley, who sued the network last month for breach of contract,” Dru Sefton reported Friday for


“The legal wrangling stems from PBS’ investigation late last year of complaints of sexual harassment of employees who worked for Smiley’s production company. PBS and PRI, which distributed Smiley’s radio show, both cut ties with the longtime host in December.

“Smiley claimed in his complaint that the loss of his PBS contract led to layoffs of 20 of his employees and caused ‘multiple millions of dollars in damages’ to his production company.


“In its countersuit filed Tuesday, first reported by Hollywood Reporter, PBS said that Smiley violated the morals clause of his contract.

“In the complaint, the network said that ‘over a dozen individuals’ reported ‘inappropriate sexual comments or conduct’ in its investigation of the allegations against Smiley. Several said Smiley had ‘multiple, potentially concurrent, sexual relationships with subordinates.’ Others said Smiley sent pornographic images to subordinates; ‘Mr. Smiley confirmed that he may have done so” in an interview with a PBS investigator, according to the lawsuit. . . .”


The site published the PBS complaint.

One segment of the podcast is to be uploaded every week for six weeks.
Graphic: NPR

Podcast Examines Cold Cases From Civil Rights Era

Atlanta’s NPR affiliate WABE premiered a new podcast March 26 that examines elections and voting rights for African Americans in 1948,” Ellie Hensley reported Monday for Atlanta Business Chronicle.


“Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hank Klibanoff, ‘Buried Truths’ premiered March 26. One segment will be uploaded each week for six weeks.

“The first season of ‘Buried Truths’ centers around Isaiah Nixon, a father of six who was shot and killed by two white men, Jim A. Johnson and Johnnie Johnson, in front of his home after voting in a 1948 Democratic Primary. Although ‘Buried Truths’ is a cold case podcast, Klibanoff and his team examine why Nixon was murdered, because the identities of the two men who carried out the crime are already known.


“Much of the material for ‘Buried Truths’ was unearthed by Klibanoff and his students at Emory University, where he is director of the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project. . . .”

Haitians Plan March Over Missing Journalist

The last time Fleurette Guerrier spoke to her husband, Vladjimir Legagneur, the Haitian photojournalist told her he was busy but fine,” Jacqueline Charles reported Tuesday for the Miami Herald.


“Because Legagneur was working on an independent freelance project in Grand Ravine, a gang-ridden Port-au-Prince neighborhood that had been the scene of a deadly police raid four months earlier, the couple agreed to check in on the phone two hours later.

“That was about noon on March 14. Legagneur, 30, hasn’t been heard from since.

“Guerrier tried to call at the appointed time. ‘The phone rang without any response until it just stopped ringing,’ she said. She filed a missing person’s report with Haiti’s investigative police on March 16 and said she never heard back.


“ ‘I want answers,’ said Guerrier, 31. ‘There is a disappearance that has taken place in the country, and they should conduct an investigation and provide answers about that disappearance.’

“Haiti-based journalists plan to take to the streets at 10 a.m. Wednesday in a march of solidarity, demanding a serious investigation and denouncing the passivity of government officials in the disappearance. . . .”


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Richard Prince’s Journal-isms originates from Washington. It began in print before most of us knew what the internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a “column.” Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.


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