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    National Association of Black Journalists founders reflect on equal opportunity, struggles in and out of uniform

    Natl. Assn. of Black Journalists founders reflect on equal opportunity, struggles in and out of uniform

    Photo By Arthur Mondale | Founders of the National Association of Black Journalists pose in front of the White...... read more read more

    WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES

    02.04.2016

    Story by Arthur Mondale 

    Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall

    Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series of articles in honor of African-American History Month on the military veterans who founded the National Association of Black Journalists and advocated equal opportunity in U.S. newsrooms.

    WASHINGTON - As civilian journalists, they were the gatekeepers of public information who said they believed balanced, fair and accurate reporting – along with journalistic objectivity and ethics — collided with the glass ceiling inside U.S. media outlets. Three of them who would test the strength of the glass were U.S. military veterans.

    Forty years ago, 44 African-American journalists met in Washington, to discuss what they called the lack of equal opportunity within America’s newsrooms. They were professional acquaintances who covered civil rights demonstrations and riots, sometimes daily.

    The organization these journalists formed was the National Association of Black Journalists. It was the end of 1975, and was the start of their own protest for equal opportunity.

    “The NABJ’s role was and still is to ensure that the media include all Americans so that all aspects of American society will be covered,” said Les Payne, former U.S. Army captain, and NABJ president from 1981-1983.

    Les Payne, Paul Delaney and Paul Brock are military veterans and journalists who were part of the 44 founders of the association. They lobbied as an organization putting pressure on general managers, news directors, publishers and editors to increase the presence, profile and influence of African-Americans in the news media. They also worked to improve the treatment of minorities working in the news media and diversify media coverage.

    But these veterans, who called themselves “survivalists,” said their military experience many years before equipped them for the battle they encountered during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s out of uniform: a battle for equal opportunity as civilian journalists in America.

    Les Payne, captain, U.S. Army 1963-1969, Vietnam veteran

    Les Payne, 74, entered the U.S. Army with a B.A. in English from the University of Connecticut in 1964 as an Air Defense Artillery officer before being sent to Vietnam after being retrained as a military journalist in 1966.

    “The military was a useful period in my life,” Payne said. “I think as Americans, one duty is to support and participate in the military, just as we pay taxes. I think choosing to do this as a career is noble. Service members are risking life and limb to fight for freedoms and democracy. I know that people are dying and have died so that people who live in a democracy can be treated fairly.”

    Payne called his required military training in two separate military career fields a useful period in his life, teaching him how to survive and excel in the midst of challenging and sometimes near-fatal experiences. He would use these skills while serving overseas, both in and out of uniform.

    “The discipline and the training as a ranger for example, prepared me physically and mentally to handle dangerous situations,” he said.

    With a daughter who was only two months old at the time, Payne described his first week deployed in Pleiku, central Vietnam, “I saw all these red hills, trenches, mortars exploding and even worse were the mosquitoes,” he said.

    Payne was eventually transferred to Saigon, where he served at the 4th Division’s newspaper, the MACV Observer, and also replied to official correspondence for Gen. William C. Westmoreland.

    “I was sent to headquarters because I was number one in my defense information [MOS] class.” he said.

    Following his career in the service, the “natural-born advocate” considered going into law, but said he felt a career as a military-trained civilian journalist gave him more influence. As an African-American who wanted to enter mainstream media in a top news market, Payne said he needed a connection.

    It would come from a former military colleague named William Nack, who would later become a nationally recognized author and journalist working at Newsday, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN.com.

    “He [Nack] wrote this four-page recommendation for me, and that’s how I got to Newsday,” Payne said.

    Grateful for the recommendation, Payne said he was ready to prove his worth. His knack for doing exposés on foreign dictators, corruption and human rights abuses earned him a Pulitzer Prize for his 1974 report, “The Heroin Trail.” He said he was equipped with a powerful journalistic combo: strong writing and military training.

    “As a journalist, I’ve been run out of six countries, and in each case it was my ranger training which I think fundamentally allowed me to escape,” Payne said. “It was a mental toughness and the ability to remain calm.”

    He detailed the example that earned him a Pulitzer Prize, “I was covering the French Connection – the international flow of heroin from Turkey through Europe, then to the U.S. – and in Corsica, when I was apprehended and caught by the henchmen of the top heroine smuggler in the world, Marcel Francisci. Ranger training really helped me to be able to maneuver out of situations like that.”

    Paul Delaney, corporal, U.S. Army 1953-1955

    Paul Delaney, 82, served in the U.S. Army as a radio operator attached to units within the U.S. Air Force. His experience would take him to Bordeaux-Mérignac Air Base, a now defunct base west of the French city of Bordeaux. His job was to gather and disperse statewide U.S. news for troops stationed in Europe.

    “I was a green kid who was very unsophisticated about the ways of the world. The military made a man out of me. From the command structure of following orders, carrying out orders and tasks to perform,” Delaney said.

    One of his tasks included reporting the big story of May 17, 1954: the results of Brown v. the Board of Education.

    “I read the news to our base that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in favor of school desegregation, which was on a Monday,” he said.
    When he left the service, Delaney’s hunger for landmark stories and investigations is why he enrolled in the journalism school at Ohio State University, he said.

    But he said out of 15 graduates in 1958, he was the only African-American graduate and the only graduate who was unemployed.

    It would be many months before Delaney was hired by newspapers such as Baltimore Afro-American, Atlanta Daily World, Dayton Daily News, The Washington Star and eventually the nationally recognized New York Times, as the Washington bureau reporter, and later Madrid, Spain.

    “I covered urban affairs from politics to social problems,” Delaney said. “But in those times the majority of news outlets had either one or not even a single black person.”

    But Delaney said the demographics found within the newsrooms he worked in, never reflected the demographics in America during his career. Still, he persevered. He summarizes why he believes he was chosen as one of the few African-American journalists to make it to one of the most highly-circulated newspapers in the nation.

    “I was ambitious,” Delaney said. “Anyone interested in journalism must be bold, daring and ready to take the challenge. The military taught me early not to have fear. You can’t come into this field [journalism] with fear.”

    Paul Brock, staff sergeant, U.S. Air Force, 1952-1954

    Paul Brock, 83, is a Howard University alumnus who said he escaped segregation and overt racism while serving in the U.S. Air Force. Brock was both a radio operator at the now defunct Dry Hill Air Force Base in Watertown, NY, and editor of the base newspaper.

    “As a civilian, you can be raised to dislike a group of people, and self-segregate,” Brock said. “But when you go into the military you are forced into sleeping, bunking, eating with different people on a daily basis, and you find out they are no different than you. In fact you might admire them, and your attitude changes. I know that happened to a lot of people I served with.”

    When he left the U.S. Air Force in 1954, Brock said he was a college-educated, military-trained journalist who faced “segregation and insults” trying to earn a living.

    Brock packed his bags for the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he received employment as a journalist. He called it a “welcome change,” in contrast to his experience as an African-American veteran and journalist on the U.S. mainland.

    Metaphorically, the climate, as well as media hiring managers, were warmer, he said.

    Brock was offered a job in broadcasting at radio station WSTA-AM. That eventually led to a job with WBNB-TV, on the island of Saint Thomas.

    When he returned to the U.S., Brock worked at WETA in Washington, D.C., as a news director and later at WHUR-FM.

    At WETA, Brock was credited with bringing the first-ever House committee hearing to broadcast.

    Brock’s groundbreaking reporting and producing style led to an audition for a “new venture” called National Public Radio in 1970. He didn’t get the job, but he gained national visibility, he said.

    Brock held a number of positions and titles, but he reflected on the magnitude of President Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981, issued July 26, 1948, and its impact on his and other minority military journalists’ careers.

    “My career all began because Harry Truman and the armed services took a stand,” Brock said. “It was a very unpopular stand, but they took a stand. And that was the beginning of black journalists, Asian-Pacific American journalists, Hispanic journalists and Native American journalists getting their foot in the door. Following that, we decided we had to organize as civilians if we were going to be effective. We did organize, we pushed and we reminded people.”

    President Truman’s Executive Order 9981 and its impact then and now

    On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which established:

    “The highest standards of democracy, with equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country’s defense … equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin…”
    Payne, Brock and Delaney credit in various degrees the military for their careers and for being ahead of the curve with regard to equal opportunity employment.

    “The services faced the same thing the country faced in regards to civil rights, it’s just the services were further advanced because they had their commander-in-chief and under chiefs looking over their shoulder,” Brock said.

    “Even with unreconstructed confederates in the military, the military was quickly integrating and the commanders faced pressure,” Delaney adds. “There were tasks that needed to be performed regardless of color. But I knew I wanted to be a journalist before I went into the military.”

    “I learned what citizenship is, and what responsibility is,” Payne said. “Blacks were often kept out of the desirable positions in the civilian sector. They couldn’t be [denied] in the military. I’d have to agree with my veteran NABJ founders when I say the military has a history of being more open [racially] but there’s still work to be done by everyone.”

    Payne said he believes minorities who choose to work as journalists in the military will find equal opportunity in employment like he and his colleagues did, but conversely opportunities in the civilian sector are more limited for minorities because discriminatory hiring practices still exist.

    Payne notes the limited number of minorities in newsrooms across America, and said he believes it is still the responsibility of U.S. media outlets to address some 40 years after he and his fellow veteran NABJ founders attended their first meeting, on an overcast Dec. 12 morning in 1975.

    A Pew Research poll from 2015 revealed the “divide in minority employment.” Employment trends at small daily newspapers and small local TV stations shows they are “least likely to have minority employees.” For example, in large television markets (Market 1-25), minorities account for 29 percent of the workforce, 14 percent in small markets. When taking into account most rookie reporters start their careers at small media outlets, the data suggests a significant proportion of minorities are not entering the media industry.

    “This is not representative of America,” Payne said. “It doesn’t look like America.”

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    Date Taken: 02.04.2016
    Date Posted: 02.04.2016 11:57
    Story ID: 187898
    Location: WASHINGTON, DC, US 

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