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What It Means To Be A Black News Writer
Published:
9/21/2016 2:19:55 PM

By Barney Blakeney


How many times do I gotta say it: please don’t shoot the messenger! I’ve got one of the greatest jobs in the world. I get to do what I like and get paid for it. But I often must take a lotta heat.

I started this gig as a newspaper writer because my teachers at C.A. Brown High taught me how and told me I could write. And as a product of the 1960s, I also was taught I had a responsibility to make my world better. I figured I could combine those two things with writing.

When I entered journalism I was taught that news writing also came with responsibility. In addition to the ability to write, a newsman had to be accurate and that takes work. It ain’t just about sitting at a typewriter and hitting the keys. The work that goes into producing a news story is considerable. It takes a lot of mental and physical effort. Beyond that, news writing also requires characteristics like objectivity, honesty and integrity. Those things are just as important as knowing where to put the commas.

There are all kinds of news - social news, sports news, medical news - a news writer can pick and choose what area to cover. I chose to write news that focuses on Black people’s struggle for equality in America. I figured that work could be my contribution to the movement.

I was fortunate to land a job with Jim French at The Chronicle as my first journalism gig. Jim wasn’t big on teaching a young reporter the skills of the trade. One of my best friends, a skilled writer once said, you learn to write by reading other writers. So I watched others, especially people like former S.C. State Sen. Kay Patterson who “put it where the chickens could get it”.

What Jim French did teach me was that black news writers have even greater responsibilities. Black writers have an obligation to write the stories that tell about the black experience. But more importantly, black writers have an obligation to advocate for the black community, he said. In the midst of all that, sometimes a writer can develop a style that readers like. It’s a blessing that enables a writer to reach even more people with his stories.

It’s a very rewarding job. I think of people like Mr. Clyde Johnson and another brother whose name I can’t remember, who were the first black reporters at the News and Courier and Evening Post papers back in the 1970s. I know it was tough on those guys. I was blessed, I came in at The Chronicle, a black newspaper whose publisher encouraged me to write stories unimpeded by racial bias. And my publisher insisted that I write stories which advocate for the black community.

Over the years I’ve had newspaper jobs that paid better, even reached more people - perks most writers desire. But for those of us who love the craft and want to fulfill our obligation to our communities, the real reward is to be able to write the stories and make the impact.

Sometimes that means the stories aren’t complimentary. As the saying goes, you can’t please all the people all the time. Writers are human and humans naturally want to please. But that’s not a writer’s primary obligation. The primary obligation is to tell the story.

So last week I had to shake it off when two people called me about stories I wrote which they think were less than complimentary. First, it ain’t my job to compliment anybody. My job is to tell the story as accurately and honestly as I can. This ain’t visual art or music, stuff that’s subject to individual interpretation. This is news writing. If there’s an error in fact, we can change that. But news writers shouldn’t change stories to accommodate someone’s interpretation.

Last week two friends called about two different stories - in one I called some black community leaders ineffective. Well if you’re supposed to be leading us forward and over the course of 20 years we’ve gone backwards, I’d call that ineffective leadership. The other brother got on my case because he didn’t like my choice of words.

One of the greatest advantages to having this job is that my publisher always has given me the latitude to call ‘em as I see ‘em as long as I advocate for the good of the black community. This is about providing information and perspectives that advocate for black people. That means I sometimes must write stuff that may not be complimentary. But I’m not trying to win a popularity contest.

I think it’s important that we recognize our flaws, admit they are flaws and work to correct them. It ain’t about hatin’ on nobody. It’s actually about lovin’ them. So no brothers, I don’t hate black people. I know we can do better and I get paid to say that. Don’t shoot the messenger. Heed the message.









 

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