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Pulitzer winner says consequences abound for ignoring ‘the race beat’

By Billy O'Keefe

LAURA ZAICHKIN / The Working Press
Christine Kraly is concerned that the newspaper she reports for is participating in a kind of subtle racism.
She said The Times of Northwest Indiana does not often report about its largest city, Gary, Ind., because it is the area with the lowest circulation. It is also a prominently black community, Kraly said.
The business aspects are understandable, she said, but excluding coverage of the paper’s largest area – except to cover crime – makes it a “lacking beat.”
“There’s a real consequence to ignoring that,” Hank Klibanoff said Friday during his session, “The Race Beat.”
When that happens, Klibanoff said during the question-and-answer session, sources are often untapped and portrayals of the community can be inaccurate.
Klibanoff is the managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Race Beat.” It examines the evolution of media coverage from the 1930s to the civil rights movement.
The book’s timeline begins in the mid-1930s at a Carnegie Corp. boardroom, he said. The board recruited two men and a team of 125 researchers to conduct a study of race in America.
He said one of the main researchers, a Swedish economist, decided soon into his research that “this issue is pathological in the South – this issue of race.”
In 1944, researchers published a nearly 1,500-page book, “The American Dilemma,” that concluded that the Northern press should report on race issues in the South, Klibanoff said.
“To get publicity is of the highest strategic importance,” Klibanoff said the recommendation stated.
“The Race Beat” tells the history and provides anecdotes about Northern reporters – the first being from The New York Times in 1947 – traveling to the South to report about race, voting rights and desegregation, Klibanoff said. He said black advocacy newspapers lost their ability to cover the movement because of violence, but other effective media such as television and major national media opened the eyes of leaders and the public.
It “led to both outrage and smart thinking,” he said. “It became the beat everybody wanted to be on.”