National Association of Black Journalists: Kerner Report key to African-American breakthrough in med

By Arthur Mondale, Pentagram Staff WriterFebruary 18, 2016

National Association of Black Journalists: Kerner Report key to African-American breakthrough in media industry
1 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – In this July 29, 1967, photo provided by the U.S. Library of Congress, President Lyndon B. Johnson interacts with members of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission) in the White House. The commission's report, issued i... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
National Association of Black Journalists: Kerner Report key to African-American breakthrough in media industry
2 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Les Payne interviews the leader of the movement to end apartheid, the late Nelson Mandela, on his first day out of a 27-year imprisonment in the backyard of his home in Orlando West, Soweto, just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. Payne's knack f... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
National Association of Black Journalists: Kerner Report key to African-American breakthrough in media industry
3 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Paul Delaney, left, and Washington Star colleague Ron Sarro, far right, interview the late gay civil rights activist Baynard Rustin, center, in 1968 at The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations headquarters in Washingt... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
National Association of Black Journalists: Kerner Report key to African-American breakthrough in media industry
4 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Editor's Note: This is the second 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.

Paul Delaney, Paul Brock and Les Payne -- three African-Americans, military veterans and founding members of the National Association of Black Journalists -- said their service in the military helped shield them from discriminatory hiring practices that plagued their civilian counterparts in the U.S. media industry.

Serving in uniform, all three served in public affairs and communication roles that allowed them to report the news and disseminate information to U.S. troops serving abroad. Delaney was a U.S. Army corporal who broadcasted over the airwaves of Europe stationed in southwestern France; Brock esd a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant who served as editor for an upstate New York military installation newspaper; Payne served as a U.S. Army officer who documented Soldiers' stories from the trenches of Vietnam.

"Journalists should thrive and jump into places that are challenging, sometimes dangerous, but seize the opportunity," Delaney said. "They must also accept that the field of journalism has changed so radically, it's still in flux, so you must be constantly open to learn. I admit, my time in the U.S. Army in France was the experience of my lifetime."

As a college-educated African-American and former military journalist in mid-20th century, Delaney experienced two decades of national social and political change. Back then, mainstream media outlets in America hired only token quotas of African-Americans, and sometimes did not hire them at all, according to Delaney, Brock and Payne.

Delaney was limited in employment solely to African-American publications, while Brock was unemployed and forced to seek employment in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Payne was one of only a handful of African-Americans to immediately find work at a mainstream national New York City newspaper, Newsday.

Even with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in effect, a commission of lawmakers and civil rights activists held that the "structure of racism" in 1967 needed to be re-challenged.

The commission, appoint by President Lyndon B. Johnson, reported the country was "moving toward two societies, one black, one white -- separate and unequal," according to the Kerner Report of 1968.

The Kerner Report essentially served as the catalyst for increasing employment and other opportunities for minorities, according to Delaney, Brock and Payne.

"The Kerner Report [Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders] and the riots that spurred it really was our [African-American journalists] affirmative action program," Payne said. "Before the report came out, there were very few blacks in the media industry. So once that report came out, major newspaper editors, for example, began to hire black journalists."

The Kerner Report

The race riots across the U.S. chronicled from 1965-1967 led then-President Lyndon B. Johnson to establish the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to find a solution to the civil unrest.

The end result was a 426-page document released on Feb. 1968, called the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders Report, or the Kerner Report, named after Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner, Jr., the committee's chair.

Its pages explicitly detail the root causes of "tension-heightening incidents" that led to racial divides and unrest in the U.S., to include police brutality, underemployment, failures in social services and inadequate housing. In the report, ghettos were likened to metropolitan "jungles" where African-Americans faced constant "insecurity and tension" and crime rates that were 35 times worse than statistics experienced in predominately white "high-income" neighborhoods.

Furthermore, the report described "disability of race" -- limited equal opportunity in hiring practices and pervasive discrimination based on a person's skin color -- a level of discrimination that "narrowed opportunities" and "restricted" African-Americans from achieving the American dream.

Moreover, the report states African-American men, regardless of their qualifications, were "three times" as likely as Caucasian men to work in low-pay, service industries and face unemployment rates that were 8.8 times greater than the overall unemployment rate nationally.

The report also criticized the mass media for compounding racial divides and attitudes in news coverage, and contributing to pervasive discriminatory hiring practices.

Chapter 15 of the report, The News Media and the Disorders, explained:

" … Instances of sensationalism, inaccuracy and distortion…the media failed to report adequately on the causes and consequences of civil disorders and on the underlying problems of race relations. They have not communicated to the majority of their audience - which is white - a sense of the degradation, misery and hopelessness of life in the ghetto …"

If racism was a tree, the Kerner Commission not only wanted to cut it down, but rip the roots out of the soil. The commission recommended news organizations would improve coverage of riots and quell mounting racial issues, by improving the hiring practices in U.S. newsrooms and better educating the public on the plight of African-Americans.

The commission recommended media outlets adopt "stringent internal staff guidelines" through the hiring of qualified African-American journalists with familiarity in urban and racial affairs, increase objective media coverage and content and increase police-press relations.

Additionally, the commission recommended that news outlets "recognize the existence and activities of Negroes as a group within the community and as a part of the larger community" through specific "urban and racial affairs" programming and newspaper articles. This resulted in an increase in qualified African-American journalists entering mainstream U.S. newsrooms, to the benefit of many previously excluded qualified applicants: African-American former military journalists.

"There was still push back, but news hiring managers learned the only way to get the story and get close to what was happening was to hire reporters from those [African-American] communities," Brock said.

"This was when the push was really on within the civil rights movement for white [mainstream] daily newspapers to hire African-Americans and I was hired by the Dayton Daily News," Delaney said.

"It took me five years to finally be hired by a mainstream newspaper. And it was then that I said 'I'm on my way in journalism.'"

America's transformative media landscape

Regardless of the pressure from the government in equal opportunity and access in the late 1960s, Brock, Delaney and Payne said they believe the military set them apart from their African-American peers early.

Not only did they have the journalistic ability to communicate with clarity, precision and accuracy, but they also had boldness all three men attribute to the military: patience, persistence, and the ability to take risks as news leaders following the release of the Kerner report.

"Those of us who were hired in token numbers were aggressive, and the strong and smart editors were influenced by reporters like us who insisted that we could make a difference in the industry," said Payne.

In late 1975, Brock, Delaney and Payne would continue what the Kerner Report started as part of the 44 founders of the National Association of Black Journalists, further challenging discriminatory practices in media coverage, bias and hiring practices.

"I was able to establish a reputation as a leader among my civilian peers and superiors because of my military training," said Payne, now 74. "It was in the military as an officer that I practiced, perfected, honed, developed and rounded out my basic leadership skills. The military helped me professionally immensely."

The former military command information officer would remain in New York City at Newsday for 38 years, serving as a reporter, then moving up the ranks to national editor and assistant managing editor for national and foreign news.

"During my career Newsday won 14 Pulitzer Prizes and of those fourteen I was involved directly as a reporter or an editor in half of them," he said.

Delaney, now 82, would also have multi-decade success at a major U.S. newspaper. He spent 23 years at The New York Times as a national and international reporter. His passion for news and informing the next generation of journalists would earn him a position as chairman of the University of Alabama's journalism department.

But he kept his hand in media serving as an editor for Our World News and a contributing writer for the Baltimore Sun. He said his time in Bordeaux, France, as a young U.S. Army radio broadcaster taught him to seize opportunity, be tolerant and thrive in any circumstance.

Brock, now 83, said he believes the training and enterprising skill he gained as a newspaper editor within the U.S. Air Force is "sorely" needed among journalists in a digital media age where the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet has resulted in a competition of the same story being re-told across multiple platforms.

"It's a challenge," Brock said. "In the military, journalists are trained to produce a product with a goal in mind. More civilian journalists should commit to doing their research, taking risks and having a goal to share knowledge and report on issues, experiences, and stories that aren't being told. Don't just focus on the competition."

Brock has yet to retire. Since 1983, he has produced documentaries on "factual and historical stories that weren't being told" from Hollywood to America's most underrepresented areas.

In relation to profession and the power associated with disseminating information to a transformative audience, Brock offers this: "We are in an era where we can make a difference. Journalists just have to go at it with the right attitude and make it an objective to tell the story that no one else is telling."