(Oakland, Calif.) The influential African American journalist Charles Jackson, a sharp editor and gentle mentor who pushed newspapers nationwide to embrace people of all colors and cultures, died Wednesday, March 7th in San Francisco. He was 55.
Jackson's 35-year career spanned the whole of print journalism, from The Dallas Weekly to The Washington Post, including award-winning coverage at the Oakland Tribune. No matter where he was, he championed newsroom integration, staying in touch with his own personal network of hundreds of journalists -- "my children," he called them, with a roll of his eyes.
"Charles Jackson was not only a great journalist but a great leader in the cause of newsroom equality," said John Quinn, founding editor of USA TODAY and advisory trustee of The Freedom Forum, whose interns Jackson loved to mentor in the program named after Quinn's son, the Chips Quinn Scholars. "He was a first-class practitioner of the idea that you should always look over your shoulder, because someone back there may need help."
Jackson's legacy is a corps of newsmen and women, from novice to veteran, whom he had tutored in "open journalism." These reporters make it their mission to cover all of America, not just its dominant culture and institutions. Jackson taught journalists to go outside of the mainstream, to seek diverse perspectives in coverage, and to fight for these ideals in every newsroom and every media organization.
In 1990, Jackson came to the Bay Area, joining The Oakland Tribune as a part-time copy editor. He became city editor during the ownership of Bob and Nancy Maynard, when the unusually diverse newsroom won more than 150 journalism awards. "Charles kept his news staff focused," said Nancy Maynard. "His professionalism and leadership were invaluable. I don't know what we would have done without him."
Jackson became assistant managing editor when the newspaper was sold to William Dean Singleton. By 1998, he was The Oakland Tribune's editor -- a hands-on leader, working smack in the middle of a busy newsroom, armed with a ubiquitous bag of Fritos and tin of Altoids, cajoling, cheering, doing whatever was necessary to bring out the best in reporters and editors.
Never remote or mean, Jackson knew how to push hard in a loving way. "He would give you shit while boosting you up at the same time," said Martin Reynolds, assistant city editor of the Tribune. "When he was here, the newsroom was that much more alive."
Jackson didn't limit his influence to the news pages. As fastidious in his personal life as in his editing, he once gave former New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporter Bill Celis a half hour lecture on the fine points of making one's bed every day.
This past year, while coping with a onslaught of serious health problems, Jackson reduced his workload: he was the Oakland Tribune's editor-at-large and director of the NewsWatch project for San Francisco State's Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism.
Willis Charles Jackson was born Aug. 3, 1945. He was the first person from I. M.Terrell, an all-black Ft. Worth, Texas, high school, to major in journalism. He attended the predominately white Wichita State University in Kansas, editing the school paper in his sophomore year.
Jackson's desire to bring more people of color into the news business crystallized when, at the age of 21, he looked around his first city room at the Wichita Eagle-Beacon and saw that he, college student, general assignment reporter and editor of the teen section, was the only African American. It was 1966.
"His achievements were held up to the rest of us as an example of what we could achieve," said Bob Ray Sanders, who also attended Terrell and followed Jackson into journalism. "Keep in mind this was a time when most newspapers did not hire black people. Only a handful had ONE black person on their staffs."
Jackson graduated from Wichita State with majors in journalism and English. In 1969, he was hired as the second African American reporter on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Jackson had walked in off the street to apply for a staff position. Shortly into the interview, the personnel director said, "I'm sorry, we don't have any porter jobs available." The ever unflappable Jackson leaned forward in his chair and responded, "No, no, no! You misunderstood. I said RE-porter. RE-porter!"
During the next four years, Jackson became known as a "fast, accurate, helluva" writer at Ft. Worth, also working on the copy desk, Sanders said. He became one of the first teachers for a program that pulled high school students from the Dallas area into the Texas Christian University's Minority Journalism Workshop. He taught there for 13 summers.
After another stint in Wichita as an urban affairs reporter, Jackson's editing career took off: in 1975, he joined the Dallas Times Herald, becoming night city editor; in 1977, he moved up to late news editor at The Washington Post, where he was responsible for the final editing of front-page stories and headlines, and in 1980, he returned to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, becoming deputy metropolitan editor and running the entire 200-journalist news operation.
He became an anchor in the effort to achieve diversity in journalism, bringing solidity, experience and his vast personal network to projects even as he kept his colleagues laughing with a stream of wisecracks and irreverent nicknames.
Jackson dubbed his reporters "the little bastards," letting them know he loved them and that he expected a lot. "Charles had a strong gravitational pull -- he always was surrounded by an entourage," said Lauraine Miller, former co-metropolitan editor at Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "He taught and he mentored by listening, observing, then making suggestions for others to shape and execute."
In 1986, Jackson left daily journalism to become managing editor of The Dallas Weekly, a 50,000-circulation, African American community newspaper. For a brief period, he was a consultant to area theater and media groups, and a substitute teacher in the Fort Worth Independent School district.
He rejoined dailies in 1988 at the Cincinnati Enquirer as a business writer, then lifestyle section copy editor. And in 1990, he came to the Bay Area to head the news bureau in the Office of Public Affairs at San Francisco State University, where he also taught in the journalism department.
Jackson left SF State to join Bob and Nancy Maynard's Oakland Tribune, with its multicultural newsroom, community advisory boards and meet-the-editor's nights, an innovative environment he would later describe in a training workbook, "The Open Newspaper."
"Charles wanted the whole community to know the whole truth about itself, even the hard truths," said former Oakland Tribune managing editor Eric Newton. "He had this dramatic genius for getting people to talk about the things that are hard to talk about. I remember so many stories -- there was one, The Usual Suspects, in which Oakland's leaders told their stories of police discrimination -- but he was interested in life beyond the front page, too. He loved the arts, he loved his friends, and he could be very, very funny."
Jackson stayed at the newspaper as city editor when it was purchased by Alameda Newspaper Group in 1992. A few years later he became director of programs for the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, the nation's premier organization for training journalists of color. There he oversaw the transition of bringing training programs into the digital age.
"He transformed the place," said institute president Dori J. Maynard. "As a teacher he was extraordinary. The proof is in the number of people he taught who continued to call, sometimes on a daily basis, to seek his sage -- and sometimes salty -- advice."
"Chuck always said 'I don't want to be King, I just want to whisper in
the ear of the King," said Erna Smith, San Francisco State University
journalism professor. As a result, Jackson's 'children' comprise a
veritable Who's Who of Journalists of color in America. They include
Paula Madison, general manager of KNBC-TV news in Los Angeles and
Gilbert Bailon, executive editor of the Dallas Morning-News, both of
whom Jackson hired while building a remarkable and diverse staff of
over-achievers at the Star-Telegram. Other Jackson-era alumni include
Evelyn Hernandez who helped found and become president of the National
Hispanic Journalists Association and Bryan Hori, a founding member and
former board member of the Asian American Journalists Association.
In 1999 Jackson received a career achievement award from the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. His dozens of board memberships had included that group, as well as the First Amendment Project, an Oakland-based non-profit legal firm, and the Bay Area Black Journalists Association, which he also had served as president. He was known in those organizations for always having a sophisticated analysis and a practical solution.
"Charles truly made a difference," said Sally Lehrman, national diversity chair for the Society of Professional Journalists. "He has prodded, inspired and guided SPJ both locally and nationally. He would never get discouraged by the seemingly intractable news business and wouldn't let others give up, either. He has been a wise and ready mentor."
Jackson's greatest regret, he told the Oakland Tribune's Peggy Stinnett, is the changing nature of the newspaper business. "Here we are getting highly competent journalists of color in the job pool, and the business is scaling down its hiring. We had 30 years to hire people of color in newsrooms across the United States. We've come a long way, yes, but we still have a long, long way to go."
Jackson departed life in the same creative way that he lived it. He spent his last days in the living room of Coming Home Hospice in San Francisco surrounded by family and close friends. He doled out comfort, advice and a few barbs as a parade of colleagues, "children" and other admirers streamed in to say good-bye. When his wife, Deidra Keels, asked what she should tell people, he said, "News man is dead. I'm down to my last reporter's tablet."
Jackson was preceded in death by his stepfather Carl Jackson and a brother, Oren Jackson. He is survived by his wife, Deidra Keels; his mother, Sadie Margaret Jackson; his father Rev. Elijah Lee; his sister, Margaret Humphrey; a brother, Henry Jackson; his brother-in-law Larry Humphrey; an aunt, several nieces and nephews and his hundreds of children in newsrooms across the nation.
Ground Breaking Black Journalists to Discuss State of the Industry OAKLAND, Calif. --The courageous black journalists who
broke into the mainstream media during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s
will talk about the state of the industry during a forum hosted by the
Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and The Schomburg
Center for Research in Black Culture Thursday, Nov. 9th at the Schomburg
at 7:00 p.m. The Schomburg is located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New
"Though theirs is an important part of our national history, these
stories have until now been largely forgotten. This project will ensure
that these stories have a place in our historical record," said History
Project Director Dori J. Maynard.
Nancy Hicks Maynard, former co-owner of the Oakland Tribune and an
Institute co-founder, will moderate the forum. Panelists include Melba
Toliver, formerly with ABC-TV Channel 7; C. Gerald Fraser, former New
York Times reporter; David Hardy, former New York Daily Newsreporter and Gil Scott, formerly with the Associated Press and the Christian
Science Monitor. The Thursday evening forum launches the joint effort of
the Institute and the Schomburg to create an oral history of these
The Maynard Institute 2000 Editing Program
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Angela Dodson and Paul Mitchell spent much of the winter vigorously working the bugs out of the upcoming Editing Program at the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. The two had much to do -- such as recruiting volunteer editors for the program; fine-tuning the curriculum; touring the new, high-tech computer system that participants will be using when they arrive at the University of California at Berkeley -- and, seemingly, little time to do it.
No matter, though. The heavy workload might have proved daunting to some, but not Dodson or Mitchell. For them, preparing for the annual Editing Program is a labor of love.
"I personally find it rewarding to work with editors coming into the field, to try to instill in them the importance of editing for accuracy and clarity," said Dodson, a New Jersey-based consultant who has spent her time designing the curriculum for the Editing Program. "This program really makes sure they have the skills in place to do the job."
New York Times to Offer "The Caldwell Journals" during Black History Month
OAKLAND, Calif.-- The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education's award-winning "Caldwell Journals" will be available for Black History Month through the New York Times syndicate. Written by legendary journalist Earl Caldwell, the on-line series captures the largely unrecorded history of the role journalists of color played in one of the century's most turbulent and significant eras. The series is the first phase of the Institute's ambitious history project.
This unique on-line serial focuses on events of the 1960s - a decade when urban riots swept through the country and black journalists first came to the nation's newspapers in large significant numbers. The serial not only reveals what it was like for African-Americans who were among the first to work at major newspapers in this country during the 1960s, but it also serve as a historic text for a topic seldom discussed and long forgotten.
"We felt this series was essential because history has shown that if people of color do not tell their story it is at best distorted and at worst discarded," said Institute President A. Stephen Montiel. "The experience of these reporters who were witness to these events give a whole different perspective to a series of defining events in one of the nation's most important decades."
Maynard Institute Board Elects New Chair
OAKLAND, Calif. (January 18, 2000) - Seattle Times columnist Mark N. Trahant has been elected to chair the board of directors of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, an Oakland- based non-profit dedicated to helping news media reflect the nation's diversity.
Trahant, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe of Idaho and also a former president of the Native American Journalists Association, succeeds Akron Beacon Journal Publisher John L. Dotson. Dotson, an institute co-founder, chaired the board from 1993 through 1999. He had previously served as the board's chair for four years.
"John Dotson and, before him, Dorothy Gilliam (of the Washington Post) led us through unprecedented growth in the 1990s, and now we look forward to Mark Trahant's leadership in the new millennium," said Maynard Institute President Steve Montiel.
MIJE Editing Program Returns to UC Berkeley
The Maynard Institute Editing Program begins the new millennium by moving
back to the University of California at Berkeley, where it will train copy
editors in a state-of-the-art newsroom.
The six-week Editing Program will be conducted from May 22 to June 30, 2000,
in a newspaper-quality training newsroom at the UC Berkeley Graduate School
of Journalism. The program, which began at UC Berkeley in 1979 and moved to
the University of Arizona the following year, has trained more than 180
"Moving the Editing Program back to the multicultural, multimedia
environment of the San Francisco Bay Area will enable us to expand
participation in the program and the scope of the training after 19 years of
successful collaboration with the University of Arizona Journalism
Department," said Maynard Institute President Steve Montiel.
"News industry goals for increasing racial diversity in newsrooms and news
coverage underscore the importance of the Editing Program as a time-tested
source of African American, Latino, Asian American and Native American
editors," Montiel said. "We will continue to emphasize mastery of the
fundamentals of good editing while preparing participants for leadership in
the 21st century."