Meet the man behind the popular “Journal-isms” column

By Richard Horgan – August 22, 2012

Earlier this spring, veteran journalist Richard Prince marked the 40th anniversary of his landmark efforts against discriminatory practices at the Washington Post with a reunion of the so-called “Metro Seven.”

The seven African-American “Metro” section reporters filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the Post in March of 1972, charging the paper with “denying Black employees an equal opportunity with respect to job assignments, promotional opportunities, including promotions to management positions and other terms and conditions of employment.” Although the EEOC voted against pursuing the case and the “Metro Seven,” for financial reasons, did not take it to federal court, their actions were credited with triggering a similar complaint by female Post employees, which was settled in 1980.

Today, Prince remains a champion of diversity in the media. Just a few months after the “Metro Seven” event, he marked the 10th anniversary of his three-times-a-week “Journal-isms” column for the Maynard Institute. Mediabistro recently caught up with Prince via telephone from his home office in Alexandria, VA to revisit some highlights from a remarkable and still robust reporter’s life.



Position: Diversity issues columnist, The Maynard Institute
Resume: Started at the Star-Ledger in New Jersey in 1967 before moving on to the Washington Post and, in 1979, joining the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester. Chairs the diversity committee of the Association of Opinion Journalists and moderates the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) listserv. Founding editor of Black College Wire.
Birthday: July 26
Hometown: Roosevelt, NY
Education: Undergraduate degree in journalism, NYU
Marital status: Single
Favorite TV show: Mad Men
Guilty pleasure: People (as in individuals, not the magazine)
Media idol: “Not idol, but I am definitely an admirer of Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist”
Last book read: The Promise: President Obama, Year One, by Jonathan Alter
Twitter handle: @princeeditor


When and how did you begin your illustrious journalism career?
My first full-time job was in Newark, New Jersey at the Star-Ledger. I was working there while I was in school in the mid 1960s on the weekends and in the summer. I was there when they had the Newark riots in 1967. I was still in school, but I was covering it. There were three black journalists there; one of them was an editorial aide. And one of our assignments was to get the mood of the black community at that time, in the summer of 1967. In the middle of our taking the temperature, the riots broke out. So, we were able to do a piece that looked at why the riots happened. When I graduated, I went to the Washington Post, and not long after [the Newark riots] there were riots in D.C. after the Martin Luther King assassination.

What was it like to be part of the “Metro Seven”?
It was a harbinger of other such cases that took place at other publications, including Newsweek and The New York Times, regarding not only black journalists, but women journalists, to both increase the numbers of these groups and equalize the pay scale. We never went to court, but after our efforts there was another case at the New York Daily News that did.

I think a lot of it was institutional racism. That is, too much of ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ If it hadn’t been for the climate that led to the riots, I wouldn’t have had either of those two jobs [at Star-Ledger and Washington Post] probably. It was just the unrest in the black community and the Kerner Report, which came out in 1968 and generated a lot of media coverage about two nations, one black and one white. And, at the time, the media was one of the big contributors to this, because of its lack of diversity. So, it was very gratifying to play a role in that whole transition.

“The biggest issue for African-African journalists is probably the same as it is for all journalists: the implosion of the print newspaper world and being employed.”

What led you to create “Journal-isms”?
It began in the early 1990s as a print column for the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) newspaper, which is now a magazine, called the NABJ Journal. I was co-editor of that, and we had a column that we created to sort of be a repository for all the stuff that couldn’t be a complete story. We called it “Journal-isms” after the name of the publication.

That ran until about 1998, and in 2002 Dori Maynard, the president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, asked me if I would write a column for the institute, because she was dissatisfied at the time with Jim Romenesko’s column for the Poynter Institute. He was the only one aggregating media news — it was called “Media Gossip” at first before he went to Poynter — but he didn’t have much about people of color, and she thought those issues deserved to also be reported on.

What kind of traffic does “Journal-isms” receive?
It mostly depends on what other reporters and organizations link to it, and, when we talk about the lack of diversity in the media in general, it’s also true about the lack of diversity in media columns. In other words, “Journal-isms” does not get linked to by a lot of the predominantly white news sites. We’re not on their radar screen and we’re not important to them.

Just like the Maynard Institute, which was started in 1977, my focus is multicultural: African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Native Americans. And one of the institute’s founders also is the late Leroy Aarons, who worked at the Post in the 1970s and later went on to found the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. So, my column is about all those groups.

We’ve found that the Internet is just as segregated as the mainstream media. Though it provides many new opportunities for bloggers and such, that doesn’t equal full-time employment or the ability to pay your rent. Then there’s also the fact that some of the major online media presences are segregating African-Americans and Hispanics within their own website.As the moderator for the NABJ members’ listserv, what discussion topics do you find these days to be flashpoints?

The biggest issue for African-African journalists is probably the same as it is for all journalists: the implosion of the print newspaper world and being employed. Overriding that is, of course, the issue of diversity. The whole nation is changing and becoming browner, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) has the goal of making the proportion of people of color on newspaper staffs parallel to the proportion of the United States population. But, instead of racing towards that parity, we’re actually shrinking from it and becoming less diverse. And that’s what on people’s minds.

“An undergraduate degree in journalism gives you a leg up in terms of the contacts that you make.”

When did you stop copy editing for the Washington Post?
They eliminated my copy desk in 2008. All newspapers are looking for ways to economize and the Post was no different. In fact, some places are now doing without copy editors completely. The Denver Post, for example, did the whole Aurora shooting story without any copy editors, which was amazing. I still believe in copy editing, and Journal-isms is copy edited. You can tell when blogs are not copy edited, and I pride myself on Journal-isms being thoroughly copy edited.

From your vantage point, what is an example of a regional newspaper doing a really good job of using the Internet?
The one that comes to mind is Q City Metro in Charlotte. It’s an African-American focused, Web-only operation, and it does a very good job of sticking to its articulated core values, which are “Accuracy. Excellence. Integrity. Innovation.”

If someone asks about whether to take journalism as an undergraduate degree focus, what do you tell them?
I would say, yes, do it, because I got an undergraduate degree in journalism. Primarily, it gives you a leg up in terms of the contacts that you make. That’s how I got that first job in New Jersey. I was at the Society of Professional Journalists, they were having an induction ceremony, and the editor of the Star-Ledger came to the ceremony. We struck up a conversation, and that started me on the path to that first job. In fact, that’s also how my next job at the Post came about. They had a reporter call the journalism department at NYU and sort of say, “Who do you have?”



Richard Horgan is co-editor of FishbowlLA.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.