Journalism needs Palmers and Jarretts

Chicago Defender Editorial on why Journalism needs more Palmers and Jarretts for the 21st

In the last four months, the Black journalism world, and
Chicago in particular, lost two esteemed colleagues in
Vernon Jarrett and Lu Palmer. The latter died Sunday night
of pneumonia, and it was cancer that took the life of the
former in May.

What made these two men remarkable wasn’t just their
ability to take the English language and use it to effect
change in this city, nation and world, but that they had
the heart of great civil rights champions like Frederick
Douglass, A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr.
Both men subscribed to the admonition of Douglass as he
lay dying, “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!”

What Palmer and Jarrett understood was that wielding the
pen of a journalist or twirling the microphone was a
weapon that could not treated lightly. Instead, they made
it a point to wield their work tools to cultivate and
nurture a growing political, social and economic movement
that has produced one of the smartest, richest and most
politically connected generation this city and nation has
ever seen. They championed the causes that needed to be
discussed; held Black leadership accountable to the
masses; and wasn’t willing to back down when confronting
the white political and business establishment, even to
their personal detriment.

But what may be so sad about their deaths is that the
mission that they stood for may also die with them. Today,
the fire and passion that seemed to ooze from their bodies
is missing in most of today’s Black journalists. No longer
are Black journalists limited to honing their craft in
places like the Chicago Defender, Los Angeles Sentinel,
Houston Informer or the countless other Black newspapers
that told the stories that were ignored or marginalized in
mainstream media. Now, Black journalists flock to major
daily newspapers and magazines that 40 years ago would’ve
trashed their resumes. Listening to many of these same
journalists, it seems that they choose to cloak themselves
in objectivity and distance when discussing their roles as
journalists. Some even go as far as removing themselves
from any active participation in Black causes. While it is
important that stories be presented with balance, fairness
and from a position of facts, that doesn’t mean a sense of
identity and purpose must also be cast aside in the name
of journalism.

Whether it is accepted or not, Black journalists must
continue to serve a vital role in ensuring that “our”
stories are treated with respect and dignity in mainstream
media, as well advocate fiercely when those they are being
ignored. If they don’t speak up and speak out, then the
likelihood that the interests of Black America being left
out is likely.

If Black journalists wish to show proper respect to the
likes of Lu Palmer and Vernon Jarrett, don’t bother with
grand speeches, scholarship funds, and memorials. Pick up
the baton they have so
gently carried and run a good race for the next generation
of crusading journalists.


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