Robert Maynard, a model and inspiration to all ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

August 23, 1993|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON --When Robert Maynard, former editor and publisher of the Oakland Tribune and the first African-American ever to own a major city daily, died the other day at 56, a host of memories rushed forth.

As colleagues in Washington in the 1960s when Bob Maynard first toiled for the Washington Post as a reporter, we remember the lively and sometimes acrimonious discussions and debates that went on in that and other newsrooms over blacks in daily journalism.

Post management prided itself in being in the forefront of hiring black reporters, and some of the best, including Bill Raspberry and Wallace Terry, were already in place when Maynard arrived, so he was not quite a pioneer.

But he had a presence, both physically and intellectually, that marked him as a leader. He joined the newsroom argument already going on, not simply on affirmative action hiring policies but also on how black reporters, once hired, were used.

Maynard's predecessors at the Post and on other newspapers had already demonstrated their special value through access to sources and acceptability among urban blacks during massive race riots in Watts and other cities. Maynard joined that corps and was a standout street reporter when the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April, 1968, set Washington aflame. He fed eyewitness reports over a car radio to the Post newsroom that sparkled in their crispness and vitality.

But Maynard was far more than a riot reporter. Even as he helped argue the case that black reporters should be more than designated hitters in scenes of racial unrest, he branched out into other fields of reporting and social commentary that had little or nothing to do with his skin color.

At the same time, he pressed the newspaper, and newspapers generally, to report from a perspective of the black community that was largely being ignored or short-suited. The Post, which at an earlier time had followed the general mainstream newspaper practice of ignoring news of its black community, began to pay much more attention.

These developments spurred by Maynard and others did not sit well with many white reporters who complained that some reporters fell short in journalistic skills but were hired anyway because they were black. The old argument that they needed experience ran smack into the reality that many newspapers were reluctant to offer that experience.

But Maynard, who himself was a high-school dropout, managed to land a job on the York, Pa., Gazette and Daily News, toiled for six years, won a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard and went to the Post.

By the mid-1970s, when we had our closest contacts with him, he was an unqualified star -- not only an icon among the paper's other young black reporters but among the most respected men in the newsroom to everyone else. His example put a severe crimp in the complaints of reverse discrimination that still could be heard from some white reporters, usually of mediocre caliber.

Maynard went on to the rarefied atmosphere of the Post editorial board, the heavy thinkers of the newspaper who churned out its daily voice on major issues of the day, and for a time he was the paper's ombudsman, dealing with barbs fired at it as its coverage of the Watergate scandal unfolded on its pages.

After he went to Oakland in 1979, we saw him only occasionally, but on those occasions he was full of enthusiasm not only for enterprising new projects he was undertaking but for news about what we, and Washington generally, were up to.

In due time, his wit and wisdom became available in a syndicated column and on the network television talk shows. But his major contribution clearly was the example he set, and not only for the host of young black reporters to whom he was a special inspiration.

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