My last Sun-Times Column Not in The Sun-Times — “50 Cent a Word: Diary of A Freed Black Journalist”

The Backstory:

On Nov. 25, John Fountain resigned as a columnist after Sun-Times Executive Editor Jennifer Kho told him in a telephone conversation that she would not run a column he had written after he did not agree to one of her two revisions or revise that column in the way she had suggested. The editor's revised versions included restructuring of Fountain’s original column as well as revised sentences and the insertion of the editor’s own words. Fountain subsequently published that column, a tribute to the life and memory of a former journalism student Aaron Lee, on Fountain’s website.

Days after resigning verbally, Fountain sent two other Sun-Times editors a letter on Nov. 29 about the exchange with Sun-Times Executive Editor Kho. One of those editors followed up with Fountain by telephone, saying that Fountain, who has written a column as a freelance journalist for the Sun-Times since January 2010, would be allowed to write a final farewell column. After Fountain submitted that column Friday, Dec. 2, that editor called again to inform Fountain that the executive editor had made the decision to not run it. 

The column, as Fountain wrote it, with a few minor insertions, appears below. The print in italics represents excerpts from the aforementioned letter Fountain wrote to Sun-Times editors after resigning.

Aaron T. Lee: A Life and A Dream Fulfilled

By John W. Fountain
Aaron Timothy Lee, director and producer of
Dream Chaser, which airs this weekend
on Marquee Sports Network, starting
Friday, Nov. 25, at 7 p.m. CST

“I got you. Don’t worry, Professor Fountain. I got you.” I can still hear his words. “Thee Aaron Lee.” 

That’s what I called him. For that is how Aaron often referred to himself, almost in third-person while beaming and flashing his big white toothy smile, his eyes shining with the delight of a schoolboy who dreamt of someday becoming a professional sports reporter in this his hometown.

I first glimpsed that smile in what now seems like a lifetime ago, and after countless emails, texts and letters, office chats and telephone conversations shared between professor and student, mentor and mentee. Still hear the excitement in his voice, always detectable even when Aaron tried to bury the lead while delivering the latest news of some new job, journalism project or award. 

Aaron has some really big news this week. And I know he would call or text or email so that I could shout it from the rafters, celebrate. If he could... 

We both knew this day would come. That time waits for no man. It is a truth that Aaron arrived at in life much earlier than I did.

He was always young at heart. A dream chaser. 

A River Runs Between Us, But It Doesn't Have To

Ancestral Slave River in Assin Manso in Ghana is the historic site where shackled Africans
were forced to bathe before making the final journey to slave castles
John Fountain standing in Slave 
River in Ghana.
By John W. Fountain
I see brother turn against brother, Black man against Black man. Witness this perennial crabs-in-a-bucket mentality in which we continually cannibalize each other here in America in the streets, in public pages, on social media in various venues--entertainment, political and otherwise. And my mind drifts back to Africa, where centuries ago brother sold brother into slavery to the European.

I see us slaying each other today, by words and misdeeds, by the tongue and by gun, leaving a carnage of strange fruit in Urban streets. Divided by the self-hate rooted in Africa, where Africans slew Africans, instigated tribal wars to capture indigenous men, women and children in exchange for guns, ammunition, liquor, for trinkets and a semblance of power. 

Peace, Love & A Fragile Hope

Khalil White-EL, 18, was previously a member of The Faith Community of St. Sabina’s Brave Youth Program and most recently in the church’s Strong Futures Mentoring Program, where he was a mentee. He had recently landed a new job and was sharing his excitement about it with mentors Friday (August 19, at St. Sabina’s back-to-school Block Party held at Renaissance Park, at 1300 W. 79th Street, near the church. According to police, Khalil was fatally shot four days later on August 23, in an alley in the 8700 block of South Wabash Avenue, about three miles from St. Sabina.  (Photo: Provided)

By John W. Fountain

Peace. Into the night, the children smile. Their voices rise above the steady whir of bouncy house fans and the deep incurable pain that is not as easily detectable here, though its presence too is undeniable. Like the water that ripples in soft waves at a nearby park fountain. 

Like the mothers of murdered sons and daughters who don “Purpose Over Pain” T-shirts--decades of grief shared between them. Like the enthusiasm of Khalil White-EL, 18, who bubbles with excitement over his new job--his future as bright as his infectious smile. 

Peace. It flows here, on an August Friday night at Renaissance Park on West 79th Street. Drifting upon a premature autumn wind is a sense of the way life is supposed to be, even on this side of Chicago, where gunfire and murder confiscate childhood.

"Don’t we all bleed the same? Doesn’t every human soul carry the same worth?"

It's Time

John W. Fountain as a Cubs reporter at the Chicaho Tribune circa  1991

They say that "the people" appreciate my pen as a voice of Chicago. I pray this is true.

It has been my joy and honor for the last nearly 13 years as a freelance columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. I do not know where my pen will land. But know this: I will continue speaking truth with purpose and passion as I seek to tell "our" stories with all my heart--as I have for the last 30-plus years as a journalist at places like the New York Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune.

But there comes a time when every writer/journalist must treat themselves with the respect their work and craft rendered deserves. 

I've always lived by: Never Internalize Their Disrespect.

I now say: "Never Accept Their Disrespect"

Thank you, everyone, for your support, love and even your criticisms over these years. This is not goodbye from my pen but the start of a new beginning, even if the road and destination are, for now, unclear. 

But God.

A Google search will always find me or my website:

I will be writing. I pray you will keep reading.

John W. Fountain


By John W. Fountain
ACCRA. CAPITAL CITY. POPULATION 2.6 MILLION. Forty journalism students, one goal: To tell the stories of everyday people. From its bustling boisterous markets. To the relentless entrepreneurial merchants who hawk their wares in perilous streets that buzz with motorists and merciless motorbikes that dart recklessly between traffic. To the faithful “Kayaye”—the young women who work as head porters, carrying more than their weight on their heads and a small child tied in a cloth on their backs.
"The consensus around here is that whatever superlatives may be used to describe Ghana, one must also interject the word, 'hard.'"
This is their story. It is a story of the rhythms of life and in this time. The story of a people whose hardship alone is not enough to dissuade them from viewing life through the prism of possibility, even when sweat is dripping like raindrops from their brow, their backs aching from carrying their burdens in the heat of the day, their fingers stretched, their feet wearied and worn, and another day’s journey of toil for little pay awaiting at the light of each new sunrise. 

Fountain Wins Top Honors in Chicago Headline Club LIsagor Awards

WestSide Press celebrates Chicago native son John W. Fountain, freelance columnist, named 1st Place Winner of this year’s Chicago Headline Club’s 45th Annual Peter Lisagor Awards for Best News Column, Editorial Writing or Commentary. Fountain won for his work on three selected columns: the Unforgotten 51 women, “Chicago Bleeds” and Jelani Day.

"What Am I, Chopped Liver?"

By John W. Fountain

My wife was simmering with indignation, holding the newspaper she had just retrieved that morning a few years ago from our mailbox—the newspaper I had written for as a freelance columnist for the previous seven years. “Hmph, will you look at this…”

I looked at the front page, eager to see the object of her anger. There it was, an above the banner header. The faces of the newspaper’s top columnists: Eight white men, three white women, one black woman. No black men. No not one. 

No John Fountain. 

An all-star opinion writer’s line-up, it was anchored by the moniker: “The voices of Chicago. …They’ll get you talking.”

Honestly, I stood silently in our bedroom, ingesting it all, not sure what to say. It stung, rekindling a familiar ache. But after a career in journalism, I have grown accustomed to the bumps and bruises and perceived slights that accompany “Reporting While Black.” I have come to understand that I can’t afford to be “too sensitive,” to be too in my feelings, less I become incapacitated for the mission.
"The more I reported and wrote the more I could hear in my own writing the chorus of voices too often forgotten, neglected or ignored by the mainstream press..."

Reporting While Black II

The West Side of Chicago burned in April 1968 after news of Dr. King's assassination. The Kerner Commission Report a month earlier concluded: "By and large, news organizations have failed to communicate to both their black and white audiences a sense of the problems America faces and the sources of potential solutions. The media report and write from the standpoint of a white man’s world." 

By John W. Fountain

Guilty. I am guilty of driving, walking and breathing while black. And like many of my African-American journalism colleagues, I have also borne, in the heat of the night, the weight of “reporting while black.”

I have carried that weight of the skin I am in. The awareness that there were those who believed that because I am Black I was somehow “less than,” not up to snuff, as a journalist.

Reporting While Black: A Work in Progress

"Reporting While Black"

When I arrived at the Chicago Tribune in fall 1989, I soon discovered, that like myself, many Black reporters were degreed up and interned to the hilt. And yet, we were still deemed incompetent until proven competent. White reporters, some of them with no college degree at all, became national and foreign correspondents, ascended to the paper's top management positions.