"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.