The Godfather Is Gone. Amos H. Lynch: 1925 – 2015

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Amos Lynch was a true social justice warrior.

Tomorrow the National Association of Black Journalists holds its annual convention/group therapy session in Minneapolis.    I will not be there.   I attended my last NABJ convention in 2011 and didn’t renew my membership in 2013.

Last week, one man who was one of my greatest inspirations as well as someone who did a lot to convince me journalism was truly my calling in life was laid to rest.  His name was Amos H. Lynch and he was the undisputed Godfather of Black Journalism in Columbus, Ohio.

A few of the attendees will know why and how he earned that title.  Most won’t, but such is the state of the business today.  Yesterday’s icons are as swiftly forgotten as yesterday’s news, if they were ever known at all.

Long before I became a blogger I was a journalist and I still think like one.   Blogging is for most the work of a soloist.   Journalism means you’re part of a band and everyone has to play their part.

Journalism is a collaboration and if you can’t work as part of a team, you’re not going to be much good at it. Particularly not if you are working for a newspaper.  In 1999, I walked away from the security of a state job for an opportunity to pursue my life’s calling after Mr. Lynch, the publisher of the Columbus Post.   The former editor-in-chief of the Call & Post had left that paper to start one of his own and before too long the city had a new press war going on but since it was happening between the Black-oriented papers,  the mainstream media mostly ignored it.

They couldn’t ignore Mr. Lynch though.   I’d go into his office and he would be working the phone.   Calling up community leaders, prodding politicians to take out a larger ad, placating a ruffled reader and otherwise being extremely busy supporting his favorite causes, dogging out his rivals, promoting events such as the annual MLK Breakfast, and being the Presence that made the big boys in Downtown Cowtown take his calls when he was on the line.

You don’t disrespect The Godfather.

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Amos Lynch, former editor of The Call & Post and publisher of the Columbus Post

Nothing about Mr. Lynch (as I referred to him then and now) reminded me of Don Corleone except they were both men who commanded respect based on their reputation.  He could be kind and gentle, but Mr. Lynch had his stern, no-nonsense side when it came to The Columbus Post.  At the Call and Post,  he worked for someone else.  Now he was running his paper and he wouldn’t hesitate to tell a reporter or contributor who hadn’t delivered what he wanted where they had fallen short.

I came to the Post after Mr. Lynch had broken away from his old publication to start his own weekly newspaper.    Leaving the stability of a steady paycheck with the state for a struggling start-up paper that had problems making payroll and never got much support from advertisers was a risky proposition, but it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.  I was hired as a reporter and I left as the editor-in-chief.  I worked hard and spent many a Tuesday night going into the wee hours of Wednesday morning putting the next edition together.

Becoming the editor was never something I aspired to.  I wanted to be a reporter and go after the news than stay in the office and make sure the right news went into the right places.   I killed off long-running columns and beats and opened up the opinion page to voices I felt were missing from the paper.   I went after gay and lesbians,  conservatives and others in the Black community the Post had shut out and ignored.   This caused Mr. Lynch some heartburn such as the time when a radical lesbian wrote a column and some of the ministers got their nose out of joint.   He called me into his office and said, “Winbush,  you can’t have that woman on the opinion page again.”

I protested a bit, but I didn’t go to war over it.   After all, It was his paper,  While he let me run it pretty much the way I wanted there was only so much change he was going to go for.

Without my time at the Post I would not have formed friendships that endure to this day.   Charles Farmer was my closest ally at the paper and though he covered the sports desk he could have handled any beat you gave him.  Someone at ESPN, Sports Illustrated or USA Today should have snatched him up a long time ago but that’s a common theme to working in the Black press.  The talent pool is deep and wide.  Kim Tolley, was a rival reporter at the C&P, but to this day is one of the smartest and most dedicated reporters I’ve ever met.   We both kept a watchful eye on what the other were doing at the two weeklies.   We would scoop them and then they would scoop us.   There were no losers as the competition only made both papers better.

The connecting thread between almost all the Black press in Columbus is if you didn’t work for Amos Lynch you knew who he was  and you knew what he had done.    Among those celebrating his life is Wil Haygood, former Washington Post reporter and author of several books  The Butler: A Witness to History which was adapted into the film The Butler,  told the Columbus Dispatch, “I recall having to rewrite stories to get them up to speed, but it was the first job that I had where I was paid to write, so I will always look back upon my time under his tutelage as being very important.”

I know what Haygood means because I feel the same way.   Mr. Lynch was a giant of journalism, a crusader for civil rights and social justice, and simply a gentleman. It was a privilege to have known and worked for Mr. Lynch. He was the Godfather of Black Media and we will never, ever see his kind again.    I hope they take a few minutes at the NABJ convention to mention the man’s name.

Amos H. Lynch, Sr., left, is helped to the podium by long-time friend Angela Pace, right, who was mistress of ceremonies, to give a few words of thanks after being inducted into the Civil Rights Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse Atrium Thursday, October 13, 2011. (Dispatch photo by Shari Lewis)

Amos H. Lynch, Sr., being inducted into the Civil Rights Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse Atrium Thursday in 2011. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Shari Lewis)

A Strained Relationship Between Obama and the Black Press.

 

Has Obama turned a blind eye to the Black press?

Is the bromance between Obama and the Black press over?

Human beings have the unfortunate habit of looking at their own circumstances, incorrectly blaming others for problems of their own making and complaining bitterly it’s the other guy who needs to clean up the act.

Recently, George Curry, editor of the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA), took the easy route and griped how President Obama had shown “disrespect” for the Black press.

“There is a disrespect for the black press that we have not seen in recent years. For example, we have requested — every year — an interview with the president. He can ignore 200 black newspapers and 19 million viewers but he can give one to every stupid white comedian there is on TV, the black ones and the white ones, and has time for all types of buffoonery but they will not respect the black press enough to give us an interview,” Curry said on TVOne’s “NewsOneNow with Roland Martin.”

It’s understandable Curry is bent if Obama opts to talk to a “stupid White comedian” like  Zach Galifianakis and not him, but he underestimates his own importance and misunderstands than in the final push to get the Obamacare enrollment numbers over the top,  the smarter media strategy is to plow resources into a You Tube video that garnered  11 million views of the video, and a 40 percent spike in traffic to Healthcare.gov from the day before.

That doesn’t happen in an interview with The Oklahoma Eagle or any other Black newspaper.    Old media takes it on the chin yet again from new media.   You’d think they’d be accustomed to it by now.

Black want more meetings with Obama like this one in 2010 (Credit: Chuck Kennedy/White House)

Black want more meetings with Obama like this one in 2010 (Credit: Chuck Kennedy/White House)

The president is no different from most of Black America.   The problem isn’t the president pays no attention to the Black press. The problem is the Black press gives him no reason he should.   Their clout within the Black community has withered and faded in the face of competition from Twitter, hip-hop web sites,  bloggers, podcasting and the rest of social media.

Obama does need to spend a little more time with the Black press and throw them a bone now and then to make them happy,  but he didn’t need them in this fight. Black folks are three times in favor of healthcare reform. It was White folks–specifically YOUNG White folks he needed to recruit. The Black press can’t even deliver young Black folks. Obama would get more attention from an interview with World Star Hip-Hop than the Chicago Defender.    The support for Obamacare by Blacks is three times that of Whites.   Clearly the White House doesn’t believe it needed Curry and company to sell the program to Black America.

If the Black press feels disrespected it earned that disrespect.   Most of its wounds are self-inflicted and chief among them are a failure to adapt to both changing demographics, embrace the technological innovations that could have resuscitated it and enabled it to thrive in the 21st century, but that takes money and the willingness to try something new and different.   I haven’t seen a lot of publishers in the NNPA who aren’t convinced yet their problems are due to a failure to adapt and that is why they don’t matter all that much.

Black journalism has a proud history and a sketchy future.  The audience they need to thrive is made of up young people who don’t read Black newspapers, don’t see how it is relevant to their lives and can smell the musky, antiquated thinking and unwillingness to meet them where they are.

As a former editor and reporter of the Columbus Post newspaper, I saw first-hand the push-and-pull between the reporters, editors, photographers, and staffers who were committed to creating a quality product and the publishers who were more interesting in protecting their turf, currying favor with favorite politicians, pushing their pet projects, schmoozing with old cronies, nursing grudges and settling scores with other prominent people in the Black community.

The tragedy is there has never been a greater need for a healthy, robust, dynamic and energized Black Press. Many of the advances made by African-Americans are under assault by a hostile Republican Congress, a fickle and unprincipled Democratic Party, right-wing activists from the Tea Party to the U.S. Supreme Court.   Now more than ever the Black Press is needed to tell our truth to our people and now more than ever it seems unprepared for the task.

If Bams gives the Black press the “sit at the little kids table” treatment, what have they done to earn a place with the adults?  Not historically. but from a contemporary and serious journalism perspective.  Break any major stories? Do any enterprise or investigative stories lately? Earn any Pulitzer Prize nominations?

Politicians and the press maintain a relationship of mutual need  that at times has to become adversarial.   Curry, Martin and the Black press wants more respect from Obama they need to realize they need to do more to get it.   Simply grumbling over the Obama Administration making them them sit at the little kids table doesn’t cut it.   They need to raise their game as journalists to a point where even the president realizes it is politically advantageous to keep the Black press in the loop.   Right now there’s no particular price to pay for Obama if he doesn’t set out the good china and seat them at the grown-ups table.

The president can do better but so can the Black press.

Martin wants more face time with President Obama, but will he get it?

 

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