Dallas Times Herald Closing Concerns Blacks

They say the 112-year old paper put minority issues on front burner

THE shutdown of the Dallas Times Herald this week has left blacks and Hispanics apprehensive.Traditionally the 112-year-old newspaper was perceived as caring about minorities, who in turn made up much of its readership. The rival Dallas Morning News was regarded as serving white businessmen. Some prominent members of the city's minority communities diverge over whether those old perceptions are valid or obsolete. Either way, though, they valued the Times Herald as an alternative voice to that of the Morning News on political and social issues. The question of whether minorities can trust the Morning News has taken on new importance since the Times Herald stunned its readers Monday with its bolt-from-the-blue "Goodbye, Dallas!" headline. The newspaper ceased publication with that issue, prevented by the recession from carrying on the war for readers and advertisers that it had been losing to the Morning News for several years. A. H. Belo Corporation, which owns the Morning News and several television stations, bought the assets of the Times Herald for $55 million. To Roy Bode, who worked at the Times Herald for the better part of 20 years and was its editor for the last three, the paper's reputation for serving the minority community is well-deserved. "We were known as a champion of people who need champions," he says. "We were a friend of the underdog, the disadvantaged." He credits the Times Herald for not merely covering, but discovering, issues of importance to minorities and publicizing them. And his newspaper was doing so long before others began to, Mr. Bode says, noting a Times Herald series several decades ago that investigated a pattern of deaths of ethnic minority individuals while in police custody. "These are things people didn't write about in this state in the 1970s," Bode says. "We put it on the state's agenda." Another reason minorities had an affinity for the Times Herald was that it hired them and put them in prominent positions. The staff ratio of 18 percent minorities - up from 8 percent when he became editor - was one of the highest in the nation for major newspapers, he says. As for its editorial page, "I wouldn't call us liberal measured against the Boston Globe," he says. He considered the Times Herald to be moderate where the Morning News was conservative, citing his paper's endorsement of Democratic candidate Ann Richards for governor. The Morning News backed Republican candidate Clayton Williams. The Rev. Zan Holmes, minister of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church and well-respected member of the black community in Dallas, regretted the loss of the Times Herald because it had provided "somewhat of a different viewpoint that provided a healthy basis for discussion." But Mr. Holmes felt that in the past several years it had become more conservative and less distinguishable from the Morning News, which also has "evolved" since the 1950s, when it alienated blacks. No longer do blacks joke about the newspaper doing "our annual article" on issues of importance to them. "I really have mixed emotions about that paper [the Morning News]. They have done some good investigative reporting on some important issues," he says, including housing discrimination, racial polarization, and police brutality. He notes that the Morning News also has promoted some African-Americans into senior positions. On the other hand, for months blacks have been conducting a daily protest against WFAA, which has the same owner as the Morning News, over its hiring practices. And Holmes was very disappointed by that paper's endorsements for City Council. It backed all of the incumbent white candidates except one who was expected to lose because his district had become majority black. The Morning News opposed the two incumbent black candidates (one of whom was also opposed by the Times Herald). That pattern of endorsements also concerns Adelfa Callejo, a lawyer who chairs the local coalition of Hispanic organizations. She notes that blacks and Hispanics now make up just over half of the population of Dallas proper, yet this majority, she worries, won't be represented by the city's sole major newspaper. Ms. Callejo says that when Hispanic leaders finally persuaded the editorial board of the Morning News to get an Hispanic editorial writer, "he was to the right of Reagan." "We've relied on the Times Herald for fairness and balance," she says. Burl Osborne, editor and publisher of the Morning News, comments that the newspaper tries to be impartial and independent. It's not pro-business, but some fault it for not being anti-business, he says. Still, for many in Dallas, the loss of the Times Herald won't be easy to get over. "A lot of people truly loved the Times Herald," says Elliott Stephenson, assistant executive director of the Dallas Urban League. "You really don't know what you're losing," he adds. "You can read what is there, but you can't read what isn't there."

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