|June 29, 2000
The Hurt Between the Lines
A Newsroom Divides After a Healing Series on Race
By DANA CANEDY
AKRON, Ohio -- Swept up in the rush of New York
City, Carl Chancellor and Bob Dyer looked like any
other tourists that bright May weekend in 1994. There
they were, snapping pictures at the Statue of Liberty,
savoring Jamaican food at a trendy restaurant, clinking beer
bottles and wineglasses in heady toasts back at their hotel.
But more than simply tourists, they were colleagues out on the
town celebrating. In the long months that had led them to New
York, Mr. Chancellor and Mr. Dyer were part of a team of
reporters for The Akron Beacon Journal that had explored the
racial attitudes of this city of 215,000 people. Their series earned
the paper journalism's big award, the Pulitzer Prize.
The two had gone to New York to bring the medal home.
Back in Akron, there were Champagne showers and
congratulatory speeches for a staff that had united behind the
series and gloried in having been a healing force in the city,
organizing and promoting projects to bring the races together.
The Beacon Journal also tried to lead by example. Shortly after
the series ended, the paper introduced a lineup of columnists
reflecting "the perfect demographic," as Mr. Dyer put it. They
included a black woman and a white woman as well as Mr.
Chancellor, who is black, and Mr. Dyer, who is white.
The Beacon Journal, it seemed, had become a proud model of
racial enlightenment, and the men were at the top of their careers.
Which made it all the more startling when the jubilation began to
The two columnists came to be viewed almost as counterpoints
on race, starting with some explosive columns that divided many
of their colleagues and angered readers. In an especially
polarizing episode last year, the columnists fell out over a single word -- niggardly.
Mr. Chancellor, who is 47, had been sipping coffee in his living room and channel-surfing
through the morning news programs when a voice stopped him cold. Someone was defending
a white District of Columbia official who had come under fire for using the word niggardly in a
budget meeting with a black colleague.
Mr. Chancellor said he felt his temperature rising when the white face looking back at him
through the television screen suggested that any black person who took offense at the word
obviously did not know what it meant. When he reached the newsroom that morning, Mr.
Chancellor was still angry. So he pounded out a column telling readers that he understood why
the debate over niggardly was generating national attention.
Years earlier, a Beacon Journal colleague had said at a union meeting that management was
being niggardly with raises. Mr. Chancellor recalled thinking then that white people toss the
word around too freely, knowing it means stingy but also that it reminds blacks of a far more
"In both cases, the incident in D.C. and my personal experience, the use of the word niggardly
was calculated," he wrote. "It was a sophomoric, smart-alecky and cowardly way to deliver an
insult through the back door."
Not a bad topic for readers to chew on, Mr. Chancellor thought. One of them was Mr. Dyer,
and he could not swallow what his friend was dishing out.
"I think the reaction I had to this column
was, like, 'What? You've got to be
kidding,' and it was very widespread
among people of my color,' " said Mr.
Dyer, 48. "So part of me said, 'Let's get
equal time here.' "
He did, in a rebuttal in the paper's
Sunday magazine. "To defend the firing
of a man who used a word that
somebody misunderstood is to defend
ignorance," Mr. Dyer wrote, noting that
niggardly had an origin different from
that of the word it was being compared
with. "Today, apparently, if you say
'two plus two equals four' and
somebody among the oppressed masses
sincerely believes the answer is five, the
person who said 'four' is wrong."
Mr. Dyer hit the send key on his computer and called Mr. Chancellor to let him know what was
coming. He considered Mr. Chancellor a friend, after all.
As office acquaintances go, the men had gotten to know each other fairly well over the 15 years
they had worked together. Before there were lawns to tend and children to raise, they would
meet after work on the basketball court, maybe share a beer.
"When we were covering baseball games and stuff, and just during lulls, we might talk about
our families and our dreams and aspirations," Mr. Chancellor recalled. But he will not go so
far as to say that he and Mr. Dyer were ever friends. "I guess we tried to stay away from some
of the harder subjects or the more politically controversial subjects," he said.
But that unspoken agreement was fractured by the "niggardly" debate; at the height of it the
men were barely speaking. And the rift extended beyond them.
"I guess the buzz was all around the newsroom that he was writing it," Mr. Chancellor said of
Mr. Dyer, "and people would come by patting him on the back, massaging him, kind of
reading over his shoulder and cheering him on.
"The black folks in the newsroom were upset, and so they called me at home and told me: 'Oh,
you should see what is going on here. Everybody is cheering Bob Dyer on.' "
Mr. Chancellor was not about to let Mr. Dyer dismiss his view in print. So before Mr. Dyer's
response was published, Mr. Chancellor read it, and in an unusual decision, his editors let him
write a rebuttal to the rebuttal that went to press the same day.
"Well, I have been taken to the woodshed not only by my readers, who have called and written
by the score, but also by some of my colleagues," Mr. Chancellor wrote in the later column.
"If I say that I'm offended by the word niggardly being used in my presence, my objection
may make no sense to you, but I have a right to those feelings," he wrote.
"If, for example, you are standing on my toes, it is completely up to me to determine if my foot
is hurting and to what extent."
The Beacon Journal's editor, Janet C. Leach, who is white, now says it was a mistake to let
the columnists slug it out in print. "I don't recall getting involved with this until Carl wrote his
rebuttal, and then I was like, 'Oh, why are we even bothering our readers with this?' "
Even so, she stands by her decision to let Mr. Chancellor throw the last punch. "Bob was
attacking Carl's opinion," Ms. Leach said, "so Carl was allowed to defend his opinion.
Although no more of this."
The columnists have since called a truce. "We were both hot at each other a little bit," Mr.
Chancellor said, "but then it blew over."
Still, the men occasionally wonder whether confronting racially sensitive issues has hurt their
careers. And many among the 157 people on the news staff -- 15 percent of whom are black
and 4 percent other minorities -- say that although the city's racial climate may have improved
because of the series, seven years later the newspaper itself has shown less progress.
A few reporters who worked on the
series still socialize, and some editors say
it made them more attuned to potentially
offensive articles, photographs and
"I was made more aware of some of the
stresses and strains that affect black
people and how what I might do or say
could impact that," said David Hertz, a
Still, some of the staff seems resigned to
the notion that though blacks and whites
may act polite toward one another, they
are still divided by mistrust and
Bonnie Bolden, the metro editor, who is white, summed up the sentiment: "I will never again
say things are fine."
This is a place that just a few years ago was overcome with race religion. Troubled by the state
of race relations, The Beacon Journal had gone further than most newspapers to investigate the
gap between blacks and whites and to understand why it had not closed. It found mistrust and
misperceptions, frustrations and tensions; it even looked inward, discovering much the same in
its own newsroom. It had found, it seemed, a way to talk about race. And yet even here, in a
place where men and women make a living seeking answers to questions and using words
well, communication can break down. And race still seeps back in.
A Race Report Card
Walk into the third-floor newsroom and it is obvious that the race project, "A Question of
Color," remains a source of great pride to The Beacon Journal, a scrappy member of the
Knight Ridder chain with a daily circulation of 140,000. Against a wall the Pulitzer medal, for
public service -- the fourth Pulitzer in the paper's 162-year history -- shines under a spotlight in
a plexiglass case surrounded by reproductions of the articles in the series.
For Mr. Chancellor and Mr. Dyer, the work reflected in that display is a reminder of more than
the career-enhancing accolades and the New York weekend. They remember the months they
sat behind a two-way mirror and listened to panels of citizens talk about race. White women
admitted that they still crossed the street to avoid black men. Black fathers said they still did not
want their daughters marrying white boys. When blacks and whites were thrown together, they
mostly smiled politely and talked about the need to get along.
Mr. Chancellor and Mr. Dyer shaped those conversations into front-page articles that
introduced the race series in February 1993 with what the paper described as "a separate, but
equal, focus on our differences." Mr. Dyer's article appeared under the word whites in bold
letters and Mr. Chancellor's under the word blacks.
When it comes to race, The Beacon Journal told readers: "Whites are tired of hearing about it.
Blacks wish it would go away. All seem powerless to move it." But what was behind the
divide, the paper was asking, and why did it persist?
Long before the newspaper sought the answers, those questions had nagged at David Hertz. It
was 1992, and there was unrest in Los Angeles after the acquittal of four white police officers
in the roadside beating of Rodney King, a black motorist. What troubled Mr. Hertz was that
though many people had been disturbed by the incident, blacks had reacted more angrily than
whites, and not just in Los Angeles but 2,000 miles away, in Akron.
So with his bosses' approval, Mr. Hertz, then an
editor on the night metro desk, gathered a group of
colleagues, Mr. Chancellor among them, to discuss
how race factored into their work and private lives.
Mr. Hertz told how in middle school black children
had pushed him around just for being white. A black
reporter was in tears recalling the pain of realizing as a
young girl that her skin color made her different from
a beloved white playmate.
But where to go from there? Mr. Hertz, now the
business editor, said it occurred to him that "we
needed to do more than a reaction piece" to the unrest
in Los Angeles.
His bosses agreed and conceived the race project,
committing more than two dozen reporters,
photographers, graphics artists and editors to a
yearlong series of articles, 30 in all. The goal was to
hold race up to the light and look at it from every
angle -- personal relations, housing, education,
economics and crime among them. But as the work
proceeded, and a troubling picture of race relations
emerged, the editors decided on a more activist role
for the paper.
It helped create multiracial partnerships among local
community groups to foster unity and understanding.
It also called on individuals to get involved. And they did:
More than 20,000 readers accepted a New Year's resolution challenge made by the paper to
commit to racial healing and allowed their names to be published.
Hundreds joined in the first of what has become a yearly "Race/Walk for Unity."
Through "town meetings" on race, organized by the paper, hundreds of others stepped out of
the safety of their familiar circles and spoke up. Some who had never shared so much as a cup
of tea or a beer with a person of another race even formed interracial friendships.
Churches began holding integrated services, which continue today. At one recent gathering,
black congregants from one church and whites from another washed each other's feet in a
ceremony that drew from the Last Supper.
And the newspaper started the "Coming Together Project," now a nonprofit agency that
coordinates racial-unity programs in and around Akron, a recovering Rust Belt town that is 25
percent black. This month, the Knight Foundation, which offers grants to educational and
cultural programs and which is not affiliated with the newspaper chain, gave the project
$350,000. The newspaper itself has given $300,000 to the project over the years.
The Beacon Journal's effort to engage the city and its suburbs in a discussion of race was
applauded by the Pulitzer judges, at Columbia University. And so encouraging was the social
progress attributed to the project that the White House selected Akron as the setting for
President Clinton's first "town hall meeting" on race, in 1997.
But not only did the newspaper look at race in its own backyard; it also examined itself. For the
final article, Mr. Dyer wrote about race relations among his co-workers and their perceptions of
how race affected the crime coverage. The article revealed that the journalists who had written
Akron's racial report card were as confused and divided by race as the people whose words
and images they had filtered into print.
"I think we all get along, but there are racists in the newsroom," a white journalist was quoted
as saying. "I'm talking about people at parties who have a little too much to drink and suddenly
start talking about 'niggers.' "
For Mr. Dyer, reporting on his colleagues made the race story almost personal. "I always
thought, even well before that series, that people in the newsroom considered themselves
enlightened, which was sort of debunked when we did the focus group," he said recently.
"You know, we were like any other part of society. We didn't have a clue."
A Typical Newsroom
It was a slow February afternoon in the newsroom,
and boredom had set in. Suddenly a rubber band
whizzed by Reginald Fields, a black reporter.
Laughter broke out behind a computer screen a few
desks away. Moments later, a white editor, Mitch
McKenney, joined in, firing off another rubber band.
It was all in fun, a spontaneous show of camaraderie.
Last year, when Melanie Payne, a black reporter, was
stricken with a rare heart condition, a steady stream of
colleagues, black and white, went to her bedside.
And five months ago, when the newspaper's art
director, Terence Oliver, who is black, returned from
a church missionary trip to Africa and told the editor,
Ms. Leach, how deeply the experience had moved
him, she had him write about it for the cover of the
local news section.
On any given day, The Beacon Journal newsroom hardly seems like a place where race would
be an issue. Even when there is conflict, Mr. Chancellor said, "the real divisions in the
newsroom aren't always race-based." Indeed, reporters and editors say that a recent wave of
staff reassignments, budget cuts and defections to the rival Plain Dealer, in Cleveland, have
done more to hurt morale than any racial tension.
"As a small newsroom, I think a lot of it is petty jealousy, just individual personality conflicts,"
Mr. Chancellor said. "And I guess it's the daily stress of working on deadline and people
blowing up at each other because it's just the nature of the business."
Months can pass without Mr. Chancellor's or Mr. Dyer's writing about race. The subject is not
often on the table when editors decide what to put on the front page. Nor is it a daily topic
when co-workers meet over vending-machine coffee in the cafeteria.
In one respect, The Beacon Journal is even in the forefront of racial progress. It has a black
publisher, John L. Dotson Jr., who, as part of a pioneering generation of black journalists,
covered the Detroit race riots in the 1960's and worked for The Philadelphia Inquirer and
Newsweek. Editors there, like those in most newsrooms, struggle earnestly with questions of
racial sensitivity. They debated, for instance, whether they would publish a photograph of a
black man washing a white man's feet during the church service, fearing it would be
suggestive of black servitude. (The editors decided not to use such a picture and instead
published one of a white man washing a black man's feet.)
Yet even in this environment, race still
slips back into the room. It is there when
reporters and editors, keeping score,
immediately notice the color of a new
employee's skin. It is there when a
midlevel black editor perceives her
demotion as racially motivated. It is there
when a white reporter wonders whether
political correctness instead of news
judgment elevated one obituary, that of a
local black civil rights leader, to the front
page and relegated another, that of an
internationally known white
plastics-and-rubber industry inventor, to
the cover of the local news section.
And it was there one day when the
editor, Ms. Leach, picked up an
anonymous memo that had landed on her
desk. "It made me sick," she said. The
note criticized her hiring of a black
journalist, calling the person incompetent, an affirmative-action mistake.
Color-coded scorecards and friendly rubber-band wars. Ask almost anyone on The Beacon
Journal staff about the seemingly contradictory images of the place and they will say that the
newsroom culture simply reflects the fragility of racial harmony in all segments of society.
"You go into a school and you'll see a bunch of black people sitting in a corner and a bunch of
white people sitting in a corner," Mr. Dyer said. "I mean, you've got to really make an effort to
go out and reach across."
And you have to be even bolder to speak up about race at work. Is it worth the risk? Mr. Dyer
has a mortgage to pay, a new swimming pool and two young daughters to put through college
"You get to the newsroom," he said, "and you're 32 or 34, and you've learned that if you're
black and want to succeed or you're white and you want to succeed, you can say this but you
probably shouldn't go there, and you ought to just back off."
Two Sons of Two Clevelands
Robert Bruce Dyer and Carl Clifton Chancellor were introduced to the world less than a year
apart, wrapped in blankets in the same nursery at University Hospitals of Cleveland.
While they started out in the same place, Carl and Bob went home to different worlds in an era
of whites-only country clubs and the first rumblings of black civil unrest.
Their early years influenced the men as journalists. "You have two educated men with two
educated egos that see things very differently because they were raised very differently," said
Sheila Williams, who has lived with Mr. Chancellor for 13 years and is the mother of his
Mr. Dyer, the son of an electrical engineer and an amateur figure skater, grew up in a suburban
part of mostly rural Geauga County, outside Cleveland, where in pockets the Amish
outnumbered the blacks. There he learned about doing unto others as you would have them do
unto you; about doing a job right the first time, even if it was just washing your father's car.
But race was not a frequent topic at the Dyer dinner table.
There were a few blacks at young Bob's school and some who worked at the country club,
where he occasionally dined with his grandfather. But he remembers noticing the
all-you-can-eat shrimp more than the help. Far away there were civil rights marches, boycotts,
dogs turned on protesters -- events he saw only out of the corner of his eye, on television.
But if the boy with the pale peach complexion saw race mainly in the media, the one with the
apple-butter skin saw it in his own reflection. There was no ignoring race for young Carl
Chancellor. It was in countless church sermons about better days ahead. It was at his
grandmother's kitchen table, where civil rights leaders could count on a hot meal after a protest
rally. And it was at a park in Florida, where he was turned away at the whites-only entrance to
the glass-bottom-boat ride. (He recalled being one of only a handful of passengers on the
blacks' boat, while whites crowded into a boat that looked full enough to capsize.)
Home for the Chancellors was Cedar Estates, a fancy name for a place that was anything but.
Their apartment in that Cleveland public housing development was all they could afford while
Carl's mother tended to her growing family and his father washed trucks at the electric
company to pay his way through law school.
His father, Carl Eugene Chancellor, graduated less than a year after young Carl's birth, and the
family was soon on a trajectory from penny-pinching to prosperity. Hired by the electric
company's legal department, he promptly moved his family to a better neighborhood on the
city's edge. The houses were modest, and every day, it seemed, a moving van rolled in to pack
up another white family, but to the Chancellors it felt like sweet suburbia nonetheless.
The elder Mr. Chancellor taught by example, and in time it all made sense to Carl: the fine
food, the parties with his father's accomplished black friends -- a doctor, an architect, other
lawyers -- and even his father's insistence that Carl pass up a chance to attend a prestigious
East Coast boarding school to remain in a public school where the principal and the teachers
looked like him. Black did not mean inferior. That is what his father was trying to say.
So Carl did not find it nearly as interesting as some grownups that his father kept getting
promoted and had a white secretary. And his only observation about his family's dining at the
Four Seasons during vacations to New York was that "my father would always get mad at my
little brother because no matter what restaurant we went to, he always ordered a hamburger."
In middle age, Mr. Chancellor is content with the black man he has become. He is 5 foot 10,
with a handsome, closely cropped beard and wavy salt-and-pepper hair. He favors tailored
slacks, black turtlenecks and Italian leather shoes.
A soccer dad, Mr. Dyer fits comfortably in his skin, too. He is 6 foot 2 with an easy smile, a
thick mustache and a full head of dark brown hair. He prefers khakis, cotton sports shirts and
As different as they are, there is also a sameness about them. Both live in upper-middle-class
suburban neighborhoods and say they are pleased that their children have a more racially
diverse group of friends than they do. The women in their lives describe them in similar terms,
as caring, but opinionated and "macho" too.
"I think we share a lot of values," Mr. Chancellor said. But factor in race, and they can be
"Carl can't understand what it is to be a white male in America any more than Bob can
understand what it is to be a black male in America," his companion, Ms. Williams, said.
Once, Mr. Dyer was pulled over on a dark highway after edging in and out of his lane while
trying to pass a truck. It struck him, he said, that he had experienced something comparable to
"I resented the fact that I was, you know, sort of randomly pulled over for no good reason,"
Mr. Dyer said. "I mean, it's not as if people like me never encounter situations where you go,
'What the hell is going on?' "
Another time, at a restaurant with his family, Mr. Dyer thought the service was terrible. When
a black family a few tables away got the same treatment, he said, he wondered whether they
would attribute it to discrimination and wrote in a 1990 column about seeing race where it may
It is not that bigotry is a figment of the imagination, Mr. Dyer wrote. But, he added: "This
white guy keeps getting hammered, too, day after day after day. So don't take it personally.
There's plenty of rudeness and incompetence to go around."
For many of his readers and colleagues, though, that column was unremarkable compared to
one he wrote in two parts in 1995 during Black History Month. He said it generated more
response than anything he had written in 20 years. One call came from the publisher, who
summoned Mr. Dyer to explain what he meant when he wrote this:
"I'll give you some black history: For the past 15 years, a race that accounts for only 12
percent of this country's population has caused more than half its problems."
The column went on to say that "guilt-ridden white people have turned us all into
contortionists, looking for new ways to twist the truth to make blacks look better." It described
Afrocentrism as "the scholarly equivalent of flying saucers."
Explosive words, to be sure, but Mr. Dyer says he was misread. The column, he said, was
meant as an uncensored expression of an internal debate with his conscience. It was meant to
show the conflicted feelings that many whites have about blacks but are loath to express in a
time of political correctness. Yes, he had exaggerated some points for the sake of argument.
But Mr. Dyer was certain that even his critics would give him credit for asking, "If things are
so equal, care to trade places with an African-American?" His well-meaning conscience also
got the last say, reminding him that "things won't improve unless you pay more attention to
Mr. Dyer said he had assumed that coming in the wake of the race project and the good will it
engendered, the column was timed just right. "I thought maybe now, since we seemed to be
acknowledging that we have problems, and we can talk about problems, maybe it's time to
push it harder," he said. But he had been wrong.
Whatever his intentions, his words drew little sympathy from some colleagues. "Bob is a racist
without even knowing it," said Yuvonne Bruce, a black assistant features editor, who worked
on the race series.
Mr. Dyer, who says he gets along with many of his black colleagues, contends that white
people risk being slapped with ugly labels when they speak honestly about race.
Mr. Chancellor says Mr. Dyer is not a racist, just naïve about the pervasiveness and pain of
bigotry. How could Bob Dyer know?
Unlike Mr. Chancellor, he has never had trouble trying to interview fans at Cleveland Indians
games because stadium security thought his media credentials might be fake. Nor has he
known the anger that boils up in black men who feel under siege.
Mr. Chancellor felt that anger when four white New York City police officers were acquitted in
the shooting death of an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo. The verdict, in February,
was fresh in his memory a few days later when he noticed a white police officer driving behind
him in a movie theater parking lot.
"I'm thinking, 'If he does say something to me, I think I will go off,' " Mr. Chancellor
recalled. "I guess I just came to a decision: 'If he says anything about me, about anything, I'm
just going to go off right then and there.' "
As it turned out, the officer was not trailing him but driving to meet an officer up ahead in a
parked patrol car.
Mr. Chancellor laughs about the moment now. Life can be funny that way.
Just like the boy he once was, he still sees race all around him. Meanwhile, Mr. Dyer still
believes that people focus on it too much.
A Column Is Canceled
Carl Chancellor says he knows the double standards. A white man is confident, a black man is
cocky. A white man has taste, a black man is flashy.
And a white columnist can never write too white, Mr. Chancellor says, but if you are black,
you learn quickly that your subjects and your sources had better not be too black too often.
So he found white people on welfare to write about. And if he found a reason to write about
somebody who just happened to be black, he said, "I went overboard to not mention his race
or downplay it because I was afraid that the readers would miss my point."
Some people in the newsroom suggest that his self-restraint did not go far enough for some
editors. Last fall, Mr. Chancellor lost his column and was reassigned to a general news beat.
He found himself covering Groundhog Day.
Ms. Leach said the reassignment had had nothing to do with Mr. Chancellor's writing about
race but rather with his productivity. She said he had been asked to do more reporting for his
columns and contribute news articles as well. When he declined, the column was discontinued,
Mr. Chancellor confirms Ms. Leach's account of what happened but has gone back and forth
in his mind about whether the newspaper's demands were meant to force him to give up the
column. Many of his black colleagues are far less willing to give the management the benefit of
They say Mr. Chancellor was no less productive than any other columnist and that his editors
were simply punishing him for some of his views, a charge the editors deny. "I think that
management did not like Carl's style," said Melanie Payne, a black features writer.
Ms. Bruce, the black assistant features editor, said she was shocked when she opened her
newspaper and discovered that the column was gone. "I felt strongly that we were losing a
strong black voice," she said.
In protest, she circulated a petition in support of Mr. Chancellor among only the black staff
members. Charlene Nevada, a white editor on the metro desk, said she was not sure whether
she would have signed or not. "But it would have been nice to be asked," she said.
The protest surprised Ms. Leach because the journalists went over her head and took their
"statement from the minorities," as Ms. Bruce described it, directly to her boss.
The publisher, Mr. Dotson, is no stranger to the complexities of race relations in the
workplace. His decades of experience taught him to keep his thoughts and feelings closely
guarded to protect himself from all sorts of attacks, he said.
So when asked recently about race relations at The Beacon Journal, he was initially stone-faced
and defensive, wondering aloud about how much he should say. When he finally did open up,
what he revealed was not so much about the newsroom as about the pressures on a black
executive in a largely white industry.
"When I came along," Mr. Dotson said in slow, measured tones, "I would get up in the
morning and I would put on this armor and go to work."
Today it is still his first line of defense, the steely gaze, the tight smile, the terse responses. He
slips into that posture as easily as he does his crisp white shirts and banker-blue suits.
"It protects me against all of the assaults that I think I undergo," Mr. Dotson said. "They are
not racial all the time. Some of it is racial. Mostly it is not revealing my inner thoughts because
I don't want to make a misstep."
His caution may be one reason staff members have different readings of him.
"I think it's kind of funny how a lot of people in the newsroom, white people in the
newsroom, think he bends over backwards to appease and please the black community and
black reporters in the newsroom," Mr. Chancellor said of Mr. Dotson. "When I think if you
polled the black people in the newsroom, they'd probably think that it's the other way around."
That is exactly what some blacks in the newsroom concluded after Mr. Dotson responded to
the petition by backing the editor's decision to reassign Mr. Chancellor and later supporting her
choice of a white man as a replacement.
To some blacks, the decisions sent the wrong message about racial diversity.
"I don't think we have anybody leading us who cares," Ms. Bruce said.
But rather than indifference, Mr. Dotson's actions reflect a desire to stay out of day-to-day
newsroom affairs, he said. "I try to let the editors run the newsroom," he said.
When he sees fit, though, he does not hesitate to use his power to promote fairness and
diversity. Mr. Dotson banned publication of the Cleveland Indians' logo, a caricature of an
Indian chief, because it offended some readers. He also persuaded a civic group to change the
date of an event that the newspaper was supporting after an editor complained that it fell on a
Jewish holiday. And he has hired a black general manager who is widely believed to be his heir
Differences in perceptions of how race affects Mr. Dotson as publisher extend to the upper
echelons as well.
Since Ms. Leach joined the paper in 1998, she has assumed she carries a burden that Mr.
Dotson does not. When she speaks in the community, Ms. Leach, the first woman to hold the
title of Beacon Journal editor, is inevitably accused of turning the publication into the "Ladies'
"It happens every time," Ms. Leach said. "I don't think they ever ask John Dotson about being
a black publisher because it would be politically incorrect."
Not so, Mr. Dotson said, adding: "I just don't talk about it. I mean, when I appointed Jan as
editor, one of the questions to me was, 'What are people going to say, The Beacon Journal
having a black publisher and now a woman editor?' I mean, that's from within the
Mr. Dotson even gets regular calls from a reader who points out instances of the newspaper's
appearing to pander to blacks.
"That's America," the publisher said. "What am I supposed to do about that?"
The Price of Candor
For now, Mr. Chancellor has made peace with his lowered profile at the Beacon Journal.
Though still a general assignment reporter, he has worked on in-depth projects that he cares
about and that Ms. Leach says she enthusiastically supports.
He and Mr. Dyer say there are no hard feelings lingering between them and that they have
grown to respect each other's honesty. The men even talk about someday getting back to the
basketball court. (They still lie about who has the better jump shot.)
These days, Mr. Chancellor spends his spare time writing a novel about a newsroom and a
book of short stories, "Soul Songs," about coming of age in the 60's. The Beacon Journal, he
said, will not be his last stop, and he does not spend much time thinking about the race project
or the column he lost.
As for Mr. Dyer, he still writes a magazine column every Sunday but occasionally questions
whether his views have hurt his chances for other opportunities at The Beacon Journal, and
whether it would be easier to get ahead if he were not a white male.
"I want to make it clear that I don't know in this case, that it's just total speculation, but the
thought had crossed my mind," Mr. Dyer said.
He has grown more reluctant to write about race these days. He knows he is on safer ground
when writing about highway sound barriers or the local soapbox derby.
His admirers say he can be witty and touching,
whether writing a "letter to heaven" to his mother or
a "happy anniversary" column praising his wife as
intelligent, loyal and "perfectly comfortable with
people of different backgrounds, incomes and
"Sometimes he's writing what he believes is right,
sometimes he's just writing what he feels," his wife,
And sometimes he still offends even when not trying
to be provocative. Readers and colleagues were
sharply critical of one column, meant to be
humorous, in which he suggested new mascots for
local schools. For a mostly black high school, he
offered the name Crackheads -- a jab at a member of
its basketball team who had been arrested on a drug
"I did not like that one at all," said Mr. Dotson, who characterized Mr. Dyer's columns as
generally too sarcastic and negative.
Marilyn Miller Roane, a black reporter, confronted Mr. Dyer about the column. "I told him,
'You just missed it; this is not funny,' " she said. She has concluded that his column speaks to
"crybaby white boys." Such reactions leave Mr. Dyer shaking his head. He argues that the
mascot column poked fun at lots of institutions, that he did not single out the black school for
ridicule. And he said he was frustrated that people did not remember all he had written to
improve race relations. What about the column advocating the hiring of a black news anchor at
a local television station? Or the one denouncing harassment of an interracial couple?
Mr. Chancellor says he knows about being misunderstood, too. It is a burden he believes he
and Mr. Dyer share.
"I think the general newsroom perception might be that I'm pretty militant and I'm the 'angry
black man,' or something like that," he said, dismissing the notion with a roll of the eyes.
"Name-calling is something I'm used to."
Mr. Dyer takes it harder.
"Fewer people would think I was racist if I kept my mouth shut," he said. Though tempted to
do just that, he says he will not. Remaining silent would mean he had lost all hope of seeing
race relations improve.
"If there is a race problem," he said, "it is my problem, too."
Shared Prayers, Mixed
Blessings by Kevin Sack
Best of Friends, Worlds
Apart by Mirta Ojito
Which Man's Army by
Steven A. Holmes
Who Gets to Tell a Black
Story? by Janny Scott
A Limited Partnership by
At a Slaughterhouse, Some
Things Never Die by
When to Campaign With
Color by Timothy Egan
Reaping What Was Sown
on the Old Plantation by
Growing Up, Growing
Apart by Tamar Lewin
The Hurt Between the Lines
by Dana Canedy
The Minority Quarterback
by Ira Berkow
Guarding the Borders of the
Hip-Hop Nation by N.R.
Why Harlem Drug Cops
Don't Discuss Race by
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