Founding Member of NABJ
Lifetime Achievement Winner
By G'Ra Asim, NABJ Program Assistant
Fifty daily newspapers rejected Paul Delaney after he graduated from Ohio State University’s journalism school in 1958. More than 50 years later, he is the 2010 NABJ Lifetime Achievement Award recipient for his extraordinary contribution to the enrichment, understanding or advancement of black life and culture.
"Paul has had an impressive career in journalism, spanning decades and achieving distinction at the highest levels,” NABJ President Kathy Y. Times said of Delaney, one of the association’s 44 founding members. "Paul is a role model and has set the standard for excellence in our profession. A true giant, he has paved the way for many others that follow behind him.”
Delaney’s initial job-seeking difficulty after college did little to deter him. He suggests that such perseverance was typical of his generation.
"We knew that America was changing – that all those companies that would not hire us then would have to open up soon,” he said. "And, of course, many of them did.”
Delaney began his career at the Atlanta Daily World, where his hiring coincided with the inception of the Civil Rights Movement.
"The body of work that I did covering the 1960s, which was probably the most crucial period in terms of advancing the rights that we’d fought for over the entire 20th century, those were my proudest moments,” he said.
Delaney covered the movement’s important events and figures in Atlanta before moving on to the Dayton Daily News in Ohio and in Washington, D.C. Delaney later joined the New York Times, where he reported on politics, urban affairs and civil rights in its Washington bureau before transitioning to the paper’s Chicago bureau, then serving as its bureau chief in Madrid.
"Growing up, I have no idea where it came from, but I always wanted to be a writer,” Delaney said. "When I went to college I wanted to major in English literature, but I did not want to be a permanent student. So, I decided to major in journalism, as, I felt, a kind of precursor to writing the great American novel. But I got into journalism and never got around to writing novels.”
Delaney maintained a presence at the Times for 23 years, rising to national prominence as an editor and correspondent and demonstrating a commitment to recruiting African Americans during the course of his career.
"We of the early generation, the generation of blacks that were the first to go into the newsroom in the early 1960s, only had the support of our families and a few colleagues,” he said. "I don’t recall that there was anybody that I could go and talk to, or take my problems to.”
Delaney identifies the void of a network as a primary impetus for his role in co-founding NABJ.
"Paul has long deserved the lifetime achievement award and I am very happy to see it given to someone who exemplifies all that the NABJ was founded to achieve in 1975,” said Leon Dash, a University of Illinois journalism professor, Pulitzer Prize winner and another NABJ co-founder.
Delaney is a former director of both the Center for the Study of Race and Media at Howard University and the Initiative on Racial Mythology at the Gene Media Forum. Having had extensive first-hand experience with exactly how race and media interact, he believes the relationship between the two remains worthy of study.
"Race is that intractable problem in America,” he said. "I can’t envision it getting out of our hair this century.”
Delaney became the first African-American chairman of the University of Alabama’s journalism department in 1992. He served as editor of the editorial page at Our World News from 1996 to 1998 and contributed editorials to the Baltimore Sun from 1999 to 2000.
The apparent decline of print journalism notwithstanding, Delaney remains passionate for the field.
"A country that does not read probably doesn’t deserve the level of stature that America enjoys today,” he said. "If we allow this nation to slip back to where reading is one, a luxury, and two, generally non-existent, then we’ll be back to a caveman lifestyle.”