Academic journal article Journalism History

Race Man: The Rise and Fall of the "Fighting Editor," John Mitchell, Jr

Academic journal article Journalism History

Race Man: The Rise and Fall of the "Fighting Editor," John Mitchell, Jr

Article excerpt

Alexander, Ann Field. Race Man: The Rise and Fall of the "Fighting Editor," John Mitchell, Jr. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002. 258 pp. $32.95.

How far should a journalist go in support of a cause? Journalism students are told that covering the actions of a group with a cause is enough. Supporters of civic journalism, where journalists participate in solving community problems, might reject such a traditionalist sentiment, but most journalists still cringe, if only a little, when a colleague gets too close to the issues (and people) that he or she covers.

Richmond Planet editor John Mitchell Jr., the subject of Ann Field Alexander's thoroughly researched and skillfully written book, overcame this dilemma by diving headlong into business and politics, arenas from which journalists are (theoretically, at least) supposed to steer clear. She paints a rich portrait of a man who rarely shrank from a fight. He had no compunction about using his position as editor of the Planet to support a long list of causes, from attacking disenfranchisement of African Americans and disproportionately long sentences for African Americans convicted of minor crimes, to abolishing a Virginia law which permitted lynchings, and later to a full-scale boycott of Richmond's segregated trolley car system. As a member of Richmond's city council, Mitchell regularly promoted his ideas and initiatives in his paper. It would be naive to argue that today's coverage of politics and business is ideology-free. Still, journalists at least pay lip service to the idea that they should not be involved in endeavors that they may find themselves covering.

But what makes Mitchell interesting is the degree of support he offered to these causes. He claims to have "cried aloud and spared not," but Alexander's exploration of his life reveals that his activism was often purposely tempered by self-interest. He encouraged African Americans to stand up for themselves but to do so politely. He urged them to offer "manly protest" against discriminatory policies and actions. …

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