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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Black Blogosphere Proves Potent Force in Story of Race in the New South

Here is a great interview on Chicago Tribune's Howard Witt by the Maynard Institute.
I personally consider Howard Witt a blue eyed soul brother. Check out the article, he has a lot to say about the afrosphere, black bloggers, Jena 6 and the New South that has gone retro racist in some places. Check out the article.

For the past four years, the Chicago Tribune's Howard Witt has been based in Houston as a civil rights correspondent and Southwest bureau chief. Witt's stories have probed legal discrimination that has led to uneven justice for whites and blacks in small towns such as Jena, La., and Paris, Texas. Witt has been with the Tribune for more than 22 years with stints as an international correspondent. He also served as editor of the Washington City Paper and briefly joined an Internet start-up. In this edited transcript, the veteran reporter talks with the Maynard Institute about his interactions with bloggers and other journalists regarding his stories on race in the South.

How long have you been Southwest bureau chief for Chicago Tribune?

Howard Witt

I've been in [Houston], Texas, four years [and with the Chicago Tribune] since 1982, with the exception of about three years. Twenty-two years altogether. I've been at the Tribune most of my career. From '99 to 2001, I was doing some Internet stuff and other stuff and then came back to the Tribune. What were you doing Internet-wise?

Pursuing pipe dreams. My timing was really bad: I joined an Internet start-up about three months before the crash, 2000. So that was a disaster. Then I was in Washington, D.C. I was the editor of the Washington City Paper, which is the alternative newspaper. I was there from summer of 2000 until right after 9/11, November 2001.

Were you encouraged or intrigued by the blogger reaction to your stories?

I was. The whole experience was kind of an awakening for me as to the even existence this black blogosphere. I didn't really pay much attention to blogs until early this year. I think I shared the stereotype of bloggers that most mainstream journalists have, which is [that] they were this bunch of lunatics sitting in front of the computer screen at midnight in their underwear expostulating on things. I thought it was a bunch of navel-gazing and a waste of time, but I changed my opinion pretty dramatically after the Shaquanda Cotton story.

[In the spring of 2006, Witt wrote about 14-year-old Shaquanda Cotton, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for shoving a school hall monitor in Paris, Texas. That story led to national criticism of the Texas juvenile prison system.]

That story was published in March of last year, and very quickly a day or two after that I started getting a lot of e-mails from people who were encountering that story across the Internet and I was just curious where they were finding that story. I did a little Google searching and discovered that the story had been picked up on a number of these African-American blogs. They were, generally speaking, quite thoughtful and had interesting things to say. It wasn't at all what I had assumed to be of blogs, which is generally a bunch of narcissistic stuff. More MERE


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