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Sat, 07.12.1941

Les Payne, a readers journalist

Les Payne

*Les Payne was born this date in 1941.  He was an African American journalist and editor.

Leslie Payne was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. According to DNA analysis, he was descended in part from people from the African country, Cameroon.  The first member of his family to attend college, Payne graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1964 with a degree in English.   He was interested in pursuing a career in journalism, but as a black man he found no opportunities in the mainstream press. Instead, Payne joined the army, where he eventually became a captain. He ended his army career with two years as an information officer, writing speeches for General William Westmoreland and running the army newspaper.

Newsday hired Payne in 1969 as an investigative reporter.  In 1973, he helped write "The Heroin Trail", a series of 33 articles that detailed how heroin originated in Turkish poppy fields and found its way to the streets of New York City.  Newsday won the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for "The Heroin Trail".  Next year it was published as a book credited to the newspaper staff, The Heroin Trail (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975).  In 1975, Payne and other African Americans working in the media established the National Association of Black Journalists. Payne served as the group's fourth president.

He co-wrote a series of articles about the Symbionese Liberation Army and the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. These became the basis of his next book, The Life and Death of the SLA (Ballantine Books, 1976), credited to "Les Payne and Tim Findley, with Carolyn Craven".  His reporting from South Africa during the 1976 Soweto Uprising was selected by the jury for a Pulitzer Prize in International Journalism, but the group's advisory board overruled their decision with no explanation. Despite being barred from the country, Payne returned to South Africa in 1985 to chronicle the changes that had taken place during the intervening years.

He started writing a weekly column for Newsday in 1980.  It was syndicated in 1985.  In 2006, Newsday's editor said the column was "so strong, so provocative and generated so much hate mail that Newsday editors got to know the names of all the Suffolk County Police Department's bomb-sniffing dogs".   Payne served as Newsday's national editor and assistant managing editor for foreign and national news.  His detailed intersectionality in writing style also meant that at different times, he was responsible for the newspaper's coverage of health and science, New York City, and investigations. He was responsible for New York Newsday, the newspaper's short-lived attempt to compete in the New York City market.  His staff won many journalism awards, including six Pulitzer Prizes.

After retiring from Newsday in February 2006, Payne continued to contribute his column to the paper until December 2008.  As of 2011, he was writing a book about Malcolm X.  Le Payne died unexpectedly on March 19, 2018.

Reference:

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