I told you earlier of the death this week of a man I admired, Camden lawyer Allen Roberts, who died at 81 while continuing to labor for racial justice by fighting school segregation.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes story on his obituary in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which includes a daily “statement of core values” from publisher Walter Hussman. It says, in part:
Impartiality means reporting, editing, and delivering the news honestly, fairly, objectively, and without personal opinion or bias.
Credibility is the greatest asset of any news medium, and impartiality is the greatest source of credibility.
Roberts stood in opposition to things such as the publisher’s financial and editorial support of charter schools and the newspaper’s editorial support of the state school transfer law. Roberts fought the latter in federal court because the transfers contribute to white flight in districts he represented.
The D-G is the only statewide newspaper and many people want an obituary notice there. You may run 50 words for free. After that, the notices cost 85 cents a word, with an extra charge for photos. The obituary notices are thus paid advertising. They are placed by funeral homes through the advertising department. Great personal latitude is allowed in content. But, as Roberts’ death illustrates, there are limits.
The Roberts family initially submitted this obituary to the Democrat-Gazette through their funeral home.
Allen Paul Roberts, 81, of Camden, passed away on Friday, January 15, 2021. We do not believe he would want us to give this newspaper one more penny than necessary, as the owners support policies that he believed result in the resegregation of public schools.
That notice included a link to a full family obit on the funeral home website.
The newspaper refused to run the family’s preferred notice. The Camden newspaper, also owned by Hussman, did run what’s known as a “news” obit. That is an obituary written by the newspaper editorial staff on a newsworthy person. It drew from the family obituary as did a somewhat longer news obit that ran in the Democrat-Gazette. There is no cost for news obits.
The family submitted a revised brief obituary for the paid obituary page that was accepted for publication. It appeared in the Wednesday Democrat-Gazette.
Allen Paul Roberts, 81, of Camden, passed away on Friday, January 15, 2021. Allen loved his family, treasured his many friends, believed in the rule of law, fought to prevent the resegregation of public schools, and opposed school choice policies that promoted white flight. View his full obituary at https://www.proctorfuneralhome.com/obituary/allen-roberts
The Democrat-Gazette statement of core values says: “The pursuit of truth is a noble goal of journalism.”
What Allen Roberts’ family said was the truth. Somebody at the D-G couldn’t handle it.