Dawkins, Wayne J. 1955–
Wayne J. Dawkins 1955–
Journalist, author, publisher
Wayne J. Dawkins, associate editor at the Daily Press in Hampton Roads, Virginia, has worked as a journalist for more than 20 years, climbing the career ladder from intern/reporter to editorial columnist to editor. While he has worked at various regional newspapers, including the Courier Post (Camden-Cherry Hill, New Jersey), and the Post-Tribune (Gary, Indiana), he is best known nationally as the author of the 1993 book Black Journalists: The NABJ Story. The book traces the history of the National Association of Black Journalists, a trade organization founded in 1975.
From his first year as a reporter, Dawkins was an active member of the NABJ. By 1990, just 15 years after the organization was established, many of its founders had left or retired and its records were scattered across the country. Dawkins realized that the history of this important organization was in danger of being lost, and he decided to write a book about its early years. “These people were the first generation of African American journalists in mainstream media. They were a product of the civil rights movement,” Dawkins said in a personal interview. “At the time, there were very few blacks working in the mainstream media—a couple hundred, if that many. It’s changed now, but there’s still more to be done. It’s important to know the history, especially now that that generation has passed.”
Wayne Dawkins was born on September 19, 1955 in New York City. He was the son of Edward Henry Dawkins, a native of Jamaica, and Iris Carmen (McFarquhar) Dawkins, a woman of Panamanian descent. When Dawkins was a year old, his parents moved to an apartment in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, where he spent the rest of his childhood. “I grew up around newspapers and books,” Dawkins recalled in a personal interview. “TV was present, but my mother regulated it.”
When Dawkins was a sophomore at New Utrecht High School, he decided that he wanted to become a journalist and began covering track and field events for the school paper. “My mother was proud of what I was pursuing,” Dawkins recalled in a personal interview with CBB “One uncle who traveled a lot for his job fed my newspaper habit. He’d bring me out-of-town papers from Chicago, St. Louis and other cities.”
After graduating from high school, Dawkins attended the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University, where he majored in journalism and minored in history. He earned a BA in 1977, then worked as an intern/reporter at Brooklyn’s Trans-Urban News Service for two years. Later, Dawkins pursued graduate work at the prestigious Columbia University School of Journalism, earning an MS in 1980. That same year, Dawkins landed a job as a reporter for the Daily Argus in Mount Vernon, New York. Also in 1980, he and other Columbia graduates established the Black Alumni Network, a newsletter circulated to alumni, employers, and industry
At a Glance…
Born Wayne Jesse Dawkins, Sept 19, 1955, New York City, NY; son of Edward Henry Dawkins and Iris Carmen (McFarquhar) Dawkins; married Allie Crump, April 29, 1988; one daughter, Carmen Jamila. Education: Long Island State University, Brooklyn campus, BA, 1977; Columbia School of Journalism, MS, 1980. Religion: Unitarian-Universalist.
Career: Trans-Urban News Service, Brooklyn, NY, intern/reporter, 1978-79; Daily Argus, Mount Vernon, NY, reporter, 1980-84; Courier-Post, Camden-Cherry Hill, NJ, reporter, 1984-88, editorial writer, 1988-91, editorial columnist, 1991-95; Post-Tribune, Gary, IN, deputy south lake editor, 1996-98; Daily Press, Hampton Roads, VA, associate editor, 1998-. August Press, president, 1992-.
Selected writings: Author, Black Joumalists; The NABI Story (first edition 1993, second edition 1997).
Awards: First Place Award, Depth Reporting, New York State Associated Press, 1983. First Place Award, Spot News Reporting, New Jersey Press Association, 1987. Alumni Association Award, Columbia School of Journalism, 1990.
Member: National Association of Black Journalists, regional director, 1984-89, scholarshipchairman, 1985-87, member, scholarship committee 1985-91, historian, 1991-.
Addresses: Home —Hampton Roads, VA. Office—Daily Press, 7505 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, VA 23607.
In 1981, Dawkins had the opportunity to attend his first conference of the National Association of Black Journalists. At the meeting, Chicago news reporter Vernon Jarrett told a story about the outrageous behavior of a past NABJ president. Dawkins did not understand all the details of the story, but it piqued his curiosity—a feeling that would, nine years later, inspire him to write Black Journalists.
In 1984, Dawkins took a job as a reporter at the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. That same year, he became an editorial writer for the Courier-Post. By 1991, he had his own editorial column, which he continued to write until he left the paper in 1995.
Dawkins has earned several journalism awards. In 1983, he won the first-place award for depth reporting from the New York State Associated Press. Four years later, he won another first-place award for spot news reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. He has also won awards for editorial and column writing.
Dawkins also continued to serve as an active member of the NABJ. From 1984 to 1989 he represented members from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut as regional director and was a member of its scholarship committee from 1985 to 1991. He wrote frequently about the NABJ for Black Alumni Network. Finally, in 1990, he decided to begin writing a book about the history of the NABJ.
To research the book, Dawkins interviewed more than 120 people, including 42 of the original 44 NABJ founders. Some of the founders were openly hostile about the project. “When some founders who were out of touch with NABJ were located, they were perplexed by this project. At least a half dozen times I was asked, ‘Who commissioned you to do this?” he recalled in the preface to Black Journalists.
When the manuscript was complete, Dawkins approached twelve publishers, but none of them expressed interest. “Instead of getting mad, I got smart,” Dawkins said in a personal interview. He founded his own small publishing company, August Press, in 1992. The following year, Black Journalists was published.
Instead of writing a “puff piece” that would gloss over the NABJ’s many problems and internal disputes, the book offered a no-holds-barred history of the organization. “I love NABJ like a best friend,” Dawkins wrote in the preface of Black Journalists “That means that, unlike a mere acquaintance, I will praise NABJ when it excels, and unflinchingly critique its blunders and excesses. It is the very least that my dear sisters and brothers of this craft deserve.”
Black Journalists opened with Dawkins’s exploration of the tumultuous post-World War II era that led to the founding of the NABJ. He focused particularly on the findings of the 1968 U.S. Commission on Civil Disorders, headed by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner. The Kerner report “noted that much of the news media maintained segregated newsrooms as it was exposing segregation and discrimination in other institutions,” Dawkins wrote.
During the post-civil rights era, as African American journalists began to break into mainstream journalism, they were pulled in opposing directions. “While white editors criticized them for being ‘pro-black,’ some community activists and spokesmen dismissed them as ‘Uncle Toms’ and ‘sellouts’ to the black struggle if and when they tried to deliver ideal coverage: balanced reporting of events,” Dawkins wrote in Black Journalists. By the early 1970s, African American journalists had begun to network and consider setting up a formal organization. As a result, the NABJ was officially established in 1975. Among its many goals, the NABJ sought to encourage links between black journalists, to sensitize the white media to racist coverage, and to increase media coverage of the black community.
Critical response to Black Journalists was mixed, although the reviewers agreed that writing about the history of the NABJ was an important project. According to Clint C. Wilson, a professor at Howard University, writing in Journalism History, “If you are among those interested in a first-rate, definitive, well-researched and documented history of the formation of the National Association of Black Journalists, you will be disappointed in this effort by Wayne Dawkins.” Harry Amana, professor of journalism at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, made similar criticisms in Journalism Quarterly: “If USA Today could still be said to be ‘McPaper’—the fastfood of newspapers—then Dawkins’ book might be called ‘McHistory,’ a fastfood NABJ history.”
Both reviewers noted that the book had its merits. Wilson praised the profiles of the NABJ’s founders, while Amana called it “an interesting, informative, fast reading account.” However, they agreed that the subject deserved a more thorough treatment. “A properly documented, more comprehensive and substantively analytical work is still needed to fill the void,” Wilson wrote in Journalism History “It whets the appetite, but lacks the meat-and-potatoes historical, philosophical, and social perspectives that the subject deserves,” Amana remarked in Journalism Quarterly.
Despite the criticism Black Journalists received, Dawkins remained proud of his efforts and decided to expand August Press. “After I finished the NABJ story, I was proud, because I had worked hard, but I thought, what do I do now?” Dawkins said in a personal interview. “I had established a professional publishing company, and I thought, do you just stop there?” August Press has published three non-fiction books by various authors, and is currently planning to publish its first novel.
In 1996, Dawkins accepted a job as a deputy editor at the Gary, Indiana Post-Tribune. A year later, August Press published a revised version of Black Journalists. While the first edition dealt with the history of the NABJ from 1975 to 1983, the second edition covered the years 1983 to 1989 and included five additional chapters, photographs, and illustrations.
Throughout his career, Dawkins has remained a strong advocate for increased minority participation in the news media. In a 1995 article for The Black Collegian, he encouraged African American college students to consider a career in journalism, which he called “a power-center career.” “A talented, dedicated workforce of African Americans must be in the mix,” he wrote, “Journalism needs smart young people with a passion for their work.”
“There are more and more black kids majoring in journalism in college, and coming into the field. It’s becoming increasingly multi-cultural,” Dawkins added in a personal interview with CBB. “These young people can read my book, and read others, and know what it once was like.” In 1998, Dawkins accepted a job as associate editor at the Daily Press in Hampton, Virginia, and is currently an editorial writer and columnist for the paper. In addition, he continues to pursue his interest in journalistic history, writing a column called “Black Journalists in History” for the quarterly NABJ Journal.
Dawkins, Wayne, Black Journalists: The NABJ Story, August Press, 1993.
The Black Collegian, October 1995, p. 128.
Black Enterprise, July 1985, p. 23.
Journalism History, Summer 1993, p. 68.
Journalism Quarterly, Spring 1994, p. 257.
The Quill, April 1993, p. 36.
Personal interview with Wayne Dawkins, October 23, 1998.
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