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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Michael Parks, reporter who led The Los Angeles Times, dies at 78

Michael Parks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The Los Angeles Times who later became editor-in-chief of the newspaper, one of the capital’s largest daily newspapers, died on January 8 at a hospital in Pasadena, California. was 78.

According to his son Christopher, the cause was a heart attack and kidney failure.

Mr. Parks reported from around the world from 1970 to 1995, first for The Baltimore Sun and then for The Los Angeles Times. While abroad, he chronicled some of the most significant geopolitical events in modern history, including the Vietnam War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the collapse of apartheid in South Africa.

While he was in Johannesburg for The Times, in late 1986 the white minority government announced that they were expelling him after he had documented apartheid’s brutal segregationist policies for two years. As the country moved rapidly towards historic change, Mr Parkes became the fifth correspondent that year to receive an expulsion order.

The Times decided to appeal; the history of the black majority rebellion against white rule was too important to be left out. In early 1987, Mr. Parkes and the Los Angeles editors met in Cape Town with three government ministers to plead their case.

The ministers brought boxes of all 242 articles written by Mr. Parks in 1986. Each of them was numbered, and every disdain for the white regime was duly noted. Undoubtedly, the ministers said, Mr Parkes portrayed South Africa in a negative light.

Yet the ministers could not find a single error in any of the 242 dispatches. In a rare move, they canceled the expulsion order and allowed Mr. Parks to stay.

A few months later, his meticulous reporting was again awarded the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for what the Pulitzer Committee called him “balanced and comprehensive coverage of South Africa”.

“He studied the liberation struggle,” said Scott Kraft, who followed Mr. Parks as head of the Times bureau in Johannesburg, in a telephone interview.

Mr. Craft, now editor-in-chief of The Times, said that when the scholar Mr. Parks presented his sources to him, he saw that many of them, especially the leaders of the African National Congress in exile, enjoyed discussing political philosophy and strategy. . with him.

“He’s been to other capitals of the world with civil strife, and he really understood the philosophical underpinnings of liberation movements,” Mr. Kraft said.

And one more thing: “He never dressed like a dashing correspondent,” added Mr. Craft. “He always wore khakis and a blue blazer so no one could mistake him for a contestant.”

Michael Christopher Parks was born November 17, 1943 in Detroit, the eldest of seven children of Robert J. and Mary Rosalind (Smith) Parks. His father was a Detroit public school teacher and his mother was a homemaker.

Michael attended the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada where he majored in Classical Languages ​​and English Literature and graduated in 1965. A year before graduation, he married Linda Katherine Durocher, a classmate who became a librarian. She is experiencing him.

In addition to his son Christopher, he had another son, Matthew; two brothers, Thomas and James; two sisters, Mary Elizabeth Parks and Mary Constance Parks; and four grandchildren. Daughter Danielle Parks died of leukemia in 2007.

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After college, Mr. Parks became a reporter for the Detroit News and then briefly worked for Time-Life News in New York. He helped found The Suffolk Sun, a newspaper in the East End of Long Island, in 1966, and two years later got a job with The Baltimore Sun as a government reporter in Annapolis, Maryland.

His first overseas posting came in 1970 when The Sun sent him to Saigon to cover the last American battle in Vietnam.

Then he served as head of the Moscow bureau; correspondent in the Middle East, based in Cairo; and head of the Hong Kong bureau. In 1979, he opened The Sun in Beijing. He was one of the first American reporters to settle there after China and the US established diplomatic relations.

The Los Angeles Times hired him from The Sun in 1980 and kept him in Beijing as bureau chief. From there he worked as a bureau chief in Johannesburg, Moscow and Jerusalem. He moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to become associate editor of the foreign affairs department, managing the paper’s 27 foreign correspondents.

A year later, Mr. Parks was promoted to managing editor; in 1997, at the age of 53, he was promoted to editor-in-chief, overseeing a 1,350-member editorial staff and an annual budget of $120 million.

During his tenure, the paper increased its circulation, expanded its reach, won four Pulitzer Prizes, and began to diversify its staff.

“He was a terrific foreign correspondent himself,” Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times and former editor of The Los Angeles Times, said in an email. “And as an editor, he has maintained The Los Angeles Times’ role as a major voice in international coverage.”

But it was a turbulent period. The Chandler family, who had owned the newspaper for a century, put it up for sale.

In addition, one of the biggest scandals in the newspaper’s history erupted when The Times devoted an entire issue of the October 10, 1999 Sunday magazine to the opening of the Staples Center. In a quiet profit-sharing deal, the newspaper shared the magazine’s advertising revenue with the center, the subject of its coverage, a blatant conflict of interest that undermined the newspaper’s integrity and angered employees.

Publisher Katherine Downing took the blame. Mr. Parks said he only learned about the profit-sharing deal after the fact. But the fiasco happened before his eyes, and he was criticized by some for doing nothing as soon as he found out about the deal, such as publishing an article revealing it to readers. In a lengthy The Times report on the investigation of the case, published on December 20, 1999, Mr. Parks said he had “failed” in his job as gatekeeper and expressed “deep regret”.

Tribune bought The Times in 2000 and built its own team, including new editor John Carroll.

Mr. Parks then began his second ten-year career at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. He has taught and twice served as director of the School of Journalism, expanding its international reporting programs and focusing on developing expertise in reporting across communities. He left Annenberg in 2020.

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