Remembering Nancy Maynard

The Maynard Institute's founder was a pioneer in more ways than one

When I first met Nancy Hicks Maynard, she had just been appointed as a co-director of the Media Studies Center at Freedom Forum during its first year outside of the Columbia School of Journalism.

I knew Nancy by reputation as a reporter and, of course, as the former owner of the Oakland Tribune, which she ran with her husband, the late Bob Maynard.

As I got to know her, I realized that she was not only a pioneer for women journalists. She was a risk taker—an ingredient that’s all too rare in today’s journalism.

Nancy worked as a reporter at The New York Times during the days when there were few women reporters, let alone African-Americans, in the newsroom.

Her marriage to the late Robert Maynard led to another risk—the purchase of the Oakland Tribune. Their decision to publish the paper put them in the history books as the first African-Americans to own a mainstream newspaper. From her vantage point, Nancy became keenly aware of the news industry’s struggles to sustain itself, and during our Freedom Forum year she spent a great deal of time investigating and promoting innovative ideas on the future of the news media. The result was her book Mega Media: How Market Forces Are Transforming News.

But perhaps the most lasting legacy of her forceful pursuit of journalism excellence was the journalism training institute that bears the Maynard name.

Thousands of journalists of all colors and backgrounds have benefitted from the vision that Nancy and Bob put into that training program. As an editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, I sent many minority journalists to Maynard, confident that they would get the training and assistance that would help them move into top reporting and editing positions. Eventually, I brought the institute to the Inquirer, to help the paper thoroughly examine the diversity of its coverage.

On a personal level, Nancy was an important ally in my efforts to realize what was then considered a revolutionary idea—a text book, complete with a supplementary CD and Web site, on how to cover race and ethnicity. This was 1996, and most people had no idea what multimedia was all about, let alone how to use it as a teaching tool on race.

Somehow I knew that Nancy would take a risk on me, even though I had neither academic credentials nor teaching experience. By helping me attain a Freedom Forum fellowship, Nancy gave me the confidence and intellectual support I needed to create a unique text book on how to cover race and ethnicity.

It took more than ten years and a lot of help to get my project—The Authentic Voice—done and on the shelves at journalism schools around the country. It is just one of her lasting legacies. Nancy Maynard, a woman of many achievments, left her mark on this world. Above all, she believed in the necessity of fearless reporting on the complexities of how race and demographic change were transforming America.

We’ve still got a long way to go, but we are closer to the goal because of Nancy Hicks Maynard.

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Arlene Morgan is the associate dean of prizes and programs at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.