Herb Boyd's Secrets To Success In Journalism

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[Black History Month]

A room full of aspiring journalists sat in Ben's restaurant the other day and listened to veteran journalist, activist, and historian Herb Boyd's advice about how to be a successful reporter.

His pearls of wisdom kept rolling: "First of all, you must be versatile.  What it takes to survive is versatility.  It is always challenging to earn a living.  I worked with many photographers to accompany my articles. One photographer was Gordon Parks, and you want to build relationships with good photographers."

"Journalism is the first draft of history," Boyd said.  "I'm transcribing the handwritten works of Minister Malcolm X that is in the Schomburg.  Manning Marable and Spike Lee did not do Minister Malcolm's life justice.  Spike Lee told me to do my own film on Malcolm if I did not like how he dwelled on Malcolm's zoot suit dancing days."  

He also contrasted how writers conduct their research today with past reporters -- noting that so much information is now more readily available. "What is on our computer is a library," he said. "We used to have to go to libraries and look up so many things. Now? All you have to do is Google different topics.  Double check Google materials, and give attribution.  Down the line, some of your articles could find its way into a book."

News and information for stories can also come in unpredictable manners, Boyd noted, and referred to how he accidentally ended up next to someone who provided him with a valuable quote recently. "Also, activism is a way to accumulate information," Boyd said. "For example, I attended the funeral of former Mayor Ed Koch. Keep your eyes and ears open. I ended up sitting next to Koch's biographer, Jonathan Soffer. I asked him for a quote for my Amsterdam News piece that will be coming out on Thursday."

"Become a grammar police," the journalist cautioned his listeners. "When I turned in my early work, it came back with many red marks. My wife was a good editor, and in time I mastered grammar. Also, pay attention to Black History Month. It's a good time to get out into the Black community."

"You're juggling many things," Boyd concluded, in describing a writers daily schedule. "Furthermore, make contacts with television personalities, also. Milton Allimadi, Les Payne and I would go on Gil Noble's 'Like It Is' to discuss pertinent issues."

Allimadi, publisher of The Black Star News and founding instructor of Guerrilla Journalism, the free Brooklyn-based weekly journalism workshop, and Les Payne, the former Pulitzer-prize winning editor at Newsday, along with Boyd were frequent guests on Noble's WABC "Like It Is" news show.

He concluded: "Keep in touch with people who have histories of certain cities, too.  Report on Harlem and the Harlems of the world." This sit-down with journalists-to-be was on
February 4, 2013 at the National Writers Union.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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