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From AJR,   June 1999  issue

Breaking the Color Barrier   

Former New York City News columnist and New York Times reporter Earl Caldwell has embarked on his first online writing project--and he's feeling liberated.


By Bridget Gutierrez
Bridget Gutierrez is a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News.     


F ORMER NEW YORK DAILY NEWS columnist and New York Times reporter Earl Caldwell is a self-described Matt Drudge fan. Not necessarily for Drudge's down-and-dirty gossiping, but more for his example: taking to the Internet to become his own publisher.
Caldwell, a 60-year-old career journalist, has embarked on his first online writing project, and he's feeling liberated.
"I'm opening a whole new chapter in my professional life," he says.
In February, Caldwell became the first writer-in-residence at the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, a nonprofit organization that focuses on diversity in journalism. From the Maynard offices in Oakland, California, Caldwell writes "The Caldwell Journals"--an online serial that chronicles his personal history of breaking the newsroom color barrier. "He has quite an extraordinary tale to tell," says Dori Maynard, communications director and daughter of the institute's namesake.
There is a misconception that "black people got in because white people felt guilty," she says. "Well, that's not really true at all."
"The Caldwell Journals," at www.maynardije.org, is part of a pilot program to document the history of minorities in journalism through the work of a writer-in-residence.
Caldwell was a natural choice to fill the first year's writing slot, Maynard says, because of his intimate knowledge of the civil rights movement. He is perhaps best known as the New York Times reporter who refused to give up his notes on the controversial Black Panthers in the late 1960s. He was also the only reporter present at the Lorraine Motel when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
"I want to try to tell the true story as best I can tell it," says Caldwell, a founding member of the institute, "to pull the camera back and widen the canvas."
Caldwell's stint at Maynard will probably last six months. In the fall he heads east to become a writer-in-residence at Pennsylvania State University--an opportunity spawned by recognition from the online series. Obviously bitten by the Internet bug, Caldwell plans to launch his own Web site to post some 2,500 of his old Daily News columns and to continue the journal he is compiling for Maynard.
Caldwell's tale begins with an 899-word essay about landing his first newspaper job in his hometown of Clearfield, Pennsylvania.
"At the Progress, Friday was payday and everybody on the staff was given a little brown envelope. There were no checks; everybody was paid cash. `Because they don't want anybody to know how little they pay us,' grumbled the veterans on the staff. To me the money didn't matter. I had something far more valuable. I had a byline: `Earl Caldwell, Progress Sports Writer.' "