It’s heartbreaking to lose those rare journalists who are committed to the context around their subjects, telling the most complete story they could. Dori J. Maynard, who was all that and more, passed away in Oakland at the age of 56 on February 25, 2015. Over the course of a career spanning four decades, Maynard worked as a reporter for a wide variety of outlets, including the Oakland Tribune, the Huffington Post, and the Detroit Free Press, earning her the title of Nieman fellow from Harvard’s school of journalism.
As a journalist, Maynard’s writing reached beyond the tropes of urban storytelling. After a fatal shooting at Art Murmur in 2013, she argued against the narrative of a “tale of two cities” when discussing violence in Oakland:
“[The] notion of a bifurcated city in which half of the population lives in upscale bliss while the rest is mired in misery is also inaccurate. Oakland may be a city of varying opportunities and experiences, but it is one city. To cover it otherwise is as misleading as looking at the violence as somehow apart from a similar epidemic plaguing the country.”
Maynard wasn’t afraid to name the culprits of misrepresentation in media because she was keenly aware that those misrepresentations traveled from public opinion to public policy. She wrote critically about the lack of diverse voices in the news discussing the murders of young black men and women at the hands of those protected by laws and badges. She recognized the incomplete picture that mainstream media tends to paint as the result of a systematic lack of intention and dedication to incorporating diversity as a framework for storytelling. “To tell the stories of communities of color,” she once lamented, “we’re relying increasingly on people who may have little or no knowledge about them.”
Her dedication to challenging journalistic failures extended to her work as president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland. Named after her father, the former editor and owner of the Oakland Tribune, the institute trained media managers and journalists from communities of color, allowing them to enter the workforce equipped with a skill for context and accuracy. Today, the Maynard Institute continues to produce work that serves as a model for nuanced and sharp commentary and criticism, embodied first and foremost by pieces written by Maynard herself.
There is a comfort in knowing that exceptional people like Maynard almost always leave a great legacy behind. Earlier this year, another rare figure in journalism, New York Times columnist David Carr, passed away. The brilliant writer Ta-Nehisi Coates who worked under Carr’s editorial guidance early in his career, describes a principle Carr instilled as such:
“David Carr convinced me that, through the constant and forceful application of principle, a young hopper, a fuck-up, a knucklehead, could bring the heavens, the vast heavens, to their knees. The principle was violent and incessant curiosity represented in the craft of narrative argument.”
By many accounts, Carr was rare not only in his loyalty to curiosity and the craft of narrative but also in his advocacy for minorities in the newsroom: the young, the women, and the writers of color many of whom followed unorthodox paths to journalism. Maynard and Carr were exceptional, in the true sense of the word: the kinds of journalists and advocates that left little space between their principles and their practice. And onward lives their legacy, through their words, the institutions they shaped and the work of those who they taught.
Learn more about the work of Dori J. Maynard and the Maynard Insitute here.