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Michael Parks, Reporter Who Rose to Lead The Los Angeles Times, Dies at 78


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

His son Christopher said the cause was a heart attack and kidney failure.

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

While in Johannesburg for The Times, the white minority government announced in late 1986 that it would expel him after he had been documenting the brutal apartheid policy of apartheid for two years. As the country was violently heading toward historic change, Mr. Parks was the fifth reporter that year to receive an expulsion order.

The Times decided to appeal. The story of the rebellion of the black majority against white rule was too important to cover. In early 1987, Mr. Parks and the editors from Los Angeles met in Cape Town with three government ministers to plead their case.

Ministers brought in boxes containing 242 articles written by Mr. Parks in 1986. Each one was annotated, with every outspoken anti-white order duly noted. Ministers said there was no doubt that Mr. Parks had cast a negative shadow over South Africa.

However, the ministers were unable to find a single error in any of the 242 letters. In a rare move, they reversed the expulsion order and allowed Mr. Parks to stay.

His meticulous reporting was rewarded again a few months later with a 1987 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for what the Pulitzer Committee described as his “balanced and comprehensive coverage of South Africa”.

“He was a student of the liberation struggles,” Scott Kraft, who followed Mr. Parks as Johannesburg bureau chief for The Times, said in a phone interview.

Mr. Kraft, current managing editor of The Times, said that when academic researcher Parks introduced him to his sources, he saw that many of them, particularly exiled leaders of the African National Congress, enjoyed discussing political philosophy and strategy. with him.

“He had been in other world capitals experiencing civil strife, and he really understood the philosophical basis of the liberation movements,” said Mr. Kraft.

And one more thing: “He never dressed like a reckless reporter,” Mr. Kraft added. “He always wore a khaki and a blue jacket so that no one would mistake him for a participant.”

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

Michael went to the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, where he majored in classical languages ​​and English literature and graduated in 1965. The year before his graduation, he married a classmate of Linda Katherine Doroscher, who became a librarian. I survived him.

In addition to his son Christopher, he is also survived by another son, Matthew; two brothers, Thomas and James; two sisters, Mary Elizabeth Parks and Mary Constance Parks; and four grandchildren. Danielle Parks’ daughter died of leukemia in 2007.

After graduating from college, Mr. Parks became a reporter for The Detroit News and then worked briefly for the Time-Life News Service in New York. He helped start the Suffolk Sun, a newspaper on the eastern end of Long Island, in 1966 and two years later got a job at the Baltimore Sun as a government reporter in Annapolis, Maryland.

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

Then he held the position of head of the Moscow bureau. Middle East correspondent based in Cairo. Head of the Hong Kong office. In 1979, the Sun office opened in Beijing. He was one of the first American correspondents to settle there after China and the United States established diplomatic relations.

The Los Angeles Times hired him from The Sun in 1980 and kept him in Beijing as its chief of staff. From there he served as head of office in Johannesburg, Moscow and Jerusalem. He moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to become deputy foreign affairs editor, managing the 27 foreign correspondents.

A year later, Parks was promoted to managing editor. In 1997, at age 53, he was appointed editor-in-chief, overseeing an editorial board of 1,350 people and an annual budget of $120 million.

During his tenure, the newspaper increased its circulation, expanded its coverage areas, won four Pulitzers and began diversifying its staff.

“He himself was a wonderful foreign correspondent,” Dean Paquet, executive editor of the New York Times and former editor of the Los Angeles Times, said in an email. “And as editor, he maintains 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 newspaper history erupted when The Times dedicated the entire issue of its magazine on Sunday, October 10, 1999, to the opening of the Staples Center. In a quiet profit-sharing deal, the newspaper split advertising revenue from the magazine with the center, the subject of its coverage – a blatant conflict of interest that undermined the newspaper’s integrity and angered staff.

The publisher, Catherine Downing, took the blame. Mr. Parks said he doesn’t know the profit-sharing deal until after the fact. But disaster occurred during his reign, and some criticized him for not doing anything once he learned of the deal, such as publishing an article revealing it to readers. In a lengthy investigative report by The Times on the matter, published on December 20, 1999, Mr. Parks said he had “failed” in his job as a janitor, and expressed his “deep regret”.

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

Mr. Parks then began his second career of two decades at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. He has taught and served two terms as Director of the School of Journalism, expanding international reporting programs and focusing on developing expertise in covering diverse communities. He retired from Annenberg in 2020.