Michael Parks, a reporter who heads the Los Angeles Times, died at the age of 78

Michael Parks, a foreign correspondent for The Los Angeles Times who won the Pulitzer Prize and later became the editor-in-chief of the paper, one of the largest metropolitan dailies in the country, died on January 8 at a hospital in Pasadena, California. was 78.

The cause was a heart attack and kidney failure, said his son Christopher.

Mr. Parks reported from around the world from 1970 to 1995, first to The Baltimore Sun and then to The Los Angeles Times. During his stay abroad, he recorded some of the most important geopolitical events in modern history, including the Vietnam War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the unleashing 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 documenting the brutal segregationist policies of apartheid for two years. When the country plunged sharply toward historical change, Mr. Parks was the fifth correspondent to be deported that year.

The Times decided to appeal; the story of the black majority’s uprising against the white government was too important to talk about. In early 1987, Mr. Parks and Los Angeles editors met with three government ministers in Cape Town to defend their case.

Ministers pulled out boxes containing 242 articles written by Mr Parks in 1986. Each of them was annotated and every detail against the white regime was properly labeled. There is no doubt, the ministers said, that Mr Parks had thrown South Africa into a negative light.

And yet the ministers failed to find a single mistake in any of the 242 dispatches. With a single step, they revoked the deportation order and allowed Mr. Parks to stay.

A few months later, his careful reporting was again awarded the Pulitzer Prize for International News for what the Pulitzer Committee called his “balanced and comprehensive coverage of South Africa.”

“He was a student in the liberation struggles,” Scott Kraft said in a telephone interview, following Mr. Parks as head of The Times in Johannesburg.

Mr Kraft, now editor-in-chief of The Times, said that when the scholar Mr Parks introduced him to his sources, he saw that many of them, especially the exiled leaders of the African National Congress, liked to discuss political philosophy and strategy. with him.

“He was in other world capitals with civil conflicts and really understood the philosophical basis of the liberation movements,” Mr Kraft said.

And one more thing: “He never dressed as a scoundrel,” Mr. Kraft added. “He always wore a khaki and a blue jacket so no one would confuse him with the participant.”

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

Michael went to the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, where he specialized in classical languages ​​and English literature and graduated in 1965. A year before graduating, he married classmate Linda Katherine Durocher, who became a librarian. He will survive him.

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

After college, Mr. Parks became a reporter for The Detroit News and then worked briefly for the Time-Life News Service in New York City. In 1966, he helped found The Suffolk Sun in the East End of Long Island, and after two years got a job at The Baltimore Sun as a government reporter in Annapolis, Md.

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

He then served as head of the Moscow office; a Middle East correspondent based in Cairo; and the head of the Hong Kong office. In 1979, he opened The Sun office in Beijing. He was one of the first American reporters 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 as head of office in Beijing. From there, he worked as head of offices in Johannesburg, Moscow and Jerusalem. In 1995, he moved to Los Angeles to become deputy foreign editor and direct the newspaper’s 27 foreign correspondents.

After a year, Mr. Parks was promoted to chief editor; In 1997, at the age of 53, he was appointed editor-in-chief, overseeing a editorial team of 1,350 people and an annual budget of $ 120 million.

During his tenure, the newspaper increased costs, expanded its coverage, acquired four Pulitzers, and began to diversify its employees.

“He himself was a great foreign correspondent,” said Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times and former editor of The Los Angeles Times, in an email. “And as an editor, he retained his Los Angeles Times role as a major voice in international news.”

But it was a stormy time. The Chandler family, who owned the paper for a century, sold it for sale.

In addition, one of the biggest scandals in the paper’s history erupted when The Times dedicated an entire issue of its Sunday magazine of October 10, 1999 to the opening of the Staples Center. In a tacit profit-sharing agreement, the newspaper shared advertising revenue from the magazine with the center that was the subject of its reporting – an apparent conflict of interest that undermined the paper’s integrity and outraged employees.

Publisher Kathryn Downing took the blame. Mr Parks said he had not known about the profit-sharing agreement until then. But there was a debacle on his watch, and some criticized him for not doing anything when he found out about the agreement, like when he published an article in which he told readers. In a long investigative report by The Times on the issue, published on December 20, 1999, Mr. Parks said he had “failed” in his job as a bodyguard and expressed “deep regret.”

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

Mr. Parks then began two decades of his second career at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. He taught and served two internships as a director of a journalism school, expanding its international news programs and its focus on developing expertise to cover a variety of communities. He retired from Annenberg in 2020.

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