Alabama Newspaper Reckons With Its Past
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Montgomery, Ala., has spent the past week in self-reflection. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a memorial to those killed in lynchings, has just opened there - dedicated to victims of racial injustice. And the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper has run a series on racial crimes that were committed within memory of many families in Alabama, including an editorial that looked back on how their newspaper covered lynchings. That editorial began, we were wrong. We're joined now from Montgomery by the paper's executive editor Bro Krift. Mr. Krift, thanks so much for being with us.
BRO KRIFT: I'm glad to be with you. Thank you for having me.
SIMON: And how was your newspaper wrong?
KRIFT: I think we were wrong in how we covered lynchings and the racial terror of the mid-19th century through the early 20th century. We looked at the articles that we ran and the words that we chose to describe the victims of those lynchings. We characterized them as murderers before they were actually convicted. And we didn't necessarily get their story or understand their perspective. And we routinely did that throughout several decades long into the 20th century.
SIMON: And is there an example or two that stays in your mind?
KRIFT: There was one man who was pulled out of a buggy after he was accused of a murder by masked men. And when he was pulled out, they shot him on the side of the road. And when we were describing what occurred, very factually, at the end, we described how he and his brothers were all dubious characters and were born murderers, despite their family being hardworking. And the idea that we would already describe them as born murderers before they were convicted of a crime already sets a narrative in place that you probably can't turn around with the people that are reading your newspaper.
SIMON: And would it be fair to say that this kind of reporting just strengthened racism?
KRIFT: Yeah, absolutely. I think it was - I don't know if it was consciously done in some pieces. But if you look at the headlines and the words that were chosen, I think it was rooted in the times and the beliefs of an inferior race and white supremacy. Now, we would write editorials saying lynching is wrong. But then we would say things - well, you know, lynching is going to continue to occur as long as the assaults against people continue to occur. So it was almost putting the blame back on the person who was lynched. If they didn't commit the incident, then they wouldn't have been pulled out of a buggy and killed on the side of the road with, you know, a gunshot to the back of the head.
SIMON: Has this experience - do you think it's changed how you're going to cover the community of Montgomery, in central Alabama, from now on?
KRIFT: It should. I think we need to consciously think about how we characterize people that we report on daily - victims of crimes, people accused of crimes but even public officials too - because it's a document, right? It puts it down, records it in history. This is who this person was. We saw headlines from other papers where lynching victims were described as brutes - Negro brutes. And what does that mean? I mean, it's just one word, but it carries so much. And it characterizes that person and dehumanizes them so much. So when you look at the modern times and what we're doing now and the choice of words that we use, it's important that we make sure that we reflect each and every person - we understand them as a human.
SIMON: Bro Krift, executive editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, thanks so much for being with us.
KRIFT: I appreciate being with you. Thank you for having me.
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