In Memory: Nancy Hicks Maynard

Nancy Maynard

By Kay Mills, JAWS member

Nancy Hicks Maynard, who helped bring enormous changes for diversity within the media, died Sept. 21, 2008, in Los Angeles. She was 61. Her family said that she had been ill for several months and that her death resulted from the failure of several major organs, according to the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

It is hard to know where to begin in chronicling Maynard’s many achievements:

  • As a reporter, she covered the urban rebellions of the mid-Sixties, the NASA Apollo program, and the effectiveness of Great Society-era health programs. She worked for the New York Post, for The New York Times, and occasionally for what was then called the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour on public television. At 23, she became the first black woman on the Times’ metropolitan staff; she later worked in the Times’ Washington bureau.
  • Married in 1975 to fellow journalist Robert C. Maynard of the Washington Post, she became co-founder with him of the Institute for Journalism Education, at first based in Berkeley, Calif. It was designed to recruit and train reporters, editors and media managers of color. The couple had previously run a summer training program for minority reporters on the University of California’s Berkeley campus. The program was renamed the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education after his death in 1993. Maynard’s daughter Dori now heads the institute.
  • In 1983, the Maynards purchased the Oakland Tribune from the Gannett Corp., making it then as now the only major metropolitan daily ever to have been black-owned, according to an obituary prepared by the institute. The paper was sold to the Alameda Newspaper Group in 1992. Maynard would not run handgun ads in the paper because of Oakland’s murder rate at the time.
  • After her husband’s death, Maynard continued to work for newsroom diversity. In 1998 the National Association of Black Journalists awarded her its annual Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • She was also prescient, giving a speech at JAWS in 1995 at Whitefish, Montana, about journalists’ need to redefine their roles in the age of the Internet. She wrote a book on the subject, “Mega Media: How Market Forces are Transforming News,” published in 2000.

In addition to her daughter, Maynard’s survivors include two sons; her companion, Jay Harris, former publisher of the San Jose Mercury; her mother; and a sister.

The institute’s obituary gave one clue about what led to Maynard’s passion for journalism and for fairness. “When her former grammar school [in New York where she grew up] burned down, she became so outraged at the negative and inaccurate description of her neighborhood that she decided she needed to do something about misrepresentation of that kind.”

Maynard also inspired younger journalists. She “was one of my role models,” said Pamela Moreland, former JAWS president. “I was a teenager when I learned that she was an African-American woman working as a reporter at The New York Times. She had the career that I aspired to. I saw myself in her.

“Whenever I could get my hands on a copy of The New York Times, a feat for a kid living in Los Angeles, I would scour the bylines looking for ‘Nancy Hicks.’ When I found one, I would read and re-read the story. I took note on what she was writing about. I studied her writing style.”

Moreland said she doesn’t remember when she met Nancy, “but our paths crossed time and time again—in the Bay Area, in New York City, at NABJ, ASNE and Unity conventions. She was always gracious and took time to ask me how my career was going. She always pushed me to strive to new achievements. She, along with others in the IJE family, made me understand that one of my roles was to always extend a hand to help the next generation of women and journalists of color achieve their dreams.”

As she started her own career, Maynard told me many years ago, she was offered a choice between a news assistant’s job at the Times—a fancy title for clerk—and a reporting tryout at the New York Post. She took the tryout even though she knew she might get dumped. She took the tryout. “You always have to practice the highest art form, and that was reporting.”

At one point later, Maynard recalled, she got an interview with Rap Brown, the former civil rights leader and Black Panther, when he was released from federal prison on weapons charges. “A friend of mine helped me get into the car in which Brown was leaving. They may have thought I was Rap’s girlfriend and I didn’t disabuse them of that.”

Kay Mills is the author of “A Place in the News: From the Women’s Pages to the Front Page.”