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Les Payne, Trailblazing Journalist And Newsday Pulitzer Winner, Dies

Les Payne, Trailblazing Journalist And Newsday Pulitzer Winner, Dies

Photo Credit: Ken Spence/Newsday, AP 

The Newsday legend’s career spanned nearly four decades.

Trailblazing journalist, founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists, and longtime columnist for Newsday, Les Payne died Monday at the age of 76.

Newsday reported Tuesday that Payne died of a heart attack Monday night at a home office that he and his wife, Violet, owned in Harlem. According to his son, Jamal Payne, at the time, he was working on a book he was writing about Malcolm X.

The distinguished New York journalist forged an almost 40-year-long career championing racial equality and documenting history—from the streets of American cities, to the poppy fields of Turkey, to the Soweto uprising in South Africa. Payne was part of the Long Island newspaper’s reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for its “The Heroin Trail” series.

“For decades, Les Payne, through his reporting and commentary, served as the conscience of Long Island, raising issues of racial and social justice that a portion of our audience living in a largely, white suburban community didn’t always want to confront,” said former Newsday editor Howard Schneider. “It made him controversial, sometimes unpopular, but always on the right side of history. He was a seminal figure in the evolution of Newsday as a newspaper for all of the residents of Long Island.”

The newspaper’s current editor, Deborah Henley, said Payne “spent almost four decades at Newsday establishing a standard of journalistic excellence that has been a beacon for all who have come after him. His skill, his passion and his integrity were all elements in a distinguished career that, in his own words, led to ‘journalism that brought attention to problems, and sometimes helped solve those problems. ’”

The Vietnam veteran started working at Newsday in 1969. Throughout his career, he mentored other journalists and would go on to become founder and president of the National Association of Black Journalists. Payne “was a legendary journalist whose eloquent writing brought passion and truth-telling to an industry too often tone deaf to the issues impacting communities of color.” NABJ’s current president, Sarah Glover said.

Payne oversaw foreign and national coverage for Newsday, was an editor of New York Newsday and wrote a column. He retired in 2006.

His wife of 51 years told Newsday that Payne “appreciated the people who appreciated him: the readers. They were the ones that he enjoyed writing for, and I appreciate them reading him.”

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