Michael Parks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The Los Angeles Times who later became the editor-in-chief of the paper, one of the nation’s largest metropolitan dailies, died Jan. 8 at a hospital in Pasadena, California. turned 78.
The cause was a heart attack and kidney failure, his son Christopher said.
mr. Parks covered the world from 1970 to 1995, first for The Baltimore Sun and then for The Los Angeles Times. During his time abroad, he wrote down some of the most important geopolitical events in modern history, including the Vietnam War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the unraveling of apartheid in South Africa.
While in Johannesburg for The Times, the white minority government announced in late 1986 that it would deport him after documenting apartheid’s brutal segregationist policies for two years. As the country forcibly moved toward historic change, Mr. Parks was the fifth correspondent that year to receive an eviction notice.
The Times decided to appeal; the story of the black majority’s rebellion against white rule was too important not to cover. In early 1987, Mr. Parks and editors from Los Angeles in Cape Town invited three ministers to argue their case.
The ministers brought out boxes containing all 242 articles Mr. Parks had written in 1986. Every article was annotated, and every insult against the white regime was duly noted. No doubt, the ministers said, Mr Parks had portrayed South Africa in a negative light.
And yet the ministers could not find a single error in any of the 242 dispatches. In a rare move, they reversed the eviction notice and let Mr. Parks stay.
His meticulous reporting was again awarded the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting a few months later for what the Pulitzer Commission called his “balanced and comprehensive reporting on South Africa.”
“He was a student of the liberation struggle,” Scott Kraft, who succeeded Mr Parks as bureau chief of The Times in Johannesburg, said in a telephone interview.
Mr Kraft, now a senior editor at The Times, said that when the scholar Mr. Parks introduced him to his sources, he could see that many of them, especially the exiled leaders of the African National Congress, were eager to discuss political philosophy and strategy. with him.
“He had been to other capitals of the world with civil conflicts, and he really understood the philosophical basis of liberation movements,” said Mr. power.
And another thing: “He never dressed like a reckless correspondent,” Mr Kraft added. “He always wore a khaki and a blue blazer so no one could mistake him for a contestant.”
Michael Christopher Parks was born on November 17, 1943 in Detroit, the oldest of seven children of Robert J. and Mary Rosalind (Smith) Parks. His father was a public school teacher in Detroit, his mother a housewife.
Michael attended the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, where he majored in classical languages and English literature, graduating in 1965. The year before graduating, he married Linda Katherine Durocher, a classmate, who became a librarian. She survives 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. A daughter, Danielle Parks, died of leukemia in 2007.
After his studies, Mr. Parks was a reporter for The Detroit News and then briefly worked for the Time-Life News Service in New York. He helped set up The Suffolk Sun, a newspaper on the East End of Long Island, in 1966 and after two years got a job with 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 fighting in Vietnam.
He then served as a bureau chief in Moscow; Middle East correspondent, based in Cairo; and Hong Kong bureau chief. In 1979 he opened the office of The Sun in Beijing. He was one of the first American reporters stationed 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 bureau chief. From there, he served as bureau chief in Johannesburg, Moscow and Jerusalem. He moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to become deputy foreign editor and head the paper’s 27 foreign correspondents.
After a year, Mr. Parks was promoted to editor-in-chief; in 1997, at age 53, he was named top editor, overseeing an editorial staff of 1,350 people and an annual budget of $120 million.
During his tenure, the newspaper increased its circulation, expanded its coverage area, won four Pulitzers and began to diversify its workforce.
“He was a great foreign correspondent himself,” Dean Baquet, editor of The New York Times and former editor of The Los Angeles Times, said in an email. “And as an editor, he maintained The Los Angeles Times’ role as a major voice in international news coverage.”
But it was a turbulent period. The Chandler family, who had owned the paper for a century, put it up for sale.
In addition, one of the biggest scandals in the newspaper’s history erupted when The Times devoted the entire October 10, 1999 issue of its Sunday magazine to the opening of Staples Center. In a silent profit-sharing deal, the newspaper had split the magazine’s advertising revenue with the center, the subject of its coverage — a blatant conflict of interest that undermined the newspaper’s integrity and outraged its staff.
The publisher, Kathryn Downing, took the blame. Mr. Parks said he only learned about the profit-sharing agreement afterwards. But the debacle happened on his watch, with some criticizing him for doing nothing once he learned about the deal, such as publishing an article revealing it to readers. In a lengthy The Times investigative report on the matter, published December 20, 1999, Mr. Parks that he had “failed” in his job as a gatekeeper and expressed his “deep regret”.
The Tribune Company bought The Times in 2000 and installed its own team, including a new editor, John Carroll.
mr. Parks then embarked on a second two-decade career at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He taught and served for two stints as director of the school of journalism, expanding its international reporting programs and focus on developing expertise in diverse community coverage. He retired from Annenberg in 2020.