Veteran journalists Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff painstakingly trace the evolution of civil rights press coverage in the South ... The Race Beat is very much an insider’s account. Roberts and Klibanoff are sensitive to the details and challenges of journalistic practice ... The result is a richly textured and balanced narrative that reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the news media, as well as the personal and contingent factors...that influenced the on-the-ground coverage of the movement and its opponents ... Their stories, and the fateful choices of a not-so-distant past, are worth pondering in an imperfect democracy still grappling with both the burdens of race and the responsibilities of a free press.
Both are consummate masters of the kind of arresting journalism we see too seldom in today's feature-laden McPapers, whose circulation keeps shrinking as fast as their news holes ... They have succeeded in creating a masterpiece. The Race Beat is a riveting piece of social history that balances both its subjects brilliantly. It recalls dimly remembered battles -- and the distinctive personalities and hard-fought issues on all sides -- with the kind of arresting detail that makes them live again, as suspensefully as if the outcome were still in doubt ... There has never been a better study of the importance of a free press.
It's hard to imagine who'd be better qualified to tell the story of the press and America's civil-rights movement ... The Race Beat shows how the press and the story they covered became inextricable ... Roberts and Klibanoff, whose years of journalistic experience have clearly led them to prefer pragmatism over dogma, don't try to draw bright lines in this ethical murk. But they do know about decency and common sense ... The Race Beat has good characters, good yarns and good thinking. Just as important, though, it's got a good heart.
Veteran journalists themselves, the authors provide gripping accounts of journalists' efforts to get the story ... The book is marbled with biographical sketches of editors and reporters, which, at times, create a confusing tapestry of names and facts. The interludes are particularly distracting in chapters with a natural dramatic arc...The narrative would have been better served had the authors focused on a few representative journalists ... A detached, academic tone ... The Race Beat is a compelling reminder of the need for a vibrant and free press, with the resources and resourcefulness to shine a light on the nation's wrongs.
The book, which teems with portraits of everyday journalistic pressures, is the fair-minded chronicle of a generation of Southern journalists and editors...At the same time, Roberts and Klibanoff give ample coverage to the brave black journalists who spurred their white colleagues to better performance ... The authors' early explanation that 'a small band of liberal white Southern editors would become their region's conscience,' is thoroughly and movingly documented.
The authors provide a fresh account of the black press's trajectory ... Although sometimes weighted by mundane detail and deadening statistics, the book is so enlivened with anecdotes that it remains a page-turner.