Shawn G. Kennedy, Times Reporter in an avant-garde, dies at 73

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In the 1970s, as The New York Times lagged behind other newspapers in recruiting journalists and color editors, Paul Delaney, the first black journalist hired in the newspaper’s Washington office, was among those who helped recruit non-white journalists.

He was on a mission to New Orleans in 1973 when he came across a black TV reporter, who told him that his twin sister, who worked as a fact-checker for Playboy magazine in Chicago, was eager to switch to a daily. The next time Mr. Delaney was in Chicago, he looked for her.

And that’s how Shawn G. Kennedy came to work at The Times, taking a route as haphazard as any during that time, before organizations like the National Association of Black Journalists were formed to help organize. recruiting journalists.

Ms Kennedy, who worked at The Times for 23 years, died on April 5 at the home of her sister, Royal Kennedy Rodgers, in San Francisco. She was 73 years old and lived in New Orleans. Ms Rodgers said the cause was breast cancer.

Ms. Kennedy began her career at The Times as an intern in the Washington office in 1975 as part of a program to train minority journalists.

Max Frankel, who was the Washington bureau chief from 1968 to 1972, and who later became editor-in-chief, recruited Mr. Delaney from the Washington Star. Then, as Mr. Frankel wrote in his memoir, “The Times of My Life and My Life with The Times” (1999), “We decided that we had an obligation not only to loot other staff members. , but to pave the way for our business for promising young people.

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The Times created this route by hiring people of color in the office as press assistants. Thanks to an agreement with the journalists’ union, Frankel said, the office used them as journalists while paying them office salaries; in return, the office promised to sponsor them to report jobs in New York if they met Times standards. One of the office’s editors, Bob Phelps, helped them by taking their work home and grading it like a teacher would.

Mrs. Kennedy made the cut. “She was at the forefront,” Mr. Delaney said in an interview. “Her success and her entry into the staff attracted many other minorities to the program.”

At the time, people of color on paper were relatively rare; more recently, they made up about 26% of the newsroom and 32% of the business, and The Times has established a scholarship program to train journalists of color.

In New York, Ms. Kennedy worked in the subway office and was promoted to office manager for Long Island. She then researched and was given the position of real estate writer.

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“She loved real estate,” said Lena Williams, another black reporter who worked at The Times and was a close friend of Ms. Kennedy. “She was one of the first to see gentrification in Crown Heights and Harlem. She wrote real estate stories and turned them into lifestyle stories.

Her dream beyond that, Ms Williams said, was to work for the Styles section. Ms. Kennedy was an accomplished cook and knew about fashion, interior design and architecture. She was disappointed when told she was “not ready” for Styles, Ms Williams said, even though she sometimes freelance for the section anyway.

Mr Delaney said “you are not ready” was a common explanation when a black journalist was refused a move. “These are the kinds of things we face all the time,” he says. “This is what we had to overcome.”

Credit…via Royal Rodgers

Shawn Graves Kennedy was born on June 8, 1947 in Chicago. His father, Lieutenant-Colonel James Vincent Kennedy, was one of the aviators of Tuskegee, the all-black corps of elite pilots; he completed his training too late to attend combat in WWII, but became a career air force officer and flew missions in Korea and Vietnam. He received degrees in electrical engineering and worked on the Apollo space program.

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Her mother, Shirley (Graves) Kennedy, returned to school after her children grew up and received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in African American studies and her doctorate in political science. She then taught black studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

With Mr. Kennedy in the military, the family lived on air bases across the world. Parents were very interested in current affairs and loved to read, and their children adopted the same habits. Royal Rodgers said that while living in Tokyo and without a television there, she and Shawn “devoured” American magazines. Shawn went to Ohio University in Athens but left for Playboy before graduating.

She married Harold Brown, an investment manager, in 1997 and left The Times shortly after. They moved to Sacramento and Washington, DC, before settling in New Orleans.

“New Orleans was her big second act,” her sister said. Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Brown were already involved in economic development there before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, and afterward they devoted themselves even more to rebuilding the city. After Mr Brown passed away in 2013, Ms Kennedy continued many of her projects.

One project that Ms. Kennedy was particularly proud of was overseeing the conversion of the historic St. Rosa Church in Lima into a center for a Waldorf school, performance space and business incubator.

In addition to her sister, she is survived by two brothers, Kevin and Colin; one stepson, David Brown; and a step-grandson.