Media Matters
Reckoning in York, PA
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When a small-town newspaper's investigative reporting leads to a murder indictment, and the accused is the town's mayor, is it a journalistic victory or community tragedy? Alex Kotlowitz, a former staff reporter for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and the author of the award-winning THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE and THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER, reports.

When does a newspaper's mission to report the truth become unhealthy for the community it serves? That question is at the heart of the second MEDIA MATTERS segment. In 1969, York, Pennsylvania was shaken to its core by deadly race riots. In 1999, in a 30th anniversary look back at the riots, reporters from THE YORK DISPATCH raised questions about two unsolved murders.
Photo Essay

Learn about the tragic events of 1969 -- and what has happened in York since that time.
State Police Photo

The reporting led an ambitious District Attorney to reinvestigate the killing of Lillie Belle Allen, a black woman shot and killed by a gang of York whites during the riots. In addition to the gang members, Charles Robertson, a policeman at the time, has been accused of inciting the gang to violence and providing the ammunition used in the crime. Today, Robertson is mayor of York.


Car Rear Photo

A local newspaper told a story that was ignored for 30 years. Not everyone was pleased.

As the story developed, the DISPATCH and its competitor, THE DAILY RECORD, intensified their coverage. But, rather than receiving civic kudos for their reportage, the newspapers have fallen under attack from a large group of York's most powerful citizens for what they see as negative and exploitative coverage of the affair. Moreover, they accuse the DISPATCH of failing to report the positive developments in race relations and urban renewal. Meanwhile, the national media -- from the TV networks to the NEW YORK TIMES -- have picked up on the story. This attention has only served to intensify matters.

The York DISPATCH photo

The cover of the York DISPATCH on Tuesday, July 3, 2001.
Are the critics trying to squelch free speech for economic interest? Are the papers creating news to boost circulation? Does such coverage ignore the current problems that face the African-American community? The furious debate that ensues raises complex questions about the role of journalism, not only in York, but in America at large.

What would you do if you were the editor of the local newspaper?