Les Payne, a Pulitzer Prize winner whose four decades at Newsday were spent as much as a chronicler of some of the 20th century’s most memorable events as a champion for racial equality, was inducted Thursday into the Deadline Club’s Hall of Fame.
Payne joined Nancy Gibbs, editorial director of Time Inc. News Group, New York Times reporter N.R. “Sonny” Kleinfield, “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft and Terry McDonell, former editor of Time Inc. Sports Group at a ceremony at Sardi’s in Manhattan on Thursday afternoon.
“I’m most proud of spending all of my 38-year career at Newsday and doing journalism that brought attention to problems, and sometimes helped solve those problems,” Payne said.
Payne, an Army veteran whose career at Newsday spanned from 1969 to 2006, rose through the ranks from reporter to associate managing editor. He oversaw foreign and national coverage, was an editor of New York Newsday and penned a column.
As a Deadline Club Hall of Famer, he joined an exclusive club of the nation’s most prominent journalists, some of them Newsday alumni. Past inductees include Murray Kempton, Jimmy Breslin, Bill Moyers, Lesley Stahl, Juan Gonzalez, Barbara Walters and A.J. Liebling.
Ticking off the names of his Newsday colleagues Moyers, Breslin and Kempton, he said they “were people I long admired.”
“Years ago, it would have been unthinkable that I would be in that company,” he said. “It reminds me how vital and important journalism is. It is a great honor.”
Newsday co-publisher Debby Krenek said: “Les is a champion of strong journalism and we were fortunate to have him as our leader at Newsday for many years. His passion for uncovering the truth no matter how difficult is an inspiration to us all.”
Deborah Henley, Newsday editor, said, “Les has challenged and inspired generations of journalists at Newsday and far beyond.”
Payne, a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, was renowned for incisive critiques in a widely read opinion column during his tenure at Newsday. Payne also served as the fourth president of NABJ, an advocacy group founded in 1975 and the nation’s largest organization for journalists of color.
In 1974, he shared the Pulitzer Prize for the 33-part Newsday series “The Heroin Trail,” which tracked how the drug that originated in poppy fields of Turkey ended up in the veins of users on Long Island.
Other milestones of Payne’s career include coverage of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panther Party and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa — especially the Soweto uprising in 1976 and bloody crackdown by government forces.
The Deadline Club is the New York City Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Payne was inducted into SPJ’s Long Island chapter’s Hall of Fame last year.
With William Murphy