Balk, Alfred, 1930-2010

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Iowa-born, Northwestern-educated journalist.

Alfred Balk was born July 24, 1930, in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and grew up in Muscatine and Rock Island, Iowa. He began his journalism career as a high school sports reporter for the Rock Island Argus, and continued writing while a student at Northwestern University and the Medill School of Journalism. He also worked as a newswriter for WBBM-TV while in college. In 1952 Alfred Balk married Phyllis Munter, whom he met in high school when they both participated in a radio broadcast program designed to connect students from rival schools. The Balks had two daughters, Laraine and Diane. After college Alfred Balk served in the United States Army, and was stationed in Japan during 1954-1955. He began freelancing for magazines while in Japan, and also wrote for a variety of military newspapers during his service. Upon returning to Chicago, he spent a year as a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, and also worked briefly in public relations before turning to freelance work full time. During the next eight years, Balk produced articles for Reader's Digest, Harper's, the Saturday Evening Post and Saturday Review, among others. Significant articles for Harper's included reports on corruption in the Illinois legislature, co-authored with Senator Paul Simon, zoning abuses, and tax breaks enjoyed by religious institutions. Reader's Digest contributions covered nursing-home neglect, Great Lakes water issues, and threatened parkland areas. For The Saturday Evening Post, Balk collaborated with Alex Haley for an article about Black Muslims and the Nation of Islam, and also exposed the racist practice of real estate "blockbusting," which led to a landmark 1972 civil court decison protecting journalists' rights to source confidentiality. Other Post articles included the fallout shelter craze of the 1950s and a young minister's story on leaving the ministry. In 1966, Alfred Balk took a job as Feature Editor and Editor-at-Large of Saturday Review, and the family moved to New York City. Balk spent four years with SR and then took over editorship of Columbia Journalism Review, where he converted the magazine from a quarterly to a bi-monthly publication, developed a long-range advertising business plan, and co-edited a 10th anniversary anthology. Balk worked with CJR until 1973, then moved on to World Press Review, a monthly foreign press digest which succeeded Atlas magazine. In twelve years with WPR, Balk also served as publisher, initiated the International Editor of the Year award, and guided the magazine through a number of business and editorial issues. From 1989-1991 Balk was managing editor of IEEE Spectrum, the flagship publication of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He left the magazine world to join the faculty of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, from which he retired in 1994. The Balks returned to the Chicago area in 1999, settling in Huntley, Illinois. During the course of his career, Alfred Balk also published seven books: The Religion Business (1968); The Free List: Property Without Taxes (1971); Our Troubled Press: Ten Years of Columbia Journalism Review (co-authored with James Boylan, 1971); A Free and Responsive Press (1973); The Myth of American Eclipse: The New Global Age (1990); Movie Palace Masterpieces: Saving Syracuse's Lowes' State/Landmark Theatre (1998); and The Rise of Radio, from Marconi through the Golden Age (2006). Alfred Balk dedicated much of his long career to improving the media. He served on a task force for the Twentieth Century Fund charged with establishing the National News Council, and was an Executive Committee member of the American Society of Magazine Editors and Overseas Press Club. Balk also consulted for the Ford Foundation and the John and Mary Markle Foundation on media issues, as well as providing media commentary for Nieman Reports, Editor & Publisher, CBS Morning News, and other journalism outlets. Alfred Balk died of cancer at his home in Huntley, Illinois, on Thanksgiving Day, 2010.

From the description of Alfred Balk papers, 1941-2010, bulk 1953-1993. (Newberry Library). WorldCat record id: 711984713

Alfred Balk (1930-2010) was an American journalist, editor, and non-fiction author in several fields including radio and television history.

Born in Oskaloosa, Iowa on July 24, 1930, Alfred Balk graduated from Northwestern University with a BA and MA in journalism. He was feature editor and editor at large for the Saturday Review (1966-1969), editor of the Columbia Journalism Review (1969-1973) and founding editor of the World Press Review, where he worked from 1973 to 1986. Later in his career he served as managing editor of IEEE Spectrum, the magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (1989-1991). In 1963 Balk and Alex Haley co-wrote "Black Merchants of Hate," an article on Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam; according to the New York Times, the article "was a major factor in Haley's future book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X .

In addition to his journalistic pursuits, he wrote for national magazines including the Saturday Evening Post and Harper's, was the author of several books, and taught at both Syracuse University and Columbia University.

From the guide to the Alfred Balk Papers, 1925-2010, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Fischer, John Sylvester, 1910-1978. John Sylvester Fischer papers, 1907-1980 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Fischer, John Sylvester, 1910-1978. John Sylvester Fischer papers, 1907-1980 (inclusive). Yale University Library
creatorOf Alfred Balk Papers, 1925-2010 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
creatorOf Balk, Alfred, 1930-2010. Alfred Balk papers, 1941-2010, bulk 1953-1993. Newberry Library
referencedIn John Sylvester Fischer papers, 1907-1980 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alinsky, Saul David, 1909-1972. person
associatedWith American Society of Magazine Editors. corporateBody
associatedWith Asimov, Isaac, 1920-1992. person
associatedWith Barzun, Jacques, 1907- person
associatedWith Cousins, Norman. person
associatedWith Daley, Richard J., 1902-1976. person
associatedWith Fischer, John Sylvester, 1910-1978. person
associatedWith Haley, Alex. person
associatedWith Johnson, John H. (John Harold), 1918-2005. person
associatedWith Kupcinet, Irv. person
associatedWith Midwest Manuscript Collection (Newberry Library) corporateBody
associatedWith National News Council (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Nation of Islam (Chicago, Ill.) corporateBody
associatedWith Newberry Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Overseas Press Club of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Simon, Paul, 1928-2003. person
associatedWith Society of Magazine Writers. corporateBody
associatedWith Toffler, Alvin. person
associatedWith X, Malcolm, 1925-1965. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Discrimination in housing
Discrimination in housing
Dust Bowl Era, 1931-1939
Fallout shelters
Freedom of the press
Libel and slander
Manuscripts, American
Periodical editors
Popular culture
Popular culture
Radio broadcasting
Radio programs
Radio, television, film
Reporters and reporting


Birth 1930-07-24

Death 2010-11-25




Ark ID: w6vd8pnj

SNAC ID: 75998937