Investigative journalist, Jack Newfield (1938-2004), made a career out of exposing abuses of power in his native New York City. Born in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesent, Newfield lived most of his adult life in Greenwich Village, New York. After graduating from Boys’ High School, he attended Hunter College, earning a degree in journalism in 1961. Newfield, a supporter of and participant in the civil rights movement, spent two nights in a Mississippi jail in 1963 after his arrest at a sit-in.
The next year, Newfield joined the Village Voice and worked there as a columnist, reporter, and editor for twenty-four years. While at the Voice, he helped define the idea of the alternative press through his investigative articles and unwavering defense of New York’s dispossessed. He became popular in part for his periodic “10 Worst Judges” and “10 Worst Landlords” pieces, as well as for his Thanksgiving neighborhood heroes columns and other recognitions of local activism. In 1988, after twenty-four years, Newfield left the Village Voice due to a dispute over the direction of the paper.
Newfield then joined the New York Daily News as an editor and writer for a new investigative reporting unit. Three years later, he quit after making a principled choice to support the striking newspaper pressmen and refusing to cross their picket line. He quickly joined the New York Post as a columnist. During this time, however, the New York Post almost closed, and a group of writers, which included Newfield, took over production of the paper until Rupert Murdoch reacquired it in 1993. Newfield left the New York Post in 2001 after ten years when a new editor, wanting to take the paper in a different direction, fired him. Subsequently, Newfield wrote columns and investigative articles for the New York Sun, the New York Observer, and The Nation . In 1980, the Center for Investigative Reporting awarded Newfield the George Polk Award for Political Reporting. He also received the 25-Year News Achievement Award from the Society of Silurians in 2000 and a New York State Bar Association Special Award in 1986 for his series of articles on Bobby McLaughlin.
In addition to his career as a newspaper journalist, Newfield wrote many books, among which the most prominent include: A Prophetic Minority (1966), Robert Kennedy: A Memoir (1969), The Abuse of Power: the Permanent Government and the Fall of New York (1977), City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York (1988), and Only in America: the Life and Times of Don King (1995). A Prophetic Minority, written in 1966, studies the origins and development of the “New Left” radicals of the 1960s. Newfield wrote The Abuse of Power, a classic urban muckraking bestseller, with Paul DuBrul in 1977. City for Sale, written in collaboration with Wayne Barrett, documents the municipal corruption in Mayor Ed Koch’s administration from 1981 to 1988. In, Only in America, Newfield presents a complex portrait of boxing promoter Don King, which includes an examination of his dominance of the boxing world and his exploitation of fighters. Newfield, along with filmmaker Charles Stuart, won an Emmy Award in 1991 for writing in connection with the Frontline documentary Don King, Unauthorized, which aired on PBS.
Newfield traveled with Robert Kennedy during his presidential campaign in the late 1960s and was present at Kennedy’s assassination in 1969. Drawing on his close relationship with Kennedy, Newfield wrote and published Robert Kennedy: A Memoir in 1969; it was reissued in 2003. Additionally, in 1998, he and Charles Stuart collaborated to produce a documentary for the Discovery Channel entitled Robert Kennedy, A Memoir .
Other books written by Newfield include: Bread and Roses Too: Reporting about America (1971); A Populist Manifesto: The Making of a New Majority (1972); Cruel and Unusual Justice (1974); The Education of Jack Newfield (1984); Somebody's Gotta Tell It: The Upbeat Memoir of a Working-Class Journalist (2002); The Full Rudy: The Man, The Mayor, The Myth (2003); American Rebels, editor and introduction (2003); American Monsters, co-editor (2004).
Jack Newfield considered himself a participatory journalist, deeply involved in politics and advocacy. He investigated and reported but also championed his causes and criticized and named his adversaries. His articles often affected change by influencing policy, policymakers, and other media. Notable examples include the creation of a law banning the use of lead paint in apartments, changes in campaign finance laws, the prosecution of corrupt nursing home owners, and the enforcement of regulations to protect the frail and elderly in nursing homes. Furthermore, his series of articles on Bobby McLaughlin, who was wrongly convicted for murder, led to McLaughlin’s exoneration and release from prison in 1986. Newfield was still writing and working when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in September 1986. He died on December 21, 2004, at the age of 66.
www.jacknewfield.com. “About.” www.jacknewfield.com. http://www.jacknewfield.com/about.html (accessed August 4, 2010).
Amateau, Albert. “Jack Newfield, 66, journalist, Villager, club critic.” The Villager 74, no.33 (December 22-28, 2004).
Barrett, Wayne. “Jack Newfield, 1938-2004.” The Village Voice, December 21, 2004.
Shudel, Matt. “Muckraking N.Y. Reporter Jack Newfield Dies at 66.” The Washington Post, December 23, 2004.
From the guide to the Jack Newfield Papers 2006-274., 1910, 1932-2005 (bulk 1964-2005), (Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin)
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