Dori Maynard, Journalist, Educator and Diversity Advocate, Dies at 56

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Dori Maynard, a journalism educator who grew up around newsrooms and became a leading voice for diversity in media and beyond, has died at her home in West Oakland at age 56.

The cause, according to the Oakland Tribune, was complications from lung cancer.

Dori Maynard
Dori Maynard (John S. and James L. Knight Foundation/Flickr)

Maynard was president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, founded by her father, Robert C. Maynard, and her stepmother, Nancy Hicks Maynard. The institute's mission is to train journalists of color for the nation's newsrooms and to educate media professionals of all races about issues of cultural diversity.

Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said in a comment on the Maynard Institute website, "You can hardly put into words how important the work Dori and the Maynard Institute did to train young people of color for careers in journalism and how the institute trained the media to write fair stories about communities of color."

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In a 2011 oral history interview for The History Makers, a site that focuses on the lives and accomplishments of African-Americans, Dori Maynard said that because most people get their information about other communities through the the media, "We have to be able to tell stories that accurately and fairly reflect all of us. ... We have to give people the truth about each other and stop demonizing each other and begin to humanize each other."

Mark Trahant, chair of the board of directors at the Maynard Institute and head of the journalism department at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said Maynard "was just so passionate. She joked that Dori 'J.' Maynard stood for 'journalism.'"

"Her work has been everything from teaching news organizations how to rethink coverage, how to make sure their coverage is more inclusive of all people, as well as strategies for hiring and training and promotion so that the news industry reflects the country better," Trahant said.

Key to that work was the institute's Fault Lines program, which grew out of Robert Maynard's approach to understanding and reporting on minority communities and diversity.

"That framework requires the editors and reporters to look at a story from multiple angles: race, class, culture, geography and generation," Trahant said.

"Much of her work was about diversity in a racial context," Trahant said. "But Dori was just as passionate about diversity in terms of generations -- how an older generation sees things differently than a younger generation -- and as you see the millennials rise up, that becomes increasingly important to the news media."

Dori Maynard was born May 4, 1958, in New York City to Robert C. Maynard and Elizabeth Rosen. After her parents split up and her father went to work for the Washington Post, she went to live with him in the nation's capital.

Dori Maynard and Martin G. Reynolds at the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.
Dori Maynard and Martin G. Reynolds at the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. (George Kelly/Flickr)

In her History Makers interview, Maynard recalled spending time at the Post, visiting the White House with her father, meeting President Lyndon B. Johnson and getting to fly on Air Force One.

"He exposed me to all kinds of things as a child," Maynard said of her father, with the effect that she was always acutely aware of what was happening in the world.

That awareness led eventually to her own journalism career, including stints at the Detroit Free Press and Bakersfield Californian. Like her father, she was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. She began working full time at the Institute for Journalism Education, subsequently named after her father, in 1993.

But as she recalled for The History Makers, her early career path was a little circuitous.

She recalled being denied her high school diploma because she had failed a class -- jewelry-making. At the time, she had a part-time job at a Roy Rogers fast-food restaurant:

"You had to wear this little outfit -- like a little cowgirl skirt and a little hat and a little cowgirl top. And then you had to say, 'Howdy, partner, you gonna eat it here at the ranch or are you gonna hit the trail?' And then when people left you had to say, 'Happy trails now!' Anyway, one of my friends who was going off to college, she worked at a sandwich place, upscale sandwich place. ... I interviewed for a job there, and then realized I was on the sandwich track. And so I went home from that interview and called TWA Airlines and got some guy in the middle of the night and told him that I wanted to go to Algeria. ... I knew if I didn't do something dramatic, I was not gonna get to college. And if I didn't get to college, I wasn't gonna get out of the sandwich track."

In any event, she did wind up traveling to West and Central Africa as a teenager. During that trip, she applied for and gained admission to Middlebury College in Vermont, where she earned her B.A. in American History.

Maynard was a founding editor of the Chauncey Bailey Project, an award-winning investigation into the 2007 murder of an Oakland Post journalist who was among the thousands trained by the Maynard Institute.

A Maynard Institute bio lists a long list of other journalism accomplishments:

In 2001, the Society of Professional Journalists named her a Fellow of the Society, in 2003, she was named one of the 10 Most Influential African Americans in the Bay Area and in 2008 she received the Asian American Journalists Association's Leadership in Diversity Award. The editor of 'Letters to My Children,' a compilation of her late-father's nationally syndicated columns, Maynard’s writing has also appeared in the Oakland Tribune, The Huffington Post, American Journalism Review and Nieman Reports.

She is on the board of the American Society of News Editors, Homeland Production, Sigma Delta Chi and on the board of visitors of the John S. Knight Fellowship and the Journalism and Women Symposium advisory board.

Dori Maynard's early death follows a series of premature passings in her immediate family: Her father died at age 56, her stepmother at 61, and her husband, architect Charles Grant Lewis, died in 2008 at 59. All suffered from forms of cancer.

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Dori Maynard is survived by two brothers, David Maynard, of Long Beach, and Alex Maynard, of San Diego, and a sister, Sara-Ann Rosen, of Los Angeles.