Bankole Thompson, one of the leading voices on racial and political issues in Detroit, has resigned as senior editor of the Michigan Chronicle following a lingering dispute with the controversial publisher, Hiram Jackson.
Until his resignation Wednesday, Thompson was the beloved face of the newspaper, which serves predominately African American readers. He has earned a reputation as an objective, fair and courageous journalist who challenged metro Detroiters to talk openly about race, community and disenfranchisement. He’s often a guest on local and national media shows for his perspective on politics, community and equality.
In a candid letter of resignation, Thompson criticized Jackson for “questionable business deals” and other scandals that distracted from the newspaper’s mission.
“When you and Real Times Media came under heavy media scrutiny because of the Pension Fund deals during the Kwame Kilpatrick era and the corruption investigations, I endured great pains to maintain journalistic integrity, serving as editor of a paper whose parent company borrowed money from the city’s Pension Fund,” Thompson wrote in the resignation letter. “It was indeed difficult for me to do my job as editor when the publisher was in the headlines regarding questionable business deals.”
Without a doubt, Jackson became a polarizing figure soon after replacing legendary publisher Sameul Logan Jr., who died in 2011. While Logan was a pioneer in black journalism, Jackson was an unapologetic businessman who got caught up in shady deals and lost the support of many readers.
Jackson incensed readers by endorsing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder for a first and second term and cozying up to Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. Then this year the state awarded the newspaper a $413,000 grant to renovate a three-story building in Detroit’s Paradise Valley downtown for its new headquarters.
Under Jackson’s watch, the newspaper’s circulation and revenue has fallen dramatically.
Jackson didn’t return calls for comment.
Jackson is the CEO and a co-owner of Real Times Media, which operates several other newspapers and media companies aimed at an African American audience.
Here is Thompson’s resignation letter:
I write to tender my resignation as senior editor of the Michigan Chronicle, effectiveWednesday July 8.I arrived at this difficult decision after a careful review of my dedicated service to the paper, following my conversation with you in the evening of Wednesday, June 24.During the said conversation, you had told me in no uncertain terms that your new vision for the Michigan Chronicle and Real Times Media has no place for me, and you concluded that it was high time we went our separate ways.This reasoned resignation is my candid acceptance of that your conclusion.Let me state that it has been my pleasure serving at the helm of the paper as senior editor for the last nine years.I still remember the day Sam Logan recruited me to be the editor of the paper, and gave me the charge to make it a reference point in this region, promising to give me all the support and freehand I needed. From that day, Michigan Chronicle became like a precious baby to me; I made it my glaring passion, my invaluable mission.Incidentally, when you assumed the role of interim publisher shortly after the death of Mr. Logan, you admitted to me at The Clique restaurant that you never supported his decision to bring me on board but that I had clearly vindicated myself with what I have accomplished for the Michigan Chronicle.Yes, I am proud of the work I have done as editor of the paper, serving as its voice and face and bringing intellectual depth and rigor to the array of issues we covered each week.I am proud that during my tenure, we became one of the first black newspapers in the country to have a series of sit-down interviews with Barack Obama when the other papers in the Real Times Media company could not pull such a feat.I am proud that during my tenure, I was able to make the paper a compelling participant in the vital debates about the future of this city and region.Also, when you and Real Times Media came under heavy media scrutiny because of the Pension Fund deals during the Kwame Kilpatrick era and the corruption investigations, I endured great pains to maintain journalistic integrity, serving as editor of a paper whose parent company borrowed money from the city’s Pension Fund.It was indeed difficult for me to do my job as editor when the publisher was in the headlines regarding questionable business deals. I recall sending you an email to ask what was going on. Though the climate was rough, I maintained that the Michigan Chronicle was a paper whose future was bigger than you and if steered the right way, could be a formidable force in our city.I stayed through those difficult times when our reputation was hanging on the balance because of my loyalty to the paper and its readers across the region. I stayed even when the paper sometimes struggled to meet payroll and some staff had to wait for days before their checks were deposited into their accounts, something that rarely took place under Sam Logan’s regime.I remained at the paper because you had specifically asked me during a meeting at the cigar bar in downtown Detroit to stay and protect you; expressing concern that if I left right after Mr. Logan’s death, it would shake subscriber and advertiser confidence in the paper.Since you assumed the role of publisher, I have pushed back against editorial interference on many occasions, especially when your chief operating officer pushed to have less newsworthy or stale stories on the front page. I found it surprising that those with no journalistic pedigree would want to decide what is on the front page of a newspaper. I thought journalism was for journalists.You may recall that at Mr. Logan’s funeral, I noted that his lasting tribute was that he never told me what to write or how to write. He respected my decision as editor and never once asked me what I was writing about. I vividly recall him rebuking a former governor’s aide, saying “if my editor says your press release is going in the trash, it is going in the trash can.” I give him credit for standing up for journalistic credibility and integrity.With that, I wish you the best of luck in your new vision for the Michigan Chronicle and Real Times Media.I would miss the lovely staff of the Chronicle and its loyal readers. Please, send them my regards.Sincerely,Bankole Thompson
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.