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RIP, Claude Sitton

Claude Sitton, who covered the South for The New York Times in the 1960s, poses for a photo in Atlanta in 1990.
Claude Sitton, who covered the South for The New York Times in the 1960s, poses for a photo in Atlanta in 1990. 1990 AP FILE PHOTO

From an editorial in the News & Observer Wednesday:

Claude Sitton, who died Tuesday at the age of 89, served as editor of The News & Observer for more than 20 years, but his name is, literally, in the annals of history of American journalism for his courageous work in covering the civil rights movement for The New York Times.

In “The Race Beat,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of civil rights journalism, authors Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff wrote, “Sitton’s byline would be atop the stories that landed on the desks of three presidents. His phone number would be carried protectively in the wallets of the civil rights workers who saw him, and the power of his byline, as their best hope for survival.”

Sitton came to The N&O in 1968 from The Times, and for two decades was a stern, forceful editor who made open government a priority and held public officials accountable for their performances, to the ire of some. Some of the stories in which he was involved stirred controversy, including one of the last ones, on the late Jim Valvano, basketball coach at N.C. State, and problems in that athletics program.

But Sitton’s career, which included a Pulitzer Prize of his own, was defined mostly by his tenacious skills as a reporter on civil rights, and his aggressive coverage in the South often put his own life in danger. At The N&O, he directed news coverage and the editorial page with righteousness and without compromise. It is fair to say that as an editor he was demanding, but no more so, perhaps, than he had always been of himself.

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