Craig Flournoy Video Transcript

CF: My favorite thing is probably digging up something that no one else knows about. Its basically like being mystery writer in real life, if you know what I mean. Instead making up stuff you actually get to uncover stuff.

CF: I was forced to become a reporter, there’s not too many places up here that will pay you to research and write so I said I’ll be a reporter. I had no training in journalism, never worked for the campus paper or high school newspaper. I had no training what so ever. After dozens of rejections, editor of the home dated courier, Clarence Bumpy Dosette, said, “Let’s give the kid a chance.” One day in 1984, I got the story that really defined what I would do. I was casting around for something and here’s what happened.

CF: It was over in east Texas, Clarksville Texas, housing over there, public housing was both segregated and unequal and they had two public housing projects. One was all white and one was all black. How did it come up over 20 years that every white person happened to go to the white project unless they are doing it? The public official over there admitted that we segregate people over the basis race and we aren’t going to change it. I drove over to the white project. They’ve got window units, the floors aren’t in bad shape, they’re in decent shape, trying to be on the safe side of town with curbs and gutters and sidewalks and that sort of thing. Then I drove over to the black project with unpaved streets, no curbs, no gutters, they don’t have no air condition period and the floors are in pretty crummy shape. They don’t have any activities for them. So it is separate and it is unequal.

CF: We eventually went to 47 cities all over the country. New York, Atlanta, Baltimore, Kansas City, in San Francisco. In every single one we found segregated housing and unequal conditions. In some cases far more unequal than they were in east Texas. We ended up doing a massive eight part series on this that ran to the Dallas Morning News. There was a Congressional investigation, US Civil Rights Commission looked into it, but in general and won a Pulitzer and my newspaper was ecstatic about that but it never led to any sort of systemic change in the system. It was after that I decided to completely change my approach and focus only on local stories because I felt that if I concentrated my attention on a specific story, I was more likely to bring about change.

CF: You cannot be an affective reporter or historian or work with facts. If you are not first of all a good researcher. 

CF: Where is the government is presumed to be objective, just giving you the facts. One great source of information . .

CF: In order to get real change, you have to investigate something to the degree where you can demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that something truly evil, something truly wrong is taking place.

CF: We would sit in my office and I would get a phone call, “Craig, I got a place you gotta come out and look at its called Robin’s Square and it’s horrible.”

So I drive over to south Dallas and there at the end of the dead end street, is a group of low slung, rust-colored buildings, two and three stories tall. There’s where Robin’s square was right there in front of us. Every imaginable problem you can imagine these people had. Like open exposed fuse boxers, where the wires are coming out. I mean there are holes in the ceilings, marks on the walls where raw sewage has backed up. It’s not like this stuff is all hidden. You don’t need Deep Throat to tell you about this stuff, you just need to drive down and pull out your pencil and paper and start writing stuff.

CF: What do you need to also do? Make an onsite visit. Remember her example about. . .

CF: The most important thing you can learn is about asking questions. Most students are trying to get the answers and I want them to think… what questions do you want to ask?

CF: We ended up writing a four part serious called Rewarding Neglect about Robin’s Square. Shortly after the series ran the government said you know what we need to look into Robin’s Square there might be a problem there. They inspected it, failed, 90% plus the apartments within a matter of months, they didn’t have to live in Robin’s Square anymore. I helped make a difference in the lives of people. It was a feeling it was a wake-up call saying you know hey, this hick from North Louisiana, I can do something that might make a difference in somebody’s life. So from here on what I resolved to do is I was going to spend the rest of my career focusing on these sorts of projects. Very manageable, directed, local stories where I could develop them to the extent that by the time that they came out it would be all but impossible for the people in power not to do something about them. And I think that’s one of the reasons I love being an investigative reporter because you can make a change and that’s something new, you can break the pattern.

CF: Let me put it like this in 1861, the Chicago Tribune wrote that the premise of the newspaper is to give proof and to raise hell. I think that’s what a good citizen does, to act on it, to participate.