Saturday, November 27, 2010

Huntley Journalist Al Balk: History On the Run

The hand of time wrote "30" Thursday for Huntley's Al Balk, a journalist from an age when even the best known like Balk weren't very well known but they all knew what 30 meant. It was what editors wrote with a big fat pencil on cheap yellow paper to mark "end of story".

Balk, born 70 years ago in small-town Iowa, was pretty good right off the bat earning a Master's at Northwestern's Medill journalism school.  After a timeout for the Army he did  stints as a newswriter at WBBM and a reporter at the Sun Times before becoming a national freelance writer in 1958.  There followed several years of stories for important magazines, most of which don't exist anymore.  A lot of the stories involved race relations like a piece he wrote with Alex Haley, the first big expose of the Nation of Islam.  Others involved politics like a legislative corruption piece he wrote with Paul Simon that eventually prompted state ethics reforms.

Eventually Balk moved to New York where he edited four different national magazines including the influential (in journalism, anyway) Columbia Journalism Review and helped found the National News Council, an organization that tried for a while to raise journalistic standards before the bean counters decided that was too expensive.

Balk served on the faculty at both Columbia and Syracuse schools of journalism before moving to Huntley in 1994.  He also authored seven books, one with Irv Kupcinet, the last four years ago, a well-regarded history of radio.

In the pic:  Al Balk signing his radio history at the Museum of Broadcasting in Minneapolis last year.

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