If you’ve been assaulted or murdered by somebody of another race, or you’ve assaulted or murdered somebody of another race, Howard Witt is probably on your case. And he’s gonna make you famous.
Plainly, nobody in the news business has had a year like Witt, the former City Paper editor. He broke the Jena 6 story with a May article in the Chicago Tribune, where he now heads up the paper’s Southwestern bureau.
Two months earlier, Witt broke the story of Shaquanda Cotton, a black Paris, Texas, 14-year-old who was sentenced to up to seven years in a juvenile detention center for allegedly shoving a white school employee. Cotton was released after Witt’s reporting drew national attention to the case.
In June, Witt’s story on Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, a white Knoxville couple allegedly kidnapped and murdered by four blacks, fueled a national debate on what constitutes a hate crime.
Asked to explain his big year, Witt, back in D.C. to cover the Jena 6 hearings on Capitol Hill, says via e-mail:
“I think these stories caught fire across the nation first because of the power of the Internet, and hundreds of African American bloggers in particular, who quickly distributed them on blogs, Websites and via email. And the stories were so resonant because, even if many white Americans don’t believe it, many African Americans know that discrimination and unequal treatment persist across the nation, and not just in the Southern towns I have been writing about.”
Witt’s magic touch isn’t as evident when he strays outside the race-crime beat. A July 29 story on his grandmother’s kugel recipe hasn’t incited demonstrations for or against Jewish noodle dishes. Yet.