Changing The New York Times – One Death at a Time

When New York Times reporter Jeff Schmalz was unexpectedly “outed” at the paper in 1990, his world changed. Though his AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence in the days before drug cocktails, he used it as a way to doggedly move the paper forward. His story will be told at a reading and book signing on Saturday, April 30 beginning at 4pm in the Community room of the NEW Hudson Area Library, 51 North 5th Street.

When New York Times reporter Jeff Schmalz was unexpectedly “outed” at the paper in 1990, his world changed. Though his AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence in the days before drug cocktails, he used it as a way to doggedly move the paper forward. His story will be told at a reading and book signing on Saturday, April 30 beginning at 4pm in the Community room of the NEW Hudson Area Library, 51 North 5th Street.

Under the executive editor A. M. Rosenthal, the New York Times newsroom of the 1970s and 80s was a homophobic place. Journalists known to be gay or lesbian were stalled and even demoted in their careers. But in December of 1990, when Times reporter and closeted gay journalist Jeff Schmalz collapsed in the newsroom, all that began to change.

Dying Words, The AIDS Reporting of Jeff Schmalz and How It Transformed The New York Times will be the subject of a presentation by authors, Samuel G. Freedman with Kerry Donahue to be held in the NEW Hudson Area Library Community Room on Saturday, April 30 at 4pm. The event is free.

Schmalz, a reporter with a secret, was on the fast track at the Times. Expected to become one of the top editors on the world’s most important newspaper, his homosexuality was abruptly “announced” when a brain seizure became the first evidence that he had AIDS. From that day until his death at the age of 39, Schmalz found his true calling – writing about HIV and AIDS.

The writer created memorable portraits of Magic Johnson, Mary Fisher, Harold Brodkey and others – as well as chronicling his own experiences as he fought a losing battle with the disease. His work was the basis of a sea-change at the paper, sensitizing it as never before, to the humanity of gay people. Today’s same-sex wedding announcements and editorializing in favor of marriage equality all started with Schmalz’s words.

Co-author Freedman, an award-winning journalist who currently writes a religion column for the Times, will be appearing with his colleague, Kerry Donahue, director of Radio Programming at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, for the book reading and signing followed by a wine and cheese reception. “Jeff was my mentor,” he said. Having AIDS was a death sentence in those years before drug cocktails were available. “Yet when he was outed, he was cracked wide open in positive ways.”

The reading and book signing will be one of the first to take place in the Community Room of the New Hudson Area Library, 51 North 5th Street, Hudson.  It begins at 4pm on Saturday, April 30. No reservations are required and it is free to the public. This reading is being presented in collaboration with the Alliance for Positive Health and is occurring in conjunction with Dining Out for Life. (www.diningoutforlife.com).

For more information, check out our recent press releases for the Dying Words event:

Two Hudson Events Further AIDS Awareness
When AIDS was an “Unmentionable”

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