LOS ANGELES (AP) — Michael Parks, the former top editor of the Los Angeles Times who spent 25 years as a foreign correspondent and won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, has died. He was 78.
Parks died of kidney failure and a heart attack at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, California, late Saturday after suddenly falling ill at home earlier in the day, his son, Christopher Parks, told the Los Angeles Times.
Parks was foreign correspondent for the Times and the Baltimore Sun and covered some of the 20th century’s most momentous events, including the Vietnam War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
After nearly three years as top editor at the Times, he taught at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism for 20 years and served two stints as director of its journalism school.
“His remarkable life and career remain a testament to journalism not just being a job, but a calling. Michael shared his deep knowledge and experience with all of us, and we will be forever better because of it,” Willow Bay, dean of USC Annenberg, said in a statement.
Parks won the 1987 Pulitzer for international reporting. The prize jury commended him for “balanced and comprehensive coverage of South Africa.”
“Michael was an extraordinarily gifted foreign correspondent, one of the finest of his generation,” said Scott Kraft, who succeeded Parks as the Times’ Johannesburg bureau chief and is now the newspaper’s managing editor.
From 1980 to 1995, Parks was the Times’ bureau chief in Beijing, Johannesburg, Moscow and Jerusalem. After stints as deputy foreign editor and managing editor, he was named the newspaper’s editor in 1997.
Parks’ tenure came to a dramatic end after a newsroom uproar over a profit-sharing arrangement the Times struck with Staples Center on revenue from ads in an October 1999 issue of the Times Magazine that was devoted to the opening of the downtown arena.
Times writers and editors were furious when they learned that top newspaper executives had struck the ad deal, saying it undercut the integrity and independence of their journalism by giving the subject of the magazine a stake in its profits.
Although Parks said he had not known about the profit-sharing until after the magazine was written and edited, but he did learn about it in time to have stopped it from being published, which he did not do. He later expressed “profound regret,” saying he had underestimated the impact on the Times’ credibility.
Born in Detroit in 1943, Parks grew up there and worked as a reporter at the Detroit News while earning his bachelor’s degree in classical languages and English literature at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.
The Times said Parks is survived by his wife, Linda Parks; his sons Christopher Parks of Bloomington, Ind., and Matthew Parks of Cape Town, South Africa; two sisters; two brothers; and four grandchildren. His daughter, Danielle Parks, died in 2007.
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