Pioneering Journalist and Educator Dies

11/30/04
Leroy Aarons, a globetrotting author, teacher and playwright, served as a director in the USC Annenberg School. He developed a journalism course on diversity and tackled issues dealing with sexual orientation.
By Geoff Baum
As director of USC Annenberg's Study of Sexual Orientation Issues in the News program, Aarons led research projects on media coverage of lesbian and gay issues and in 1999, published a landmark study, “Lesbians and Gays in the Newsroom: 10 Years Later.”

Photo/Chris Stewart/S.F. Chronicle
Leroy Aarons, a journalism professor and director of the USC Annenberg School’s Sexual Orientation Issues in the News program, died Nov. 28, after a long battle with cancer.

Aarons was a journalist, author, teacher and playwright whose assignments took him around the world, and whose stewardship of The Oakland Tribune helped earn a Pulitzer Prize for the newspaper’s 1989 coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco bay area.

He also spent 14 years as national correspondent for The Washington Post, serving as the paper’s bureau chief in New York and Los Angeles.

In 1990, Aarons founded the Washington, D.C.-based National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, whose 1,300 members in 23 chapters work with the news industry toward balanced coverage.

He was a founding board member of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, a prime source of training for multicultural newsrooms.

As director of the Study of Sexual Orientation Issues in the News program, Aarons led research projects on media coverage of lesbian and gay issues and in 1999, published a landmark study, “Lesbians and Gays in the Newsroom: 10 Years Later.”

He developed a pioneering journalism course on the coverage of diversity and successfully led the accrediting body for journalism and communication schools Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication to include issues of sexual orientation in its standards for accreditation.

In 1991, Aarons co-authored “Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers,” a radio docudrama with Geoffrey Cowan, dean of the USC Annenberg School. The program won the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Gold Award for best live entertainment program on public radio and is still broadcast on public radio stations across the country.

Aarons’ book, “Prayers for Bobby,” the true account of a family coping with the suicide of a gay son, was published in 1995 by HarperCollins. He is also the author of “Monticello,” an opera libretto about the affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, which premiered in Los Angeles in 2001.

“For more than 30 years, Roy Aarons was a close and valued friend,” Cowan said. “He was a brilliant, compassionate and determined reporter, editor, author and teacher whose work transformed both the profession of journalism and journalism education. He will be greatly missed.”