GOOD JOURNALISM IS SUPPOSED TO be its own reward, but we at PEOPLE can’t help being especially pleased when challenging work is appreciated and acknowledged. On Oct. 12 the magazine received an honor that makes us particularly proud: The New York State Conference of NAACP Branches, one of the largest in the country, presented Landon Y. Jones, managing editor of PEOPLE, with an award in recognition of our cover story of last March 18, “Hollywood Blackout.” The result of a four-month investigation, the article found disturbing and convincing evidence that, no matter whether the yardstick is Oscar nominations or professional guild and trade-union memberships, African-Americans have been shut out of the film industry. “This was an unusual story for PEOPLE to tackle,” says Jones. “But it wasn’t being covered by other media, and it needed to be told. I am proud that PEOPLE’s journalists did it so powerfully.”
“The PEOPLE story really helped focus attention on the reality of the situation in Hollywood,” says Kweisi Mfume, the organization’s national president. “It helped us on a larger scale to address the issue of inclusion that the NAACP has been working on for so long.”
Sadly, that piece served as a capstone to the career of a reporter who was especially sensitive to the issue of race in the entertainment business. Lois Armstrong, a mainstay of the magazine for 22 years who worked most recently as PEOPLE’s national correspondent, passed away at her home in Santa Monica on Sept. 30 at age 71, following a long battle with cancer.
Armstrong came to PEOPLE in 1974 from TIME magazine and was soon named PEOPLE’s West Coast bureau chief, a post she held for nearly a decade. She filed reports for scores of. stories on many of the biggest names in Hollywood. Some of her subjects became her friends. But everyone she interviewed, says L.A. bureau chief Jack Kelley, “knew that in Lois they had an audience of one who truly listened and honestly cared.”
And who presented their stories to the public with unfailing accuracy. Todd Gold, deputy L.A. bureau chief, spoke recently with Richard Pryor about an interview Armstrong had conducted in 1983 with Pryor and Eddie Murphy. Each kept trying to one-up the other, and Armstrong reported that. Pryor, acknowledging that the two stars were difficult during Armstrong’s interview, still “paid Lois the highest compliment any journalist could hope for,” Gold recalls. “He said, ‘She got it right.’ ” But then, Lois always did.