“I used to think of The Daily News as the old New York cabby who would start talking to you,” said Joel Siegel, managing editor of NY1, the television news station, who worked with Mr. Browne at The News. “Somebody who was a little bit weary, but streetwise and smart, and he would tell it to you straight. Whatever the DNA is of The Daily News, he has it. There are other people who may have acquired it, but he has it.”
Mr. Browne came from a primarily Irish-American family with deep connections at the paper, which in those days, like the Police Department, was dominated by Irish-Americans. By family lore, his grandfather was one of the paper’s first employees, and aunts and uncles followed, as did his father. Mr. Browne got his first job there as a copy boy through a man his father knew.
“I did not realize when I was an early reporter at the paper what the race issues were,” Mr. Browne said. “I didn’t have a sense that this newspaper or any of the others were not well serving New York’s black community. Nor did I have any sense that the paper I was working for or any of the other papers had a terrible record on hiring black reporters, journalists, copy editors. It didn’t seem to be an issue. That’s the blindness.”
He had grown up in Freeport, a village on Long Island that he remembered as deeply segregated. “The east side of Main Street was black,” he said. “The west side of Main Street was white. And never were you supposed to cross. I grew up in a society where racism was openly expressed.”
“Not in my house,” Mr. Browne added. “And I don’t know why. My mother in particular was very, very strict about how you thought about people and how you spoke about people. But still, that was the world that I grew up in.”
Soon after he joined The News, a group of black journalists sued the paper for discrimination, a case they eventually won. “It was an awakening moment for everybody,” Mr. Browne said.
Mr. Cherot, Mr. Battle’s grandson, was surprised that a white person wanted to tell the story. “I scratched my head a little bit that he was interested, but after our discussions, it was obvious to me that he was a credible, sincere man,” Mr. Cherot said. “A story doesn’t need to be told by any sort of race; it’s your commitment.”
Mr. Browne recalled his childhood as he wrote the book. “I would think about the people who all surrounded me, what their mind-set was, and know that it was the mind-set of the white society that was Battle’s,” he said. “That was kind of a filter for all of this.”
“I thought it was a real privilege to channel Sam Battle with Langston Hughes’s help,” Mr. Browne said. “There are many things that I am proud of in my career. I cannot think of something that would be a capstone that gives me more pride than this.”