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Alfred Balk dies at 80; journalist

Alfred Balk served as an editor for four publications. As a reporter, his work on 'block-busting' for the Saturday Evening Post became part of a civil rights case that reached the Supreme Court.

November 30, 2010|Keith Thursby, Los Angeles Times
  • Alfred Balk served as an editor at four national magazines and also had a long writing career.
Alfred Balk served as an editor at four national magazines and also had a…

Alfred Balk, a longtime journalist who was a former editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, died Thursday of cancer at his home in Huntley, Ill., his family said. He was 80.

He was editor of the Columbia Journalism Review from 1969 to 1973 and founding editor of the monthly World Press Review, where he worked from 1973 to 1986.

Balk also was feature editor and editor at large at Saturday Review from 1966 to 1969 and managing editor of IEEE Spectrum, the magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers from 1989 to 1991.

He wrote for such publications as the Saturday Evening Post and Harper's. A 1962 Saturday Evening Post story, "Confessions of a Block-Buster," became part of a case that reached the Supreme Court.

The story dealt with a speculator who moved an African American family into a white neighborhood to set off panic selling to the "block-buster." The houses were then resold at higher prices to African American families.

Balk's story identified the speculator by a pseudonym, Norris Vitchek. Balk refused to disclose the real name, contending that the identity was protected by the 1st Amendment's guarantee of free speech.

A Chicago homeowners' group wanted Balk to name the speculator so it could proceed with a civil rights lawsuit. The homeowners contended that they had paid inflated prices.

In 1973 the Supreme Court let stand a circuit court ruling that Balk did not have to name the real estate speculator.

Balk was born July 24, 1930, in Oskaloosa, Iowa. After a year at Augustana College in Illinois, he graduated from Northwestern University with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism. He served in the U.S. Army in Chicago and Japan in the mid-1950s.

Balk wrote several books, including "The Rise of Radio, From Marconi Through the Golden Age" in 2006. He also taught at Columbia and Syracuse universities.

He is survived by his wife, Phyllis; daughters Laraine Balk Hope of Rockville, Md., and Diane Balk Palguta of Indianapolis; a sister, Virginia Pickering of Fullerton; and two grandchildren.

keith.thursby@latimes.com

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