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Charles M. Blow

Journalist Charles M. Blow was born on August 11, 1970 in Gibsland, Louisiana. As a young boy, Blow was inspired by his mother, a teacher and school administrator. He went on to graduate magna cum laude from Grambling State University in Louisiana, where he received his B.A. degree in mass communications. As a student, Blow interned at The New York Times and was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Gramblinite. He also founded a now-defunct student magazine called Razz.

Upon graduation from Grambling State University in 1991, Blow was hired as a graphic artist for The Detroit News. He then joined The New York Times in 1994 as a graphics editor and subsequently became the paper’s graphics director, a position he held for nine years. Blow was later appointed as The New York Times’ design director for news before leaving in 2006 to become the Art Director for National Geographic magazine. In 2008, Blow returned to The New York Times, where he was named the paper’s first visual op-ed columnist. His column appeared twice-a-week, and he wrote a blog entitled "By The Numbers" for the newspaper's website. Blow also served as a CNN commentator, and appeared on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and HBO.

While at The New York Times, Blow led the paper to a best of show award from the Society of News Design for its information graphics coverage of 9/11, the first time the award had been given for graphics coverage. He also led the newspaper to its first two best in show awards from the Malofiej International Infographics Summit for work that included coverage of the Iraq war. Since 2011, Blow has been ranked on The Roots’ Top 100 most influential people list. In addition to these honors, he was one of the leading voices on the Trayvon Martin case in the first half of 2012.

His memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, was published in 2014.

Blow lives in Brooklyn with his three children.

Charles M. Blow was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 11, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.208

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/11/2014

Last Name

Blow

Maker Category
Middle Name

Mcray

Occupation
Schools

Grambling State University

Gibsland Elementary School

Gibsland-Coleman High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Charles

Birth City, State, Country

Shreveport

HM ID

BLO03

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

8/11/1970

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Green Tomatoes

Short Description

Journalist Charles M. Blow (1970 - ) served as The New York Times’ graphics department head, as well as the paper’s first visual op-ed columnist. His memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, was published in 2014.

Employment

The Detroit News

The New York Times

National Geographic Magazine

CNN

Shreveport Times

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Charles M. Blow's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Charles M. Blow lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Charles M. Blow describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Charles M. Blow describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Charles M. Blow describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Charles M. Blow lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Charles M. Blow describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Charles M. Blow describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Charles M. Blow talks about rural farm life in Gibsland, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Charles M. Blow describes his household

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Charles M. Blow describes his personality

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Charles M. Blow remembers telling his mother about his experiences of childhood sexual abuse, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Charles M. Blow remembers telling his mother about his experiences of childhood sexual abuse, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Charles M. Blow recalls his experiences of childhood sexual abuse

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Charles M. Blow describes his experiences during elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Charles M. Blow remembers the holidays

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Charles M. Blow talks about his early experiences of religion

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Charles M. Blow recalls his favorite subjects in school

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Charles M. Blow reflects upon his experiences of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Charles M. Blow talks about the impact of his childhood trauma

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Charles M. Blow remembers his first romantic relationship, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Charles M. Blow remembers his first relationship, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Charles M. Blow describes his decision to attend Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Charles M. Blow remembers meeting Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Charles M. Blow describes his experiences at Gibsland-Coleman High School in Gibsland, Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Charles M. Blow describes his experiences at Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Charles M. Blow talks about losing his southern accent

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Charles M. Blow describes his experiences with hazing at Grambling State University

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Charles M. Blow talks about his leadership roles at Grambling State University

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Charles M. Blow recalls changing his major to journalism

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Charles M. Blow talks about his student magazine, The Razz

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Charles M. Blow remembers the popular culture of his generation

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Charles M. Blow recalls his summer internship at the Shreveport Times

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Charles M. Blow recalls how he came to intern at The New York Times

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Charles M. Blow remembers arriving in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Charles M. Blow talks about his early experiences in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Charles M. Blow describes his experiences at The Detroit News

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Charles M. Blow talks about his experiences in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Charles M. Blow recalls joining the staff of The New York Times

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Charles M. Blow talks about raising his children in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Charles M. Blow recalls becoming the youngest department head at The New York Times

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Charles M. Blow describes his experiences as graphics director at The New York Times, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Charles M. Blow describes his experiences as graphics director at The New York Times, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Charles M. Blow talks about the theory of visual journalism

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Charles M. Blow remembers his staff at The New York Times

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Charles M. Blow describes his transition to National Geographic

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Charles M. Blow talks about his return to The New York Times

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Charles M. Blow describes his early career as an op-ed columnist, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Charles M. Blow describes his early career as an op-ed columnist, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Charles M. Blow describes his process for writing a column

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Charles M. Blow reflects upon his position as a columnist at The New York Times

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Charles M. Blow talks about his writing process and style

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Charles M. Blow talks about Hurricane Katrina

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Charles M. Blow remembers covering the shooting of Trayvon Martin, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Charles M. Blow remembers covering the shooting of Trayvon Martin, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Charles M. Blow reflects upon the state of the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Charles M. Blow describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Charles M. Blow talks about balancing his family and his career

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Charles M. Blow talks about his experiences as a celebrity

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Charles M. Blow describes the process of writing 'Fire Shut Up in My Bones'

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Charles M. Blow remembers telling his ex-wife about his bisexuality

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Charles M. Blow talks about the issue of bisexual invisibility

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Charles M. Blow talks about the perception of bisexuality in the LGBTQ community

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Charles M. Blow reflects upon his legacy

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

4$1

DATitle
Charles M. Blow recalls how he came to intern at The New York Times
Charles M. Blow describes his experiences as graphics director at The New York Times, pt. 1
Transcript
So you were part of the--you had an internship here at the Times though (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yes, I did.$$Okay. And that was your--that's what--$$That was--so I first interned at the, at the Shreveport Times, and I--they liked what I did there and they offered me a part time job, so it was two or three days a week, I forget, forget what it was. And it was a full shift, though, so from one 'til nine [o'clock]. So I would have to do my classwork 'til noon, drive sixty minutes from Grambling [Louisiana] to Shreveport [Louisiana], and then do a full day's work, so I was exhausted. But I did that and one of the, the, the business editor kind of thought of himself as a mentor and he says, "You know, The New York Times is having this shop conference in Atlanta [Georgia] this weekend, you have to go." And I said, "There's no way I can go. I come over here, I'm working all these hours, I can barely get my homework done as it is and study for tests. I can't go away." He says, "No, you're going away because you have to go." So I begged one of my friends whose girlfriend has graduated and moved to Atlanta, I was like, "Can you--can we just drive there together? I have no money to get a hotel. Can we drive there together, and I'll sleep on the sofa and then I can go to this job conference?" And he says, "Yes, let's do it." And we drive and he drops me off at the job conference, and I walk in and there's a guard at the door, I don't know if it's an actual security guard, but he was watching the door, and says, "Well, you can't come in 'cause--because you had to preregister for the conference and you're not preregistered." And I said, "Well, what is preregister? What does that mean?" And he says, "Well, you had to pay a fee," you know, and I don't know what it was at the time, and you had to write an essay, you had to fill out this form. I said, "Give me the form. Give me a pencil." Got the form, I got a pencil and I sat down and I wrote an essay on the spot, I gave him whatever money he asked for, I said, "Now, I'm going into this job conference." And he said, "You know what? You go ahead." And I went in, and I had my little thing. I remember how I had it set up because we had those hard discs at the time. So I had a piece of--I, I, I thought I was so creative. And I had this piece of corrugated cardboard, and I cut out just enough space that the thing would stay in, and so it was pressed into the corrugated cardboard and that--and I made a book of my clips of my resumes, so it was like I had bindings and the corrugated cardboard, it looked very slick. They were heavy because I had a lot of them, but I'm dragging these things around and I'm giving them out. And everybody's very impressed that this kid has come and he has these discs and he has all this--these clips and he does this--he combines these two things that we've never seen combined before and he's just a kid. And I get to The New York Times booth and they say, "We can't interview you because you had to sign up ahead of time and our list is full." And I said, "That's fine. I, I understand. I'm just gonna sit here until someone doesn't show up." And this is early in the day, probably like eleven, twelve. I sit there until they break down, and this is like six or seven o'clock at night. I'm reading a newspaper over and over. I was reading the same story, but I'm pretending just to be engaged. I'm remembering all the etiquette cues that I've read in these books, and I'm sitting up straight, and I'm, you know, trying to communicate without having to say anything. And every time someone comes for an interview, I say hi to them and when they leave, I said, you know, "Good luck." And, and when they leave, I'm--they, they talk about who they just interviewed so I'm getting all this kind of opposition research 'cause I now know exactly what they want and what they don't like because they're saying it right in front of me, as if I'm not there. And when they're breaking down they eventually say, "Okay, we'll interview you. Fine. 'Cause you sat here all day." And I said, "Thank you." And I just launch into my thing, and using everything that I've learned all day from hearing them talk about other people. And when I'm finished they said, "You know, this is really impressive, but we don't have a graphics internship at The New York Times." And I said, "Okay, that's fine." And I leave the--you know, they had said this is very impressive so I'm walking on clouds, at that point, because The New York Times said I was very impressive. And I go home to my friend's house and come back the next day, 'cause the thing's, thing's over two days, and everywhere I go they said, "You know The New York Times is looking for you," the other newspapers keep saying this, "The New York Times is looking for you." Now, all I can think is that maybe I picked up a pen or something, or something I, you know, while I'm grabbing my things, I grabbed something that belonged to them and now they're like, "Get it back." And so I make my way back to their--to the desk and they say, you know, "We're really impressed with you and we did--but we did not have an internship, but last night we called back to New York [New York] and they made an internship just for you." And I became the first graphics intern at The New York Times.$$That's really pretty impressive.$$Thank you.$Okay, you become head. Then what ha- what do you put in place then? And who are you supervising?$$So there are, I don't know, there's probably thirty, thirty-five maybe people who do maps and graphics. And so what we start to do is to lean very heavily on this concept of combining journalism and design. And so a lot of, pretty much, well not pretty much, but most of what we're doing is independent research by the people on the graphics' desk. They're not--you're not looking at the list of stories and saying, waiting for someone to bring you things and, "Make a chart of it," or, "Make a map of it," or, "Make a diagram of it." You're looking at the list and saying what of these things could make really interesting visual explanations, and can we sell that to the desk? And so you look at--you have each--one person kind of coordinating for each desk, and you say, "Can you sell the science department a diagram of how the eye works to go with this eye story?" And they would--and if it worked, they'd say yes. And then you would get on the phones and talk to researchers and get them the facts, all sorts of diagrams and then you'd figure out how to make this display. And you'd explain it and write all the text that went into that diagram. So we really kind of, this, this idea that I really love, I think, you know, was something that came naturally--that already had existed at The Times [The New York Times] and we just leaned on it even further and really welded together these two kind of disciplines. And it really worked. It really worked and I think it changed, to some degree, the way people think about information. And, you know, now we hear terms like big data and information architects. Well, that was kind of what we were doing.$$So what was your usual turnaround when working with the desk? You know--the lead, sometimes these story leads are pretty short and sometimes they're not.$$Well, sometimes, I mean--we love breaking news 'cause we thought we could do it better than anyone. So a lot of this was breaking news. If the shuttle blows up, we're going to figure out how the shuttle's put together bolt by bolt by the time this thing goes to bed. And we will have that explanation of how it blew up and which panel came loose and why that is a problem. And what the g-force is in--how hot does it get on reentry. We, we had this phrase, we would say we became afternoon experts. By the afternoon, you had to be an expert on the subject 'cause it happened that day and you have to get up to speed. So sometimes that means buying books. And you read this, you read this part, and you read that part. We're going to meet at three o'clock and we're going to figure out what's happening. If that is, you know, Clinton [President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton] gets impeached we have to come up to speed on constitutional law by this afternoon so we that we can--I got to this meeting at 4:30, we'll know exactly what we're doing and we will be smart enough to pull it off. And that's how we did it.$$So where did--is there any conflict at all with the rest of the news and editorial team with--was there ever a feeling that you would be overreaching into their areas, or--I'm just--$$No, I don't think so because it really was a visual explanation, so if it, if it, if it didn't work as diagrammatically or charting wise, that's not for us to do. We really were looking for the things that leaned, that only we could do. And if it was something only we could do, and the desk already agreed to deal with it--or to accept it ahead of time, no need to work on it, you're blind and then deliver something they don't have space for. That doesn't work. If they agree to it, then we all have buy-in, we all know what we're working on. We all know where the space is coming from and we can do it.$$Charles [HistoryMaker Charles M. Blow], this may seem a little naive question, but was there ever a situation where you, you know, that they had felt that you had misin- you know like, the writer itself thought that the image, or the diagram was not appropriate. Was there any (unclear) (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) I think that that, I think that that, I think it happens but not--slightly differently--$$Okay.$$--in the sense that they think that, you know, sometimes it's just the limited amount of space and they may have to cut in order to accommodate and then the writer may think, well the value that's being offered here may not be the value of what's being cut and you may have that sort of conflict. But very often, they--you would learn things. I mean when we were, when we did the diagram of the Central Park Five, right. Doing the diagram of Central Park [New York, New York] topographically, so you could see all the hills and valleys, and what have you. And then putting everybody's testimony on the map, so that you can see physically there is no way for these people to be in both these places at the same time. It actually is incredibly helpful because then you can, then you can almost write from that, because you say there's no way it can--on the ground when you see it, there's no way it can happen.