“I always wanted to be ‘the Black reporter,’ as in covering Black stories,” she said in an interview with The Chicago Tribune in 1986. “I felt that was the reason I was there. I didn’t resent it in the least. I felt then, as I feel now, it is very dangerous for a group of people to live in a society where they are not allowed to interpret themselves.”
She made good on that mission with features like “A Country Called Watts,” an hourlong special for NBC News in 1977 that explored the efforts by residents of that Los Angeles neighborhood to come together and reassess the bloody civil disturbance that had occurred in response to police brutality in 1965, and to rebuild burned-out blocks in the face of perceived government indifference and continuing police harassment.
“Gail kept pushing to get the faces and voices of Black people on TV news, so that footage of Black men in handcuffs would no longer be the only images of Black people that white viewers could see,” Gary Gilson, the former faculty director of a summer program for minority students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, said in a phone interview. “And her pioneering role as a Black news reporter allowed young Black kids to see, many for the first time, someone admirable on TV who looked like them. It gave them recognition and hope.”
After two years at NBC News, Ms. Christian became the news director of the public station KCET in her native Los Angeles, where she created a “60 Minutes”-style investigative series called “28 Tonight” (the station was on Channel 28).
That program featured several award-winning segments, including one about a banking scandal that hurt low-income communities and another about a chemical spill in Orange County that caused illnesses in the area, each of which won a Peabody Award.