Calvin Stovall was removed Wednesday as executive editor of the Gannett Co.’s Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton, N.Y., in what was described as a cost-saving move. It was but one in a series of personnel decisions that have forced black journalists to run gauntlets created by their news organizations.
Stovall disappeared from the masthead on the paper’s website, then resurfaced as “senior editor.” As his situation was playing out, Mark Russell, removed as editor of the Orlando Sentinel in a cost-cutting decision there on Aug. 7, was named managing editor of the Commercial Appeal in Memphis; Melanie Burney, an editorial writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer, was reassigned to a reporter’s job after the Inquirer decided to reduce the editorial pages; and Brenda Blackmon, longtime anchor at WWOR-TV in the New York market, decided to move to Nashville, Tenn., in light of WWOR’s decision in July to cancel its daily 10 p.m. news show.
Stovall had been executive editor in Binghamton since 2005. He had been senior managing editor at Gannett News Service, a Gannett corporate News Department executive, managing editor at Gannett’s Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, N.J., and managing editor of the Indianapolis Star.
The Press & Sun-Bulletin did not announce Stovall’s change of status, instead posting a brief story Tuesday night announcing that it had eliminated 20 jobs this week “in a program to reduce costs.” Readers with “content concerns” were directed to “Executive Editor Neill Borowski,” who was named executive editor of the Central New York Media Group in July. “I lead the content charge for the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, the Elmira Star-Gazette and the Ithaca Journal,” Borowski wrote in his LinkedIn profile.
“I realize you hear this a lot, but I cannot comment on people who work here now or in the past,” Borowski told Journal-isms by email.
Stovall and Publisher Sherman M. Bodner did not respond to requests for comment. Stovall’s change in status follows the departure of fellow black Gannett editor Africa Price this month from the Times in Shreveport, La., the retirement in July of Bennie Ivory as executive editor of the Courier-Journal in Louisville, and the earlier departure of Wanda Lloyd as executive editor of the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser.
“Remember when Gannett was big on diversity?” the independent Gannett Blog asked in a headline on Tuesday.
“Mark Russell, the editor of the Orlando Sentinel from 2010-13, has been named managing editor of The Commercial Appeal,” Zack McMillin reported Wednesday for the Memphis newspaper.
“Russell’s tenure as editor of the central Florida publication included award-winning coverage of big national stories like the Trayvon Martin case and the hazing-related death of the drum major for the Florida A&M band.
“Shortly after Russell, 51, was laid off earlier this month as part of the Tribune Company’s management restructuring, he began discussing a possible move to Memphis with Louis Graham, who was promoted to editor of The Commercial Appeal in June.
“Russell visited last week, and said Graham persuaded him with a vision of a partnership with the central mission of making The Commercial Appeal ‘a premier paper in the South.’
” ‘Coming to Memphis is like a dream come true, actually,’ said Russell, who grew up in St. Louis and still has many family members there. ‘You want to think you can return to a newsroom as a leader but you don’t really know if it’s going to happen until it happens. . . .’ “
Russell was replaced in Orlando by Avido Khahaifa, a corporate manager who is also African American and for whom the editor’s job will be an additional role.
Melanie Burney, editorial writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer since 2008, was transferred to a reporter’s job as the latest management of the Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News decided to cut back on space devoted to editorial pages.
“I am being reassigned to the Jersey bureau (Cherry Hill) effective Sept. 9,” Burney confirmed by email. “It is a sad day for journalism when a major daily newspaper loses a significant component of its voice and public conscience.
“On a personal note, I am very disappointed by this turn of events in my career, but I will continue to seek to make an impact in my new assignment.”
As part of a redesign of the Inquirer tentatively scheduled to begin Sept. 9, there will be no daily op-ed page. Plans are for letters and commentaries to be included on a single page with editorials except on Sundays, when there will continue to be two pages.
The Inquirer editorial page department was trimmed by one staff member. Harold Jackson, editorial page editor, said he could not discuss personnel issues.
Burney is a past board member of the National Association of Black Journalists and is vice president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, among other activities. In 2009, she was named Journalist of the Year by the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. Jackson becomes the only African American member of the Inquirer editorial board.
In July, Fox-owned WWOR-TV in Secaucus, N.J., just outside New York, cancelled its 10 p.m. newscast, the station’s only news telecast, and offered co-anchor Brenda Blackmon, who celebrated 20 years at the station in 2010, a new role producing and anchoring occasional specials.
In place of the newscast, the station began a magazine-style show produced by an outside company, “Chasing New Jersey.”
Blackmon has said no thanks, and is moving to Nashville, Tenn., she told Journal-isms on Wednesday.
And what will she do in Nashville? “Anything I want! LOL,” Blackmon replied by email.
“Nashville is really ‘home’ now. And there’s no place like home.”
Blackmon’s daughter, Kelly, nearly died of lupus in 2006. Blackmon wrote a book about their experience, the proceeds of which go to a lupus foundation named for Kelly, according to Kathleen O’Brien, writing last year in the Star-Ledger in Newark.
“On September 17th The Alliance for Lupus Research Multicultural Outreach is honoring me at an Inaugural Breakfast at the Museum of Art & Design (2 Columbus Circle NYC). The minute it’s over, I hit the road!” Blackmon said by email.
“It’s a fundraiser in our continuing efforts to find a cure for Lupus. I will continue my personal efforts in Nashville with The Kelly Fund for Lupus, [Inc.,] reaching out to Meharry and Vanderbilt.
“All are invited to the 17th event! Tickets are still available. EVENTS@ALR.ORG.”
The president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists apologized Wednesday for NAHJ’s creation of “an uncomfortable situation” in which the powerful Democratic speaker of the California Assembly, John A. Pérez, is said to have pressured NAHJ to remove a Republican from a political panel at its just-concluded convention in Anaheim, Calif. “Mistakes were made,” President Hugo Balta told Journal-isms.
“The organization found itself in the middle of a fiasco,” columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. wrote. “When bullied, it surrendered.”
The bullying charge was made by Hector Barajas, a veteran GOP strategist and spokesman “who showed up to be the invited lone Republican voice on a [NAHJ] panel moderated by actress Eva Longoria in Anaheim this past Sunday,” Carla Marinucci wrote Sunday for the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Until he wasn’t.”
Barajas is a lead voice of Grow Elect, a GOP advocacy group charged with encouraging more elected Latino Republicans in California.
NAHJ’s Gadi Sanchez, an organizer of the event, “said that the organization had hoped to get elected officials, but had trouble finding GOP Latino elected officials to participate,” Marinucci reported.
” ‘When the Speaker found out (Barajas) was going to be on that panel, he basically said I don’t feel comfortable having this debate,’ Sanchez acknowledged. ‘He felt as though he might be baited into something because (Hector) was a Republican strategist and spokesperson for the GOP.’
“Finally, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, a GOP freshman lawmaker from San Diego, agreed to be part of the panel on short notice. . . .”
Barajas tweeted Sunday on Facebook, “@SpeakerPerez selects GOP panelist. Who is running convention? Call should have come from @NAHJ not @SpeakerPerez.”
In a message on Facebook Wednesday, Balta said, “I acknowledge and take responsibility for Mr. Hector [Barajas’] trepidation and that of Mr. John Perez with respect to some of the decisions made by NAHJ organizers of the Latino Vote session. As president I am ultimately responsible for all the actions of NAHJ members and staff (in the planning and execution of such programs).
“The Latino Vote session’s intent as described in the program book was to have ‘Elected Latino politicians discuss the coverage of this voting group (Latinos) in the 2012 elections and beyond…’ I strongly believe that regardless of the behind the scenes turmoil the end result was faithful to the session’s vision.
“Still, I recognize that despite NAHJ organizers’ best intentions, an uncomfortable situation was created that affected panel guests. For that I am sincerely sorry and pledge that NAHJ will do better in organizing similar sessions moving forward.”
Sara Hoffman and Bobby Blanchard, EIJ News: Eva Longoria Hosts Panel on Latino Vote