Groups of Journalists Shun Holder

The NABJ, NAJA and AAJA have declined to meet with the attorney general.

Attorney General Eric Holder arrives at a hearing in Washington, D.C. (Bill Clark/Getty Images)
Attorney General Eric Holder arrives at a hearing in Washington, D.C. (Bill Clark/Getty Images)

Citing the stipulation that the meeting would be off the record, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association and the news service representing black newspapers said Sunday that they would not attend Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s Monday meeting with journalists of color to refine guidelines on dealing with journalists during leak investigations.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Unity: Journalists of Diversity, Inc., umbrella group have said they would attend.

The Native American Journalists Association, also citing the off-the-record stipulation, has said it would not.

However, NAJA and AAJA would still be represented, since they are members of Unity: Journalists for Diversity, along with the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and NAHJ.

And Corey Dade, an NABJ board member and contributor to, said by email that he will attend the meeting, though NABJ will not be officially present. Dade did not elaborate. NLGJA representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

George E. Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, said he wrote Sunday to the Justice Department:

“This is to notify you that the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) is hereby declining your invitation to an off-the-record meeting with the Attorney General regarding DOJ guidelines governing investigations that involve the news media.

“While we would welcome an opportunity to interact with Attorney General Holder on a variety of issues, we must decline this specific invitation for two reasons. First, we feel this is an extremely important First Amendment issue that merits on-the-record comments. We see no value in attending a session in which we will not be able to quote the Attorney General or any other participant.

“Second, and equally important, we are aware that Mr. Holder held a previous session with other members of the media. Consequently, we are unwilling to be relegated to second- or third-tier status that forces us to take a back seat to others who have not only attended a meeting with Mr. Holder on this subject, but have also reported on that session. As a news service that represents 200 African-American newspapers with nearly 20 million readers, we value our readers and don’t feel that they should be subjected to receiving news after other news organizations have been allowed to report it beforehand.

“Again, we would welcome an exchange with the Attorney General, but not under these conditions.”

Gregory H. Lee Jr., president of NABJ, said by email, “I asked the board that nabj will not have official reps. If individual board members do attend it will not be under nabj representation. Nabj will not attend in . . . any official capacity.” Lee added by telephone that NABJ believes in freedom of the press and is “not happy with what’s going on at the Justice Department,” as stated in its May 15 statement on the Justice Department’s secret seizure of office and personal telephone records of journalists at The Associated Press.

Current and former Justice Department officials said the initial meeting was held off the record to allow for a candid conversation, Sari Horwitz reported for the Washington Post.

” ‘It’s a policy meeting. If you put it on the record, it would become a press conference, and I’ve never seen a press conference that’s a good forum for making policy,’ said Matthew Miller, a former Holder aide who remains a close friend. ‘If it was on the record, all you would get is posturing from both sides, and that’s not useful for anyone.’ “

Holder’s first meeting with media groups took place Thursday, “attended by a small group of journalists after several news organizations objected to the Justice Department’s insistence that it be held off the record,” Horwitz reported. “The participants, however, reached an agreement with the Justice Department under which they could describe what occurred during the meeting in general terms. . . .”

And in fact, the news organizations that participated wrote stories about it, quoting the journalists who attended.

On Friday, Reuters reversed itself and attended the second day of meetings, Michael Calderone reported for the Huffington Post.

Calderone wrote that Barb Burg, vice president and global head of communications, said Reuters “did attend a meeting today and only because the off the record ground rules were adjusted. . . .”

Hugo Balta, president of NAHJ, said in announcing his attendance that NAHJ would try that approach. “NAHJ will push for the meeting to be on-the-record because the content of the discussion can impact a journalist’s ability to do their work . . . , ” he said.

Lee told Journal-isms by telephone, however, that there was “no guarantee that you can go there and change the terms.”

NABJ has participated in off-the-record sessions with others. In February, NABJ leaders attended a closed-door meeting on diversity with new CNN president Jeff Zucker and released only a vague statement about the discussion.

However, Lee said the situations are not the same. “Our meeting with CNN was our standing quarterly meeting. Certain portions of our conversation [were] not appropriate for public consumption due to the sensitive nature of talking specific personnel issues. The off-the-record conversation with CNN does not violate our press freedoms. The Department of Justice’s actions [were] a threat to the media’s constitutional freedoms.”

AAJA said in its statement:

AAJA appreciates the invitation to meet with the U.S. Department of Justice on media policy. But the association has decided not to attend the meeting.

“We advocate fair and accurate media coverage on behalf of our 1,700 members. An off-the-record conversation, however, would not allow us to inform our full membership. Nor would it promote transparency, which is key to building trust between the news industry, our government and the public.

“Should there be an on-the-record meeting to help shape media policy and diversity in the future, AAJA will gladly join the conversation.”

President Obama has said he wants the results of Holder’s review by July 12.

The journalists of color were not included in the initial talks, although a Justice Department staffer, responding to inquiries from Journal-isms, said Friday that the journalists of color, as well as the lesbian and gay journalists association, the black press and others of color, would be invited to a meeting Monday. The staffer said Holder had intended to include them all along.

Holder’s status as attorney general was a topic on the Sunday talk shows, including “the intense criticism for the way he’s handling leaks of classified information to reporters,” as host Bob Schieffer put it on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation.” Republicans criticized Holder while Democrats defended him.

Also at issue is the Justice Department’s monitoring of James Rosen, a Fox News reporter based in Washington. Rosen allegedly spoke to Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a State Department contractor, for a story about North Korea’s nuclear program.

The Justice Department charged Kim with violating the Espionage Act for his contact with Rosen, whose reporting disclosed that the United States had a source in the Korean leadership. In order to justify its search warrants for Rosen’s private correspondence, the Justice Department labeled Rosen a “co-conspirator” with Kim because he made an arrangement with him about how to get him information, the Washington Post reported.

However, as PBS’ Gwen Ifill noted on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, no journalist has been prosecuted. “We’re just talking about getting information, secret information, for secret information’s sake. And so journalists have to look at our motives and our accountability in these matters, as well as the administration. . . .” she said.

On NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press,” former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw said “it’s tough to see” how Holder keeps his job, “but it’s up to the president.” Host David Gregory asked, “Do you think this is a real olive branch to news organizations, an off-the-record meeting to discuss changing the guidelines for how leak investigations are — are pursued?”

“Well, I think the burden is on both the government and the press to work out a more clearer set of guidelines, both for their exchanges with each other and then– so that the public can be involved in this as well,” Brokaw said.

On “Face the Nation,” Schieffer asked Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times, why her organization refused to attend the off-the-record meetings.

To have this private meeting with the attorney general not be able to share anything about it with our readers didn’t seem to have a point to me,” she said. “But the Times and our readers are quite concerned about the six active criminal leak cases that the Obama administration has pursued. That’s more than all the other administrations combined. And, yeah, we are concerned that the process of news gathering is being criminalized.

“The First Amendment is first for a reason. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison thought it was crucial for our country to have a free and robust press to help keep the government accountable. And that’s the job that Times reporters and other reporters here in Washington are trying so hard to do. . . .”

Schieffer turned to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, saying, “you know a little something about leaks down through the years. Your editor went to this meeting. What did he find out?”

“Well, I don’t know that you find out anything in a session like that,” Woodward replied. “What you do — and I — I think you have to step back a little bit and say what’s going on here? And this isn’t just a legal issue or a journalism issue. It’s a practical issue for the administration. And what they’re doing here I think is self-defeating that since the Pentagon papers decision, 1971, which said there can be no prior restraint on publication, the media — and I know myself — several dozen times have gone to the White House or the CIA or the Pentagon and said, “I have these details about this operation. What do you think?” And then they make their arguments about what part shouldn’t be published or it shouldn’t be published at all. And it actually helps the government and helps the press, and, if you can say it, helps national security and to chill all of this by saying, oh, if you go, if they find out that you have got some state secret, they’re going to get your phone records, they’re going to sever that relationship.”

Schieffer said to Daniel Klaidman of the Daily Beast, “Dan, you — you actually interviewed the attorney general. And as far as I know you’re the one single reporter who has interviewed him since all of this. What did you come away from the interview? What did you think about it?”

“Well, look, I think he was — wanted to publicly acknowledge that that balance that the Justice Department says it wants to strike between cracking down on national security leaks but at the same time protecting the free flow of information, allowing reporters to do their job of aggressively reporting on the government, that that balance had gotten out of whack,” Klaidman said. “And that he and his department wants to try to recalibrate it, wants to update and— and— and reform the guidelines that cover interactions between the Justice Department and the press. They’ve begun that process. . . .”


Peter Baker, Charlie Savage and Jonathan Weisman, New York Times: Seeking a Fresh Start, Holder Finds a Fresh Set of Troubles

Matthew Cooper, the Atlantic: Why a Media Shield Law Isn’t Enough to Save Journalists

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Huffington Post: The Never-ending War on Eric Holder

Amid “Toxic, Unkind Spirit,” Sun-Times Shuts Photo Dept.

John White’s 44-year career at The Chicago Sun-Times has been rooted in faith and professionalism. It’s a career he refers to as ‘an assignment from God,’ ” Kenneth Irby, director of community relations and diversity programs at the Poynter Institute, wrote Friday for Poynter.

“Earlier this week, that career came to an end on what some photographers have called the darkest day in Sun-Times photojournalism history. The paper announced Thursday that it had laid off its entire photojournalism staff and would rely on freelance photographers and reporters instead.

“White — who has seen the paper go through many owners and changes — says he never imagined that his and his colleagues’ careers would end so abruptly.

“In a phone interview, the 1982 Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist and teacher recalled a day that he is still ‘trying to make sense of.’

” ‘This is what I remember hearing: “As you know we are going forward into multimedia and video, and that is going to be our focus. So we are eliminating the photography department.’ Then they turned it over to HR,’ White recounted.

“White said it all began with an email alert on Wednesday evening directing the staff to attend a 9:30 am meeting on Thursday — which White said was ‘only the second meeting with the new managers.’ He called the meeting ‘intimidating’ and said ‘there was a toxic and unkind spirit in the office.’

“White said the 28 full-time photography department staffers who received the news seemed shocked: ‘It was as if they pushed a button and deleted a whole culture of photojournalism.’

“Those being laid off were asked to return company equipment, White said, and their access badges were demagnetized while they were receiving their layoff packages.

“The Sun-Times plans to rely on reporters to take photos and videos and has begun mandatory ‘iPhone photography basics.’ Its decision is just the latest example of a disconcerting trend in American media: professional photojournalism is being downsized and devalued, with news organizations increasingly turning to wire services, citizen-submitted content and independent/freelance contributions. . . .”

White is among the photographers on display in “Searching for the Seventies: The DOCUMERICA Photography Project” at the National Archives in Washington. One hundred eighty of his photos of Chicago life during the 1970s are posted on this Flickr site.

Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke, New York Observer: A Sun-Times Vet on the Paper Laying Off Its Photo Department

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune: Chicago Sun-Times lays off all photographers

Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune: The Idiocy of Eliminating a Photo Staff

Cord Jefferson, Gawker: A Sad Shot of Photojournalists Learning They’d Been Laid Off

Lynne Marek, Crain’s Chicago Business: Chicago Sun-Times cuts entire photography staff

Whet Moser, Chicago magazine: Black Chicago in the 1970s, Through the Lens of John H. White

Founders Exit Grio; MSNBC Takes Over From NBC News

TheGrio, NBC’s news site targeting African Americans, is being moved from the bailiwick of NBC News to that of MSNBC, with co-founders David Wilson and Dan Woolsey leaving to start another entrepreneurial venture, Wilson told Journal-isms on Friday. 

Yvette Miley, MSNBC senior vice president and executive editor, will add executive editor of the Grio to her portfolio, MSNBC President Phil Griffin and Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and chief digital officer at NBC News, announced on Thursday.

Wilson, 36, told Journal-isms he expected theGrio, which he co-founded in 2009 and sold to NBC in 2010, to reflect more of MSNBC’s “sensibility” with the switch. While NBC News does middle-of-the-road reporting, Wilson said by telephone, “MSNBC has a more progressive lean to it.” MSNBC is by far African Americans’ favorite cable news channel.

He said his new project would be created for the “digital entertainment space for African Americans,” and would be “something that no one else is doing.” Wilson called himself an entrepreneur at heart.

TheGrio recorded 1,413,000 visitors during April, according to the comScore, Inc. research company, behind such competitors as HuffPost BlackVoices and The Root but ahead of others such as NewsOne and Black America Web.

Thursday’s announcement said Wilson and Woolsey would stay on in advisory roles. “As you know, Yvette is a fantastic leader with a strong editorial vision,” the announcement continued. “She has been instrumental in evolving MSNBC’s daytime and weekend programs and is a natural fit to join Joy-Ann Reid, who continues as Managing Editor of theGrio, to lead theGrio’s team of talented journalists and contributors.

“TheGrio will be managed by MSNBC going forward, with Yvette continuing to report to Phil. Vivian’s team at NBC News Digital will support the site’s operations and technology. Under MSNBC, theGrio will be able to further build on its existing position of strength as a community for smart and engaging dialogue, opinions and perspectives, and continue to be an incubator for great stories and ideas for the entire NBCUniversal News Group. . . .”