Few People of Color Own TV Stations

Critics say that the FCC needs to make minority ownership of television stations a priority.

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

Commentator and entrepreneur Armstrong Williams, who said Monday that he plans to buy WMMP-TV in Charleston, S.C., from Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., said Tuesday that other television companies should be asked why they are similarly not helping other entrepreneurs of color to purchase stations.

Providing the entrepreneurs with cable networks is one thing, as Comcast has in fulfilling a commitment made in 2011, when it purchased NBC, but physical television stations are tangible assets, Williams said.

African American television station ownership dropped from 12 stations in 2009 to 10 in 2011, or less than 1 percent of the nation’s 1,348 full-power television stations, the Federal Communications Commission said in November.

Sinclair agreed in February to sell Williams’ firm two other stations, although he is not a part of Sinclair. Williams said Sinclair has guaranteed his $50 million loan, “and thank God for that. It shows you the progress that we’ve made.” The lesson, he said, is “you’ve got to develop meaningful relationships,” as he has over 13 years with Sinclair.

“You will see us celebrate diversity in our business in talent and in management,” Williams pledged.

David Honig, who leads the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, pointed to the FCC when asked why more people of color don’t own television stations.

“Television stations use publicly owned spectrum, which is in limited supply,” Honig said in an email. “Consequently the FCC must act as a gatekeeper to decide who gets to hold broadcast licenses and get them renewed. Since 1973, advancing minority ownership has been a significant factor in broadcast licensing.

“Between 1978 and 1995, the FCC had reasonably strong minority ownership policies. However, those policies are gone now, and the FCC hasn’t replaced them with new initiatives. For the past several years, the FCC has ignored over 70 proposals, offered by over 50 national organizations, to restore minority media and telecom ownership opportunity.

“Formerly there was a pipeline minorities could use to gravitate from management to ownership. The pipeline was fueled by the FCC strictly enforcing its equal employment opportunity rules in an industry with a long and continuing history of racial and gender privilege. Unfortunately, FCC EEO enforcement all but ended in 2001 and has not returned. Civil rights organizations’ proposals to reform EEO enforcement have been pending at the FCC for twelve years without action.

“In the 1990s, the FCC’s media ownership rules were relaxed, allowing combinations of two television stations in the same market. More recently, through ‘shared services agreements’ and other ruses, one company can essentially control three TV stations in the same market. Although there are exceptions, most of these arrangements have been anticompetitive and have diminished diversity. A new entrant doesn’t stand a chance securing financing to compete against such a combination.

“Dozens of highly skilled minority and women broadcasters and entrepreneurs are capable of owning and operating television stations. But without access to capital, access to spectrum and access to opportunity, they are walled out of the world’s most influential industry.

“The FCC has failed miserably to cure this. Minority exclusion in an industry whose backbone is public property is unconscionable and fixing that should be the FCC’s top priority.”

Plain Dealer Loses One-Third of Its Newsroom

More than one-third of the editorial staffers at the venerable Plain Dealer of Cleveland lost their jobs on Wednesday, Anna Clark reported in Columbia Journalism Review. One published listing of the casualties showed eight to be of color — including veteran columnist Margaret Bernstein.

According to “the partial list of the first 42 layoffs at the Plain Dealer sent by a source,” published on the Grumpy Abe website, the affected newsroom staffers of color include Bernstein; Sandi Boyd, clerk; Stan Donaldson, reporter; Felesia Jackson, graphic artist; Adrian Johnson, layout editor; Deborah Miller, copy editor; Racquel Robinson, letters editor; and Tonya Sams, reporter.

“Of the dozens departing, most were volunteers (albeit under duress), with only a handful forcibly laid off. Medical reporter Harlan Spector, president of the Newspaper Guild chapter representing many Plain Dealer employees, was among the voluntary layoffs,” Clark wrote.

Bernstein had been a Plain Dealer columnist for 24 years, according to her LinkedIn profile. The Ohio Society of Professional Journalists Awards named her and Donaldson first-place winners in 2012 and 2011 for Best Minority Issues Reporting for their articles on 11 women victims of a serial killer and their children.

Bernstein confirmed to Journal-isms that she left voluntarily. “Why did I volunteer? I’ve been here nearly 24 years, I’m ready for a change,” she said by email. “I have a book that I’ve been working on for 11 years about an inspiring local hero, Yvonne Pointer. This is my chance to complete it. I’ve got some opportunities on the horizon to do some contract work related to topics that I’m deeply passionate about: mentoring, literacy, engaging parents. So I’ve made my peace with leaving journalism.”

Clark’s story continued, “The cuts, part of owner Advance Publications’ shift to a ‘digital-first’ strategy, gutted the newspaper of about 50 experienced journalists. The paper will also implement previously-announced plans to cut home delivery to three days a week starting August 5, while amping up its affiliated website, Cleveland.com.

“By Wednesday afternoon, that site prominently featured a story answering reader questions about delivery changes on the front page… but no story on the layoffs. No comprehensive list was made available to the public, or even among staffers, who were left to buzz among themselves by phone and social media to hear who got the ‘good’ call. When I tried to look up the archival work of some of the reporters laid off, I found that it was no longer possible to search by their names: I repeatedly got a page that reads ‘Unable to locate author.’

“The layoffs had been pending for months, so that by the time Plain Dealer journalists were asked to stay home Wednesday morning to await the call that would let them know whether they still had a job, one of the dominating moods was relief — at least now, they know. As one reporter told me, the waiting has been ‘slow torture.’ “

Bernstein also won the Community Service Award in 2008 from the National Association of Black Journalists, which coincidentally opened its annual convention Wednesday in Kissimmee, Fla. Executive Director Maurice Foster said 1,937 people were registered as of Tuesday, a figure that includes exhibitors. NABJ attracted 2,586 registrants last year in New Orleans. The association had 2,986 members as of June, Foster said.

Ruth Holladay blog: Indianapolis Star “Hit List”

Jay Miller, Crain’s Cleveland Business: Diminished editorial staff reports to The Plain Dealer

Robert L. Smith, Plain Dealer, Cleveland: The Plain Dealer executes newsroom layoffs as era of daily delivery nears end

Vanessa K. Bush Moves Up to Essence Editor-in-Chief

Vanessa K. Bush, named acting managing editor of Essence magazine after the February dismissal of Constance C.R. White as top editor, won the top job on Wednesday.

As Editor-in-Chief, Bush will serve as the brand’s editorial leader and oversee the magazine’s content and vision,” an announcement said. “Most recently, Bush has served as Acting Editor-in-Chief since February of 2013, responsible for leading the editorial team.

“Bush recently introduced ESSENCE’s #HeIsNotASuspect social media campaign aimed at reducing racial profiling of young African-American men. She has spearheaded numerous editorial franchises including ‘Guns Down’, ESSENCE’s multi-part series addressing gun violence in our communities and ‘Where Smart Starts’, a year-long initiative around education. During her tenure, ESSENCE launched a new Twitter program, #ESSENCEDebates, and Essence.com introduced the innovative Beauty Matchmaker tool. In addition, under her leadership, the 2013 ESSENCE Festival’s ESSENCE Empowerment Experience daytime programming enjoyed record-breaking attendance; bringing ESSENCE content to life around the pillars of family, health, relationships, beauty, careers, personal empowerment, activism, and more.

“She first joined ESSENCE more than a decade ago as Beauty and Fashion Features Editor, where she directed all style and beauty sections. In 2003, Bush was named Lifestyle Editor, responsible for coverage including food, home, parenting and lifestyle. Additionally, Bush was a member of the editorial features team, writing and editing numerous impactful stories — such as Thin Line Between Love and Hate on teen dating violence and Fat Chances chronicling childhood obesity. In 2005, she was named Executive Editor, managing the editorial team to implement the brand’s creative vision, as well as overseeing staffing, systems, operations and the magazine’s operating budget. . . .”

White told Journal-isms in March that her departure was the result of repeated clashes with Martha Nelson, the editor-in-chief of Time Inc. who White says sought to limit the way black women were portrayed.

Nelson named Bush editor-in-chief, according to the Essence announcement.

Alexis Garrett Stodghill, who interviewed Bush for the Grio, wrote Wednesday, “In her new role, Bush intends to address the fact that many black women, while more optimistic about their lives than ever according to various reports, are still dissatisfied with their representation in media.

” ‘It just isn’t doing a very good job of portraying our true selves, the complete picture of who we are,’ she told theGrio. ‘I still see Essence as that place that helps illuminate, inspire, educate, empower, and elevate black women. There’s still a clear need for that. Our new direction is all about the promise and the joy of our lives, and celebrating that, continuing with our tradition of bringing awareness to the issues in our community as well as our tradition of journalistic excellence. We want to be a part of those critical conversations that are happening right now.’ “

Separately, Melissa Kramer is joining Essence as its fashion director, Chris O’Shea reported for FishbowlNY. “Kramer most recently served as creative director for Uptown, where she worked on fashion spreads for celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Iman and Lenny Kravitz.”

Oprah’s OWN Turns Corner Toward Profitability

After several grueling years, Oprah Winfrey’s cable channel OWN has turned the corner toward profitability, her business partners at Discovery Communications said on Tuesday, six months ahead of its previously stated goal,” Brian Stelter reported for the New York Times.

“In the second quarter, OWN was cash-flow positive for the first time, said David M. Zaslav, Discovery’s chief executive. He credited investments in programming, including two new shows from Tyler Perry, and increases in subscriber fees from cable and satellite providers.

“OWN, which is a joint venture between Ms. Winfrey and Discovery, is now ‘starting to pay down the investment Discovery has made in the venture,’ Mr. Zaslav said in his company’s annual earnings conference call. . . .”

Rachel Swarns to Write Metro Column in N.Y. Times

Rachel L. Swarns, a correspondent for the New York Times since 1995 and author of “American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama,” has been chosen to write a New York-based weekly column for Times, Metro Editor Wendell Jamieson announced to the staff Wednesday. Swarns would be the Times’ only African American Metro columnist.

Swarns, “a writer of great sensitivity and power, will be joining Metro to write a weekly column exploring work and the myriad ways it touches us,” Jamieson wrote. “But just as Mike Wilson’s Crime Scene column is not so much about crime as it is about people, so too will Rachel’s canvas be broad: it will be about life, seen through the prism of the work we do, or want to do, or need to do, or wish we were doing.”

Swarns, a native New Yorker, “joined The Times from The Miami Herald in 1995, first covering the Bronx. She became Johannesburg bureau chief in 1999. She has been in Washington since 2003, reporting on immigration, the presidential campaigns of 2004 and 2008 and Michelle Obama’s first year in the White House. She has also explored the rich terrain of family life, writing about adoption, marriage and parenting,” Jamieson continued.

Swarns’ husband, Henri Cauvin, is joining the Times as an assistant Metro editor in September. Cauvin left the Washington Post on July 24 as development and transportation editor.

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