A year in the quest for news media that look like America:
The expanded use of body cameras and dashboard videos gave the public access to footage of police interactions with civilians who in too many instances ended up dead. The footage often contradicted police reports and prompted news organizations to conduct their own investigations of police misconduct and to file lawsuits to free sequestered information.
In one example, Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times on Oct. 20, 2014, killing him on a public street, but the city refused to release the video until ordered by a court last month. The video countered the police account.
In May, the Washington Post announced that it was compiling a database of every fatal shooting by police in 2015, as well as a database of every officer killed by gunfire in the line of duty. The Post continued such reports all year. At the same time, the Guardian launched The Counted, an investigative project that also tallied the number of people killed by the police.
In April, the Tampa Bay Times reported finding that "the city’s police officers are disproportionately ‘targeting poor, black neighborhoods with obscure subsections of a Florida statute that outlaws things most people have tried on a bike, like riding with no light or carrying a friend on the handlebars.’ The police department used violations of the statute as an excuse to ‘stop, question and search almost anyone on wheels.’
In May, the Chicago Sun-Times "ran a picture and a story about a shocking photograph that the Chicago Police Department didn’t want anyone to see.
"It depicts two white police officers posing with rifles standing over a black man on his stomach who has deer antlers on his head. The police have said that the unidentified man lying on the floor was a suspect in a crime."
Also in May, a month after Walter L. Scott, an unarmed black man in North Charleston, S.C., was fatally shot by a police officer, the Post and Courier in Charleston began a five-part series that "uncovered case after case where agents with the State Law Enforcement Division failed to answer key questions about what happened, failed to document the troubled backgrounds of the officers who drew their guns, and failed to pinpoint missteps and tactical mistakes that could be used to prevent future bloodshed."
Others delved deeply into the root causes of confrontations such as those in Baltimore, including a New York Times editorial headlined, "How Racism Doomed Baltimore."
In September, acknowledging the barrage of media and other criticism of its incomplete record keeping, FBI Director James Comey announced that the agency would begin "collecting and providing to the public more information about police shootings of civilians."
The media came in for criticism from all sides for its portrayals of victims of the police. A Journal-isms column in May catalogued a number of them after the Baltimore unrest.
A fatal shooting in July underscored the need for sensitivity in photo selection. National news outlets including NBC and CNN juxtaposed an image of Ray Tensing, a University of Cincinnati police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man during a traffic stop, in front of a flag. However, his victim, Samuel DuBose, was shown in a police mugshot.
On The Root, writer Yesha Callahan stated matter-of-factly, "In the world of news reporting and black people being killed by cops, you can be certain about one thing: Mainstream news outlets seem to find a way to further victimize and show their biases through the images they use of the victims." It turned out, as explained by Michael McCarter, interim editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer and a black journalist, that the choices were more the result of the availability of images and lack of sensitivity by particular employees than malice by "the media."
The Enquirer avoided the "availability" trap and considered how the visual portrayals would look to readers. "You have to understand the power of images in situations like this," McCarter said.
Meanwhile, a content analysis of Los Angeles television news programs showed in May that "Blacks, in particular, were accurately depicted as perpetrators, victims, and officers. However, although Latinos were accurately depicted as perpetrators, they continued to be underrepresented as victims and officers."
A Department of Justice report had announced in January that as a percentage of the population, Native Americans are more likely than any other race to be shot by police.
Issac Bailey, CNN: Why not more outrage over Tamir Rice killing? (Dec. 29)
Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune: Emanuel to return early from Cuban vacation after fatal police shooting
Editorial, Plain Dealer, Cleveland: Tamir Rice protests must be peaceful
Eric Heisig, cleveland.com: Tamir Rice family is ‘in pain and devastated’ by grand jury’s decision
Allison Michaels, medium.com: Inside the Washington Post’s police shootings database: An oral history (Dec. 11)
Jim Mitchell, Dallas Morning News: Tamir Rice didn’t find justice from this grand jury
The on-air slayings in August of two white reporters at WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Va., by Vester Lee Flanagan II, a black former reporter at the station who later killed himself; the June killing of nine African Americans in a Charleston church; and the May shooting death of a 27-year-old African American reporter who committed herself to covering the blackest, most neglected portion of the District of Columbia, were among the tragedies that kept gun violence at the top of the news agenda this year.
With Chicago’s homicide toll approaching 500 for the year, Spike Lee released "Chi-raq," a nickname intended to compare Chicago to war-torn Iraq.
Some media outlets turned to front-page editorials to express outrage.
After the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist killings in December, the Daily News in New York published a screaming front-page headline: "GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS." It was accompanied by photos of GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham and Paul Ryan tweeting prayers for the victims. "As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes," the front page said.
The Chicago Sun-Times editorialized on Sept. 30, "This is the first in a series of editorials in coming weeks and months that will look at solutions to Chicago’s gun crisis. We’re looking for answers. In future reporting-based editorials, we will examine specific proposals to raise the mandatory minimum sentence. We will look at an intriguing idea to create a specialized gun court in Cook County. We will look at Chicago Police practices.
"We will hunt down the best solutions out there, check them out and bring them to you. . . .
The gunning down of nine parishioners by white suspect Dylann Roof had an unexpected side effect. Because he appeared in photos holding a Confederate flag, he prompted a movement to remove Confederate statues, memorials and flags that had stood for a century as symbols of white supremacy. Outlets such as NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune in New Orleans joined local authorities in calling for their removal or relocation.
German Lopez and Soo Oh, vox.com: Mass shootings since Sandy Hook, in one map (Dec. 14)
Latinos were among the first to be insulted by Donald J. Trump.
In the blustery businessman’s June announcement of his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump declared that if elected president, he would "build a great wall" on the southern border and have Mexico pay for it.
"When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best," he said. "They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
Univision journalist Jorge Ramos pronounced Trump "the Hispanic community’s most hated man."
At an August news conference in Dubuque, Iowa, Trump told Ramos to sit down; Ramos refused. "I have the right to ask a question," he said. Trump shot back, "Go back to Univision," before signaling for a guard to remove Ramos from the room.
O. Ricardo Pimentel sits on the San Antonio Express-News editorial board, coordinates a Sunday commentary section and writes a weekly column on public policy. Pimentel told readers that for him, Trump’s proposal to revoke birthright citizenship was personal. "My parents — born in Zacatecas and Guanajuato — came to this country separately, met in California, married and had three sons. They gained legal residency sometime after I started school. . . ."
Latino opposition to Trump heightened after NBC-TV chose him to host the Nov. 7 edition of "Saturday Night Live."
"Hispanic lawmakers hoped a meeting with top executives from MSNBC and NBC News Wednesday would smooth over hard feelings from Donald Trump’s appearance," Lauren French and Hadas Gold reported for Politico. "Instead, it had the opposite effect."
At first, many news organizations viewed Trump as a sideshow who would quickly fade. In July, the Huffington Post announced it would cover him as entertainment news. But as Trump dominated the Republican presidential polls and extended his offense to others, including Muslims, suggesting that they should temporarily be banned from entering the country, some began to wonder whether the media had helped Trump by giving him too much publicity. The reality show veteran always made good copy and was always available.
In December, Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, gave his reporters these instructions: "It is . . . entirely fair to call him a mendacious racist, as the politics team and others here have reported clearly and aggressively: He’s out there saying things that are false, and running an overtly anti-Muslim campaign," he continued. "BuzzFeed News’s reporting is rooted in facts, not opinion; these are facts."
Late editions of the Dec. 3 New York Post reported the story of the San Bernardino, Calif., massacre, in which 14 people were killed and 22 injured, with the headline "MUSLIM KILLERS" before any ties between the slain husband-and-wife suspects and the Islamic State had been established.
Some cited it as just one piece of evidence that media were playing a role in fanning anti-Muslim sentiment.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 asked Americans to rate members of eight religious groups on a "feeling thermometer" from 0 to 100, where 0 reflected the coldest, most negative possible rating and 100 the warmest, most positive. "Overall, Americans rated Muslims rather coolly — an average of 40, which was comparable to the average rating they gave atheists (41), Michael Lipka, writing for Pew, reported.
"Americans view the six other religious groups mentioned in the survey (Jews, Catholics, evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons) more warmly."
Lipka also said that "most Americans — who live in a country with a relatively small Muslim population — say they know little or nothing about Islam."
Early in the year, news organizations worldwide faced a dilemma about how to portray cartoons of Muhammad by the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo after a deadly attack on its Paris offices on Jan. 7. Could the news outlets endorse press freedom without insulting Muslims by encouraging such portrayals? Some chose to respond by censoring or cropping out photos of the cartoons themselves, Rosie Gray and Ellie Hall reported then for BuzzFeed.
However, Erik Wemple of the Washington Post dissented. "Here’s what’s actually ‘insensitive’: To attempt an explanation of what may have prompted these killings without showing what may have prompted these killings," he wrote.
In April, six writers withdrew as literary hosts when PEN American Center decided to give Charlie Hebdo its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award.
Rachel Kushner, one of the writers, said she was withdrawing "out of discomfort with what she called the magazine’s ‘cultural intolerance’ and promotion of ‘a kind of forced secular view,’ opinions echoed by other writers who pulled out," Jennifer Schuessler reported for the New York Times.
Columnist Fareed Zakaria offered a rare perspective in December for the Washington Post. "It is also important to remember that there are 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet. If you took the total number of deaths from terrorism last year — about 30,000 — and assumed that 50 people were involved in planning each one (a vastly exaggerated estimate), it would still add up to less than 0.1 percent of the world’s Muslims. . . ."
The percentage of journalists of color in newspaper and online newsrooms declined from 13.34 percent to 12.76 percent, the American Society of News Editors reported in July, with the percentages down among Asian Americans, blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, but a slight increase among those identifying as multiracial.
"The fact that our industry isn’t making progress continues to be frustrating," Karen Magnuson, editor of the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle and co-chair of the ASNE Diversifying the News Committee, said in a news release.
ASNE has set a goal of matching the percentage of journalists of color in newsrooms with the percentage of people of color in the nation. That would be about 22.6 percent, based on 2014 Census figures showing a 77.4 percent white-only population.
A week earlier, Bob Papper wrote for the Radio Television Digital News Association, "The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey finds the minority workforce in TV news slid 0.2 to 22.2%. . . still the third highest level ever. And the minority workforce at non-Hispanic TV stations rose this year to the third highest level ever as well. . . ."
ASNE said, "Recognizing that the equity goal, set in 1978 and reaffirmed in 2000, is unlikely to be met, ASNE launched a number of initiatives focused on improving diversity in leadership and coverage."
Among them: "ASNE has focused more heavily on diversity through community engagement in the past few years by partnering with Journalism That Matters, a nonprofit that convenes conversations to foster collaboration, innovation and action so that a diverse news and information ecosystem can thrive.
"Since the 2013 partnership, ASNE’s Diversifying the News Committee has worked with three pilot sites focused on engagement of minority communities and launched The Engagement Hub to help news organizations learn how to better cover untapped and emerging communities and integrate more diverse voices into the news." One such initiative took place in Newark in June.
Also in June, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida issued its report on diversity at newspapers and websites that belong to the Associated Press Sports Editors.
TIDES said, "For 2014, the grade for racial hiring practices for APSE newspapers and websites was a C+, which was the same grade as in the 2012 study. The APSE newspapers and websites received the fourth consecutive F for gender hiring practices. . . . The combined grade for 2014 was a D, the lowest of all the reports issued by TIDES."
The report showed "an increase in opportunities for people of color as copy editors (from 14 percent to 16.7 percent), and slight increases for reporters (13.7 percent to 15 percent), and columnists (16.1 percent to 16.5 percent).
In other developments, Virgil Smith, vice president for diversity at the Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper company, retired effective Sept. 30. A Diversity Council was to assume Smith’s role. Gannett had lost its reputation as the leading news company for racial diversity.
At year’s end, Univision Communications Inc. and Grupo Televisa, S.A.B. "announced plans to expand upon their existing programs to provide more opportunities for Latinos in the U.S. media and technology sectors in 2016. The new efforts will include a wide variety of education, mentorship and career development programs."
Twitter set an 11 percent goal for "underrepresented minorities," and Facebook said it wanted an applicant of color for each open position.
In March, S. Mitra Kalita, "a creative force behind the business news site Quartz, with a background in traditional journalism as well," was named managing editor for editorial strategy at the Los Angeles Times, bringing the perspective of a web journalist to the overall news operation.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault with Richard Prince, "PBS NewsHour": "PBS NewsHour" Spotlights "Stagnant" Newsroom Diversity (Dec. 16) (video)
Dori J. Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard institute for Journalism Education and longtime champion of diversity in journalism and civic life, died Feb. 24 at her West Oakland, Calif., home. She was 56.
Maynard died of lung cancer and kept her illness closely held.
She became president of the Institute in 2001. In that role, she kept alive the memory and the goals of her father, Robert C. Maynard, a co-founder of the Institute and publisher of the Oakland Tribune, and Nancy Hicks Maynard, also an Institute co-founder, co-publisher of the Tribune and Dori Maynard’s stepmother.
Among her innovations was a request that led to a revival in 2002 of "Journal-isms," formerly a feature in the print NABJ Journal, as an online column on the Maynard site.
At a Washington memorial service May 4 at the Newseum, Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, announced that the foundation would sponsor a Dori J. Maynard Award for Diversity in Journalism, to be awarded by the American Society of News Editors.
The honor, to be underwritten by the Foundation for five years, comes with $2,500 and "celebrates journalism that overcomes ignorance, stereotypes, intolerance, racism or hate. Winning entries will bridge any or all of the social fault lines of race, gender, class, generation and geography."
Meanwhile, the work of the institute continues.
"A board task force, chaired by Martin Reynolds, will look at short-term steps needed to ensure that MIJE remains as relevant today as the program that was launched at Columbia University a generation ago . . . ." the institute’s board of directors said in March.
Reynolds is senior editor for community engagement at the Bay Area News Group.
"That task force will be followed by a formal strategic planning process."
The board task force includes Reynolds, Paula Madison and Kevin Merida. Madison is a businesswoman and retired NBCUniversal executive, and Merida, formerly a managing editor of the Washington Post, is editor in chief of the Undefeated, ESPN’s two-year-old digital project about the intersection of sports and race.
Maynard was posthumously honored by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, which renamed its diversity leadership program after her; the National Association of Black Journalists, which plans to induct her into its Hall of Fame; the Associated Press Managing Editors Association; the American Society of News Editors; and the Online News Association.
ASNE and APME jointly awarded Maynard the 15th annual Robert G. McGruder Award for Diversity Leadership at their October convention at Stanford University, and ONA gave her the Rich Jaroslovsky Founder Award at its September convention in Los Angeles.
In a Dec. 9 message to Maynard Institute supporters posted on the Maynard website, Hsu asked, "Please take time to look at the stories produced by our Voices correspondents in east Oakland and south Sacramento. These correspondents are local residents being trained by Maynard to tell the stories of their communities in their own voices. . . " She added, "We could use your financial support to create a ‘train the trainer’ Fault Lines program. . . " .
Storify: Journalism Remembers Dori Maynard
It was Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ banner year.
Coates is a national correspondent at the Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics and social issues.
Last year, he was praised for the cover story, "The Case for Reparations," which brought more visitors to the Atlantic website in one day than any single piece the magazine had ever published.
This year, Coates wrote a similar piece, "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration," but it was his book, "Between the World and Me," written in the form of a letter to his 15-year-old son and hailed as a thoughtful, pessimistic, no-punches-pulled look at being a black man in America, that elevated his profile most.
"I wrote this book because when people talk about the African-American community, what they never talk about is fear," Coates said as he launched the book in Baltimore. "They never talk about how afraid we are for our bodies, how afraid we are for our children and how afraid we are for our loved ones on a daily basis."
"Between the World and Me" is No. 4 on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction best-seller list for Jan. 3, its 23rd week.
In September, Coates was named a 2015 MacArthur Foundation fellow.
In November, he won the National Book Award for nonfiction.
And in what might be the most fun, "Marvel Comics announced that Coates will team up with visual artist Brian Stelfreeze to debut a new Black Panther comic book series featuring the monarch of the fictional African nation of Wakanda," Mary Carole McCauley wrote for the Baltimore Sun.
Coates wrote Dec. 16 on his Atlantic blog, "I guess I should start by saying I’ve never done this before. I expect that there will be stumbles and screw-ups on my part. My nightmare basically involves this turning into some sort of stunt or vanity project.
"I did not take this on to look pretty, or add a line to my CV. I took it on for the same reason I take on new stories — to grow intellectually and artistically. In this case it’s another genre — fictional, serial story-telling — one a good distance away from journalism, memoir, and essays. . . ."
Lester Holt was named permanent anchor of the "NBC Nightly News" in June, the first African American in that role.
"It is thrilling to see that an African-American will for the first time in television history be the solo anchor of an network evening newscast," Dedrick Russell, vice president-broadcast of the National Association of Black Journalists, said in congratulating him. "Lester’s presence will surely inspire the next generation of young journalists to make a commitment to the craft and aim to tell honest, creative, and compelling stories which illuminate the diverse world around them."
Holt was substitute anchor and weekend anchor while Brian Williams was anchor and managing editor of the top-rated "Nightly News," and, as David Bauder of the Associated Press characterized him, "arguably the most prominent television journalist in the country."
But Williams was suspended in February "for falsely claiming he’d been in a helicopter hit by enemy fire during the Iraq War. That led NBC to conduct an investigation, which the network said turned up other inaccurate statements about his reporting, most of them in talk show anecdotes told after the fact," Bauder wrote.
In a telephone interview with Journal-isms after the appointment, Holt was asked, "How do you view your position as a ‘first’ — the first African American solo network anchor?"
He replied, "Like a lot of African Americans who’ve been in big positions, we often hear — I’ll tell you the same thing — ‘We don’t necessarily define ourselves by our color.’ But you know, it’s a big deal.
"To the extent that if only one kid turns on the TV and sees my name at the beginning and says, ‘Wow, I could do that’ and ‘That guy looks like me,’ that’s a great thing. I’m honored by that, but it’s not like there was a big sign that said, ‘Black anchors need not apply.’
"The fact is, there are only three of these jobs, and as you and I know, they don’t open up very often, they’re usually held for a very long time. But the circumstances in this case, you know, allowed it. I feel like for my entire career I’ve been preparing myself for this moment. It’s not what I expected to happen, but that door suddenly swung wide open and I was standing."
Chris Ariens reported for TV Newser last week, "Nightly News has been #1 in total viewers for all 26 weeks Holt has been anchor, and for 31 of the last 34 weeks in the demo," referring to the key 25-54 age demographic.
In its 40th anniversary year, the leadership of the National Association of Black Journalists told members in October that "NABJ’s projected 2015 deficit will be higher than the previous board reported at the 2015 convention. The projected deficit is likely going to be nearly $380,000."
The association eliminated three positions, including that of Darryl R. Mathews Sr., its executive director of less than two years.
NABJ President Sarah Glover announced austerity measures.
Just weeks earlier, NABJ was abuzz with talk of its visit to the Paisley Park complex of Prince, "His Purple Highness," outside Minneapolis during NABJ’s annual convention. Prince appeared before the group for two minutes.
In December, Gabriel Arana wrote a story for the Huffington Post headlined, "Why The Country’s Largest Minority-Journalism Group May Close: The National Association of Black Journalists is grappling with a massive shortfall — and none of its leaders will talk about it."
NABJ leaders stated flatly, "NABJ is not closing," and asked for a formal correction. Huffington Post refused.
The nation’s oldest and largest association of journalists of color is preparing for a joint convention with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in Washington, Aug. 3-7.
"A team of four Associated Press reporters disclosed earlier this week that grocery stores and restaurants across the world, including Wal-Mart and Red Lobster, are selling shrimp peeled by slaves," Chris Roush wrote Dec. 18 for Talking Biz News.
"That story has prompted exporters and retailers to promise changes this week in the system of exporting and purchasing fish.
"The story, by Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza and Esther Htusan followed stories reported and published earlier this year that disclosed that retailers across the world were selling fish caught by slaves from Myanmar.
"Those stories resulted in more than 2,000 slaves being freed and retailers changing how they purchased fish.
"And they won the gold award in the ninth annual Barlett & Steele Awards for Investigative Business Journalism for their work exposing slavery in the fishing industry in Southeast Asia and connecting the practice to U.S. supermarkets and pet food companies. Those awards are run by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at Arizona State University. . . ."
Kristen Hare, Poynter Institute: AP editor: ‘It’s not every day that we help get hundreds of slaves freed.’ (July 7)
Robin McDowell and Margie Mason: Hundreds of fishermen rescued amid Indonesian slavery probe (April 3)
1. Dori Maynard, Diversity Champion, Dies at 56 (Feb. 24)
2. Reporter Killed in Community She Loved (May 29)
3. A Black Aide to LBJ Speaks Up on "Selma" (Jan. 2)
4. Ebony Delays Issue in Dispute Over Rates (March 13)
5. Roker Show Pulled; Followed Dispute Over Katrina (Sept. 2)
6. Fallout Over a Dismissal at Poynter (Dec. 14)
7. NAHJ Parts With Executive Director, Board Member (May 27)
8. NABJ Shakeup After New Deficit Estimate (Oct. 30)
9. Stuart Scott Tributes Go Broad and Deep (Jan. 4)
10. NABJ’s Sidmel Estes Dies at 60 (Oct. 6)
Source: Google Analytics. Includes only columns published in 2015.
Elana Beiser, Committee to Protect Journalists: Syria, France most deadly countries for the press (Dec. 29)
billmoyers.com: The Most Undercovered Stories of 2015 (Part One)
billmoyers.com: The Most Undercovered Stories of 2015 (Part Two)
Zeba Blay, HuffPost BlackVoices: The Most Important Writing From People Of Color In 2015 (Dec. 16)
John Bonazzo, observer.com: The Biggest Media Stories of 2015 (Dec. 18)
Columbia Journalism Review: Our favorite local journalism from 2015 (Dec. 14)
David Crary, Associated Press: AP Poll: Islamic State conflict voted top news story of 2015 (Dec. 22)
Sheree Crute and Yanick Rice Lamb, fierceforblackwomen.com: 15 Fiercest Sisters of 2015
Kaeti Hinck, NiemanLab: Predictions for Journalism 2016: Diversity or Fail
Cristinia Lopez, Media Matters for America: Three Facts About Latino Voters That Media Got Wrong In 2015 But Can Improve In 2016
Andres Oppenheimer, Miami Herald: The most important news of 2015 (Dec. 19)
Tracie Powell, alldigitocracy.org: Some of the best, most diverse storytelling of 2015 (Dec. 29)
Reporters Without Borders: RSF annual round-up: 110 journalists killed in 2015 (Dec. 29)
Sharon Shahid, the Newseum: Notable Front Pages in 2015 (Dec. 9)
Bill Shea, Craig’s Detroit Business: 2015 saw big changes in Detroit media
Brian Stelter with Kathleen Carroll, Michael Oreskes and Joanna Coles, CNN, "Reliable Sources": Best and worst of journalism in 2015 (video)