At NABJ, Unity Dispute Leads to Misstep
The fallout from the organization's decision to withdraw from the Unity coalition continues.
The fallout over this month's decision by the National Association of Black Journalists to withdraw from the Unity coalition took a contentious turn Thursday after members learned that Kathy Y. Times, president of the association, had suspended John Yearwood, an NABJ representative on the Unity board, from the association's listserve.
Yearwood, who is world editor at the Miami Herald, was then reinstated. He had questioned whether the NABJ board had acted with full knowledge of the facts.
"As you analyze NABJ’s decision to withdraw from UNITY, it’s critical that you have accurate information. Starting today, I’ll begin releasing emails and other information to help inform your decision," Yearwood wrote. He then posted an 2009 email exchange between Unity's executive director, Onica Makwakwa, and NABJ's treasurer, Gregory Lee Jr., that addressed whether Unity had responded to NABJ's financial concerns.
Postings to the members-only listserve, which this columnist moderates, are confidential. However, some gave permission for their comments to be used in this column.
Joe Davidson, a Washington Post columnist and an NABJ founder, disclosed to members Thursday night, "I was troubled to learn that Kathy suspended John Yearwood from this 'serv after his posting Sunday night that questioned information given to the membership regarding the board's decision to withdraw from UNITY. In that post, he said he planned to provide additional material that apparently would call into question other information provided by the board on its decision to withdraw.
"Whether you agree with that decision or not, I think we all can agree that information relevant to this discussion should not be censored and people who question the decision should not be punished or have their comments taken down."
He added for Journal-isms, "I'm a founder of this organization and love it almost like a parent loves a child. I'm really disturbed by what NABJ is going through now. I've been to every NABJ convention and we always have controversies, sometimes the same ones year after year. But I don't recall anything in our history that has been as troubling as this." Later, he said, "I appreciate Kathy responding quickly to the concerns of the members."
Roland S. Martin, the CNN contributor and NABJ secretary, said he disagreed with Yearwood but thought Times' suspension was wrong. "The email he sent out wouldn't change my opinion one iota about leaving Unity, and I stand by the board's decision 100%.
"But what he sent out wasn't worth a suspension, and it should be reversed immediately," Martin wrote.
Others, eventually including Times, agreed. However, the reinstatement did not end the controversy.
Bob Butler of the Chauncey Bailey Project, the vice president/broadcast, wrote, "Madame president has reinstated John Yearwood to the listserve after she made what she admits was a 'poor decision' to suspend his access.
"No journalist can endorse censorship but there were some circumstances that contributed to the president's action," he wrote. ". . . if this information was important enough to help the NABJ board make sound decisions during talks with Unity, why are we just hearing about it now?"
Other members linked the incident to transparency issues, citing the recent removal of a critical comment from the NABJ website, a decision that was attributed to an error. Author A'Lelia Bundles, a former ABC News producer and executive, said, "If an intern or other inexperienced staffer took it upon him or herself to make such a decision with the confidence that it was an appropriate action, what does that say about the messages that are being transmitted to young minds about transparency, censorship, tolerance of other viewpoints, healthy debate, etc. If this is indeed what happened, what kind of coaching, mentoring or disciplinary action accompanied this very teachable moment?"
Askia Muhammad, who writes for the Final Call and the Washington Informer and broadcasts on Washington's WPFW-FM, told Journal-isms by email, "I have been a member since 1995. I initially supported the Board decision because I don't believe we can remain in a relationship where our partners hold us in contempt, as it appears in this case. So I did not follow all the listserv back and forth. I did lament the tone of some of the discourse. But I dismissed my concerns until yesterday when the report of the listserv censorship came to light.
"Then, it was more than just a few intemperate postings, the pattern, of too many of NABJ's officers including the editing of critical comments from the website and the banishment of another critic from the forum took on the stench of a banana republic, not the aroma of an injured spouse in divorce court.
"That's when I reasoned we may only have seen the tip of this iceberg. . ."
Three candidates — all current board members — are vying for the organization's presidency. The three were asked for their observations.
Lee, NABJ's treasurer, said, "I respect Kathy's decision to reinstate John Yearwood if she felt his removal from the listserve was an error.''
Charles Robinson III, a regional director, said, "NABJ has been clear from its past, its present and its future, criticism can’t be silence[d]; it’s what makes us who we are. We can’t be the leaders of journalism if we don’t vigorously debate issues. Those debates must be with facts not innuendo.
". . . I’m also reminded [that] critics of the actions we took have not used the same vigor to question UNITY. Sorry, from my perch a press release is not an answer to a question. How many journalists would accept a press release from a public official to a question about operations?" (Full statement in comments section.)
Deirdre M. Childress, vice president/print, wrote, "I think a lot of what is said here points only to one thing and that is time for us to revise, review and reconsider the ways members are able to express themselves. And we on the board need to not just hear, but listen.
"I'd like to get to a point where we embrace a spectrum of opinion without tearing each other apart so we can get to strategic initiatives related to jobs, diversity and support for each other's work." (Full statement in comments section.)
Times said she had nothing further to say and declined to grant permission to quote her listserve statement.
"John has been reinstated. I don't have any other comments," she said.
When he returned to the discussion, Yearwood thanked his colleagues. ". . . You proved that NABJ remains a members organization, although some would like us to forget that," he said.
Keith Brown, who spent nearly five years at Black Entertainment Television, rising to senior vice president of news, left on March 25 when his contract expired, Brown disclosed to Journal-isms on Thursday.
David Wilson Scott, formerly a producer for ABC News and HBO's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel," is leading the news department, a BET spokeswoman said on Friday.
Scott has been vice president news since September, spokeswoman Tracy McGraw said. She said she did not know whether Scott will head the news department permanently or whether a senior vice president of news would succeed Brown.
Scott's bio describes him as "a broadcast journalist, writer and news producer" who "produced investigative reports with Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross from 1998 - 2005" at ABC News.
"David helped re-launch ABC News Nightline in 2005 and served as that program's senior producer for investigations for three years. He later joined the sports news magazine, HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel where he received two Emmy nominations for his stories about race and sports. He is the recipient of two Columbia DuPont awards and five News [Emmys] including the 2009 Emmy Award for Outstanding Investigation in a News Magazine for his half-hour Nightline special on child slavery in Haiti, 'How to Buy a Child in Ten Hours.' He is a graduate of Tufts University and holds a Masters in Public Affairs from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School."
Brown had the unenviable task of attempting to restore credibility to BET's news commitment after the network eliminated the weekly news panel show "Lead Story" and its "BET News" in favor of one-minute news updates, and failed to join other networks in providing live coverage of the funerals of Coretta Scott King in 2006 and Rosa Parks in 2005.
The National Association of Black Journalists awarded BET its "Thumbs Down" award in 2007. The same year, BET was criticized for "Hot Ghetto Mess," a show that featured African Americans in unflattering outfits and exhibiting questionable behavior.
In 2009, after the election of Barack Obama as the nation's first black president, BET's CEO and Chairman Debra L. Lee said she had reexamined what she wanted BET's legacy to be and was working to change BET's image.
Brown, who had been vice president, news and documentaries at Spike TV and a producer with CBS, NBC and "Now with Bill Moyers" on public television, brought journalist Ed Gordon back to the network, covered the 2008 presidential campaign, provided live coverage of the inauguration and presidential news conferences and produced documentaries on the Detroit school system and obesity among African Americans.
Brown told Journal-isms his contract had expired and "it was time to go." He said he is joining his wife, Maria Perez-Brown, as a partner in the New York-based Perez-Brown Media Group, Inc., "a consulting firm specializing in niche content development, production and media strategies."
About BET, he said, "they continue to express a commitment to news. I hope that continues to grow. We did a lot of amazing work through the election. We executed more political coverage (than at any time) in BET's history." The network was founded in 1980.
Brown's resume says, "During his 5-year tenure, he managed and executive produced more than 30 specials and oversaw unprecedented breaking news coverage including the untimely death of Michael Jackson. During this time, BET News and Public Affairs received more than 40 awards, including two NAACP Image Awards, several NABJ Awards for Excellence in Journalism and a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism."
BET has always maintained that its primary focus is entertainment. News programs were absent this week from its showcasing of its next season for advertisers. Executives are beaming over the success of the entertainment shows "The Game" and "Let's Stay Together" and the continuing popularity of its awards shows.
"In 2010, BET Networks posted a blockbuster year of ratings and 2011 is poised to deliver even bigger results for the Network due to the incredible performance of its scripted content, returning series and tent pole specials," a BET announcement said.
R. Thomas Umstead, Multichannel News: 2011 Upfronts: BET Scripts 2011 Programming Schedule
R. Thomas Umstead, Multichannel News: BET To Stay Aggressive In The Scripted Game
Lisa Wilson, assistant sports editor at the Buffalo News, has been promoted to executive sports editor, restoring to two the number of African American top sports editors at the nation's newspapers.
"I think we have a solid section, so my goal isn't to blow it up, but to enhance it. I think one way we can achieve that is with more enterprise stories/special projects. It's always nice to give the readers something they're not expecting," Wilson told Journal-isms by email.
"As far as daily coverage, we will continue to emphasize the Bills and Sabres, as well as high schools, what we like to call 'the third franchise.' "
Wilson is the first woman to hold the position in News history and also the first black woman on the newsroom management team. She joined the News in 1998 as a sports copy editor after six years at the Niagara Gazette in nearby Niagara Falls, N.Y., where she rose to sports editor. She is married to Allen Wilson, a sportswriter and columnist at the News.
As recently as 2007, six African Americans were sports editors at daily newspapers. But the number shrank to zero as the newspaper business contracted. Many went to Internet sites.
Veteran journalist Phillip Dixon is stepping down as chair of the department of journalism at Howard University's John H. Johnson School of Communications, a position he has held since 2002, Dixon told Journal-isms.
"I intend to enjoy sunsets and celebrate sunrises while I wait for one of my brilliant former students to hire me as a highly paid assistant in charge of supervising light work," he said by email.
"I'm patient. I'm willing to wait days... weeks.. months.. years for that call."
Dixon's decision means the positions of both dean and department chair are expected to be available July 1. In February, Jannette L. Dates said she was stepping down as dean on June 30.
Dixon worked at the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he served briefly as the paper's first African American managing editor, before arriving at Howard. In 2008, Dixon was awarded the Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, given to an educator who has promoted diversity.
Yanick Rice Lamb and Peggy A. Lewis, colleagues who were among those who nominated Dixon, said, "Mr. Dixon has given legions of students a solid foundation to not only enter journalism, but also to excel in the field. He pushes them outside their comfort zones and encourages them to think outside the box. He is also preparing students to enter areas in which journalists of color are under-represented, such as business reporting. He has entered into partnerships to establish two business reporting programs with Reuters and Bloomberg. As a result, our students have emerged with stronger clips, scholarships, internships and full-time employment as business reporters."
Another colleague, Ron Harris, wrote, "As you probably know, this year, three print journalism students from Howard won the White House press internship. Originally, the White House intended to grant an internship to one student from Howard, but after looking at the caliber of the first applicant, the administration asked for more."
Robin Thornhill, who also teaches at Howard, said in nominating Dixon, "He encourages students to write for our Department's wire service, Capstone News Network, which provides students with an opportunity to write for local newspapers and the Black Press. Phillip helped to develop industry partnerships with Bloomberg, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, to name a few. These corporate relationships are not only important to our internship program, but these organizations have hired our graduates."
"News directors for the city's three major local news networks are considering signing a joint agreement on coverage policies regarding Pittsburgh's black community as part of an effort to add positive messages to the news as an offset to crime coverage," Timothy McNulty reported Thursday for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"The idea was forwarded by WPXI-TV news director Mike Goldrick at the latest Black Political Empowerment Project summit on media portrayal of violence. More than 30 media and black leaders attended the summit Wednesday at the Channel 11 studios in Summer Hill to discuss — and oftentimes vent — about how the city's black community is covered by television, newspapers and radio.
" 'If the only information about black people is what's in the news, there's a reason why unemployment rate is astronomic and why we have all these negative issues — because the imaging of black people is extremely negative,' said BPEP president Tim Stevens. 'Not only does it affect the viewpoint of white people with their thoughts on black people, I say it affects the psychology of black people.'
"Many attendees complained the main coverage of black Pittsburghers was at murder scenes or courthouses. 'I'm tired of turning on the news and seeing a sister with her hair all over the place, five teeth missing and looking like she just stepped out of the bedroom. That's not something I want to see every time an African-American is interviewed on the news,' one BPEP activist said."
The News Media Guild and the Associated Press reached a tentative agreement in a 33-month contract after six months of talks, the Guild announced on Friday, but there was no contractual resolution on the 26-year-old internship program that AP has suspended for a year, Guild President Tony Winton told Journal-isms.
"Suzanne Gamboa, chair of the Guild’s human rights committee and a staffer in Washington, D.C., and Russell Contreras, an AP staffer in Boston urged AP to retain a presence at minority journalism conferences and to support a scaled-back internship program," the Guild reported then.
"We did get a committee to start working with the employer on diversity issues," Winton said on Friday. "We'll keep pressing for them to restore as much as we can the Minority Internship Program," as the project was originally known when it began in the early 1980s, the result of a settlement negotiated after discrimination complaints.
However, Winton said, the AP maintained it could not bargain "for something that didn't exist yet" — the future interns. He said there was "reason for optimism" about the committee on diversity issues because a similar committee on health and safety issues has proved successful.
According to a memo from Winton posted on the Poynter Institute site, "The agreement will be mailed out for a ratification vote shortly. The Editorial and Technology units will vote in separate referenda, according to the Guild’s by-laws. If approved, the contract would expire Aug. 31, 2013."
Jessica Bruce, AP's vice president, human resources, said in a statement, "These were very difficult talks, covering difficult topics in uncertain economic times. With this agreement now in place, AP and its staff can now focus their attention and energy on the initiatives critical to driving revenue so that AP can stay competitive and maintain its leadership in the media marketplace."
George Kiriyama, a reporter for NBC Bay Area KNTV-TV who conceived of a "2012 AAJA Men of Broadcast calendar" to raise money for the Asian American Journalists Association, scored the highest number of votes in the contest, Executive Director Kathy Chow said on Friday.
"A little more than $10K was raised from the online voting," Chow told Journal-isms. "The second phase will now be the production of the calendar and presales of the calendar at the convention. We also will be offering the calendars online once they are produced. All proceeds will go towards funding AAJA programs."
Each vote cost the voter $1. People could vote as often as they liked.
"Yes, the 2nd Edition of this calendar was my idea along with inspiration from former ELP founder Dinah Eng," Kiriyama said, referring to former director of AAJA's Executive Leadership Program. "She helped put together the first AAJA Men of Broadcast Calendar back in 1998/99.
"For me...this is a win for AAJA and a win for Asian American male broadcasters who continue to be underrepresented in our industry," added Kiriyama, who is also AAJA's vice president/broadcast. "All I did was receive the most votes, but the Top 16 are making the calendar. The Top 12 will get their own month with the next four honorable mentions sharing a page.
"It's incredible the support we have received so far via voting and we expect it to continue when we start selling the calendars. This was a fun way to showcase our Asian American male broadcasters and raise money for AAJA programs at the same time."
The top 16:
1) George Kiriyama - 917
2) Howard Chen - 846
3) Shawn Chitnis - 662
4) Christopher Nguyen - 573
5) Chris Jose - 565
6) Brian Tong - 564
7) Randall Yip - 546
8) Toan Lam - 543
9) Lloyd LaCuesta - 535
10) Archith Seshadri - 505
11) Owen Le - 482
12) Stanton Tang - 475
13) Kenny Choi - 427
14) Sean Dobie - 352
15) Frank Buckley - 298
16) Anish Shroff - 253