armstrong
AOL CEO Tim Armstrong

AOL Patch: "We Do Not Focus on Race"

Diversity Scarce Among New Senior News Managers

AOL's Patch network of hyperlocal news sites, which expects to be "the largest hirer of full-time journalists in the United States this year," has finished hiring a top news management with little if any racial diversity and declared that "We do not focus on race or ethnicity in the hiring process, but rather finding the best person for each job opening."

None appears to be a person of color. Anthony Duignan-Cabrera, editorial director of the Northeast Region, said through an AOL spokesman that "he’d prefer not to discuss his ethnicity" as a "personal matter."

Asked about Patch's racial composition, Adam Isserlis, vice president of the Rubenstein media relations firm, transmitted this statement from Patch:

“Patch is entirely concerned with hiring the best journalists across the country, reporters who are passionate about local news and reporting. We do not focus on race or ethnicity in the hiring process, but rather finding the best person for each job opening.”

Diversity proponents have long maintained that color-blind approaches to hiring fail to break institutional patterns of discrimination and ignore the advantages of diversity.

Just this week, Michelle Alexander, law professor at Ohio State University and author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness," declared on public radio's "The Michael Eric Dyson Show," "Color blindness manifests itself as racial indifference. I firmly believe color blindness is a part of the problem. . . . 'I don't care about racial disparities.' That's how color blindness has manifested itself. We should be color conscious."

Ronnie Agnew

Ronnie Agnew, executive editor of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., and co-chair of ASNE's Diversity Committee, said it differently.

"No one should dispute that companies, such as AOL Patch, should seek to hire the very best talent available to ensure success of new initiatives," Agnew told Journal-isms. "But in saying it wants to hire the best, AOL Patch could not have constructed a better job description for recruiting and employing a significant number of journalists of color possessing skills the company says it wants.

"I go on record as saying that ASNE will be vigilant in pointing out to the nation’s media companies the importance of diversity as a business imperative. Our industry is falling short. America has too many newsrooms that lack journalists of color, passionate journalists who are passed over because of systems of meritocracy that work against them.

"It is an unfortunate truth that ASNE’s annual census and other independent studies have exposed the industry’s shortcomings. Very soon, we will receive census data showing significant growth in minority population sectors. As AOL Patch seeks to hire the best, which we support, the company should consider the makeup of America and consider that communities of color do not feel news organizations speak to them or care to understand issues of importance to them."

AOL announced on Aug. 17 that Patch plans to expand rapidly to more than 500 U.S. neighborhoods in 20 states by the end of 2010. It said more than 500 journalists are still to be hired,

According to the Associated Press, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong conceived of Patch in 2007, while he was still an executive at Google Inc. AOL Inc. bought Patch in June 2009 for $7 million in cash as part of its years-long effort to reinvent itself as a content provider reliant on online ads as its legacy dial-up Internet access business fades. "AOL, which split from Time Warner Inc. in late 2009, said in a March regulatory filing that it expects to invest as much as $50 million in Patch this year alone," AP said.

"Patch builds its websites in communities with 15,000-75,000 residents, and each site is staffed by a full-time editor who works with an average of 11 local freelancers to create and produce site content. Content ranges from news stories to events listings to classified ads."

The New York Times added, "One journalist in each town travels to school board meetings and coffee shops with a laptop and camera. Patch also solicits content from readers, pulls in articles from other sites and augments it all with event listings, volunteer opportunities, business directories and lists of local information like recycling laws."

On salaries, Isserlis would say only that "Patch provides competitive salary and benefits packages, including 401-K match and performance bonuses." However, others have said the local editor jobs pay $35,000 to $42,000 plus benefits, and the regional editors, who supervise clusters of local editors, earn $65,000 to $80,000.

Among Patch's overall management team are William Nance, vice president, strategy and development, who is African American, and Sophia Fregosi, director of recruiting, who is Asian American.

"The makeover outlined Thursday will result in about 130 layoffs this fall, USA Today Publisher Dave Hunke told The Associated Press. That translates into a 9 percent reduction in USA Today's work force of 1,500 employees. Hunke didn't specify which departments would be hardest hit.

"The management shake-up affects both the newspaper's business operations and newsroom."

Journalists at USA Today told Journal-isms privately that it was too soon to say how they would be affected, except that they might get new titles and responsibilities. That was echoed by USA Today spokesman Ed Cassidy: "We are currently in a build-out of this new frame and it's premature to announce any new appointments and responsibilities at this juncture," he said via e-mail Friday.

"In the first wave of change, USA Today, which is based in McLean, Va., will no longer have separate managing editors overseeing its News, Sports, Money and Life sections," the AP story continued.

"The newsroom instead will be broken up into a cluster of 'content rings' each headed up by editors who will be appointed later this year. The newly created content group will be overseen by Susan Weiss, who had been managing editor of the Life section. As executive editor of content, Weiss will report to USA Today Editor John Hillkirk.

" 'We'll focus less on print ... and more on producing content for all platforms (Web, mobile, iPad and other digital formats),' according to a slide show presented Thursday to USA Today's staff.

Blacks More Likely to Favor N.Y. Islamic Center

While non-Hispanic whites overwhelmingly agree more with those who object to building an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan, non-Hispanic blacks are more evenly divided, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

The center's Carroll Doherty, who provided the racial figures to Journal-isms, cautioned that just 92 African Americans were among the sample of 1,003 adults. But he said the differences between blacks and whites were significant on the Islamic center issue. Whites agreed with those who object to the center by 58 percent to 29 percent. Among blacks, 47 percent agreed with those who think it should be built, and 40 percent agreed with those who object.

Overall, "The public continues to express conflicted views of Islam," the center reported on Tuesday. "Favorable opinions of Islam have declined since 2005, but there has been virtually no change over the past year in the proportion of Americans saying that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence. As was the case a year ago, slightly more people say the Islamic religion does not encourage violence more than other religions (42%) than say that it does (35%)."

The second significant racial difference, Doherty said on Friday, was that 73 percent of blacks said they knew a great deal or some about the Muslim religion, compared with 55 percent of whites.

C-SPAN to Air Glenn Beck, Al Sharpton Rallies

"C-SPAN will be covering Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial this Saturday, with Sarah Palin among those expected to attend. Coverage begins 10am ET," Chris Ariens reported Friday for TVNewser.

"C-SPAN also will cover the Rev. Al Sharpton's 'Reclaim the Dream' rally at Dunbar High School in Washington, DC. That event will be shown on C-SPAN later on Saturday. Rev. Sharpton will be a guest on C-SPAN's live call-in interview program 'Washington Journal' Saturday morning at 7:45am ET."

Beck announced on his "Restoring Honor" website that the event would be streamed live on the event's Facebook page

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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.