UPDATE: Saturday, Sept. 11

An impassioned President Obama declared Friday that treating Muslims with respect was in the national interest as he responded to one of four questions asked by black journalists in a nearly 1 hour and 20-minute news conference.

"All men and women are created equal," Obama said to a question from Wendell Goler of Fox News, who asked about the controversy over the planned construction of an Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan. "If you could build a church on a site, if you can build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on the site, you should be able to build a mosque on a site."

Obama said he understood the pain of the relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but added:

"We are not in a war against Islam. We are in a war against terrorist organizations.

"If we're going to successfully reduce the terrorist threat," he said, "we're going to need all the allies we can get." The terrorists are "a handful of a tiny minority who are engaging in horrific acts and have killed Muslims more than anybody else."

Muslims in America, he said, are "going to school with our kids. They're our neighbors. They're our friends. They're our coworkers. And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them? I've got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services. They're out there putting their lives on the line for us. And we've got to make sure that we are crystal clear for our sakes and their sakes - they are Americans. And we honor their service. . . .

"We don't differentiate between them and us," he added. "It's just us."

Goler's question was the final one of the news conference and one of four by black journalists, a fact celebrated on the e-mail list of the National Association of Black Journalists.

"The White House sisterhood just hit the trifecta. I don't ever recall a time when there were that many of us in the room, let alone posing questions," wrote Sonya Ross, a Washington editor at the Associated Press and a former White House reporter. She wrote after Obama called on a third black woman, Helene Cooper of the New York Times.

"This is a very proud day."

(None was on Politico's list of "Five reporters POTUS should call on.")

Martha Joynt Kumar, a political science professor at Towson University in Maryland who has written books about the presidency and the media, told Journal-isms that calling on four black journalists out of 13 "is definitely high. I don't remember an instance where the percentage was that high."

She said it showed "some maturing of news organizations," because the journalists were called on because of the news organizations they worked for rather than their ethnicity.

The news conference opened with a black journalist chosen to ask the first question, as Obama, reading from a prepared list, chose Darlene Superville of the AP, the news organization that traditionally goes first.

Superville asked "about his comment in an interview earlier this week that the Democrats will not do very well in the fall midterm elections if they are a referendum on how the economy is doing," Peter Baker of the New York Times wrote in his live blog. Obama used the query "to pivot and continue his attack on Republican economic policies that he said led to the worst financial crisis of decades. 'For 19 months, what we have done is steadily work to avoid a depression, to take an economy that was contracting rapidly and make it grow again,' he says."

April D. Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks asked Obama about the "poverty agenda" of President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr., and about the lawsuits by farmers of color against the Agriculture Department. Black farmers from around the country have said they will park their tractors and travel to Washington this month to demand $1.2 billion that the government owes them for past discrimination in farm loans, as Deborah Barfield Berry reported for Gannett Newspapers.

The departments of Agriculture and Justice agreed to pay the farmers $1.2 billion, but Congress must approve legislation to fund the payments.

"It's important for Congress to fund the settlement. I will continue to make that a priority," Obama said.

On the question about the poverty agenda, the president restated his belief that "if we can grow the economy even faster and create more jobs, then everybody is swept up," adding, "That doesn't mean there aren't targeted things we can do." He reminded the journalists that he got his start in public life as a community organizer. He also noted his education initiatives.

From Ryan, Obama went to Cooper, a former State Department correspondent at the Times who referenced the president of Afghanistan in asking how  Obama could "lecture Hamid Karzai on corruption" when many corrupt Afghans are on the U.S. payroll. She also asked about the Mideast peace talks.

"We're going to try to make sure that as part of helping President Karzai stand up a broadly accepted, legitimate government, that corruption is reduced," Obama said. "And we've made progress on some of those fronts."

He said that if the Palestinian and Israeli leaders are "going to be successful in bringing about what they now agree is the best course of action for their people, the only way they're going to succeed is if they're seeing the world through the other person's eyes," and said he had communicated that to the leaders of each side.

"In the end, Mr. Obama takes questions for more than 75 minutes, an unusually long marathon session for any president," Baker wrote. "It's almost as if to say to cranky reporters who often complain about how few news conferences he holds, Fine, you want a news conference? Bring it on."

Earlier Friday, Obama called in to the syndicated "Tom Joyner Morning Show," taking questions from Joyner and his radio sidekicks about his efforts to shore up the economy and African Americans' lack of excitement about the midterm elections.

Obama said that he is a longtime listener of the show and that "one of the things I mentioned to my team was we've got to make sure that we're not only talking to television, and especially in the African American community, Tom Joyner and black radio is what people listen to.

"If African-Americans aren't fired up right now, you better be fired up because you could end up in a situation where we could have more of the same from a Republican Congress that's not willing to move our infrastructure, that's not committed to investing in people and job training and not committed to investing in our education system. And we could end up slipping back into the same situation that we were in before this recession hit, only worse," Obama said.

Johnson Publishing Co. Expects New Strategy in January

The new management team at Johnson Publishing Co. plans to "take a minute" to develop a new strategy for the company, evaluating its personnel and the content of Ebony and Jet magazines before moving in its chosen direction at the beginning of the year, the company's new marketing director said on Wednesday.

"I need to pull together an overall strategy for all the pieces,"Rodrigo A. Sierra, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, told Journal-isms.

Sierra was the first person hired by Desiree Rogers, the business executive and former White House social secretary, when she became the new CEO last month. He spoke after the departure of four executives in recent weeks: Eric Easter, who left a week ago as as vice president - digital and entertainment; Wendy E. Parks, assistant director - corporate communications and PR; Lisa M. Butler, assistant vice president - licensing & consumer products; and Tanya Hines, senior vice president - integrated sales and marketing.

Sierra, 49, worked with Rogers at Peoples Gas in Chicago when she headed that company and was a board member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in the early 1990s. A former radio reporter for Chicago's WGN and a manager with ABC Radio in New York, Sierra chaired the 1996 NAHJ convention in Chicago, where then-first lady Hillary Clinton spoke.

In a telephone interview, Sierra pledged that Jet and Ebony would be "recharged and reenergized," topical and relevant, and would provide journalists with "unique content that will help them think through local stories they are writing and developing." For example, he cited the October issue's twin pieces on "Is black leadership dead?" by social commentators Kevin Powelland Michael Eric Dyson. September's issue featured an interview with President Obama and a series on education, to be continued in partnership with NBC.

Writers will be paid, he said, responding to an observation that some had been asked to write for free. "The company has to survive, but you've also got to take care of your employees," he said. They "have to get paid and get the right benefits."

Asked how Rogers is operating as CEO, Sierra said she "pays attention to everything. She watches details very closely. She asks a lot of questions" and wants to create a workplace where "people do their absolute best work every time."

The new strategy for the company "may or may not" involve new people, he said. "A lot of people on the staff may or may not be in the right role." It might be necessary to bring in "a different kind of talent" or to contract out some work out, he added.

A key piece of the company's strategy will be its digital efforts, which he now supervises. Easter's arrival in 2007 signaled an effort to enter the digital arena in a serious way, but the four-member digital unit was consistently understaffed and underresourced.

"Digital has not been where it needed to be for the company," Sierra said. "I don't think that Johnson Publishing Co. has done a good enough job" with the digital efforts "to move the brand forward and monetize that side of the business." He said he also wanted to consider how deeply to become involved in social media.

Sierra also said he wanted the publications, which launched after World War II, to get "back to basics" yet remain relevant to new generations. He pointed to the September issue's perennial feature on campus queens at historically black colleges and universities, noting that this year the queens had to submit videos of themselves.

Atlanta's Creative Loafing Caught Napping on Diversity

The Atlanta alternative newspaper Creative Loafing, published in the city often called a mecca for the black middle class, ran a cover and story showing "8 Artists to Watch," with none of them African American.

Asked how she hoped to prevent a recurrence, she told Journal-isms:

"I think one of the most valuable lessons, for me personally, is that diversity must be reflected not just in a single issue. The 'Artists to Watch' issue as a whole was actually incredibly diverse. Diversity should be reflected story by story, page by page.

"As far as my role, with very few exceptions, my preference generally has been that our writers and editors - a diverse group - come up with suggestions for what lands in the paper. I like for that process [to] remain as organic as possible, and I think the process has served us well. We by and large do a great job reflecting the diverse community in which we live - this one, glaring incident aside. That said, do I need to further involve myself in such matters as the selection of subjects for '8 Artists to Watch' - and do I need to do a better job impressing upon the editors the fact that diversity is essential in those features? Definitely."

Creative Loafing claims a circulation of 112,000 and has an editorial staff of 30, including contributing writers, of which eight are minorities, Shalhoup said. "Also, two of the four staffers at the top of the editorial department's masthead are minorities."

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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.