Panel Airs Frustrations Over Coverage, Diversity Setbacks

The National Association of Black Journalists, frustrated by job losses in its membership, setbacks in diversity efforts and a perceived decline in news that benefits African American communities, will reach out to elected officials as it seeks allies to reverse these trends, NABJ President Gregory H. Lee Jr. said on Friday.

"NABJ's mission is to connect with the black community. The community involves pastors, school teachers, lawyers and yes even politicians," Lee told Journal-isms by email.

Lee was asked to comment on a statement by former NBCUniversal diversity executive Paula Madison at an NABJ panel discussion Thursday at the annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference in Washington.

"There has to be an alliance between journalists and the community," Madison said from the audience. "Journalism is supposed to reflect the interests of the community. That's not what's happening." She said she had stopped watching local news because the dominance of coverage of fires and shootings had little constructive relevance to residents.

"Where is the news agenda? Where is the relevance? she added. " . . . Will journalists come out of the shadows and align themselves with communities and elected officials in order to protect their interests?"

"Paula's statement speaks for itself," Lee said later in agreement.

Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., who was active in the Black Panther Party and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, was also on the panel. "Learn what a congressman does," Rush told the audience. "In my 18 years (in Congress), I know what black power is, and I'm sure that . . . members of Congress have that. . . . I sit on the Telecommunications Subcommittee (of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce). I want you all to give me the questions. All I know is the power I have. We have 43 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the largest caucus in the Congress and the largest ever."

NABJ used the occasion to distribute its "2011 NABJ Diversity Census: An Examination of Television Newsroom Management," first released at its August convention.

Authored by Bob Butler, NABJ's vice president for broadcast, it said, "According to the 2010 United States Census, non-Whites comprise nearly 35% of the United States population but the study finds that people of color fill only 12% of the newsroom management positions at stations owned by ABC, Belo, CBS, Cox, Fox, Gannett, Hearst, [LIN] Media, Media General, Meredith, NBC, Nexstar, E.W. Scripps, Post-Newsweek and Tribune.

"Out of a total of 1,157 managers, 1,017 are White, 81 are Black, 42 are Hispanic, 16 are Asian and one is Native American."

Butler showed both the televised and unedited video that accompanied a story he reported in July for the Maynard Institute. He told readers about a story on WBBM-TV in Chicago that included video of a 4-year-old African American boy saying he wanted his own gun. But the station edited out the rest of the boy's statement: that he wanted the gun because he planned to be a police officer.

WBBM management admitted that employees made a mistake airing the video and compounded the error by editing the clip to take the boy's comments out of context. But no heads rolled.

Panelist Camille Edwards, news director of WRC-TV, the NBC station in Washington, said that had the incident had happened on her watch, "That person would not be working at the station any more," speaking of whoever put the out-of-context video on the air.

Retired ABC anchor Carole Simpson, another panelist, said the incident pointed to a wider problem. "Nobody talks about ethics in the newsroom," she said. "When I started in the '60s, there was a lot of emphasis on being fair, being accurate, on not distorting the news, but the industry has changed."

David Honig, president and executive director of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, whose activities include brokering minority broadcast ownership, cited failures by the Federal Communications Commission in monitoring and advancing diversity. Rush said he would ask the FCC to respond to NABJ's study.

Though all of the journalist of color organizations say they want ties to their communities, it has not always been not been easy for organizations of journalists to draw the line between honoring journalistic principles and working with potential news sources.

Lee said, "NABJ is a non-profit organization, which doesn't deliver news, it trains and educates members on being better journalists and better professionals."

Still, the Asian American Journalists Association parted ways with its short-lived executive director, Ellen Endo, in 2009 over disagreements that included whether to forge closer ties with other groups in the Asian American community and which organizations from whom to solicit funds.

Some news organizations have ethics guidelines similar to those at the Washington Post, where the rules say, "We must be wary of entanglement with those whose positions render them likely to be subjects of journalistic interest and examination. Our private behavior as well as our professional behavior must not bring discredit to our profession or to The Post."

The Newspaper Guild endorsed presidential candidates at least twice — Democrats George S. McGovern in 1972 and Walter F. Mondale in 1984 — and saw some members resign because they felt the endorsement might compromise them as journalists.

Charles A. Perlik Jr., then Guild president, argued in 1983 that "we should not surrender our right to speak out on issues of such consequence." But current president Bernie Lunzer told Journal-isms by email Friday, "As a rule we eschew candidacies as it creates more problems. We do focus on issues though."

On the other hand, NABJ was founded in 1975 and came together in an era when many black journalists owed their jobs to pressure from members of the black community. The black press, with its tradition of advocacy, has no problem working with black politicians. Media industry groups freely lobby on Capitol Hill and in statehouses. In addition, most of the journalist organizations are dependent on sponsorships from organizations that find themselves in the news.

Asked what kind of relationships he envisioned, Lee said via email:

"It's too early to tell, however, I will say that NABJ will align itself with groups who believe in our mission to promote diversity in the workplace at the top levels. Today, NABJ will step up its efforts because our members are being left out in the cold and the voices of the voiceless [are] getting very close to being silenced and NABJ will not let that happen." 

Katherine Skiba, Chicago Tribune: Numerous battles haven't slowed Rep. Bobby Rush

Whites Distrust Media as Much as Blacks, Latinos

Two new surveys on the public's confidence in the news media give news organizations low marks, and one shows that whites distrust the media nearly as much as do African Americans and Latinos.

"However, these bleak findings are put into some perspective by the fact that news organizations are more trusted sources of information than are many other institutions, including government and business.

"Further, people rate the performance of the news organizations they rely on much more positively than they rate the performance of news organizations generally."

Broken down by race, there was little difference, Pew Associate Director Carroll Doherty told Journal-isms. He gave these examples:

In general, do you think news organizations get the facts straight, or do you think that their stories and reports are often inaccurate?

Get the facts straight: Total 25%; White non-Hispanic 26%; Black non-Hispanic 24%; Hispanic 25%.

Stories often inaccurate: Total 66%; White non-Hispanic 67%; Black non-Hispanic 67%; Hispanic 65%.

In presenting the news dealing with political and social issues, do you think that news organizations deal fairly with all sides, or do they tend to favor one side?

Deal fairly with all sides: Total 16%; White non-Hispanic 16%; Black non-Hispanic 19%; Hispanic 18%.

Tend to favor one side: Total 77%; White non-Hispanic 78%; Black non-Hispanic 76%; Hispanic 75%.

In general, do you think news organizations are pretty independent, or are they often influenced by powerful people and organizations?

Pretty independent: Total 15%; White non-Hispanic 13%; Black non-Hispanic 15%; Hispanic 21%.

Often influenced by powerful people and organizations: Total 80%; White non-Hispanic 82%; Black non-Hispanic 82%; Hispanic 71%

The second survey, by the Gallup Organization, found on Thursday, "The majority of Americans still do not have confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. The 44% of Americans who have a great deal or fair amount of trust and the 55% who have little or no trust remain among the most negative views Gallup has measured."

Gallup could provide no racial or ethnic breakdown.

"Davis, who was put to death by lethal injection Wednesday night, had become a cause celebre for critics who said the case exposed flaws in the justice system that could lead to the execution of an innocent person. Many of those critics, including Amnesty International and the NAACP, pledged Thursday to redouble their efforts to abolish the death penalty.

"Some of those who backed clemency for Davis said that although they were not certain that he was innocent of his crimes, his case deserved more court review because of doubts about witness testimony. At the very least, they said, those doubts should have disqualified Davis from being put to death."

William Jelani Cobb via Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Atlantic: The Night They Killed Troy Davis

Joel Dreyfuss, theRoot.com: Why We Care So Much About Troy Davis  

Annette John-Hall, Philadelphia Inquirer: Troy Davis execution underscores risks of the death penalty  

Eugene Kane, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: What if they're wrong?  

Dwight Lewis, Tennessean, Nashville: With such doubts, case of Troy Davis defies justice  

Courtland Milloy, Washington Post: States in a race to be No. 1 in death  

Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Execution is hardly the same as justice  

Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune: The big sleep, Texas-style 

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: With the death penalty, 'probably' isn't good enough

Nieman Reports Features Focus on Race, a Rich Back-Story

The fall issue of Nieman Reports, published by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, includes a remarkable 13 stories under the heading "Cold Case Reporting: Revisiting Racial Crimes" and another six on "Reporting on Black America: Who Tells the Stories?"

Editor Melissa Ludtke introduces them this way:

"Cases unheard. Justice denied. These words fit many crimes committed with racial intent a half century ago. Now reporters burrow into forgotten files, locate witnesses, track down suspects, publish what they find — and write for us about their work that in some cases is resulting in justice finally being served. Journalists then explore how stories about black America are told today."

How these packages came together was a combination of happenstance and contacts, Ludtke told Journal-isms on Friday.

Last fall, she said, David Cay Johnston, a former New York Times investigative reporter and a distinguished visiting lecturer at Syracuse University, mentioned to Ludtke that "so much was going up here" in researching civil rights cold cases. That led her to Paula C. Johnson and Janis L. McDonald, co-directors of the Cold Case Justice Initiative and professors at the law school.

"When people put ideas in my head, you begin to see things you wouldn't have," she said. Ludtke saw a piece by Simeon Booker, the retired Jet reporter and 1951 Nieman fellow reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. Booker had covered them.

Jerry Mitchell, who has written extensively about cold civil rights-era cases for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., had arranged to talk with the Nieman fellows last spring. Mitchell led Ludtke to Hank Klibanoff, the former managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who now teaches at Emory University and is managing editor of the Civil Rights Cold Case Project of which Mitchell is a member, and he also led her to Wilson F. "Bill" Minor, a journalist who covered Mississippi during the time of the civil rights movement.

And so it went. Cameron McWhirter notified Ludtke that he had a book coming out on the race riots of 1919. That fit in.

Except for Booker, these authors are all white men. That led to another idea. "Once I got the notion of 'who tells these stories?' I called Dori" J. Maynard, president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, who steered Ludtke to Jean Marie Brown, who was comparing diversity in the old and new media as a Maynard project. Jack E. White, an old friend from their days at Time magazine, entered the picture with a piece about theRoot.com. So did Milton Coleman, senior editor at the Washington Post, who convened two conferences on news media diversity this year, and Amy L. Alexander, whose forthcoming book "Uncovering Race: A Black Journalist's Story of Reporting and Reinvention" was in Ludtke's office in galley form. The last four are black journalists, two of them women, and all contributed pieces.

Then came Roya Hakakian, author of two books of poetry in Persian and one in Engish. Ludtke had met her for five minutes at the end of a Nieman conference several years earlier. One day this spring, she "calls me out of the blue," Ludtke said. In their conversation about her new book, "Assassins of the Turquoise Palace," about Tehran's assassination campaign against exiled Iranians, Ludtke saw the potential for an opening essay. "Roya's book tells the story of murders that had been committed with impunity until a German prosecutor courageously decided to bring a case of the murder of dissident exiles to trial," Ludtke said.

Hakakian's piece began with the famous quote from Martin Luther King Jr. in his 1963 "Letter from a Birmingham Jail":

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

"The lawsuit, which seeks possession of the papers, was filed Wednesday against Howard Nelson Ballou in U.S. District Court in Jackson. It says Ballou's mother worked for King as a secretary from 1955 to 1960 and kept documents during the time King led the Montgomery Improvement Association and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

"King's estate is a Georgia corporation and is operated as a private company by his children. They've fought others for control of the King brand, including suing media companies that used his 'I Have a Dream' speech."

"Multiple informed sources, both outside and inside WFAA8, have confirmed that Denmon's complaint is not primarily on the basis of age, sex or gender. She instead contends that her weight is being held against her, specifically in regards to landing a weekday anchor position.

"Denmon, who joined WFAA8 in October 2000 according to her station bio, has anchored weekend evening and late night newscasts since February 2010. Attempts to reach her for comment have been unsuccessful in the past week. She continues to work at the station. WFAA8 president and general manager Mike Devlin and news director Michael Valentine also have not answered emails requesting a statement from the station. Plainly put, no one at the station will talk on the record."

Palacio, 57, fled to Miami last month.

"On Tuesday, El Universo lost its appeal, but vowed to fight the case in national court or seek international arbitration.

". . .'There is no press freedom in Ecuador,' he said," referring to Palacio.

" 'There is self-censorship.'

"Sitting in a gleaming new building that is the headquarters for Ecuador's state-run media operation, President [Rafael] Correa said Wednesday that the courts were the perfect place to try to instill some ethics in journalists like Palacio — and their media organizations.

"The Ecuadorean 'press is a right-wing monopoly that has manipulated us for centuries,' Correa told The Miami Herald in an interview. 'In the name of freedom of speech, they will even defend lies."

". . . The column went viral, getting more readers at one time than the Tribune story on the Rod Blagojevich verdict getting. (Tribune web editor Ben Estes tells me the column has gotten more than a half million page views.)"

" 'I've been writing a column for 30 years, and none has ever gotten as much reaction as this one,' says Chapman. 'Why? I think it was mainly because the suggestion that Obama not run for re-election came from someone at his hometown newspaper. What surprised me was how the response was split. It wasn't conservatives on one side and liberals on the other. Some conservatives and liberals liked it, and some conservatives and liberals hated it.' ”

"The special, 'A BET News Exclusive: The President Answers Black America,' President Obama will address the current unemployment crisis and economy specifically to an African-American audience with former KTLA anchor Emmett Miller, network officials said." 

Charles M. Blow, New York Times: For Jobs, It's War 

Michael H. Cottman, BlackAmericaWeb.com: Obama's Next Stop? Hopefully the 'Hood 

George E. Curry, National Newspaper Publishers Association: Silver Lining in Obama Poll Numbers  

Julianne Malveaux, National Newspaper Publishers Association: The Obama Jobs Bill — A Step in the Right Direction

Anti-Immigrant Group Asks First Question at GOP Debate

"During Thursday's Republican presidential debate hosted by Fox News and Google, moderators looked to anti-immigrant group the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) to ask the first question on immigration. Nearly 20,000 questions were reportedly submitted on a variety of topics, but for immigration, Fox chose one by FAIR spokeswoman Kristen Williamson," Andy Newbold wrote Friday for Media Matters for America.

". . . FAIR is an anti-immigrant organization considered a 'hate group' by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It not only has a history of using extreme, violent, and offensive language directed at undocumented immigrants, but it has extremist ties as well.

"The second and last question about immigration submitted by a viewer that Fox chose asked: 'Are you going to exert an effort to stop the abuse of U.S. citizens by illegals?' "

Roland S. Martin, Creators Syndicate: Poor Republicans Are Invisible to GOP Presidential Contenders  

Askia Muhammad, Washington Informer: Robin Hood in reverse: Today's Republicans  

Ruben Navarrette Jr., Washington Post Writers Group: Perry's Straight Talk on Immigration  

Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune: Ron Paul's harsh definition of 'freedom'  

Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: Bachmann's irresponsible remarks carry consequences  

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: Where are the compassionate conservatives?  

Albor Ruiz, New York Daily News: Secure Communities ought to be unplugged  

Mary Sanchez, Kansas City Star:  GOP candidates pander to primary voters' worst instincts 

Bob Ray Sanders, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Proud of Gov. Perry, just this once  

Armstrong Williams blog: Hold. Hold. Hold….

Short Takes

*Elmer Smith wrote his farewell column for the Philadelphia Daily News Friday. "For nearly 39 years, people have been paying me to find out what was going on and to write about what I've learned," he said. "You could call that work. But . . . I was doing the same thing at Temple University and paying them for the privilege."

*"The CIA has abruptly yanked all its advertisements from metro Detroit's largest Arab-American newspaper because it ran an Associated Press story that said the intelligence agency was helping spy on Muslim-Americans, according to publisher Osama Siblani," Niraj Warikoo wrote Thursday for the Detroit Free Press. "After being contacted by the Free Press, CIA spokesman Preston Golson said today the agency regrets what happened and has resubmitted the ads" to Siblani's Arab American News.

*"Russell Simmons said he's working with Hollywood producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer on a TV project. 'I am going to buy a TV network,' Mr. Simmons said in an interview during a Tuesday charity event in Hong Kong." Jason Chow wrote Tuesday for the Wall Street Journal. ". . . Mr. Simmons, best known as the hip-hop mogul behind Def Jam Recordings, said he hopes to create a network that crosses ethnic lines."

*" 'This is not a boxing documentary,' says CNN's Soledad O'Brien about her latest 'Latino in America' doc set to air Sunday night at 8pmET/PT," Chris Ariens wrote Thursday for TVNewser. "Rather, O'Brien says, it's a story of one Mexican-American family's fight to help their daughter reach the pinnacle of her sport: which happens to be boxing."

*"ESPN's Hispanic audience has grown 39% in the past four years, and with the U.S. Hispanic population boom, it's only bound to get stronger," Tim Baysinger wrote from New York Thursday for Multichannel News. "That's what Traug Keller, ESPN's senior vice president of production and business divisions, told the audience in a keynote discussion moderated by ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike In the Morning co-host Mike Greenberg at B&C/Multichannel Channel News's ninth annual Hispanic TV Summit here Tuesday."

*"If you cover college sports for ESPN, you've got a real problem right now," Ryan Chittum wrote Thursday for the Columbia Journalism Review. "The biggest story these days is the conference realignment that's bringing tectonic shifts to the NCAA landscape, ending century-old rivalries, and setting longtime partners at each others' throats. Problem is, ESPN itself is at the heart of why this is happening. . . . How has ESPN covered its own role in the fiasco this week? Poorly."

*Senegal's ruling party said Thursday that it is canceling all political demonstrations, an announcement that comes a day before the nation's opposition planned to hold a rally to call for regime change," the Associated Press reported. ". . . The opposition has been holding rallies on the 23rd of every month to call for President Abdoulaye Wade to step down." Wade has established ties with the National Association of Black Journalists in the United States.

*Veteran editor Susan Taylor; Nicol Turner-Lee of the Media and Technology Institute of the Joint Center Economic and Political Studies; Debra Lee of BET Holdings; Cathy Hughes of Radio One; Gwen Ifill of PBS' "Washington Week"; Commissioner Mignon Clyburn of the Federal Communications Commission; Maya Angelou of Harpo Productions and Whoopi Goldberg of ABC's "The View" are among 60 women to be honored Nov. 3 by Alliance for Women in Media formerly American Women in Radio and Television.

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