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CBS News

Producer Bernard Seabrooks, First Hired in '55, Retires

Bernard Seabrooks first walked through the doors of CBS News in 1955 — a year after the historic Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision. He was Bernard Seabrooks 'has been like a Godfather to many of us at CBS News,' Russ Mitchell said. (Credit: CBS News)the first African American in what CBS called its executive training program, mailroom duty.

On Friday, 56 years later, Seabrooks marked what is officially his last day, though he plans to remain for a couple of weeks to clear out his things. He's the unit manager of CBS "Sunday Morning" and the CBS weekend news shows, serving as the shows' financial and operations administrator.

One of the most visible changes over those 56 years is that a black man is in the White House. Seabrooks wonders why there can't be an African American president of news at CBS or NBC.

"We like to think that people in News are more enlightened than the rest of the nation, but these are the same people. There are a lot of sincere people, but not everybody comes to the table with that feeling," he told Journal-isms by telephone.

"There's much more of a movement in giving the women opportunities than minorities," Seabrooks continued. "Networks look more for diversity in the entertainment side of the business — the sitcoms. If a black face appears on TV, I guess they think that's diversity. But it's the people behind the scenes" who count, and that's not where people of color are.

Seabrooks, 77, says he is leaving because CBS is preparing for the Jan. 9 debut of "CBS This Morning"— hosted by Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Erica Hill — and "needed to open up some spots." The retirement package "offered me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This gave me an incentive," he said.

"Bernie Seabrooks has been like a Godfather to many of us at CBS News," Russ Mitchell, the CBS anchor who is leaving the network himself to become anchor and managing editor in Cleveland, told Journal-isms by email. "His advice, experience and encouragement will be missed by those of us lucky enough to call him a friend. Not only is he a pioneer in the broadcast news industry who paved the way for folks like me to get our shot, he's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet."

After his initial three months in the mailroom, Seabrooks moved to CBS Radio, which was then larger than CBS Television. He directed the morning world news roundup and CBS Radio newscasts. A December 1961 article in Ebony magazine's "Speaking of People" section notes that Seabrooks "helps assign program directors, staff announcers, broadcast technicians and engineers," among other duties. In 1963, he became administrative manager.

In 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., CBS decided to do a series called "Of Black America," but realized it had few if any blacks. (The series won an Emmy for white correspondent Andy Rooney, who wrote two of the specials.) Seabrooks had asked to see Richard Salant, then the CBS president, and when he got his appointment, Salant told Seabrooks that the series was long overdue. Seabrooks was an associate producer and was assigned to take three black Washington, D.C., area teenagers to Africa and film their impressions. At the same time, CBS hired Hal Walker as its first black reporter to stay for any significant amount of  time.

Seabrooks went on to work as a field producer and associate producer on the documentary series "CBS Reports," then as a full-time producer on CBS' nonprofit Sunday-morning religious shows, "Lamp Unto My Feet" and "Look Up and Live."

When those shows were dropped in the mid-1970s in favor of the "Sunday Morning" magazine, Seabrooks' contract was canceled. He went to the National Park Service's film and audio visual division, to a sports project of Warner Communications and American Express, freelanced for CBS and put his MBA to work.

Seabrooks became co-owner of AM and FM radio stations in Altoona, Pa. "We were not trying to make any social statement; we were entrepreneurs," he said. But "word was out that it was now black ownership" for the two stations, the partners couldn't attract sufficient advertising, and the venture veered toward bankruptcy before Seabrooks and his partner sold the stations. In 1998, Seabrooks returned to CBS News.

"I don't see a lot of great advancement" for African Americans, he told Journal-isms. "Certain people have advanced on-air. I don't see it on the management side.

"One of the mistakes we made as a community — the black community kind of accepted the fact that if you see a black face on TV, these people were calling the shots. The focus should have been on the management, who were really calling the shots," Seabrooks said. "We should be going after those management jobs." He points to his friend Ronald Townsend, who started at CBS and became president of Gannett Television Group.

"Along the way, you've got to be put on the right track. We just don't get those opportunities. None of us can make it in this world without somebody giving us a hand. The term 'affirmative action' has acquired a negative connotation, but all it is meant to be is to broaden the pool of possible people to be considered for a particular job."

One African American who rose was producer Lyne Pitts, who spent 23 years at CBS before leaving in 2006 for NBC News to become an executive producer, rising to vice president at NBC News the next year.

"It was a privilege to work alongside Bernie knowing his legendary career at CBS News," Pitts, who has since left NBC, told Journal-isms by email. "He had returned to work as Unit Manager at the weekend broadcasts when I was EP at Weekend News. We could always count on Bernie to solve problems, work the system on our behalf and conduct his business with the utmost professionalism. And he was always a positive, uplifting spirit even in the most stressful times. I wish him nothing but the best in his retirement. He's earned it."

"In a letter to the mayor, the group said the rights of Muslims are being 'flagrantly violated' and have boycotted the event to protest what they see as excessive and illegal surveillance of Muslims by the NYPD.

" 'We strongly value the civic and interfaith relationships celebrated at this event,' the leaders of the Muslim groups wrote. 'However, this year we have decided to respectfully decline your invitation.'

"While the leaders praise Bloomberg for his defense of the Islamic cultural center located near the World Trade Center site, they take issue with the NYPD sending undercover officers into mosques, Muslim neighborhoods and groups in an effort to thwart terror plots. The practice was disclosed as part of an Associated Press investigation.

"Despite the boycott, the breakfast went off without a hitch and Bloomberg didn’t directly address the protest.

"He did however quote his father as telling him that 'discrimination against anyone is discrimination against everyone.' "

However, Al Jazeera reported, not all Muslim leaders supported the boycott.

"Imam Shamsi Ali of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, who attended the breakfast, told Al Jazeera dozens of Muslims did not participate in the boycott.

" 'We cannot mix all kind of issues on one plate. The NYPD spying on the community is an issue and the breakfast is an issue. This is a New York tradition and this is not only a Muslim tradition. We feel that we are part of the city and this is our tradition, so we feel we must be part of these gatherings because we are all New Yorkers,' he said."

An Aug. 31 Associated Press story by Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo began, "From an office on the Brooklyn waterfront in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, New York Police Department officials and a veteran CIA officer built an intelligence-gathering program with an ambitious goal: to map the region's ethnic communities and dispatch teams of undercover officers to keep tabs on where Muslims shopped, ate and pray.

"The program was known as the Demographics Unit and, though the NYPD denies its existence, the squad maintained a long list of 'ancestries of interest' and received daily reports on life in Muslim neighborhoods, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press." 

David Bauder, Associated Press: TV Show On Muslims Takes On Sept. 11 Attacks 

Yasmeen Chraim, Living Textbook project for middle-school journalists: Lowe’s decision to pull TV ads stings Dearborn 

Mary Sanchez, Kansas City Star: Daily struggles of these Muslims are all American

Jesse Washington, Associated Press: In NYC, Ambivalence over Muslim Surveillance (Nov. 12)

Intern's Apparent Suicide Leaves Paper in a Quandary

The apparent suicide of a student intern at an Arizona Republic building left colleagues saddened, baffled and in a quandary about how to write about the incident.

A three-paragraph brief by Angela Piazza and William Hermann of the Republic's Breaking News Team, posted Dec. 22, was headlined "ASU student dies after jump off Phoenix parking garage." It gave no hint that the student was, like them, also a part of the breaking-news team.

A paid death notice in the Republic identified the victim as Daniel Steven Kemp, 20, who "during college, served three internships with local newspapers, most recently with the AZ Republic doing breaking news. . . . He loved his entire extended family, all things Bay Area, sports, classic rock, history, and politics. He was a huge fan of all Stanford sports and was often a walking billboard for Stanford. He had an infectious smile, a great sense of humor, and a big heart."

The editor of the newspaper, Randy Lovely, was away on Friday and not available to explain the Republic's coverage of the incident, Executive Editor Nicole Carroll told Journal-isms. But many newspapers minimize news of suicides unless they pose a public disturbance.

The loss was felt nonetheless inside the newsroom. "Frankly, this tragedy will be a haunting mystery for me and, I know, many of the other people in this newsroom where he worked," Paul Maryniak, Southeast Valley community editor, told Journal-isms by email Friday. "He was always such a seemingly happy-go-lucky guy, and when I saw the huge turnout at his funeral and listened to people talk about him yesterday, I couldn't help but wonder what crisis was so big that he didn't feel he could turn to anyone for help that fateful night.

"On his last day here, roughly two weeks before this tragedy, he and I sat down and he was bubbling with enthusiasm over his decision to switch out of journalism and focus on a career as a history teacher. It seemed, judging by the way he talked, that he had been chewing for some time on what direction he wanted to take, and he seemed relieved he had opted for something that he told me he felt 'passionate about.'

"One of our reporters took him to lunch that day and later told me just about the same thing I'm telling you: he seemed relieved, excited and unflappably optimistic about his future. Which, of course, makes this tragedy all the greater."

Family members asked that in lieu of flowers, friends consider a donation to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale, where Kemp volunteered.

Writing about the incident on his independent Gannett Blog, Jim Hopkins rounded up suicide figures by ethnic group.

Sun-Times Readers Chip in to Send Teen to College

"You did it," Mary Mitchell told readers of her Chicago Sun-Times column on Thursday.

"Because of you, Byron Pickett is on his way to Berklee College of Music.

"In less than two weeks, readers of this column raised $18,521 in cash and $2,000 in pledges to close the $14,000 gap between the $30,000 in scholarships, grants and financial aid Pickett received, and the tuition and housing costs needed for him to attend the prestigious school.

"The additional funds will be posted to Pickett’s school account for the next school year.

"On Wednesday morning, Pickett’s long-time mentor and I met with the 18-year-old and his mother to share the good news.

" 'I am just amazed that so many people who don’t know me would help me,' Byron Pickett said.

“ 'I never imagined that this many people would care or that any of this would even happen."

". . . Mother and son will leave on Jan. 14. Byron Pickett will officially start his college career on Jan. 17."

"In a highly politicized trial, two Swedish journalists have been sentenced in an Ethiopian court to 11-year jail terms after being convicted of supporting terrorism and entering the country illegally, according to news reports," the Committee to Protect Journalists reported on Tuesday.

"Judge Shemsu Sirgaga ruled today that Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye should serve 'rigorous imprisonment,' and said the verdict 'should satisfy the goal of peace and security,' Agence France-Presse reported. Last week, the journalists were convicted of illegally entering the eastern Somali-speaking Ogaden region, where government forces are battling separatists with the Ogaden National Liberation Front, according to news reports. The Ethiopian government classified the ONLF as a terrorist organization early this year and has restricted journalists from independently accessing the region.

"Prosecutors had asked the judge for a jail term of 18 and a half years for Persson and Schibbye, who were tried under the country's far-reaching anti-terrorism law, news reports said. Human rights groups have said the law, which has been criticized by human rights monitors in the United Nations, is being used by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to crack down on dissent.

"CPJ research found that fundamental principles of due process were violated during the journalists' trial, including the presumption of innocence, which is enshrined in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ethiopia is a signatory. In addition, numerous accusatory public statements by state media and top government officials, including Zenawi, appeared to predetermine the outcome of the trial."

Reporters Without Borders added that a delegation consisting of its secretary-general, Jean-François Julliard, and the head of its Africa desk, Ambroise Pierre, met with Teshome Toga, Ethiopian ambassador in Paris, on Dec. 22, the day after the two journalists were convicted.

"Every meeting between Ethiopian officials and their European or western counterparts will henceforth be affected by this case," Julliard warned. "You will hear references to Johan and Martin every day. You will be criticized every day. There will be a big campaign on their behalf."

Dawnie Walton, managing editor of Life.com, has been named managing editor of Essence.com, succeeding Emil Wilbekin and starting Monday.

Dawnie Walton played a role in major packages at Life.com. As reported in September, Wilbekin, a former editor of Vibe and Giant magazines and managing editor of essence.com for the last two years, "is transitioning to a new, expanded role at the company — working with ESSENCE magazine, as well as Essence’s signature live events such as the Essence Music Festival and Essence Black Women in Music," Essence spokeswoman Dana Baxter said then.

A Dec. 1 note from Mark Golin, an editorial director for Time Inc., said, "Dawnie brings with her a wealth of homegrown, Time Inc. digital experience. As Deputy Editor of LIFE.com, she played an integral role in the direction of both edit and design for daily programming as well as major packages such as 'LIFE at 75'. During her tenure, LIFE.com won a number of accolades — including the 2010 Henry R. Luce Award for Website of the Year, ASME’s 2011 Digital Ellie for Photography and the 2011 'People’s Voice' Webby for Best Visual Design.

"Dawnie first joined Time Inc. in 2002 as an Associate Editor at EW.com. During her six years there, she climbed the ranks to Assistant Managing Editor, where she was responsible for planning and overseeing daily editorial content. Dawnie has also spent some time away from Time Inc. as Editorial Director of BravoTV.com…but we forgive her."

According to the ComScore Inc. research company, Essence.com recorded 817,000 unique visitors in September, down from 943,000 the previous September. Competitor MadamNoire.com rose from 144,000 in September 2010 to 545,000, and HelloBeautiful.com went from 529,000 in September 2010 to 939,000 a year later.

In 1939, Herbert Nipson became the first African American elected to Sigma Delta Chi (now the Society of Professional Journalists). (Credit: African American Chronicles/Penn State University)"When Herbert Nipson joined Ebony magazine's editorial staff in 1949, the publication, founded just four years earlier, had a target readership of urban African-Americans, and its stories reflected that sensibility," Joan Giangrasse Kates wrote Wednesday for the Chicago Tribune.

"But as the civil rights movement surged to the forefront of American consciousness, Mr. Nipson helped push the magazine to a broader audience, covering issues important to rural African-Americans and branching out into sports, entertainment and the arts.

"By the time he retired in 1987, after 15 years as executive editor, the magazine enjoyed national recognition and mainstream appeal for both its issue-oriented reporting and its cultural coverage.

" 'Nip,' as we all knew him, was a loyal member of the (Johnson Publishing) community and an extraordinary presence for as long as I can remember going to the Johnson Publishing Co. offices,' said Linda Johnson Rice, the company's chairwoman. 'He was a guiding force in shaping Ebony. His vision was essential to making the magazine what it is today.'

"Mr. Nipson, 95, a longtime resident of Chicago's Chatham neighborhood, died of natural causes Saturday, Dec. 10, at his Albuquerque, N.M., home."

According to the African American Chronicles at Penn State University, "Nipson became the first colored student in the nation elected to Sigma Delta Chi, the national journalism honor society (now the Society of Professional Journalists), in 1939. Because Penn State did not note Nipson’s race on the nomination, Sigma Delta Chi did not recognize it had a colored member until 1946."

 * "CNN will debut its new morning show team of Soledad O'Brien, Ashleigh Banfield and Zoraida Sambolin on Jan. 2, the day before the Iowa Caucuses, a network spokesperson said Wednesday," Andrea Morabito wrote for Broadcasting & Cable.

* "Alex Pena is not wasting any time in hopes of becoming a foreign correspondent," Rebecca Aguilar wrote Thursday on her Latino Communicators site. "He’s headed to East Africa to find stories no one else has told. . . . Alex just graduated a few weeks ago from Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida. He’ll be freelancing for Voice of America and plans to be based in Nairobi, Kenya. He also hopes to pick up other freelance assignments with other media companies."

* In Nashville, "Longtime WSMV-Channel 4 weatherman Bill Hall died Friday. He was 65," the Tennessean reported Bill Hallon Christmas Eve. "No details were released regarding his death, but Jessica Turri, associate producer at the television station, said Mr. Hall had been hospitalized with an illness for several days. After a 32-year career at WSMV -- his first day at work was Feb. 1, 1974 -- Mr. Hall gave his final full weathercast about six years ago. He told The Tennessean then that working nights had gotten to him."

* For a year-end package in the New York Times, Isabel Wilkerson wrote, "While poring over the Web site Legacy.com to prepare this issue, we noticed a trend. A search of the site’s database -- which includes obituaries from more than 750 newspapers across the country -- turned up hundreds of obits published in 2011 with one phrase in common. A single thread appears and reappears, as a headline or an afterthought, in the final words written by the families of more than 300 people who departed this earth in the past year. In each of these obituaries was a phrase that read something like this: 'The first black American to . . .' or 'The first African-American .' Eugene King was the first African-American milk-delivery man in the Gary, Ind., area. Eddie Koger was the first black bus driver in the state of South Carolina. . . ." In the print edition, the essay concluded by noting that Wilkerson was the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism.

* "KEYT3, the ABC affiliate in Santa Barbara, yesterday announced on the air that it will start broadcasting its evening newscasts with a Spanish language simulcast after January 1, 2012," Veronica Villafañe reported Dec. 23 on her Media Moves site. "With Entravision’s KPMR newscast going dark on Dec. 30, the station’s General Manager, Michael Granados stated on keyt.com: 'Those viewers would have no other place to turn for their television news. It seems only fitting that KEYT3 steps in and takes action to fill that need for our community.' "

* Professor Skye Dent of Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, N.C., is trying to raise money to take about a dozen journalism students to the White House. "We need a total of about $5,800," she writes. "So far, we have about $1500 in donations from people you know as well as friends from The Fayetteville Observer and The Raleigh News [&] Observer daily newspapers." For more information, contact Dent at sdent (at) uncfsu.edu or 910-672-1956.  

* "Former MSNBC anchor Alison Stewart is reporting a story for Sunday’s '60 Minutes'," Chris Ariens reported for TVNewser. "Stewart got the first interview with 19-year-old Sam Eshaghoff, an Emory University student facing criminal fraud and impersonation charges for taking the SAT and ACT for fellow students."

* "It's a season of change at the soon-to-be Tampa Bay Times, as longtime columnist Ernest Hooper becomes chief of the newspaper's Brandon bureau full-time," Eric Deggans wrote for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. "Hooper will still write columns, only not as often, serving as top editor for the bureau and helping guide the Times' coverage of eastern Hillsborough County. He will succeed current chief Sherri Day, who has been promoted to an assistant metro editor job in Tampa. . . . he and Day are among the newspaper's highest-ranking black staffers."

* In Ecuador, "The director of the Quito-based daily Hoy has been convicted on charges of criminal libel for articles depicting the political influence of an Ecuadoran banking official who is a relative of President Rafael Correa, news reports said," the Committee to Protect Journalists reported. "On December 21, a judge sentenced Hoy newspaper executive Jaime Mantilla Anderson to three months in prison . . ."

* In Yemen, "The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the attacks on at least eight journalists on Saturday and Sunday by armed forces loyal to outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The clashes between pro-Saleh forces and protesters left nine people dead on Saturday, The Associated Press reported," the committee said. "These attacks indicate how tenuous the situation remains for journalists to work in Yemen," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.

* "We released a statement Thursday -- 'CPJ supports Pakistani journalists facing threats' -- about the decision of two Pakistani journalists to publicly announce the threats they had been receiving," the committee's Bob Dietz wrote Friday. "Najam Sethi, editor of The Friday Times and host of a popular Urdu-language political program on Geo TV, and Jugnu Mohsin, also a Friday Times editor, said they had lived under threat for years but the level of danger had become so menacing in early 2011 that they were forced to leave Pakistan. A few months later, the two went public with the threats. Then, on Thursday, Sethi told us that he and Mohsin had decided to return to Lahore on Friday."

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