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Winston-Salem Journal

City Lends Black Community Paper $100,000

The City Council of Winston-Salem, N.C., approved a $100,000 low-interest loan this week to the Chronicle, a weekly newspaper serving the city's black community. A rival outlet questioned how the weekly could maintain that its reporting on the city was unbiased, and the publisher of the city's daily declared, "The Winston-Salem Journal would never seek a loan from a government agency for any reason.”

The loan to the Chronicle, which says it has an audited circulation of 7,000, comes less than two weeks after the Boston Globe reported that the Bay State Banner, which serves that city's African American community, had made only one payment on a pair of loans totaling $200,000 from an arm of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Those loans were extended in 2009.

The Winston-Salem loan is not the first for the paper, which was founded in 1974. It received a city loan of $50,000 in 1984 that was repaid in full, Wesley Young reported Wednesday for the Winston-Salem Journal.

That the two papers receiving loans are African American points out the financial challenges faced by many of these outlets. In September, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade association of black-press publishers, publicized a study from Nielsen that reported that while annual black spending is projected to rise from its current $1 trillion to $1.3 trillion by 2017, advertisers allot only 3 percent of their $2.2 billion yearly budget to media aimed at black audiences.

City Council members raised ethical concerns before they approved the loans on Tuesday, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

"The newspaper plans to use the new loan to increase its sales staff and improve sales and circulation," Young wrote. "According to the letter that the newspaper’s publisher, Ernie Pitt, wrote to the city in December, the money would be used to create three to five jobs at the newspaper. The average salary would be about $30,000."

Pitt had written, "We have been on an austerity program for the last five years. However, with the improving economy and need for new positions it is necessary for us to have this infusion of new funds to keep up with and be an enhancement to a growing population."

The story continued, "City council members had no problem approving the loan, saying that the newspaper, as a business, appeared to qualify for the loan.

"But council members did wonder about the effect the loan might have on people'’ perception of the newspaper as an unbiased source of information.

" 'I assume the Chronicle may face questions of appearance, and I assume they are prepared to answer these concerns of appearance,' Council Member Dan Besse said during Tuesday night’s discussion on the city council.

"Council Member Robert Clark said that a newspaper is part of the system of checks and balances.

" 'I am somewhat surprised that the press does not have ethical standards to not borrow the money,' Clark said.

"Taking another view was Council Member D.D. Adams, who said that as long as the city is following proper procedures she has no problem with the loan. . . ."

Kevin Kampman, publisher of the Winston-Salem Journal, said in his paper's story that "a newspaper accepting any type of government-backed loan raises the possibility of a conflict of interest.

"The Winston-Salem Journal would never seek a loan from a government agency for any reason." 

Chad Nance, editor-in-chief of Camel City Dispatch, an online daily in Winston-Salem, outlined the case against the loan in an open letter to the mayor and City Council members.

"Considering that The Chronicle is a media outlet, the problems in this particular scenario go beyond the economic into the ethical. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County has four print/online news outlets as well as one television station with a local news operation permanently located in town and another with a local desk," Nance wrote. "For a city the size of ours we are blessed with local news coverage in a time when local coverage is a novelty to most communities. If one of us goes under there will be no sudden drop off in information available to the public. We may have different styles, approaches, and attitudes, but does that mean that any one of us is more worthy than the others to exist?

"That, in itself, begs the question of why our City government would consider jumping into the news business and tie themselves to a particular newspaper. There are the obvious ethical questions of having the very government that journalists are Constitutionally charged to watch having their hands on the chain. The fact that The Chronicle is beholden to the City of Winston-Salem will remove any credibility they ever had as an honest broker of news and information. It raises the questions about someone with a media platform like Mr. Pitt's — a platform that would have the ability to do serious damage to political careers with a swipe of the pen — asking those very politicians for a [handout].

"The fact that The Chronicle cannot be counted on for unbiased city reporting while the city holds their pink slip is not the only problem. What kind of political calculations would have to be made if it was up to the City of Winston-Salem to pull the plug on The Chronicle should it fail? Would the city own some more empty commercial real estate or would they own a newspaper? These questions need and deserve to be answered. . . ."

The wall between press and government is not always inviolate. In 2009, when newspapers were reeling from competition from the Internet, members of Congress held hearings on a "Newspaper Revitalization Act of 2009," which would have allowed community and metropolitan papers to become nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations similar to public broadcasting. Some believed such congressional intervention was inappropriate.

In 1993, media baron Rupert Murdoch pressured the Federal Communications Commission to waive its ban against the cross-ownership of a newspaper and a TV station in the same market. "The waiver that he won, with the backing of such substantial political figures as Gov. Mario Cuomo and Sens. Daniel Moynihan and Alfonse D'Amato of New York, allowed him to save the foundering New York Post while retaining ownership of his flagship in New York City, WNYW-TV," the Christian Science Monitor reported.

"In an unsigned open letter published this week, the Bay State Banner said the Globe 'impugned the integrity' of the weekly newspaper by revealing details of its default on a pair of loans from an arm of the Boston Redevelopment Authority and raising questions about the black-owned publication's finances in the broader context of the newspaper industry’s struggles," Edward Mason, who wrote the original story for the Boston Globe, reported in the Globe on Friday.

" 'Now it seems the Globe intends to be the first to write the Banner's obituary with the strategy of defaming the publisher to ensure that the Banner’s demise ensues,' the Banner said in the letter.

"Using documents obtained under the state public records law, the Globe detailed the history of the loans and the Banner's finances in an article published Jan. 12. Melvin B. Miller, the Banner's founder, publisher, and editor, did not respond to several requests for interviews and hung up on a reporter when he was finally reached prior to the story’s publication. . . ."

The Banner's open letter Wednesday began, "The Boston Globe has impugned the integrity of the Bay State Banner. In a flawed article entitled 'Should Boston have bailed out the Bay State Banner,' published Sunday, Jan. 12, the Globe asserts that 'the city made $200,000 in loans to save the troubled newspaper.'

"That is false. The clear impression of such a statement is that taxpayers' funds were used to finance the black press. The fact is that the loan is from the Boston Local Development Corp., a nonprofit corporation with an independent board of trustees. The BLDC provides loans to small businesses considered to be significant to the city. The loan fund is independent of Boston’s operating budget, and available loan proceeds are not generated from taxes. . . ."

A second article resulting from the expenses-paid trip to Morocco by the trade association for the black press appeared Thursday, written travelogue-style and concluding with a link to the country's tourist agency.

The first of two projected pieces by Michael H. Cottman of BlackAmericaWeb.com concluded, "Morocco is a relatively safe country with an old-style tradition of hospitality and travelers touring Morocco seem to feel secure and welcome. The beauty and cultural together with exquisite modern hotels, and resorts; world class golf courses makes Morocco one of the most exciting travel destinations in the world.

"It’s no wonder Morocco’s new tourism slogan resonates with visitors: 'The country that travels within you.' "

A 14-person delegation from the National Newspaper Publishers Association, representing the nation's black press, spent a week in the North African country as "part of series of no-strings attached government-sponsored trips by African American organizations to Morocco to give them a first-hand look at the country," as Cloves C. Campbell Jr., chairman of the NNPA and publisher of the Arizona Informant in Phoenix, told Journal-isms at the time by email.

For conflict-of-interest reasons, leading mainstream news organizations prohibit employees from accepting free trips from governments or other potential sources, but the black press does not follow all the rules of mainstream journalism.

Morocco has been in a decades-long dispute in Western Sahara, a mainly desert territory whose residents are of mixed Berber, Arab and black African descent.

Moreover, "Morocco, which receives millions of euros annually from the European Union to clamp down on illegal immigrants seeking to enter Europe, has come under criticism for its often brutal treatment and abuse of sub-Saharan Africans within its borders," Palash Ghosh reported in September for International Business Times.

Ghosh added, " Some black people in Morocco have even been the victims of violence perpetrated not only by Moroccan police and security officers, but by ordinary citizens as well. . . . Migrants who find themselves trapped in Morocco often end up destitute, living on hand-outs or resorting to crime. Even worse, black Africans also suffer the sting of racial prejudice and bigotry from the Arabs and Berbers of Morocco. . . ."

While the BlackAmericaWeb piece referred to the Western Sahara dispute, it did not mention the country's treatment of black Africans.

In a column appearing Wednesday, Askia Muhammad of the Washington Informer, another who went on the trip, declared, "I am one with Moroccans." His chief criticism was, "what the Moroccans don't 'get' as far as Blacks in America and many others around the world is the characterization of the people of Algeria as The Devil incarnate, and the instigators of all the problems in the disputed Western Sahara region . . . ."

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said in its "World Report 2014," "Moroccan authorities in 2013 promised more human rights improvements than they delivered. Courts sent dissidents to jail after unfair trials, police used excessive force to break up peaceful demonstrations, and in the contested territory of Western Sahara, officials repressed supporters of self-determination. . . ."

In an email to Journal-isms from Africa last week, Ahmed Boukhari, U.N. representative of people in Western Sahara, who are called Saharawi, told Journal-isms that Morocco's bankrolling of the black-press trip had ulterior motives.

"In my opinion [it] is a trip politically motivated and with political objectives related to Western Sahara. Morocco's credibility has been stained these last years as a consequence of human rights violations in Western Sahara," he said. "Journalists who are not well informed about what is going on in Western Sahara and sensitive to a good reception could be used as a propaganda tool. In any case, any journalist of this group could and in my opinion must be authorized by Morocco to enter into contact with Saharawi human rights defenders."

"When Ja’han Jones first saw a photo of students at Tau Kappa Epsilon’s 'MLK Black Party' on Facebook Monday evening, the first thing he felt was anger," Sophia Kunthara wrote Thursday for the Downtown Devil, a student-run online publication at Arizona State University. "But it wasn’t until he read Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail the next morning that he decided to write on his blog the widely circulated open letter to the brothers of Tau Kappa Epsilon.

"Jones' letter questioned the actions of Tau Kappa Epsilon members who threw a party on Martin Luther King Jr. Day where party guests dressed in baggy clothing and drank out of watermelon cups. Jones and Phoenix African-American community leaders said on Tuesday that the party mocked African American culture.

"Jones, the president of the African American Men of Arizona State University, did not expect his post to garner much attention. His posts usually get around 20 views.

"As of midday Wednesday, the letter amassed more than 25,000 views from people across the country and had more than 100 comments."

Jones is a senior journalism student and a founder of the student chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. The fraternity has been suspended.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix New Times published a letter Thursday defending the fraternity members from Michael Meyers, who is black and president and executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, which Meyers co-founded in 1986.

" 'Whether I see something wrong is not the issue,' Meyers says. He believes their actions are protected by the First Amendment, so they shouldn't be punished by a public university. Plus, he says that he didn't find it particularly racist, anyway," Matthew Hendley reported.

" 'If their party was racist, so what?' Meyers says. 'It was a party. I mean, where is our sense of humor?' . . . "

"Zimmerman's painting depicts Jacksonville-based prosecutor Angela Corey holding her thumb and fingers together. An apparently made-up quote Zimmerman added to the piece reads, 'I have this much respect for the American judicial system.' Corey's office prosecuted Zimmerman for the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder last summer.

"Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., posted an image of the painting Wednesday on Twitter and tweeted a day later that they were in negotiations with possible buyers. . . ."

"Wells Fargo Securities' Marci Ryvicker tracks political ad spending more closely than anyone on Wall Street, so I was pleased to see her weigh in this morning on what’s ahead for 2014," David Lieberman, financial editor ofdeadline.com, wrote Thursday.

"She expects about $1.5B to be spent on public policy and issue ads, up from $1B in 2010. . . . . But about a third of the issue spending likely will be used to debate the Affordable Care Act, likely to be an issue in at least 15 states. Opponents of Obamacare have so far spent five times as much as supporters. Total spending on ACA-related ads could go as high as $1B: Insurers may spend an additional $500M, but it would be seen as healthcare advertising, not issue advertising."

Meanwhile, Charles Ornstein reported Wednesday for ProPublica, "After months of hype and hysteria, insurance policies purchased under the Affordable Care Act went into effect on New Year's Day, and journalists have largely pivoted from writing about the problems of HealthCare.gov to how the law is actually working for consumers.

Ornstein also wrote, "reporters across the country have been telling their stories — and they seem to square with the broader experiences of the public. . . ."

Fannie Flono, Charlotte Observer: Invest in children to aid U.S. health care (Jan. 16)

Bob Ray Sanders, Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas: Arrogant Texas leaders invite scrutiny from federal government

The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, which has asked the U.S. District Court in Washington to order tobacco companies to include black-owned media as venues for their anti-smoking ads, is urging its members to talk about the issue on the air. "We need all Black owned stations to discuss this story on your airwaves," James L. Winston, executive director and general counsel, said Friday in the NABOB newsletter. He also said, "New young people in our community continue to begin smoking daily. We must get a significant portion of the advertising campaign on our stations so that we can help to stop the growth of smoking in our community. . . ."

Macarena Hernandez, a former classmate and colleague of ousted New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, wrote the article alerting the Times to his plagiarism, Tim Molloy recalled Tuesday for the Wrap. "But she said the Blair scandal 'gave people permission' to stop focusing on diversity. She said that as newspapers have suffered financially, there has been far less emphasis on hiring people of color — because of the prejudicial belief that Blair's case discredits all efforts at making newsrooms look like the communities they serve." Hernandez appeared the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif. PBS plans to air "A FRAGILE TRUST," a documentary on the Blair case, as part of its "Independent Lens" series on May 5 at 10 p.m.

"For a second week in a row, ratings for 'Duck Dynasty,' the prodigious success for the A&E network, were off sharply from its previous cycle, suggesting — though far from proving — that there has been a significant backlash to comments made by Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family at the center of the show," Bill Carter wrote Friday for the New York Times.

"ABC News reporter Elizabeth Vargas has publicly acknowledged that she's an alcoholic, and said it took her years to admit it," Frazier Moore reported Friday for the Associated Press. "In an interview aired Friday on 'Good Morning America,' Vargas said hiding her problem from others was exhausting. . . ."

Due to complications that have caused anemia, Mary Benton, a reporter for KPRC-TV in Houston and a board member of the National Association of Black Journalists, "has been dealing with blood transfusions, infusions, medications and countless doctors appointments," Mike McGuff wrote Thursday for his television blog. "Benton's doctors warned she was jeopardizing her health because she was so determined to avoid surgery and get back to normal. The doctors eventually won and now Benton will soon be having surgery." She expects to be off the air for four to six weeks.

Black Entertainment Television will offer live coverage of President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday — but on its Centric channel and on BET.com, not the primary cable channel, the network announced Friday. "Hosted by award-winning journalist Marc Lamont Hill, the BET News special will provide viewers with context and insight into the President's address to Congress from BET Studios in New York. Political Consultant and former Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus, Angela Rye will join Hill in studio to offer analysis."  The special is to re-air on BET at midnight EST, 9 p.m. PST.

"US Senator John McCain has condemned the imprisonment of five Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt, calling their detention 'a clear violation' of their human rights and of press freedom," Al Jazeera reported on Friday. Nancy A. Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers wrote Jan. 6 that she visited Mohamed Fahmy, acting Egypt bureau chief for Al Jazeera English television. "He said he was being held in solitary confinement in Tora, with no light and with 'insects.' . . ."

Those indifferent to the folding of the NBC Latino site into nbcnews.com don't take into account that "a site focused on Latinos means Latinos, in essence, control the conversation," Marisa Treviño wrote Wednesday on her Latina Lista site. She also wrote, "NBC's decision to fold Latino coverage back into its general coverage doesn’t bode well for the network if they look at NBC Latino as a failed experiment rather than a site testing how to improve network coverage of Latinos and taking those lessons learned and executing them. . . ."

"WNBC, the NBC owned station in New York City, is swapping evening anchors. Beginning next month, Sibila Vargas . . . will replace Shiba Russell . . . on the 11 p.m. newscast," Merrill Knox reported Wednesday for TVSpy.

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