A year in the quest for news media that look like America:
2. Cosby Found Guilty in Court of Public Opinion
3. Online Media, New Frontier, Take Heat on Diversity
4. The Numbers and the Layoffs
5. A Breakthrough in Minority Broadcast Ownership
6. MSNBC Chief Promises Change for Latinos
7. Dean Baquet Named Editor of N.Y. Times
8. Sports Journalists Become Part of the Story
9. NPR Cancels "Tell Me More"
10. More Outlets Won't Use "Redskins" Name
Most Popular "Journal-isms" Columns of 2014
The Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, in the previously obscure St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., by a white police officer reverberated around the world as it came to symbolize unpunished police killings of black men.
The fatal shooting of Brown was followed by the case of Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., who died when a police officer put him in a chokehold after confronting him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Then came the story of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy holding a novelty pellet gun, shot dead by police in a Cleveland park.
In the Brown and Garner cases, grand juries declined to indict the officer, prompting waves of public protests as marchers chanted "Black Lives Matter" and "Hands Up, Don't Shoot." Even before the decision not to indict, protesters in Ferguson looted and burned to express their anger.
According to the annual diversity census by the American Society of News Editors, the newsroom of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is 7.1 percent black, while U.S. Census figures put the city of St. Louis at 49.29 percent black and St. Louis County at 23.7 percent black.
"Certainly, it is unfortunate that our numbers are not higher in that regard," Adam Goodman, a deputy managing editor at the Post-Dispatch, told Journal-isms by telephone on Aug. 11. Asked to elaborate, he said, "[unfortunate] in terms of sourcing and getting out in the community and talking to people. It was a dangerous scene last night. It doesn't matter who it was. Unfortunately it was pretty unpredictable." But having more black journalists might mean "better ideas on following up, and just in terms of ideas and coverage."
Still, the National Press Foundation this month chose Post-Dispatch Editor Gilbert Bailon for the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award for guiding his news organization through the shooting and the tumultuous aftermath. "If ever a newspaper and its editor faced a real-time stress test, it was the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and editor Gilbert Bailon in 2014," the judges said.
The media became part of the Ferguson story. News organizations deployed their reporters there, but freelance journalists and bloggers also gravitated to the St. Louis suburb, sometimes at their peril. "Any journalist covering Ferguson at night has likely been tear gassed, if not hit by debris, rubber bullets, pepper pellets or bean bags," Lindsay Toler wrote Aug. 20 for St. Louis' Riverfront Times. "Police have threatened to shoot, mace and arrest reporters, sometimes on live TV or feeds. Officers have detained reporters from the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Getty Images and more, releasing them later without answers. . . . "
A sharp racial divide emerged on Ferguson's significance. "Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown 'raises important issues about race that need to be discussed,' the Pew Research Center reported.
The division was reflected in the news media, with many critical of outlets that gravitated to the protests while giving short shrift to the underlying issues. Rumors helped to feed social media and the 24/7 news cycle. Careless journalism was part of the mix. Even this week, some outlets were calling the protests "anti-police" rather than "anti-police brutality."
Still, some did look behind the curtain. "Across the U.S., a haphazard system of lax laws, minimal oversight and almost no accountability puts guns in the hands of guards who endanger public safety," a yearlong investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and CNN found.
"Police in Ferguson — which erupted into days of racially charged unrest after a white officer killed an unarmed black teen — arrest black people at a rate nearly three times higher than people of other races," Brad Heath reported in November for USA Today.
"At least 1,581 other police departments across the USA arrest black people at rates even more skewed than in Ferguson, a USA TODAY analysis of arrest records shows. . . ."
The New York Times was reminded of the power of words when outrage greeted the phrase "no angel" in the fifth paragraph of an article describing Brown. The story became the focus of ridicule, abuse and assertions that the Times was stereotyping young black men in a racist way. John Eligon, the author of the piece who is himself black, told Journal-isms then by email, "i believe 'no angel' simply obscured the overall tone of the piece . . . ." and said having more African Americans in the editing process could have helped spot the troublesome wording.
There has been no trial, but many believe Bill Cosby sexually abused a number of women over the years, based on coverage of the women's escalating accusations in the last few months. For most of that time, Cosby and his lawyers have issued "no comments" or simply denied the claims with little elaboration.
2. Cosby Found Guilty in Court of Public Opinion
Variety reported last month that in a survey of 1,000 people by celebrity brand expert Jeetendr Sehdev, "Most respondents believe Cosby guilty of the allegations he's facing, with 59% of those surveyed believing the charges. . . "
"Over the years, I've struggled to get people to take my story seriously," Barbara Bowman wrote in November in the Washington Post. "So last month, when reporter Lycia Naff contacted me for an interview for the Daily Mail, I gave her a detailed account. I told her how Cosby won my trust as a 17-year-old aspiring actress in 1985, brainwashed me into viewing him as a father figure, and then assaulted me multiple times. . . ."
Beverly Johnson wrote in December for Vanity Fair, "I was a top model during the 70s, a period when drugs flowed at parties and photo shoots like bottled water at a health spa. I'd had my fun and experimented with my fair share of mood enhancers. I knew by the second sip of the drink Cosby had given me that I'd been drugged—and drugged good. . . ."
Also in November, Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post described a video that showed an Associated Press reporter departing from an interview about Cosby's art collection to ask about the sexual assault allegations.
"After reporter Brett Zongker asked the comedian about allegations that he had raped or sexually abused women, Cosby suggested that such questions were irresponsible," Kennicott wrote. "He and his wife had chosen to sit down with the AP, he said, because they thought the AP was a reputable news organization and would not dig into those unpleasant accusations.
"Cosby tried a classic power play, hoping to intimidate the reporter into suppressing the video: 'I think if you want to consider yourself to be serious, that it will not appear anywhere,' he said to Zongker. After making this equation — between reportorial seriousness and deference to himself between reportorial seriousness and deference to himself — Cosby asked David Brokaw, his longtime media representative, who was standing off-camera, to get on the horn to the AP and do everything possible to ensure that the videotaped encounter was " 'scuttled.' . . ."
Cosby also told Stacy Brown, a freelancer who writes largely for the black press, " 'I only expect the black media to uphold the standards of excellence in journalism and when you do that, you have to go in with a neutral mind .' . . ."
Caught up in the Cosby story was Mark Whitaker, the former Newsweek editor and CNN and NBC News executive who released a biography of Cosby in September that did not delve into the allegations. Book reviewers had little problem with that until more women came forward. Whitaker found himself having to defend his omissions, and book sales plummeted.
"Well, look, obviously the story has changed, and I'm going to have to address that in future editions of the book, if not sooner," Whitaker told Lloyd Grove of the Daily Beast in November. "If it happened, and it was a pattern, it's terrible and really creepy…. I was just having a discussion with my son about this, and psychologically, if it happened… it's sort of compartmentalization." Whitaker began to decline invitations to discuss his book and when he did, did not take questions.
Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press: Cosby not finding support in black community
Robert Huber, Philadelphia magazine: How Bill Cosby Took Down Bill Cosby (Dec. 7)
Lorne Manly and Graham Bowley, New York Times: Cosby Team's Strategy: Hush Accusers, Insult Them, Blame the Media
"How many reporting jobs have new online news organizations created?," Brian Stelter asked in March on moneyCNN.com.
"Pew Research Center has tried to put a number on it: 5,000. . . .
But, as Emily Bell wrote in March for the Guardian, "it's impossible not to notice that in the Bitcoin rush to revolutionize journalism, the protagonists are almost exclusively — and increasingly — male and white . . . ."
Some journalism startups got the message and pledged inclusion. A few, most notably BuzzFeed, were already delivering.
When the Online News Association ended its three-day convention in Chicago in September, 35 percent of the presenters had been people of color and half were women, according to its organizers. That was the most diversity the ONA — founded in 1999 and the newest kid on the block among journalism organizations — had seen.
There was little doubt that the news business was increasingly banking on a future of mobile devices and other online vehicles.
James Bennett, editor of the Atlantic, said proudly in June that "The Case for Reparations," Ta-Nehisi Coates' brief for why African Americans are owed a debt for the racial penalties paid since slavery, "has brought more visitors to the Atlantic [website] in a single day than any single piece we've ever published."
Jet magazine, a staple in black homes, beauty parlors and barber shops since 1951, ended print publication at the end of June and became a digital magazine app. SpinMedia, the latest owner of Vibe magazine, announced that Vibe would close its print edition once again and publish online only. The hip-hop magazine XXL did the same.
NBC pulled the plug on NBCLatino.com, and returned theGrio.com, which targets African Americans, to its original owners, David A. Wilson and Dan Woolsey. NBC plans to start its own site aimed at blacks in 2015, and in May announced plans for a site aimed at Asian Pacific Islanders.
ESPN announced in November that Jesse Washington, race relations reporter for the Associated Press; Danielle Cadet, former editor of HuffPost BlackVoices; and Ryan Cortes, a freelance writer who has written for Broward New Times in Florida, are joining sports columnist Jason Whitlock's soon-to-launch ESPN site that has been dubbed "Black Grantland."
Despite the rush online, in the study "American Journalist in the Digital Age," based on online interviews with 1,080 U.S. journalists during fall 2013, Lars Willnat and David H. Weaver reported, "Television employs the largest percentage of minority journalists (15.4 percent) and online news organizations the lowest (4.4 percent) . . . ."
And the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, said in September, "The two largest minority groups in the United States — African Americans and Hispanics — are in many ways using digital technology for news at similar rates as the American population overall. Yet these Americans do not believe that the growth of web and mobile media has fulfilled the promise of more coverage, and more accurate coverage, of underserved ethnic communities. . . ."
Despite the growth online, most journalists are still employed in so-called legacy media. There, "the number of minority journalists in daily-newspaper newsrooms increased by a couple of hundred in 2013 even as newsroom employment declined by 3.2 percent, according to the annual census released in July by the American Society of News Editors and the Center for Advanced Social Research.
The number of blacks and Asian Americans went down while the figures for Hispanics and Native Americans rose.
In broadcasting, "The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey finds the minority workforce in TV news, at 22.4%, the highest it's been in 13 years and the second highest level ever," Bob Papper, emeritus distinguished professor of journalism, media studies and public relations at Hofstra, reported in July for the Radio Television Digital News Association.
"The minority workforce in radio rose to the highest level since in the mid-1990s. . . . Still, as far as minorities are concerned, the bigger picture remains unchanged. In the last 24 years, the minority population in the U.S. has risen 11 points; but the minority workforce in TV news is up less than half that (4.6), and the minority workforce in radio is up 2.2. . . ."
Lee B. Becker, Tudor Vlad and Holly Anne Simpson of the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, reported on the job market in August in their "2013 Survey of Journalism & Mass Communication Graduates." "Minority graduates were hit particularly hard by the recession of 2007, and they continue to find it more difficult to find a job than do graduates who are not members of racial or ethnic minority groups," they wrote.
Buyouts and layoffs claimed journalists at such media outlets as the Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., the McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Al Jazeera America, Gannett Co. Inc., Turner Broadcasting, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, NPR, the Daily News in New York and the New York Times, whose culture section might soon be bereft of journeymen editors and reporters of color.
In December, the Federal Communications Commission approved transactions that will result in 10 new minority- and female-owned television stations. They include properties that will be owned and operated by African American entrepreneurs Pluria Marshall Jr. and Armstrong Williams, the political commentator, as well as by Ravi Kapur, vice president of broadcast for the San Francisco chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association.
According to a June report [PDF] from the FCC:
"Hispanic or Latino persons owned 42 full power commercial television stations (3.0 percent) in 2013 and 39 stations (2.9 percent) in 2011. . . .
"American Indian or Alaska Natives owned 11 stations (0.8 percent) in 2013 and 12 stations (0.9 percent) in 2011. . . .
"Asians owned 19 stations (1.4 percent) in 2013 and 6 stations (0.5 percent) in 2011. . . .
"Black or African Americans owned 9 stations (0.6 percent) in 2013 and 11 stations (0.8 percent) in 2011. . . ."
The December breakthrough took place after the FCC's vote in March to bar companies from controlling two or more TV stations in the same local market by using a single advertising sales staff.
"The proposal, which is part of the FCC's regular review of its media ownership rules, passed by a party-line vote after the addition of language designed to encourage waivers for joint sales agreements that encourage diversity in media ownership," Gautham Nagesh wrote then in the Wall Street Journal. "Three of the four full-power TV stations in the U.S. owned by African-Americans are party to such agreements, and would be likely to secure waivers. . . ."
Marshall is working with Nexstar and Williams with Sinclair Broadcasting. Marshall made it clear that without Nexstar's help, he would not have been able to buy the stations.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had argued that broadcasters use joint sales agreements to get around the FCC's limit on owning more than one full-power TV station in the same local market.
Approving of the FCC action, Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, wrote, "Since these SSA's [shared services agreements] have become widely used, some companies have decided to shut down their newsrooms and contract with a competitor to provide newscasts.
"This results in the layoffs of journalists and reduces the diversity of viewpoints that the FCC supports."
In another development, the board of trustees of Florida A&M University in March approved an 11-year partnership with former U.A. Rep. J.C. Watts to produce a 24-hour, multiplatform Black Television News Channel that Watts initially announced six years ago. There was no firm launch date.
Addressing the August convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in San Antonio, a contrite Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC, renewed his apology for a May Cinco de Mayo skit on his network that Hispanics found offensive. He also agreed with a wide-ranging list of complaints from Latino journalists.
Those concerns included the need for more Latinos behind the scenes and on the air, objections to having to tone down Spanish accents and pronunciations, and the inclusion of Afro-Latinos along with their lighter-skinned brethren.
"It's important. We want to lead the way" on diversity, Griffin told attendees.
"A cultural change" must take place at the network, Griffin said. "We've got to be honest."
Griffin agreed to hold a session between the hosts of MSNBC programs and Latino experts on issues of the day and meetings with potential Hispanic on-air talent. Both were suggestions from Alex Nogales, a diversity watchdog who leads the National Hispanic Media Coalition and shared the stage with Griffin.
In October, an MSNBC spokeswoman told Journal-isms that Griffin was keeping his promises. That month, José Díaz-Balart was awarded a second hour as anchor of the morning show that MSNBC launched in June. The host made news by simultaneously translating a conversation in Spanish with an interviewee.
In Hispanic-owned media, things were in flux. In May, impreMedia LLC announced that Monica C. Lozano was stepping down as publisher and CEO of La Opinión, the nation's largest Spanish language daily newspaper, and as senior vice president of newspapers, overseeing the company's publications group.
In February, Gerson Borrero, a popular columnist for New York's El Diario-La Prensa who was once its editor-in-chief, was fired. Top editor Erica Gonzalez was reportedly forced out. They were part of an ongoing drama in which the newspaper and its parent company attempt to adjust to foreign ownership.
Many journalists of color were hopeful when Dean Baquet in May was named the top editor at the New York Times, no matter how messy the circumstances. Baquet, who was managing editor, won the top job when Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. fired Jill Abramson. Following the first woman to hold the post, Baquet became the first African American to lead the newsroom.
7. Dean Baquet Named Editor of N.Y. Times
Baquet paid tribute to the African American journalists who came before him and on Sept. 30, he told the New York Association of Black Journalists that his biggest concern, "besides the diversity of our staff, is the diversity of our audience."
But a September announcement of a leadership team was devoid of people of color, a firestorm ensued over the use of the term "angry black woman" to describe television series creator Shonda Rhimes and layoffs and buyouts in the Culture section left it even whiter. The situation left many wondering whether it made any difference that a black journalist was in charge.
Television critic Alessandra Stanley, who used the "angry black woman" phrase, was already known for a series of errors that many said would have gotten other journalists fired. Public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote, "The readers and commentators are correct to protest this story. Intended to be in praise of Ms. Rhimes, it delivered that message in a condescending way that was – at best – astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch."
In December came news that the Times was laying off Kia Gregory and Felicia R. Lee, black female reporters, and leaving its Culture section devoid of journeymen black journalists as the Times continued to implement plans to reduce its newsroom staff by 100 via buyouts and layoffs.
Baquet had said in September that he would "love to diversify" the Times' contingent of 20 cultural critics, which includes no African Americans and only two of color, pledging, "I have an obligation to diversify the staff and I will figure out a way."
Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy responded to a Journal-isms item reporting the Culture section development by telling the Huffington Post, "In the wake of our staff reductions, heading into the New Year we will undertake the process of rebalancing the newsroom talent. It's too soon to know what the diversity makeup will look like in any one department. A diverse newsroom remains a priority for us."
From use of the "N-Word" to issues of domestic violence and racist words uttered by Donald Sterling, then-owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, social issues of the day routinely became sports reporting this year. And sports journalists sometimes became part of the news.
A leaked tape of Sterling making racist remarks to his girlfriend cost him ownership of the Clippers and put black commentators in the spotlight in a way rarely seen recently. At least two commentators related the owner's situation — his racial perspective went unchallenged for years within the NBA — to the low numbers of journalists of color or of reporters covering the "minority affairs" beat.
In one of several television appearances, the New York Times' William C. Rhoden said on CNN's "New Day" in May:
"Whenever I walk into a press box and I see no black reporters, or when I walk into a newsroom or any corporate office, and I see no black people, essentially the owners are saying the same thing [as Sterling]. They're just not getting caught. They're saying 'we don't respect you, black people, we're not gonna hire you.' One thing I would suggest a lot of the NBA players do, and black NFL players — when you get a chance, walk through your respective team offices and find out how many people that look like you are in the marketing department, in the sales department … You will be stunned. So, let's not get so carried away by this, what's kind of like an easy fastball to hit, and really dig down into the systemic racism in your organizations — who, in fact, pay you a lot of money. I think this a great launching pad, but let's not just stop here at the easy part. . . ."
When the NFL considered penalizing players 15 yards if they used the N-word on the field, sports journalists who defended the players' right to use the word were excusing a vernacular that would not be allowed in their own workplaces. It wasn't just the N-word that was debated. After Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman undertook a fiery postgame rant in January, he was called a thug so many times that he and others wondered whether the T-word was becoming a euphemism for that other one.
In July, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith was suspended for a week after a "First Take" segment about the NFL suspending Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice for only two games for knocking out his then fiancee, now wife, at an Atlantic City hotel in February. Smith apologized for suggesting that women may "provoke" domestic violence.
Some suggested that NFL writers were too cozy with their sources. "Some of the nation's most experienced and dedicated football reporters have downplayed the Ray Rice scandal in their work. Why? Because they work for NFL.com," Michael Hiltzik, a Los Angeles Times business columnist, wrote.
"Others, like Peter King of Sports Illustrated and Adam Schefter of ESPN, have been accused of uncritically taking the NFL's side in a case in which the league's actions continue to look worse. . . . They don't work directly for the league, but their careers are highly dependent on their image as NFL 'insiders.' "
In August, about 25 members of the Asian American Journalists Association, meeting at the AAJA convention in Washington, formed a Sports Task Force. The group also has a Facebook page and Twitter feed.
The National Association of Black Journalists gave NPR its "Thumbs Down" award for 2014 over its cancellation of the multicultural show "Tell Me More" and NPR's elimination of 28 positions across its newsroom in an effort to cut costs.
The award was announced on Aug. 1, a day after "Tell Me More" ended its seven-year run before a live audience at its Washington studios. The show was canceled as part of efforts to resolve a $6.1 million budget deficit.
NABJ President Bob Butler said in a release, "The importance of public media to make a concerted effort to be distinctive in its storytelling methods, to offer its audiences depth by featuring untold stories, and to as an end result diversify and expand audiences was best exemplified by a show like Tell Me More and how the program sought to operate. [NPR] has as two of [its] stated goals . . . to 'expand, diversify and engage our audiences' and 'grow net revenues.'
"One however cannot [supersede] the other and greater care should have been taken to preserve Tell Me More as an example of what NPR's new core should be and as . . . a representation of a truly superb way in which public media can embrace diversity.
"NABJ is mindful of NPR's other [initiatives] such as the Peabody award-winning 'Race Card Project' and ['Code Switch.'] These programs are worthy of praise and should be supported. Still the opportunity cannot be [lost] to encourage National Public Radio to live up to the [company's] full potential and be standard bearers and to be the company which in everything it does [shows] others in public media and media at large how to make sure journalism and media are inclusive and really do provide a service to the public. . . ."
Kinsey Wilson, then NPR's executive vice president and chief content officer, told Journal-isms in May that while economics was not the sole driver of the decision to cancel the show, "Tell Me More" was a $2.1 million a year operation that was losing $1.5 million annually. A show such as "Fresh Air" was raising 28 percent more — via corporate contributions, programming fees from member stations and philanthropic and foundation support — than it cost.
NPR promised a wider role for Martin, who was to appear on its most popular daily news shows, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," conducting live events in partnership with member stations and remaining active in the digital space.
As the year ended, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that "Washington Redskins" isn't a profane or obscene name and dismissed a request to deny the license renewal of a Virginia radio station that broadcast the word "Redskins."
The American Psychological Association called for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations.
Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, a group of Native parents and their allies from across the United States and Canada, said in December it had launched a grassroots effort to get Redface out of stadiums. Redface is a term for fans who wear stereotypical Indian costumes to games.
1. Millions Changed Race or Ethnicity in Census (May 5)
2. Ben Bradlee Wrestled With Racial Issues (Oct. 22)
4. Sudden Change of Editors at Ebony (April 23)
6. Bombshell Suit Against "White People" Magazine (Aug. 22)
9. Sterling Story Related to Whiteness of Press (May 2)
10. NABJ Executive Director Resigns (Jan. 20)
David Crary, Associated Press: 2014 Year In Review: Associated Press's top 10 stories of the year (Dec. 22)
Tracie Powell, alldigitocracy.org: Year In Review: Journalism Ethics Took Major Hits in 2014
Jason Zaragoza, altweeklies.com: 'More Alt Than Ever': Alt-Weeklies 2014 Year in Review