2013: Top 10 Race-Related Stories in the Media Industry

Roland Martin; Constance C.R. White; Al-Jazeera America sign
Paul Morigi/Getty Images; Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images; Saul Loeb/Getty Images
Roland Martin; Constance C.R. White; Al-Jazeera America sign
Paul Morigi/Getty Images; Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images; Saul Loeb/Getty Images

1. Growing Intolerance of Intolerance, Insensitivity

How many race-related gaffes can you remember from 2013? The year ended with a flap over remarks by the patriarch of the A&E series "Duck Dynasty" and a retracted tweet from comedian Steve Martin, but the journalism world experienced bursts of controversial speech all year.


ESPN was the locus of many of the controversial remarks. In January, the network decided not to renew the contract of of commentator Rob Parker after Parker questioned the blackness of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. Parker landed a columnist's spot on Keith Clinkscales' new digital sports platform, the Shadow League.

In May, ESPN President John Skipper said Chris Broussard, who covers the NBA for ESPN, was wrong to declare his religious views against homosexuality in discussing NBA player Jason Collins, who became the first active player in one of the major pro sports to come out as gay. Jackson Davis, ESPN's director of diversity & inclusion, said in August that ESPN had begun cultural sensitivity sessions that had attracted about 100 ESPN staffers.

In July, KTVU-TV in the San Francisco Bay area broadcast bogus Asian-sounding names that purported to identify the four pilots on board Asiana Flight 214, which crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6. The Asian American Journalists Association and other Asian American groups expressed their dissatisfaction, and in December, the Fox affiliate said it would air a documentary chronicling the success of prominent Korean Americans.

Outside of journalism, late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel was the target of a week of protests over a satirical skit in which a child suggested on Kimmel's show that the United States "kill everyone in China" to address its debt problem. China's Foreign Ministry demanded that ABC-TV "face its mistakes head on."

Opponents of the term "illegal immigrant" scored a victory when major news organizations agreed to drop the term. Critics of the name of the Washington pro football team won more allies, though they were less successful in winning change.

The change on "illegal immigrant" followed a years-long campaign by the journalist-of-color associations and others.


"The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term 'illegal immigrant' or the use of 'illegal' to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that 'illegal' should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally," the AP declared in April.

The AP was followed by USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and even "Google Translate."


Still, many of the measures have been too little, too late. During the Boston Marathon bombing in April, CNN's John King reported that law enforcement officials had identified "a dark-skinned male" as the suspect, an identification that turned out not only to be wrong, but in violation of most guidelines on racial identification of suspects. King apologized, but apparently paid no penalty. The New York Post featured two nonwhite men on its cover with a headline titled "Bag Men," indicating that police suspected them of being the bombers. But both men were innocent. The mistake seemed to anticipate that the suspects would fit the stereotypical look of a Muslim terrorist. In fact, the Tsarnaev brothers were white and of Chechen origin.

In December, a USA Today headline characterized the movie "Best Man Holiday" as "race-themed," even though the romantic comedy simply featured black characters. The headline was quickly changed after a social-media backlash.


Despite the storm over "Duck Dynasty," however, the blowback from its supporters prevailed. The show will return with in January with patriarch Phil Robertson, the A&E network said on Friday.

"Being White in Philly" Called Example of the Problem (March 4)

Ta-Nehisi Coates blog, the Atlantic: Phil Robertson's America (Dec. 20)

Ray Halbritter, Washington Post: Year of reckoning for the Washington 'R-word'

N.Y. Times' Cautious Step on "Illegal" Called "Cowardice" (April 24)

Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune: Don't make 'Duck' too PC

… ESPN Lists Additional Steps on Cultural Sensitivity

On Monday, Josh Krulewitz, ESPN's vice president, communications, listed additional steps ESPN has taken toward cultural sensitivity.


"We continue to address the topic through many different forums and applications reaching several hundred more employees since last reported," Krulewitz told Journal-isms by email. "For example:

"Employee Resource Group Discussion Forums (panels, articles, events, executive conversations, conferences, etc.)


"Celebration of ESPN's 8th Annual Diwali event with over 150 employees in attendance

"Publication of internal article focused on Diversity during the holidays – 'Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion during the holiday season is about spending time with friends and family and building an understanding and awareness about others.'


"Development of all-employee Diversity & Inclusion e-Learning Program that will launch in February 2014, focused on ESPN's Diversity & Inclusion Efforts (Workforce, Workplace, Marketplace).

"Diversity & Inclusion Employee Calendar scheduled to launch in January providing additional awareness and education opportunities."


2. Unity Is Dead, Co-Founders Say

Will Sutton and Juan González, the two men credited with the idea for the coalition of journalists-of-color associations, said the Unity organization that sprang from their efforts is dead.


The National Association of Hispanic Journalists left the coalition now known as Unity: Journalists for Diversity in October, following the 2011 departure of the National Association of Black Journalists. Both associations cited financial and governance issues.

Remaining are the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, which was invited to join after NABJ left.


In December, the remaining members of the coalition announced that they were planning a caucus on diversity issues for spring 2014, bringing together journalism industry leaders to develop training to diversify news coverage. They are resuming their search for a permanent executive director.

NAHJ and NABJ, meanwhile, are discussing holding a joint convention in 2016. 

3. A Resilient Roland Martin

Roland Martin, the TV One host whose six years as a CNN commentator ended in the spring, told the National Association of Black Journalists' August convention that larger is not always better and that a lot of journalists are impressed "with the largest of the companies on our business card, without realizing they are providing us limited opportunities."


Martin, who was accepting the 2013 Journalist of the Year award from NABJ, takes his own advice. In October, Martin began a live, one-hour weekday news/public affairs show for the TVOne cable channel as part of a multiplatform news offering from the network's parent company, Radio One. Martin also continues a daily segment on the syndicated "Tom Joyner Morning Show" on radio and, in print, writes a weekly column for Creators Syndicate.

Similarly, Soledad O'Brien left CNN, where she hosted a morning show and such CNN documentaries as "Black in America" and "Latino in America," formed a production company that would continue to supply documentaries to CNN and others after she left CNN as an employee.


4. White House Press Corps Fades to White

In September 2010, President Obama called on four black journalists at his White House news conference. "I don't ever recall a time when there were that many of us in the room, let alone posing questions," Sonya Ross, a Washington editor at the Associated Press and a former White House reporter, wrote at the time.


In 2009, this column observed, "Journalists of color found themselves in the rotation of reporters called upon at presidential news conferences, though Hazel Trice Edney of the National Newspaper Publishers Association initially complained that members of the black press felt they were being treated as 'window dressing.' Obama was granting so many interviews that some said he risked becoming 'overexposed.' Groups of black and Latino journalists were on the list of those given access, although reporters of color grumbled that it was more limited than it appeared."

But in Obama's final news conference of 2013, no journalists of color were called upon. Hardly any were in evidence. Of the seven seats in the front row for the news conference, five were filled with white men. Darlene Superville of the Associated Press and April D. Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks were on vacation. Dan Lothian of CNN had resigned. Helene Cooper of the New York Times was on book leave. News organizations' perceived need to assign journalists of color to the nation's first black president had dissipated.


At an April forum at George Washington University on "Race and the Race for the Presidency," New York University associate professor Charlton McIlwain argued for a diverse reporting pool: "If we can't count on someone asking the questions that need to be asked, then we're losing out."

Two areas that critics say suffered from a lack of diverse questioners were income inequality issues and the year's most explosive domestic issue, the president's health-care plan, though these were not solely the province of White House reporters.


In September, a stunning 91 percent of the black Americans who responded to a Pew Research survey of 1,506 people conducted with USA Today said they approved of the Affordable Care Act, while only 29 percent of whites did. This sentiment was rarely reflected in news coverage.

The New York Times reported in October that not all African Americans were benefiting. "A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help, according to an analysis of census data by The New York Times."


At a December conference of the Trotter Group, a small band of African American columnists, speakers from left and right criticized news coverage of the Affordable Care Act as superficial.

AP, NPR Curb Use of "Obamacare" Term (Oct. 2)

Paul Farhi, Washington Post: The Obama media pool lacks racial depth (July 25)

Fox Followed Advice to Use Loaded Health-Care Phrases (Oct. 7)

Health-Care Snafu Overshadows Cuts in Aid to Poor (Nov. 6)

Study Details Negative Network Coverage of Health Care Act (Dec. 11)

5. Essence Editor Speaks Out After Firing

In March, Constance C.R. White disclosed that her departure as editor-in-chief of Essence magazine was involuntary and the result of repeated clashes with Martha Nelson, the editor-in-chief of Time Inc. who White said sought to limit the way black women were portrayed. White's interview with Journal-isms resulted in the most-viewed "Journal-isms" column of the year.


Vanessa K. Bush, named acting managing editor after White's dismissal, won the top job in July.

In the October issue, Bush articulated a theme that White had also embraced during her tenure. She urged black women not to be defined by "mainstream media images. When we treasure our unique selves — our hair, nose, lips, bosoms and hips — we begin to embrace our own beauty. . . ."


Asked what she is doing now, White told Journal-isms by email, "I will launch my own fashion website. I am working through the holiday to meet my deadline for a book celebrating the style of African American women. It will be out in February. I am a consulting editor on a new Silicon Valley start up."

Meanwhile, Black Enterprise, like Essence founded in the aftermath of the upheavals of the 1960s, announced in March that it was cutting its print editions from 12 to 10 issues a year as it shifted to an emphasis on its online editions. The decision reduced its advertising revenue. Figures from the Publishers Information Bureau for the first nine months of the year showed Black Enterprise was down 46.1 percent in its print edition advertising pages. (The number of issues in the measuring period went from nine in 2012 to five in 2013).


6. Media Consolidation Erodes Minority Ownership

Sounding an alarm, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters said in August, "The trade press has reported a number of big transactions in recent weeks, but we see virtually no African American or other minority buyers. Instead, the station trading picture looks much like it did in 1978, before the FCC established the minority tax certificate," an incentive to sell broadcast outlets to people of color.


"In radio, within the past year, no less than 20 radio stations that were owned by African Americans were forced into bankruptcy by their lenders and have subsequently been sold to non-minority purchasers. The failure of these lenders to reach out to minority purchasers, particularly in light of the anemic pace for sales to minorities in general, suggests that radio has regressed back to the pre-1978 days, when minorities were never given an opportunity to participate as station owners. The potential impact on the African American community cannot be overstated. We are losing our voices, sale by sale.

"Now, the television trading market has become red-hot, but no Black companies are showing up as buyers in the television trading frenzy either . . . " [PDF]


In December, a judge approved a plan under which three remaining TV stations owned by African American brothers Michael and Steven Roberts of Roberts Broadcasting would be placed in a trust, with ION Media Networks, Inc., an independent television company, as the beneficiary of the trust. The affected Roberts stations are in St. Louis; Evansville, Ind.; and Columbia, S.C. "We just experienced a shameful milestone in the history of U.S. media — and barely anyone noticed," wrote Joseph Torres and S. Derek Turner of the media advocacy group Free Press. "There are now zero black-owned and operated full-power TV stations in our country."

The Free Press statement did not count noncommercial stations or the purchase this year of two television stations by commentator and entrepreneur Armstrong Williams, asserting that Williams operates a shell company for Sinclair Broadcasting. Williams, who bought the stations from Sinclair, now the nation's largest television-station owner, insists that he does own and operate the stations, and said he also plans to acquire WMMP-TV in Charleston, S.C., from Sinclair.


Either way, the ownership picture is dire. David Honig, founder of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, explained for Journal-isms in July, "In the 1990s, the [Federal Communications Commission's] media ownership rules were relaxed, allowing combinations of two television stations in the same market. More recently, through 'shared services agreements' and other ruses, one company can essentially control three TV stations in the same market. Although there are exceptions, most of these arrangements have been anticompetitive and have diminished diversity. A new entrant doesn't stand a chance securing financing to compete against such a combination.

"Dozens of highly skilled minority and women broadcasters and entrepreneurs are capable of owning and operating television stations. But without access to capital, access to spectrum and access to opportunity, they are walled out of the world's most influential industry.


"The FCC has failed miserably to cure this. Minority exclusion in an industry whose backbone is public property is unconscionable and fixing that should be the FCC's top priority. . . ."

Rapper and producer Sean 'Diddy' Combs, director Robert Rodriguez and basketball legend Magic Johnson each now has his own new cable TV network, part of a merger deal that Comcast made with the FCC in acquiring NBCUniversal. However, none of these networks is producing news programs, and unlike physical broadcast stations, are not tangible assets. Soul of the South network, which promised original programming and does feature a daily newscast, debuted on May 27 with limited distribution.


7. The Numbers

The annual diversity census from the American Society of News Editors showed that of 38,000 newsroom employees in newspaper and online operations, 12.37 percent were journalists of color, down from a high of 13.87 percent in the 2006 survey but up from 12.32 the previous year.


The racial breakdown was 141 American Indians, or 0.4 percent, up from 0.3 percent; 1,165 Asian Americans, or 3.1 percent, up from 2.9 percent; 1,791 blacks, or 4.7 percent, up from 4.6 percent; 1,518 Hispanics, or 4 percent, down from 4.1 percent; 100 multiracial, or 0.3 percent, down from 0.4 percent; and 33,267 whites, or 87.6 percent, down from 87.7 percent.

In July, the latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found virtually no change in the percentage of minorities in local TV news from the previous year. Radio numbers were down overall, Bob Papper reported for the Radio Television Digital News Association.


In sports journalism, "the grade for racial hiring practices for APSE newspapers and websites last year remained a C+, the same as in 2010," Richard E. Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, reported for Associated Press Sports Editors in February. Lapchick, who is white, also said, "if you look like me, you have a great chance for upward mobility in the sports departments of newspapers and dot-coms in the United States and Canada. If you are a woman or person of color, even in 2013, your chances are extremely limited."

The gap between the abilities of white graduates and those of color to find jobs in communications persisted. "Minority graduates in 2012 had a more difficult time in the job market than did graduates who were not members of racial and ethnic minorities [PDF, Page 4]," according to the annual survey of the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. "The gap has been persistent across time and was nearly at the same level as a year earlier. . . . Bachelor's degree recipients who are members of racial or ethnic minority groups and found a job once again were much less likely to have found that job in communication than were those bachelor's degree recipients who were not members of minority groups. . . ."


8. Al Jazeera America, Fusion, ABC, MSNBC Are Bright Spots

When Al Jazeera announced in January that it had bought Current TV, which later would be rebranded as Al Jazeera America, hopes were high for job-seeking journalists of all colors. As with its siblings Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera English, the new channel would be a serious one that would eschew fluff and crowd-pleasing but insubstantial features.


The network delivered, hiring Kim Bondy, an ex-CNN producer; former CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien; former "PBS NewsHour" correspondent Ray Suarez; veteran CBS reporter Randall Pinkston; Julio Ricardo Varela, founder of the site Latino Rebels; veteran sports journalist Neal Scarbrough, senior executive producer for sports programming; sports anchor Michael Eaves and sports anchor/reporters John Henry Smith and Ross Shimabuku, among others.

But viewers did not follow. "The ratings are so low, they are considered a 'scratch' and aren't reported by Nielsen," the New York Post's Claire Atkinson reported in November. But as Alex Kantrowitz reported in December for BuzzFeed, "With the deep pockets of Qatar providing financial support, commercial success is not a primary concern for the network."


Meanwhile, Fusion, a joint project of ABC News and Univision, targeted millennials with hard news, news satire, sports and commentary in English. It, too, meant jobs. "In applying for a $3.5 million job-creation grant last year from Miami-Dade County," Fusion "promised to create 346 new jobs over the next five years — 201 in 2013 — in addition to retaining 137 jobs in the county," Veronica Villafañe recalled in March for TVNewsCheck. "The new jobs would have an average salary of $81,000." David Ford, a spokesman for the network, told Journal-isms on Monday that Fusion has a staff of approximately 200, with the majority based in Miami. It also uses staffers from its parent companies.

Still, Jordan Chariton reported in November for MediaBistro that Fusion was not in enough homes to be publicly rated by Nielsen.


Moreover, its Oct. 28 launch was marred by the absence of dark-skinned Latinos, which earned it a reminder from Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, for "all media (especially networks [that] solely focus on the Latino community) to be inclusive and reflective of all Latinos."

On the broadcast networks, Byron Pitts jumped from CBS News to ABC News in April as an anchor and its chief national correspondent, praising ABC as a network where "diversity is as important as it is to me" and leaving one, he told Journal-isms, that has lost half the number of black correspondents it had when he arrived 16 years ago.


Among the cable news networks, MSNBC grew its African American audience by 60.5 percent in 2012 for the Monday-through-Sunday 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. period, Tommy Christopher reported in January for Mediaite.

MSNBC last week called itself the most diverse cable news channel. Monday through Sunday, 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., 30 percent of MSNBC’s 25-54 audience was African American and 7 percent was Hispanic for the year. "2013 is the fourth consecutive year MSNBC primetime is #1 among cable news nets among African-American viewers with both A25-54 and Total viewers," a news release announced.


"MSNBC maintained the most diverse anchor lineup among the big three cable news channels, focusing its coverage on issues of concern to non-white viewers, including the killing of Trayvon Martin and the spread of changes to voting laws that would disproportionally affect people of color," Eric Deggans, television critic for NPR, told Journal-isms by email.

"By giving prime opportunities to commentators such as Toure, Al Sharpton, Melissa Harris-Perry, Tamron Hall, Eugene Robinson and Joy-Ann Reid, the channel gave visibility to some of the sharpest black pundits in cable TV news. The channel's prime time lineup remains devoid of an anchor of color, but MSNBC reflects the nation's growing diversity much better than its competitors CNN and Fox News Channel."


9. Passing of Diversity Heroes

Allen H. Neuharth, who led the newspaper industry in championing diversity as founder of USA Today and leader of the Gannett Co.; John Dotson Jr., a former publisher of the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal and co-founder of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education; and Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times critic who encouraged inclusiveness in film, were among the diversity heroes who died in 2013.


Noteworthy deaths included:

Brenda Box, 58, radio journalist (March 6)

Rep. Cardiss Collins, 81, D-Ill. (Feb. 6)

Ellsworth Davis, 86, first black photographer at the Washington Post (Aug. 19)

Preston Davis, 63, first black president of an ABC-TV division (April 19)

John Dotson Jr., 76, news industry leader (June 22)

Lynne Duke, 56, former Washington Post reporter/editor (April 19); memorial service (May 15)


Roger Ebert, 70, America's best-known film critic (April 5)

Frank L. Fouce, 85, impresario who helped launch a Univision precursor (Oct. 2)


Hugh Grannum, 72, photographer who captured Detroit (Jan. 11)

James Hawkins, 64, former journalism dean at Florida A&M University (May 27)

Felix Hoover, 63, retired Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch reporter (May 22)

Hans Massaquoi, 87, former managing editor of Ebony who grew up among Nazis (Jan. 21)


Allen H. Neuharth, 89, retired Gannett Co. CEO (April 19) ; memorial service (May 15)

Dolores Prida, 69, advice columnist, trailblazer (Jan. 23)

Raul Ramirez, 67, reporter, editor and educator (Nov. 15)

Elaine Rivera, wrote about underdogs, 54 (Oct. 28); memorial service (Dec. 9)

Layhmond Robinson Jr., 88, pioneer black journalist (July 12)

Raymond Rodriguez, 87, revealed Latino deportations (July 8)

Sheila Stewart, 42, Radio One news and public affairs director (Oct. 25)

Bob Teague, 84, pioneer TV newsman (March 29)

Helen Thomas, 92, longtime White House correspondent (July 19); tribute (July 22)


Lee Thornton, 71, pioneer journalist, professor (Sept. 27); memorial service (Oct. 25)

Darlene Brindle Waties, 51, designed "feisty pages" (Sept. 16)

Teshima Walker, 44, NPR producer and "sistergirl" (Aug. 16)

10. FAMU, Grambling, Morgan State Put Spotlight on HBCU Journalism

"Though they granted only 6.9% of the total undergraduate degrees in journalism and mass communication in academic year 2000-2001, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the members of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities granted 31.4% of the degrees to African-Americans and 31.1% of the degrees to Hispanics," according to the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.


The figures might be more than a decade old, but the importance of HBCUs to the diversity pipeline remains. That's more than enough reason for the attention paid to press freedom issues at Florida A&M and Grambling State universities and the Oct. 3 opening of the new School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University.

At FAMU, the student newspaper the Famuan reappeared in January after the school administration ordered a "delay" in publication in mid-month while students received additional training. Such organizations as the Society of Professional Journalists and the Student Press Law Center were critical of the delay, asking why the Famuan could not have continued publication while the students received the training.


Two student editors were suspended at the Gramblinite in October after one circulated a photo of mildewed facilities at the school that illustrated physical deterioration that led to student protests. "It's disturbing if non-student Grambling employees are firing or suspending student journalists for what they decide to publish, particularly on social media," Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, told Journal-isms at the time.

The National Association of Black Journalists announced Oct. 22 that it would convene a Student Media Council "to further examine the relationship between student journalists and administrators, explore how to increase independence and improve the state of student media and continue to raise awareness on these issues."


NABJ President Bob Butler told Journal-isms on Monday, "There is still interest in creating the student council and we hope to get it established in 2014."

In a more upbeat development, Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication, led by DeWayne Wickham, USA Today columnist, held its grand opening, describing itself as "the nation's only historically black school or college with its primary mission to train the next generation of journalists and mass communicators to compete in a global environment." In November, the school launched "Morgan Global Journalism Review," "a quarterly e-magazine that examines media, communication and information technology on the international stage."


Gracie Lawson-Borders Named Dean at Howard U. (April 24) 

Morehouse Maroon Tiger publishes "The Body Issue" (Nov. 1)

Prime Movers High School Program Ending After Nine Years (April 22)

Most Popular "Journal-isms" Columns of 2013

Source: Google Analytics

1. Essence Editor Says She Was Fired (March 8)

2. Roland Martin Out at CNN (March 19)

3. Boston Suspects Darkened for Magazine Cover (May 3)

4. Black Enterprise Takes 35% Advertising Hit (April 10)

5. Constance White, 2 More Essence Editors Out (Feb. 8)

6. Victorious Zimmerman Team Blasts Media (July 14)

7. CNN Shuts Down Roland Martin Early (March 22)

8. A Journalism Fail (Nov. 15)

9. FAMU's Student Editor Ousted (Jan. 23)

10. "Worst of the Worst" Are All Black Men (Nov. 25)

Follow Richard Prince on Twitter.

Facebook users: "Like" "Richard Prince’s Journal-isms" on Facebook.

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