Melvin Claxton remembers working on an investigation at the Detroit News that landed a finalist spot in the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2003.
The News looked at "how the failures of Wayne County law enforcement agencies allowed more than 26,000 fugitives to roam the streets of Detroit with little fear of apprehension. It also showed that many of these fugitives continued lives of crime while on the lam," the News summarized at the time.
Most of those fugitives lived among black people, who were terrified and victimized by the criminals in their midst. But Claxton said it was a struggle to persuade News editors to prove through News reporting that authorities were wrong to say these fugitives couldn't be found.
"I understood that most of the people were good people forced to live with criminals," Claxton told Journal-isms by telephone on Friday. "Others felt that these neighborhoods are just crime-ridden. Nobody seemed to care. Nobody felt any urgency to put them [the criminals] away."
As it turned out, some fugitives were hiding in plain sight. Kenneth Everhart, for example, had received a notice for jury duty, the investigation discovered. He had a lawn-cleaning business that ran a quarter-page ad in a local newspaper.
"This is why you need people of color. I might have had a little more concern" in that situation, "had a greater sensibility," said Claxton, who is African American.
"Blacks in the newsroom need to be part of those discussions and part of those projects. It's not all skills."
Claxton's work at the Virgin Island Daily News won the newspaper the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 1995, and he has been honored 10 times by the Associated Press Managing Editors. Claxton left the business in 2007 and formed a video-game company with his sons, he said, after becoming disillusioned by a trend he detected that valued less substance and more fluff.
Yet he keeps in touch with his investigative journalism colleagues. Their concerns deserve a listen in light of the well-deserved attention given Spotlight, the acclaimed movie about the Boston Globe's revelations of sexual abuse by pedophile Roman Cathoic priests. In a coincidence, the Globe's work bested The Detroit News' fugitive series for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for public service.
The Spotlight team, in the movie and in real life, included no people of color. Privately, some journalists of color refer to investigative teams using such language as "exclusive for the white male crowd."
Professional organizations such as Investigative Reporters & Editors are trying to address the problem, as is an innovative program among Georgia colleges, but the pale nature of the Spotlight team is typical of investigative teams at most newspapers, according to journalists in the field. Reasons range from the unglamorous nature of the work to exclusion of journalists of color from the old-boy network.
Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, rose to prominence as an investigative reporter. He shared a Pulitzer for investigative reporting in 1988 when he led a Chicago Tribune team of three in documenting corruption in the Chicago City Council, and he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 in the investigative reporting category while at the Times.
"I was an investigative reporter at three papers," Baquet messaged Journal-isms on Saturday. "I've led teams and been members of teams. I rarely saw other investigative reporters of color at IRE [Investigative Reporters & Editors] and other conferences. I can only guess but [that] most veteran minority reporters opted for politics or other types of projects. Maybe it is because those beats had a more direct impact on the lives of other people of color? I don't know the answer.
"But there is great investigative reporting being done by minorities today. Nikole Hannah-Jones is an investigative reporter. Coates' piece on reparations was certainly investigative," he said, referring to Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic. Hannah-Jones joined the New York Times Magazine from ProPublica last year.
Cheryl W. Thompson, an investigative reporter at the Washington Post who is also an associate professor at George Washington University, says investigative work can be daunting. "I teach at George Washington. There are really few who get it and want to do it for a living," Thompson said by telephone. "It's a different kind of reporting, and you really have to have the stomach for it." Among other skills, it requires patience and determination, the ability to wrest information from those who don't want to provide it, data skills, and critical thinking, reporters said.
Thompson said she joined this subset of reporters because "I had an editor who pushed and pushed me" when she was at the Los Angeles Daily News in the early 1990s. "I got into it and I loved it."
Ginger Thompson, who left the Times for ProPublica, does not believe that lack of supply is the issue. "Of course African Americans are interested in investigative reporting," she messaged. "However I do think we are disproportionately underrepresented in investigative units just the same way — and for the same reasons — that we are underrepresented in most news organizations, particularly in positions of seniority."
Others in the small circle of black investigative reporters say steering has much to do with it.
"I'm sure there are some journalists of color who wouldn't want to go weeks or months without seeing their bylines," Ron Nixon, a specialist in computer-assisted reporting and a correspondent in the Times Washington bureau, messaged. "But I think that's true of many journalists overall, since investigative work means long hours away from family, etc. Plus spending long hours poring over documents and getting doors slammed in your face isn't exactly sexy.
"That being said, I think it boils down to a lack of opportunity, which means in some cases it does mean that editors aren't assigning blacks and others to these teams. Many of them assume that blacks and other journalists of color aren't interested, so they don't ask or encourage.
"But it's also structural in that it's not how we are steered from college throughout our careers. A lot of young black journalists want to be a Stephen A. Smith [or an opinion writer, he added later] rather than a Leon Dash or Les Payne. They also don't know that Dean Baquet or Acel Moore, among others, won Pulitzer Prizes for investigative reporting.
"So the people we are taught to look up to aren't the ones who have done this type of work. Most of my career has been spent as an investigative or projects reporter and most of the people who served as mentors were white. I'm sure a lot of other black journalists who do investigations will have similar stories."
It's also a question of comfort, said an investigative reporter of color who did not want to be named because of the delicacy of the situation.
"The white editor looks over the story and says, 'I'm going to be on the hook for this.' " Do they want to put themselves in that position over a story by a black reporter? "They start to show some incredible bias that wouldn't necessarily exist for other people," this reporter said.
In addition to prying information from sources and public records, investigative reporters must be good negotiators inside the office. They must persuade their editors that the story is important, and then to run it. "You've got to push though their ignorance" sometimes, this reporter said.
In November, as Spotlight was creating buzz, Los Angeles Times Editor Davan Maharaj messaged his newsroom, "We will soon re-establish a team of reporters in Metro focusing on accountability journalism." The team "has not been picked but Davan or I are happy to confirm that diversity is at the forefront of hiring," S. Mitra Kalita, managing editor for editorial strategy, messaged Journal-isms. (Globe "Spotlight" team leader Scott Allen did not respond to emailed requests for comment about the Globe team's diversity.)
Investigative Reporters & Editors is among groups becoming more inclusive of journalists of color, reporters said.
"I’ve been a senior manager overseeing investigations for more than 20 years and I haven't seen much change during that time," Mark Rochester, a veteran investigative reporter who now edits the Herald in Rock Hill, S.C., wrote Journal-isms. "It's frustrating because I believe there are far more journalists of color pursuing professional development and training than ever before."
Yet, Rochester said, "I see their ranks growing significantly as members of Investigative Reporters & Editors, Inc., for example." However, he continued, he sees them "seldom as full-time investigative team members."
Mark Horvit, IRE's executive director, told Journal-isms, "When members sign up for IRE, we ask their gender and race." He added, however, that "more than half don't tell us." Still, its convention in Philadelphia last summer was its most diverse, Horvit said.
On Thursday, District Attorney Robert James of DeKalb County, Ga., announced that he would seek a six-count indictment, including two counts of felony murder, against DeKalb County Police Officer Robert Olsen. If indicted, Olsen would become the first Georgia law enforcement officer in five years — a period that spans 184 cases — to be prosecuted for fatally shooting a civilian last March, Christian Boone reported for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
That's partly the work of the Georgia News Lab, a collaborative investigative reporting initiative that is a partnership among Georgia State University, the University of Georgia, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV. The newspaper and television station are part of Cox Media Group.
The students did research on police-involved shootings in Georgia, director David Armstrong told Journal-isms, as part of an AJC series, "Over the Line: Police Shootings in Georgia" and a counterpart on WSB-TV. Discussing diversity reminds him of the saying, "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it," Armstrong said. Instead, "We said, 'Let's make it rain.' "
Seven of the lab's 12 students are African American, and one is Asian American, Armstrong said. Nine are women.
"If you can't do diversity in Atlanta, you're not trying," he continued. "We want to be a seedbed. We want to bring in more partners, more schools, not just be some little boutique operation." He sees the program as a model and touts it for "what it says about how investigative reporting can go forward."
Now in its second year, the project won a $35,000 microgrant for 2014-15 from the Online News Association's Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. In September, it won the $65,000 grand prize from the same organization. It also received $30,000 from the Cox Media Group for 2015-16, a second $5,000 Gannett Foundation media grant for 2015-16 and $5,000 more from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, also for 2015-16.
In addition, the project won the top prize for student investigative reporting from the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists this year.
As young reporters, Armstrong said, the program's graduates are easier on the budgets of news organizations, they put the news outlets in touch with a younger demographic and, with their diversity, reach new consumers. Those factors inevitably improve the news product.
Officially, according to the project's website, "The Lab's goals are to train young investigative reporters, produce high-quality public service news stories, and bring added diversity to newsrooms. Through this collaboration, university educators and professional journalists train students as real-world watchdog reporters.
"Students from participating schools receive practical, hands-on training, learning to use documents, databases, digital tools and interviews to conduct in-depth investigations of powerful people and institutions. They meet with investigative reporters, government experts, data specialists, multimedia journalists, videographers and other professionals to learn specialized reporting methods and techniques for delivering their stories across platforms. Through this intensive year-long process, the Georgia News Lab hopes to foster a new cohort of investigative journalists who can contribute to their communities by producing in-depth, multimedia reports on issues of significant public interest."
Jill Geisler, Columbia Journalism Review: 10 resolutions for a new year ("9. See Spotlight again")
Susannah Nesmith, Columbia Journalism Review: Investigative reporting is 'still a very white male business' (Sept. 18, 2014)
Marquette University: Marquette College of Communication announces next class of journalists to join O'Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism (April 20)
Shawn McIntosh, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: New investigative partnership offers promise for students, readers (April 13, 2014)
"The New York Police Department will tighten safeguards against illegal surveillance of Muslims in secret investigations of terror threats and install a civilian representative on an advisory committee that reviews the probes under the terms of a settlement of two high-profile civil rights lawsuits, lawyers said Thursday," Tom Hayes reported Thursday for the Associated Press.
"The announcement of a deal came after months of negotiations aimed at formally ending litigation over accusations that the nation's largest police department had cast a shadow over Muslim communities with a covert campaign of religious profiling and illegal spying.
" 'We are committed to strengthening the relationship between our administration and communities of faith so that residents of every background feel respected and protected,' Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
"The suits were among legal actions that followed reports by The Associated Press that revealed how city police infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques and otherwise spied on Muslims as part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks. . . ."
Editorial, Daily News, New York: NYPD settlement with Muslim groups demolishes the big spy lie
Colin Moynihan, New Yorker: A New York City Settlement on Surveillance of Muslims
"For those of you unfamiliar with the organization — which unfortunately may be the case for even media-literate folks — the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) is arguably the largest, oldest, and most historically significant media advocacy organization in the world," Dr. Letrell Crittenden, an assistant professor of communication at Robert Morris University, wrote Thursday for verysmartbrothas.com.
Crittenden delivered a rare public critique of NABJ, written with affection, by a member of the association who calls himself an "NABJ Baby." He is a newly elected board member of the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation.
"Founded 40 years ago in a Washington D.C. hotel, the organization has been on the frontlines for much of its history in challenging racism within the media, both in terms of coverage and the lack of diversity in newsrooms," Crittenden continued. "But in recent years, it has garnered some negative publicity — from even some of its past board members — for its recent decline, notably as it relates to its finances.
"Let me make this clear, before I get accused of spreading dirt. NABJ is a wonderful organization. Its student programming has [jump-started] many careers, including those of Roland Martin and Wesley Lowery. It has, in the past, acted as a strong advocate against racism within the press. Remember Don Imus, the old bigot who thought it was funny to call the Rutgers Women's Basketball team nappy-headed hoes? He was fired largely because NABJ's leadership at the time, including then-president Bryan Monroe and future president Greg Lee, took the lead on calling for MSNBC and CBS to dump him.
"I too owe a great deal to this organization. I got one of my first internships through one of its conventions. I am also an NABJ Baby, having participated in its summer journalism workshop. I also decided to dedicate my doctoral research to learning more about the organization's rich history. I love NABJ. But the problem is, because of my research, I know it can, and has been a much better organization.
"This is why I was taken aback by recent comments made by Sarah Glover, NABJ' president. In a recent post to the organization's website, Glover — whom I believe will make a great president — said NABJ was a 'thriving' organization. She made the comment to rebut a Huffington Post article that declared the organization could soon close its doors, due to its poor financial situation. Glover was right to call the author out for his suggestion. NABJ isn't closing. Too many people are too invested in it to simply let it die. And Glover has already made some moves to tighten its budget.
"But let's have some real talk. NABJ is not thriving. It's not even close to thriving. It is an organization that is indeed in financial turmoil, and one that has lost much of its prominence due to its inconsistent efforts to engage in media advocacy. . . ."
Crittenden singled out "Journal-isms" as an example of what the NABJ Journal once was and added, "You literally cannot find a period in American history where the opportunities to talk about racist crap in the media corresponded with the ability to talk about racist crap in the media.
". . . Yet NABJ, which was founded to challenge institutional racism within the media, has rarely had a peep to say publicly about any of it, let along take charge of an issue as they did with the Imus Affair. When a Black journalist gets fired, they are all over it. But when the opportunities to talk about something like the hypocrisies laden within the whole [Vanilla ISIS] affair arise, they say nothing. This is what the so-called preeminent media advocacy organization has become today. . . ."
But a South Florida television program that covers the Caribbean aired a story last week about ISIS supporters in that unlikely region.
Zahra Burton's "18 Degrees North," described as a "60 Minutes"-style program focusing on global issues and Caribbean investigations, airs on CW affiliate WSFL-TV in South Florida.
In Episode 4, a Muslim cleric identified as Sheikh Faisal from Trinidad and Tobago is one of several interviewed. "My ambition is to migrate to the Islamic State and to live within the caliphate," he says.
"Hispanicize, the annual weeklong networking conference for Latino trendsetters and newsmakers in journalism, marketing, entertainment and tech entrepreneurship, is getting a big boost for its seventh edition," Rene Rodriguez reported Thursday for the Miami Herald. "NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, Comcast, MSNBC and NBC News have signed on as media partners for the 2016 event, to be held April 4-8 at the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Miami, the companies announced." Rodriguez also wrote that for the first time in Hispanicize’s history, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists will hold a weeklong series of sessions and workshops during the event.
"For the first time, one editor will oversee The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com," Chris Mondics reported Friday for the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Stan Wischnowski will take over as the company's executive editor, Terry Egger, publisher and CEO of Philadelphia Media Network, parent company of the three properties, announced Thursday. William K. Marimow, editor of The Inquirer; Michael Days, editor of the Daily News; and Eric Ulken, who oversees PMN's digital news operations, already were reporting to Wischnowski in his role as vice president of news operations. . . ." Spokeswoman Amy Buckman messaged Journal-isms, "Michael Days remains Editor of the Philadelphia Daily News. He continues to report to Stan. Not really a change."
Soraya N. McDonald, a Washington Post writer who contributed to its arts and entertainment coverage, is leaving the Washington Post to join ESPN's the Undefeated as a senior culture writer, the Post told employees on Friday." The Undefeated is headed by former Post managing editor Kevin Merida. "Soraya first came to the newsroom in 2004, when she was still a student at Howard University, to be a news aide for high school sports," the memo said.
"The Vatican's newspaper has hit out against this week's Charlie Hebdo cover for portraying God as a blood-stained terrorist with a gun and the headline 'The assassin is still at large,' " Tim Chester reported Thursday for Mashable. "The Osservatore Romano said the artwork, on the front of a 32-page issue produced by artists and staffers of the satirical magazine a year after gunmen stormed the office killing nearly a dozen people, disrespected all faiths. . . ." At the Associated Press, " 'We made a determination that showing a caricature of God in this context was just as offensive as showing a caricature of a prophet and hence decided to not to use the cover image,' said Santiago Lyon, AP's vice president and director of photography, in a statement to the Erik Wemple Blog," Wemple reported Thursday for the Washington Post.
Leslie Sanchez, "a political analyst and public opinion researcher specializing in Hispanic-Latino engagement and the women's sector," was one of five new columnists announced Thursday by CQ Roll Call. "Previously she served as executive director of the White House Initiative on Hispanic Education under President George W. Bush. She’s the author of 'You've Come a Long Way, Maybe and Los Republicanos: Why Hispanics and Republicans Need Each Other.' . . ."
"It's a race war off camera at CNN between the broadcasting company's executives and one of its African-American employees, Ruth Styles reported Thursday for dailymail.com. "Dewayne Walker is suing Turner Broadcasting System, Time Warner Inc., CNN and Turner Services Inc. for $50 million for racial discrimination and claims he was retaliated against for filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC] complaint, Daily Mail Online can exclusively reveal. In court documents obtained by Daily Mail Online, Dewayne Walker says he has never been promoted in the thirteen years he's worked for CNN because he is black. . . ." Walker's LinkedIn profile identifies him as manager, integrated marketing at CNN.
"On this NFL Playoff Saturday POTUS' golf partners include the ESPN 'PTI' duo of Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, plus Joe Paulsen," a White House staffer, according to Michael Memoli of the Los Angeles Times, who served Saturday as pool reporter for the traveling White House press corps.