"The Washington Post has pushed out — or is trying to push out — at least thirteen people through layoffs, coerced buyouts or outright dismissal on dubious charges," Fredrick Kunkle, co-chair of the Newspaper Guild unit at the Post, wrote in a memo posted on the Guild website Monday.
"What's more troubling is that more than half of those employees are African-Americans or Latinos.
"The script goes like this: an employee is summoned to a meeting where she hears that 'the bar has been raised.' She is told her work does not meet this supposed new standard. She is handed an envelope with a buyout offer and given a deadline to surrender her job or face disciplinary action because of her allegedly poor performance. She is reminded that disciplinary action progresses from warnings to suspensions and termination.
"Never mind that the people targeted so far have included veteran journalists with years of distinguished service. Or that talk of a 'raised bar' comes as the Post relies more than ever on interns, bloggers, freelancers, readers or comically inexperienced content creators to fill pages. Or that some allegations of poor performance — as documented by the new, pseudoscientific evaluation system and its across-the-board top score of '3' — have included highly subjective and weaselly criticisms such as inserting too many pop culture references in stories. (We are not making this up.)"
The memo points to one of the perennial diversity issues at the Post and elsewhere: retention.
(Full disclosure: This columnist worked at the Post until a 2008 reorganization eliminated his job.)
The 2011 edition of the annual census of the American Society of News Editors found that while 324 journalists of color were hired, 499 departed, but 1,373 whites were hired while only 1,047 left. (PDF).
At the Post, the 2011 figures showed 24.5 percent journalists of color — 7.6 percent Asian American, 12.5 percent black, 4.0 percent Hispanic and 0.4 percent Native American.
But a December 2005 report from a Post newsroom committee on diversity (that followed this meeting) indicated there is more to those figures than first appears. "Each year, the Washington Post spends about $100,000 recruiting talented journalists of color. While those efforts have increased the percentage of minority journalists at the paper in recent years, the Post has failed to keep many of them for the long term," the committee said. "From 1989 through 2003, two of every three minority journalists hired left the newspaper, according to Post management."
Outside the Post, the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education released "Musical Chairs: Minority Hiring in America's Newsrooms" in 1986. It argued that "it is on the battleground of retention that the struggle for full parity" would be won or lost.
"Clearly we have issues," Milton Coleman, senior editor of the Post and the immediate past president of the American Society of News Editors, told Pamela Newkirk this year for a diversity-related piece in the Columbia Journalism Review. "A lot of people are no longer excited about what's happening in the newsroom and left either by choice or by chance. There was the feeling that they were bumping up against glass ceilings, and that the newsrooms they were in were no longer interested in the news they wanted to do. Then on top of it, we have the turn in the news industry."
The note from Kunkle elaborated on reasons Post management gave for the "pushout":
"Other reasons worthy of disciplinary action? Not having enough sources. Not writing more 'impact' stories. Not landing on A1 often enough. One staff writer was given a 30-day production quota as follows: at least one deeply textured A1 story, at least one news feature, profile or takeout worthy of the Metro front or A1, at least three dailies a week and at least three blog posts per week. No mention of a Twitter quota. Yet.
"The reason for all this is, of course, money. The Washington Post lost $6.2 million in the third quarter of 2011. Newspaper circulation continues to skid by roughly 5 percent a year. Advertising revenues dropped 20 percent in print and 13 percent online.
"We know it's tough. But members of the Guild think that the Post's direction is not only unfair, it's unwise. That's why we are calling on the Post to create a committee to address its approach to reducing staff."
Asked to comment, Kris Coratti, the Post's director of communications, said, "Our commitment to diversity extends from hiring to promotion and retention. We do not discuss personnel issues."
"As the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State University shows, reporting on allegations of sex crimes poses a challenge not only to get the story right but to deliver it in language that puts the facts in the proper light," Arthur S. Brisbane, New York Times public editor, wrote on Sunday.
"Some readers, responding to The New York Times's first reports on the case, strongly objected to wording in the articles that, in their view, either underplayed the details or wrongly applied the language of consensual sex to the narrative.
"The objections focused on the most severe of the accusations against Mr. Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach. According to the grand jury report, he subjected a boy estimated to be 10 years old to 'anal intercourse' in locker room showers at the university in 2002.
"Jennifer Crichton, a reader from Manhattan, said The Times's initial article on Nov. 5 missed the mark when it described the testimony of a Penn State graduate assistant about the incident. As The Times put it, he told the grand jury that he saw Mr. Sandusky 'sexually assaulting a boy in the shower.'
" 'Why is this described as "sexual assault" and not as 'rape' "? Ms. Crichton wrote.
" . . . It is common for newspapers to use terms like 'sexual assault' and 'sexual abuse' and 'have sex' when reporting on sex crimes. Perhaps, though, it's time that The Times and other news organizations take another look at the language they use. Victims' advocates echo what the readers told me in their e-mails: language in news media reports — and, for that matter, in the court system itself — consistently underplays the brutality of sex crimes and misapplies terms that imply consent."
* Colbert I. King, Washington Post: Penn State scandal veering off track
* Darryl E. Owens, Orlando Sentinel: Sex-abuse cases also do harm to mentoring
"Ask me to name a television journalist I admire and I won't pause to answer: Ann Curry. I watch her most every morning on NBC's Today," Ana Veciana-Suarez wrote Saturday in the Miami Herald.
"She inspires trust, an essential ingredient in the news biz. She knows what she's doing, and she's worked hard to get where she's at. And in journalism, as in almost every field, experience in the line of fire adds priceless depth and context.
"So why would NBC News hire Chelsea Clinton as a full-time correspondent? There's her marquee name, which admittedly goes a long way in this star-obsessed society. But Clinton is a news neophyte who has spent her life avoiding the media. Yet here she is with a job every broadcaster I know would covet.
". . . I wish Clinton well. I hope she takes this opportunity and runs with it. To their credit, the celebrity progeny who have preceded her haven't had any oops moment yet. Still, most viewers won't be tuning in for the knowledge these quasi-reporters bring to the camera, and it's disingenuous for the network to suggest otherwise.
"NBC may believe it can buy authority by hiring celebrity names, but, like many other media outlets, it confuses expertise with fame, news with entertainment. And the news-consuming public is poorly served by it."
* Michael Calderone, Huffington Post: Chelsea Clinton's Hiring At NBC News Prompts Skeptical Reactions From Media
* John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable: Meghan McCain Joins MSNBC as Contributor
"Still going on.
"Six years ago, a group of Black photographers, inspired by the legacy of the late Pittsburgh Courier photojournalist Charles 'Teenie' Harris, organized to record and celebrate contemporary life in Pittsburgh's African-American communities," Ervin Dyer wrote Monday on the Community Voices section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website.
"Now, that exhibition and collection of images, titled 'Feel Like Going On,' will live on and be expanded in a community blog with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper."
" 'Feel Like Going On' was founded by journalists and former Post-Gazette reporters Ervin Dyer and Monica Haynes. They saw the project as a way to respond to the lack of positive images of Blacks in mainstream newspapers. It was also a way to celebrate the legacy of Mr. Harris — a prolific photographer whose early 20th Century iconic images of celebrities and regular folks earned him a 2005 Hall of Fame honor with the National Association of Black Journalists and whose photography is now garnering national attention in a retrospective of his work at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.
"The 'Feel Like Going On' blog, in addition to showcasing the 40 images that were a part of the original exhibition, will allow a core group of photographers to regularly contribute fine art images, news images, and photographs of life as it unfolds in Black Pittsburgh's churches, communities, workspaces, playgrounds etc."
"As police officers cleared protesters last week from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, the birthplace of Occupy Wall Street, they made sure most reporters were kept blocks away, supposedly for their own protection," Brian Stelter wrote Sunday for the New York Times.
"But in almost every other respect, mainstream news media outlets have been put right in the middle by the movement.
"Newspapers and television networks have been rebuked by media critics for treating the movement as if it were a political campaign or a sideshow — by many liberals for treating the protesters dismissively, and by conservatives, conversely, for taking the protesters too seriously.
"The protesters themselves have also criticized the media — first for ostensibly ignoring the movement and then for marginalizing it.
"Lacking a list of demands or recognized leaders, the Occupy movement has at times perplexed the nation's media outlets. . . ."
* Lewis W. Diuguid, Kansas City Star: Time to get hungry for U.S. poverty solutions
* David Freedlander, PolitickerNY.com: In Light of 'Occupy' Arrests, New Group 'To Monitor NYPD/Press Relations'
* Juan Gonzalez, Daily News, New York: Occupy Wall Street protests aren't over by a long shot
* Douglas C. Lyons, South Florida SunSentinel: The rich continue to get richer; as for the rest of us …
* Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: Occupy: Out of Zuccotti Park and into the streets
* Albor Ruiz, Daily News, New York: Whole world watches city's shameful response to Occupy Wall Street protest
* Lydia Saad, Gallup: Support for "Occupy" Unchanged, but More Criticize Approach
Conflicts between the black middle class and the black poor are rarely a topic for mainstream media discussion, but Erin Aubry Kaplan took on the subject Sunday in a column for the Los Angeles Times:
"In my Inglewood neighborhood, we always tend to keep an eye out for trouble. But few things have occasioned more hand-wringing than the recent arrival of a family whose rent is subsidized by the federal program known as Section 8," it began.
" 'Oh, Lord,' said one neighbor, a stoic, civic-minded, churchgoing woman who looked more unsettled than I'd ever seen her. 'Here we go.' Another neighbor who is also religious and similarly unflappable looked deeply troubled. Standing out on her lawn and surveying the newly occupied corner house as if it were haunted, she only shook her head, as if there were no words to describe this turn of events.
"Both of my neighbors are active stewards of our block club, and one of its functions is delivering a housewarming gift of a plant or flowers to welcome new residents and send an early message of community. No gift was delivered this time, or even discussed.
"While I didn't approve of a rejection of these folks that felt almost preemptive, I also understood. We live in a neighborhood that, though not luxurious, is stable and well maintained, with tidy homes, kids skateboarding, people walking dogs. But it's a mostly black neighborhood, and its residents are keenly aware of how little stands between its aspirations and chaos.
"Poverty makes all homeowners nervous, but black poverty is terrifying, existing on a whole different scale in the American imagination. When it appears in a neighborhood, middle-class people don't think about tolerating it; they just move somewhere else. It is a historical constant that has driven housing patterns in L.A. and other cities for generations.
"Black people are no exception to this kind of flight. My neighbors and I live in Inglewood partly by necessity, partly by choice, but we have the same anxiety about black poverty and its attendant pathologies as people safely ensconced in suburbs. In fact, we have even more because we are so familiar with struggle."
"Matthew VanDyke returned home last week from Libya, arriving at the Baltimore airport still dressed in combat fatigues. 'I went there to support the revolution,' VanDyke declared. 'My family did not know that when I left. You don't tell your mother you're going off to fight a war,' " Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, recounted on Friday.
"What troubles us is that VanDyke told his mother that he was going to Libya to be a journalist. So when he was captured on March 13 near Brega, that's what she told us.
". . . In many parts of the world, journalists who are captured by rebels or governments are accused of being spies. CPJ has condemned government intelligence agencies that use journalists as informants or allow their agents to use journalism as a cover. Even the CIA has pledged not to do this because it recognizes the risk it poses to the work of journalists in conflict zones.
"We do not know exactly what VanDyke told his captors. He did not respond to our emailed questions after his release. Still, the next time a journalist is captured and swears that he is not a spy his captors may be more skeptical. And they may be less inclined to believe CPJ or other press freedom organizations because of the example posed by VanDyke.
"VanDyke told reporter Bruce Goldfarb, who interviewed him at the Baltimore airport, that he 'appreciated' the work that CPJ did on his behalf . . . .
"Well, Matthew VanDyke may appreciate us but we don't appreciate him. Pretending to be a journalist in a war zone is not a casual deception. It's a reckless and irresponsible act that greatly increases the risk for reporters covering conflict."
* Associated Press: Matthew VanDyke, American Journalist Who Joined Libyan Rebels Returning To US (Nov. 5)
* Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post: With Gaddafi dead, Matthew VanDyke, who joined Libyan rebels, finally returns to Md. (Nov. 5)
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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (www.mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.