Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2010

Shirley Sherrod
Shirley Sherrod

1. Jobs Open Up on Internet

Tim Armstrong, the CEO of AOL, made the startling statement in May that his company employed 4,000 journalists, 3,500 of whom were part-time or freelance.


"That's pretty decent growth in a matter of six months," Leena Rao wrote then on TechCrunch.com. "Of course, AOL has launched a number of content initiatives, including buying hyperlocal news site Patch and launching content machine Seed.com. Armstrong says that AOL is really 'taking local to a local level.' Patch is now in 53 markets in 5 states, including Connecticut and California. And it's been reported that AOL will pour $50 million into Patch this year and plans to roll out the model to 'hundreds' of communities in the future."

By December, Patch launched its 500th site. Hyperlocal coverage on the Web was a leading trending topic for the news business this year. In Washington, TBD launched a hyperlocal site with Robert Allbritton's deep pockets, boasting a network of more than 130 local blogs and websites.

On Long Island, N.Y., Newsday, which changed owners and undertook a series of layoffs, said in August it would grow its hyperlocal coverage and hire 34 journalists. USA Today said the same month that it would cut 9 percent of its staff but shift its emphasis to mobile. Bloomberg started hiring for a niche operation, Bloomberg Government, described by the New York Times as "an information behemoth — a news aggregator, government contract database, Congressional staff directory and source for policy research and analysis all in one Web site."

The Daily Beast, led by editor Tina Brown, got a sudden boost when its owner engineered the purchase of the financially ailing Newsweek magazine. Among the combined effort's first hires was Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan.

How diverse these operations are was an open question. Bloomberg, AOL and the Daily Beast refuse to disclose that information, with the latter two declining to participate in the American Society of News Editors survey of online outlets. AOL Patch even issued a statement saying "We do not focus on race or ethnicity in the hiring process," before backtracking.

In any case, there were not yet enough journalism jobs online to match the numbers being pushed out of "legacy" news operations — and more often than not, freelance compensation couldn't approximate a full-time salary.


2. Right-Wing Assault on Mainstream Media

A moment in August was a low point not only for the Obama administration but for the news media: An Agriculture Department deputy undersecretary telephoned the lower-ranking Shirley Sherrod and asked whether Sherrod would be willing to pull over to the side of the road and resign by e-mail. The administration wanted to act before a maliciously edited video of a speech Sherrod gave gained "traction" in the media.


Sherrod was the rural development director for the Agriculture Department's state office in Georgia. Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a video edited to make it look as though Sherrod, who is African American with a deep civil rights background, admitted antipathy toward a white farmer. The White House — and the NAACP — were so afraid of the reaction on Fox News and other outlets that neither bothered to view the entire video.

The episode occurred in an environment where right-wingers with an agenda have set their targets on the news media and scored victories obtained by questionable means — from edited video sound bites of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright during the 2008 presidential race to the successful campaign to discredit ACORN, the agency designed to help low-income people.


ABC News got burned when it agreed to add Breitbart to its midterm election coverage.

In September, Forbes magazine ran a cover piece by Dinesh D'Souza, a conservative pundit, saying that in his policies Obama is essentially channeling the soul of his late Kenyan-born father, an African 'tribesman of the 1950s' ," Christopher Weber wrote for Politics Daily. On her National Public Radio show, host Diane Rehm said, "nothing has turned my stomach in recent years as reading that piece."


The Washington Post joined in, with Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt explaining, "I thought Post readers, many of whom may not read Forbes magazine, might welcome a chance to read and evaluate for themselves what D'Souza is saying," an opportunity not afforded, say, the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan, who has likewise been the subject of op-ed discussion.

Some editorial page editors acknowledged that they run columns by conservatives that they know are intellectually dishonest because readers want them. They said they depend on a countervailing argument surfacing that will provide "balance."


Liberal Post columnist E.J. Dionne pleaded, "The mainstream media and the Obama administration must stop cowering before a right wing that has persistently forced its propaganda to be accepted as news by convincing traditional journalists that 'fairness' requires treating extremist rants as 'one side of the story.' "

In September, Politico reported that four potential GOP presidential candidates were on the Fox News payroll.


In December, WorldPublicOpinion.org, a project that is managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that regular viewers of the Fox News Channel were significantly more likely to believe untruths about the Democratic health care overhaul, climate change and other subjects.

3. Renewed Determination at Johnson Publishing Co.

The magic moment might have come in June, when Amy DuBois Barnett, deputy editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar magazine and former editor of Honey,was named editor-in-chief of Ebony magazine.


"I have no plans to sell the company. None,' said Linda Johnson Rice, Johnson Publishing Co. chairman and CEO. "I'm really excited about Amy now. That's my main concentration now," Rice told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Then, in August, Johnson named Desirée Rogers, the former White House social secretary, chief executive officer of the company.


By October, the New York Times was quoting Vogue editor Anna Wintour saying of Rogers’ prospects as a magazine executive, "Desirée is a rock star."

The new attitude from Rice came after months of commentary contending that her magazines, Ebony and Jet, were becoming an anachronism and speculation that she had lost interest in the company founded six decades ago by her parents, John H. Johnson and Eunice W. Johnson.


In February came reports that Earvin "Magic" Johnson was in talks to buy the company, then confirmation from the Basketball Hall of Famer that an affiliate of his Magic Johnson Enterprises and Johnson Publishing Co. "were unable to reach a definitive agreement."

March brought word that the traveling Ebony Fashion Fair, which had already suspended its fall production, was canceling its spring show, citing the Jan. 3 death of Eunice W. Johnson, the show's 93-year-old creator.


Rogers said she planned to reach out to historically black colleges, sororities, fraternities and churches to help reverse the circulation slides.

Personnel changed. For senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Rogers brought in Rodrigo A. Sierra, who had worked with Rogers at Peoples Gas in Chicago when she headed that company and was a board member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in the early 1990s. Eric Easter, who joined the company in 2007 as chief of digital strategies, left in the fall, as did Wendy E. Parks, who led corporate communications. Mira Lowe, editor-in-chief of Jet magazine, announced her resignation in December.


In November came the biggest surprise: Johnson Publishing sold its historic building on Chicago's Michigan Avenue to Columbia College Chicago. The beginning of 2011 should see a new strategy for the company, Sierra said in the fall.

Ebony and Jet missed their "rate base" — the circulation guaranteed advertisers — for the second half of 2009 and the first half of 2010. Rogers vowed to return the publications to their rate bases in the new year.


4. Say What? You're Fired: Williams, Sanchez, Thomas

In what seemed like hair-trigger responses to statements they made that threatened to cause an uproar, Juan Williams was fired by NPR, Rick Sanchez was ousted at CNN and Helen Thomas, 89-year-old White House correspondent-turned-Hearst News Service correspondent, hastily retired.


Octavia Nasr, CNN's senior editor of Middle East affairs, was fired July 7 after she published a Twitter message saying, "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot." Fadlallah was "one of the most prominent Lebanese Shiite spiritual leaders who was involved in the founding of the Hezbollah militia," in the words of New York Times columnist Thomas W. Friedman, who wrote that Nasr "deserved some slack."

The Williams case provoked the longest and loudest uproar. NPR fired him Oct. 20 as a senior news analyst under contract after comments the pundit made two nights earlier on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" that Muslims dressed in Muslim garb on planes made him nervous.


Williams' roles as senior analyst on NPR and commentator on Fox News Channel did not always mesh well. Conservatives who leaped to Williams' defense threatened NPR's limited government funding. Williams lashed back at NPR in media appearances. The network's CEO, Vivian Schiller, acknowledged that she bungled the dismissal, and black NPR employees tied Williams' departure to their diversity concerns.

Fox News Chief Executive Roger Ailes rewarded Williams with a new three-year contract in a deal that amounts to nearly $2 million. Williams' booking agent said the demand for speaking engagements had become unprecedented; and Williams signed a two-book contract with Crown Publishers.


At year's end, a legal firm retained by NPR was revisiting NPR's handling of the affair, and the Washington Post's Paul Farhi reported that "after an initial flurry of mostly angry e-mails and calls in the wake of the Oct. 20 firing of Williams, the controversy waned quickly and has all but disappeared, station managers say."

Sanchez's problems stemmed from a Sept. 30 interview on Pete Dominick's Sirius XM Radio show. While asserting a glass ceiling for Latino journalists at CNN, Sanchez went on to disparage late-night comedian Jon Stewart, who had made fun of Sanchez. He called Stewart a "bigot" with a privileged worldview — later changing the term to "uninformed" — and added, "I’m telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they — the people in this country who are Jewish — are an oppressed minority? Yeah.' "


Sanchez later told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that his comments were wrong and offensive but added that "I went into the interview with a chip on my shoulder" because of the lack of Hispanics, Asian Americans or African Americans hosting prime-time news shows on the mainstream cable networks. He praised CNN but did not get his job back.

Rabbi David Nesenoff, an independent filmmaker from Long Island, said he approached Thomas outside the White House after being there for Jewish Heritage Day on May 27. He asked whether she had any comments on Israel. "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," she replied. "Remember, these people are occupied, and it's their land. It's not Germany, it's not Poland," she continued. Asked where they should go, she answered, "They should go home."


"Where's home?" Nesenoff asked.

"Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else," Thomas replied.

In a telephone interview, three of Thomas' sisters told Journal-isms that Thomas was not calling for the destruction of Israel or the return of all Israelis to Europe or the United States, as was the running narrative, but was expressing her opposition to the disputed Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, occupied by European settlers.


Thomas apologized and remained largely out of sight before resurfacing in December at Wayne State University in Detroit. She said there that "Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists. No question, in my opinion. They put their money where their mouth is. … We're being pushed into a wrong direction in every way." The university pulled her name from its Spirit of Diversity award.

In October, Nasr launched Bridges Media Consulting, "to reflect what I've done in my career so far and serve as my platform to carry on making a difference in our world," she wrote on her website.


5. Comcast's Expected Takeover of NBCU

NBC and Comcast promised people of color several goodies over the year as they sought approval for Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal.


The Federal Communications Commission chairman, Julius Genachowski, signaled his approval of the acquisition in December but said it will come with conditions.

The merger has divided organizations of color. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists opposed it in April, saying that "this massive media consolidation will lead to fewer journalism jobs, less coverage of the Latino community, less diversity of voices, and excessive control for one company over the country's media."


Other organizations of color endorsed the deal after hearing some of the promises.

Among them:

  • Comcast Corp. will add four cable networks owned, or partly owned, by African Americans over the next eight years, as well as a new English-language channel aimed at Asian Americans.

  • An NBCU commitment to increase news and information choices for Hispanic viewers, including a plan to work with an independent producer on a weekly business news program.

  • "Comcast will add a Hispanic to its corporate board within two years."

  • Comcast promised to add at least three independent cable networks with 'substantial [minority] ownership interest' over the next three years; to establish four external advisory councils, one each for representatives of the African American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander communities, and another for 'other diverse communities,' and to spend at least $7 million more on advertising in minority-owned media next year.

  • NBC promised in February that " 'Meet the Press' is committed to having a more diverse group of voices on the show whose opinions and expertise reflect, not just the news of the day, but the cultural, economical and political landscape of our country."
  • 6. Blacks Down, Asians Up in Newspaper Newsrooms

"American daily newspapers lost another 5,200 jobs last year bringing the total loss of journalists since 2007 to 13,500," the American Society of News Editors reported in April in its annual diversity census of newspapers and online operations. "Since 2001, American newsrooms have lost more than 25 percent of their full-time staffers. . . .


"Overall, the percentage of minorities in newsrooms totaled 13.26 percent, a decline of .15 percentage points from a year ago," ASNE reported.

"But there were 929 fewer black journalists in the 2010 survey than were recorded in 2001, a drop of 31.5 percent. The number of Native American journalists dropped by 52, or 20.9 percent in the same period. Hispanic representation declined by 145, or 7 percent. The number of white journalists fell by 10,400, or 20.9 percent.


"However, the number of Asian American journalists increased by 57, or 4.4 percent, according to the survey, in which news organizations report their own figures."

Reporting on local broadcast newsrooms, "The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey finds that the percentage of minority news directors rose in both television and radio," the Radio Television Digital News Association found in September. "But those were nearly the only positive numbers in the survey. Overall, the percentage of minorities in both radio and television fell for the third straight year, although the drop in TV was small."


Among those laid off were Ruben Navarrette, editorial writer and columnist at the San Diego Union-Tribune; Hattie Kaufman, the first and only Native American on network news; Ron Rogers of the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune, who was believed to be the only African American full-time editorial cartoonist at a daily newspaper; Don Hudson, managing editor of Gannett's Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., and Rod Richardson, who held the same title at Gannett's the Times in Shreveport, La.

In addition, Everett J. Mitchell II left as editor of Gannett's Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, N.J., in March and Garry D. Howard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the last remaining African American editing the sports section of a mainstream daily newspaper, became editor-in-chief of the weekly Sporting News. Editor Angela Burt-Murray left Essence magazine, science reporter Brenda Wilson and NPR parted ways after 31 years and Mimi Valdés, former editor of Vibe and Latina magazines, left Black Entertainment Television after only three months. She was BET's vice president for content, supervising BET.com.


Two high-profile sports columnists left newspapers: Michael Wilbon departed the Washington Post after 32 years to devote more time to his duties at ESPN; and Jason Whitlock quit the Kansas City Star after 16 years for more work at FoxSports.com, staging a rambling LeBron James-style radio show called "The Explanation" in which he blasted the Star.

Promotions went to Mark Russell, who was named editor of the Orlando Sentinel; Debra Adams Simmons, appointed editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland; Aminda "Mindy" Marques Gonzalez became executive editor of the Miami Herald; and Sharon Prill, general manager of JSOnline.com, website of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was named publisher of the Yakima (Wash.) Herald-Republic, owned by the Seattle Times.


The new owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News kept Michael Days as editor of the Daily News, though Inquirer Editor William K. Marimow was demoted.

In the professional associations, Milton Coleman, senior editor at the Washington Post, became president of the American Society of News Editors, and Hollis Towns, executive editor of the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey,  rose to lead the Associated Press Managing Editors.


The summer's election of Doris Truong as president of the Asian American Journalists Association, Michele Salcedo as leader of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and Rhonda Levaldo as president of the Native American Journalists Association meant women would lead all five major journalists associations of color. Kathy Y. Times leads the National Association of Black Journalists, and Joanna Hernandez succeeded Barbara Ciara as president of Unity: Journalists of Color.

7. AP Suspends Internship Program

The Associated Press confirmed in December that it was suspending the 26-year-old internship program that has launched the careers of many a successful journalist, but said it would resume the program in 2012.


It added that AP would not attend any of the journalist-of-color conventions next summer.

AP President Tom Curley received appeals to save the program from the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists, as well as from graduates of the intern program.


Separately, Kia Breaux, acting AP bureau chief in Missouri and Kansas, in August was named bureau chief for the two states, becoming the only African American bureau chief at the news cooperative.

AP also named Sonya Ross, former White House correspondent and currently regional news editor in the Washington bureau, to the new position of race/ethnicity/demographics editor.


8. Consumers of Color Big Users of Mobile Phones

If mobile apps are one pillar in the future of news, then consumers of color should be prime targets: "African Americans and Hispanics continue to be among the most avid users of the Internet over their cellphones, the Pew Research Center reported in July. "And low-income groups are the fastest adopters of the mobile Web, showing an opportunity that wireless technology could play in helping to bridge a digital divide that has brought the Web disproportionately to wealthier communities over the past two decades," as Cecilia Kang put it in the Washington Post.


"Drilling down, Hispanics were the biggest users of data applications on their cellphones and laptops."

In August, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that, "Over the last year, the broadband-adoption gap between blacks and whites has been cut nearly in half."


A December Pew study found that African American and Latino Internet users are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as are white Internet users.

But African Americans were far behind on the ownership end.

The private investment research firm CB Insights reported in August that whites were 77 percent of the population but 87 percent of the start-up founders, Asians were 4 percent of the population but 12 percent of the founders, and blacks were 11 percent of the population but 1 percent of the founders. Native Americans barely registered, and "other races" accounted for 7 percent of the population.


Three members of the Federal Communications Commission told an August conference of the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council that minority communications entrepreneurs should be focusing on opportunities in new media.

One black journalist who succeeded entrepreneurially was Mark S. Luckie, recently named national innovations editor at the Washington Post. He sold his blog 10000Words.net, a resource for journalists and Web and technology enthusiasts, to WebMediaBrands Inc., owner of the Mediabistro blog network.


9. Haiti Earthquake

Fully 61 percent of African Americans said they or someone in their household had made a donation to help victims of the Haiti earthquake, while another 27 percent planned to give, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reported in January.


Haiti, already the Western Hemisphere's most destitute nation, was shattered by an earthquake on Jan. 12 that killed at least 230,000 and left millions homeless. Crucial reconstruction projects were slow to get started; disease and political instability added to the woes, as the Associated Press reported.

Overall, 52 percent of Americans polled said they or someone in their household had made a donation to help those affected, Pew found in January, including 48 percent of whites who had made a donation and 10 percent who planned to.


The media images prompted early debates. "The images coming out of Haiti are more graphic than those from recent natural disasters, and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's not clear if this reflects the magnitude and proximity of the disaster, or some change in the willingness of newspapers and other media to accurately present the full horror of the earthquake that devastated the desperately poor nation on Tuesday afternoon," Philip Kennicott wrote in the Washington Post.

Media groups and American journalists, especially those of Haitian background, raised money and visited the island to see how they could help.


A telethon airing simultaneously on more than 25 American broadcast, cable, radio and Internet outlets was quickly put together by George Clooney and MTV Networks, along with the help of others. It raised $58 million, according to reports at the time.

The heart-wrenching catastrophe spawned such pledges as this one by Karl Rodney, publisher of the New York Carib News and chairman of the black press' NNPA Foundation Haitian Project:

"The story of Haiti is the story that the Black Press must own and the Black Press must tell because Haiti is the first Democratic country in the Western Hemisphere, the first Black republic for over 200 years."


The American news industry had responded with plans to help Haiti's journalists, devastated by the quake like other Haitian citizens, to tell their own stories.

Joe Oglesby, the retired editorial page editor at the Miami Herald, was picked to head this Haiti News Project.


At year's end, "Two major disasters — the earthquake in Haiti and the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico — captured the public’s attention more than any other major stories in 2010, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press reported, though "Americans also kept a consistent eye on the nation’s struggling economy."

10. Deaths

Among the notable deaths among media figures in 2010:

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