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Journos Press for Diversity in Debates

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Choices Called Out of Step With Today's Demographics

Commission: More Than 60 Journalists Considered

Computer Translator Yields Gaffes at Hartford Courant

WikiLeaks Hero Represses Journalists in Own Country

Village Voice Lays Off NLGJA's "Journalist of the Year"

Jones, Bembry Help Start New Morgan J-Program

Chinese Media Giants Influencing Africa's News

Nigerian Journalists Protest Assaults, Manhandling

Short Takes


Sen. John McCain, D-Aria., and then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., before a single moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS, at  the Sept. 26, 2008, presidential debate at the University of Mississippi. (Credit: Commission on Presidential Debates)

Choices Called Out of Step With Today's Demographics

Since the Commission on Presidential Debates failed to include journalists of color in the upcoming presidential and vice presidential face-offs, Univision has called on President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to participate in a separate forum that the Spanish-language network would sponsor.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists, meanwhile, asked for a meeting with the commission next week, and was joined by the National Association of Black Journalists, its colleagues in the Unity Journalists coalition and even the NAACP and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, an African American think tank, in decrying the lack of debate participants of color.

In a interview with Jeff Bercovici of Forbes magazine, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos explained the kind of questions a Hispanic journalist would be likely to pose. ("When was the last time you saw an undocumented student talking on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN or Fox News?" Ramos asked. "It’s very hard to find their voices, so I don't think they get it yet.")

On, Keli Goff did the same regarding black journalists. Brian Stelter and Michael Shear reported for the New York Times that Gwen Ifill of PBS, a black journalist who moderated the 2008 vice presidential debate, "was livid."

The commission, meanwhile, Friday reasserted its position, saying, "The four journalists chosen to moderate the 2012 debates see their assignment as representing all Americans in choosing topics and questions. The general election debates have always featured issues of national importance that affect all citizens and the Commission's new formats give more time to major issues, which  the moderators will select and announce beforehand in two of the four debates."

A commission spokeswoman did not respond to questions about whether it planned to meet with NAHJ. Neither Clo Ewing, director of constituency press for the Obama campaign, nor Tara Wall, senior communications and coalitions adviser for the Romney campaign, responded to inquiries about the Univision proposal.

The commission announced Monday that the moderators for the four debates will be evenly split between male and female journalists for the first time. They are Jim Lehrer of PBS, Bob Schieffer of CBS, Candy Crowley of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC.

However, it will also be the first time since 1996 that there will be no moderators of color for either a vice presidential or presidential debate.

Randy Falco, CEO of Univision, wrote to the commission Wednesday, saying it had "neglected to have someone speak credibly to the concerns of Hispanics in America," and proposed an additional debate to address issues affecting Hispanics. He offered his anchors, Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, as moderators of such a forum.

The commission replied that ". . . we strongly believe that the four journalists we have named see their assignment as representing all Americans in their choice of topics and questions."

On that night's 6:30 p.m. "Noticiero Univision" newscast, Univision anchor Ramos said, "The commission answered and stated they would not sponsor an additional debate. Therefore Univision network invited President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney to participate in a forum to talk directly to Hispanic voters. Hispanics as a voting group are the fastest growing in the country, and it is estimated that 12 million Latinos will vote in the November presidential election. If you want to give your opinion regarding this issue on Twitter, use the hashtag #DebateUnivision."

NAHJ President Hugo Balta said on Facebook Thursday that "NAHJ (on behalf of our association and the UNITY alliance) has requested a meeting with Janet Brown of the CPD for next week."

On Friday, other journalism organizations and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies weighed in.

"The commission had a chance to embrace the racial kaleidoscope that the American electorate is fast becoming, and chose instead to remain blind to it," Sonya Ross, chair of NABJ's Political Journalism Task Force, said in the NABJ release.

"It is time to end this cyclical charade of treating equally deserving, equally capable journalists of color as if they are invisible, unqualified, or both. I would like to invite the commission, along with leading entities in political media, to join the task force in making a concerted effort to ensure a truly diverse set of presidential debate moderators for 2016."

Speaking for Unity Journalists, the coalition of NAHJ, the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, Unity President Joanna Hernandez said in a release, "The moderators for our presidential debates should reflect the diversity of our nation. The time for this to occur has come and gone."

Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement, "The lack of diversity among this year's debate moderators is representative of the overall lack of diversity in news media. Whether it's as primetime news anchors, debate moderators, or commentators on the influential Sunday morning political talk shows, people of color — and African Americans specifically — are strikingly underrepresented."

Ralph B. Everett, president and CEO of the Joint Center, wrote  Brown to "respectfully ask the Commission to reconsider its approach for selecting moderators.

"We also ask that the Commission take measures to remedy this oversight by adding more debates to the calendar. As such, we ask it to reconsider its decision to deny Univision's request for a forum to be hosted by two of the nation's most respected journalists — Jorge and Maria Elena.

"We further ask the Commission to pursue similar initiatives with other media outlets boasting large audiences of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color. In addition, the Joint Center would be willing to host a town hall with the candidates."

Everett took note of the commission's contention that "[t]he general election debates have always focused on issues of national interest that affect all citizens, including Univision's audience." He responded, "However, it has long been the practice of the television industry to avoid placing people of color in front of the camera for fear of running afoul of such mass market concerns."

The debates were a topic on social media as well. Gloria Sanchez Contreras, a freelance writer and member of NAHJ, wrote on Facebook, "The interesting question here to me is: Can one reporter, of any of race, truly represent ALL Americans? I wonder what the story would be if the CPD had picked four African Americans?"

The commission is co-chaired by Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., who was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1983 to 1989, and Michael D. McCurry, a Democrat who was press secretary to President Bill Clinton from 1995 to 1998.

Commission: More Than 60 Journalists Considered

Janet H. Brown Janet H. Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, forwarded this statement to Journal-isms on Friday:

"The Commission on Presidential Debates is grateful for the interest shown by various organizations in its moderator selection process; this interest underscores the importance of the moderators' role in debates that focus time and attention on the candidates, not on other participants.

"The four journalists chosen to moderate the 2012 debates see their assignment as representing all Americans in choosing topics and questions. The general election debates have always featured issues of national importance that affect all citizens and the Commission's new formats give more time to major issues, which will the moderators will select and announce beforehand in two of the four debates.

"The Commission has reviewed formats and moderators extensively over the last 18 months, and has chosen moderators who have skills particularly suited to the 2012 formats, all of which will be implemented by a single moderator. This review included more than 60 journalists of various backgrounds and experience.

"The choice of a single moderator makes it difficult to accommodate all the groups that have expressed interest in having one of their representatives chosen. But we are confident that these debates will provide valuable information on the issues, devote time to the candidates and their views, and foster a serious discussion of the matters facing voters this fall."

Computer Translator Yields Gaffes at Hartford Courant

Andrew Julien, left, Rick Hancock and Robert Hernandez"Robert Downs reported Thursday about newspapers providing Spanish-language training for their employees, Andrew Beaujon wrote Friday for the Poynter Institute. "Clicking on the words 'Courant en Español' on the Hartford Courant's website, though, opens a portal on a Spanish-language strategy that's unusual for a different reason: The newspaper simply runs its entire site through Google Translate, Beaujon reported.

"The limitations of this approach are immediately apparent to Spanish-speakers. Former Courant columnist Bessy Reyna compiled some of the weird results in July:

" 'The July 12 posts brings these news 'Este mujer Hartford acusado de apuñalar con el hombrepelador de patatas' which literally reads: 'This woman Hartford Accused of stabbing the man with potato peeler.' '"

Asked for comment, Courant Editor Andrew Julien at first said he would forward the request to Rick Hancock, digital platform manager. When Hancock did not respond, he recommended Courant spokeswoman Jennifer Humes, who replied by email, "At this point we have no other comment except what is written on the interstitial page when you click on courant en Espanol."

On that page is this notice:

"As a courtesy to the growing numbers of Spanish speaking readers, The Courant has begun using a free and popular software developed by Google to translate stories into Spanish. However, readers should be aware that due to limitations in the Google software some of the translations of the English headlines and articles don't always translate accurately word-for-word into Spanish.

"In attempt to improve the translation service, Google has included a wiki/crowdsource feature that allows bi-lingual users to write better English translations for each article. Simply hover over a story with your cursor, enter the translation and help write a better English to Spanish translation."

Robert Hernandez, a Web guru who is assistant professor of professional practice at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, wrote on his blog:

"Como una cortesía para The Courant, por demostrando ignorancia y falta de respeto a su propia comunidad, déjeme decir: lo cagaron.

"If you were to translate this using Google Translate, guess what… it would be wrong. Anyone who is bilingual wouldn't be surprised. But they would be surprised in hearing that a news organization would solely depend on using this primitive service as their 'Spanish-language strategy.'

"Sadly, this isn’t a joke: Hartford Courant’s Spanish site is Google Translate . . .

"But, instead of just being disgusted or insulted by The Courant's 'strategy,' let me offer some tips for an actual strategy . . . "

His five points began with "Hire a diverse staff, and in this case, a Spanish speaker. Listen to them. Anyone in their right mind would have told you this was a bad idea."

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa rips a copy of the national daily La Hora in 2011. Correa  has taken an aggressive stance toward the news media. (Credit: El Universo)

A video of President Correa's insults to the news media, put together by Ecuadorean journalists with English translations.

WikiLeaks Hero Represses Journalists in Own Country

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hailed the decision by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa Thursday to grant Assange political asylum, conveniently overlooking what followers of press freedom instantly recognized: Assange "will gradually come to realise that left-wing anti-press actions are just as inimical to freedom as their right-wing equivalent," as Roy Greenslade of Britain's Guardian newspaper wrote.

Carlos Lauría, Americas senior program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, got right to the point:

"The Quito government's decision to grant Julian Assange political asylum comes at a time when freedom of expression is under siege in Ecuador. President Rafael Correa's press freedom record is among the very worst in the Americas, and providing asylum to the WikiLeaks founder won't change the repressive conditions facing Ecuadoran journalists who want to report critically about government policies and practices.

"Research by numerous international human rights defenders — including CPJ, Human Rights Watch, the Ecuadoran press group Fundamedios, and the Organization of American States' special rapporteur for freedom of expression — has concluded that the Correa administration does not brook dissent and is engaged in a campaign to silence its critics in the media."

Britain has said it will not allow Assange safe passage out of the country.

On Pacifica Radio's "Democracy Now!" Friday, hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez uncritically interviewed Jennifer Robinson, London-based legal adviser for Assange, and Daniel Ellsberg, "the most famous whistleblower in the United States."

"I congratulate Ecuador, of course, for standing up to the British Empire here, for insisting that they are not a British colony, and acting as a sovereign state ought to act," Ellsberg said on the show. "And I think they’ve done the right thing. I appreciate what they've done."

The show explained that Ellsberg "leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam" and that on Thursday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Assange would be arrested if he left the embassy, adding that Britain is "under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden."

Goodman went on to quote Assange: "I’m grateful to the Ecuadorean people, President Rafael Correa and his government. It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from persecution, but a courageous, independent Latin American nation. While today is a historic victory, our struggles have just begun. The unprecedented U.S. investigation against WikiLeaks must be stopped."

The BBC explained, "The South American country has said Mr Assange's human rights could be violated if he is sent to Sweden to be questioned over allegations that he sexually assaulted two ex-Wikileaks volunteers in Stockholm in 2010.

"Australian Mr Assange, 41 — whose Wikileaks website has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables embarrassing countries including the US — fears he would then be passed on to authorities there."


Steven Thrasher told the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association: ". . . most insidiously, PR people want to like us and for us to like them. They want us to like the access they offer, which comes at a price. And when the PR people are LGBT, and their client is LGBT, they will prey on our gayness to get us to like them, when we should be critical of whatever or whomever it is they’re trying to sell us." (Video)

Village Voice Lays Off NLGJA's "Journalist of the Year"

Two weeks ago at the Unity '12 convention in Las Vegas, Steven Thrasher accepted Journalist of the Year honors from the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association.

On Friday, Thrasher was among those laid off from the Village Voice, Foster Kamer reported for the New York Observer.

"Thrasher's been with the Voice since 2009, and was recently named the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association Journalist of the Year, 2012," Kamer wrote. "Thrasher's coverage of metro civic stories and LGBT local and national issues (see: Bad Lieutenant, Dan Choi, 'Maybe I Do, Maybe I Don't') have earned him a wide haul of accolades."

Thrasher's bio also lists him as a public radio producer living in Brooklyn. "He once spent a year traveling America for the NPR StoryCorps project, working in some 22 states along the way," it says.

After Unity, Thrasher was among those accused of fueling the false impression that the National Association of Black Journalists had blocked NLGJA from joining the then-Unity: Journalists of Color.

He wrote for the Voice, ". . . [throughout] UNITY, multiple sources told me that though NABJ had not left because of NLGJA, it had been the only organization to vote against NLGJA's inclusion when the group had tried to join before. So it seems like a weird coincidence that once NABJ was gone, NLGJA was able to join. (But, to be absolutely clear: NLGJA was not up for inclusion just prior to the split last year.)"

The passage is misleading because no one organization has the votes to impose its will on the 16-member Unity board. Each association has only four votes.

Thrasher accompanied his story with audio of an interview with NABJ President Gregory H. Lee Jr.

Thrasher included the text of his acceptance speech to NLGJA on his website.

Jones, Bembry Help Start New Morgan J-Program

Jerry Bembry, left, and Jackie Jones Veteran journalists Jackie Jones and Jerry Bembry are among the first hires for the new Department of Communication Studies at Morgan State University being organized by DeWayne Wickham, the USA Today columnist who is department chair.

Wickham is to "provide the leadership to enable Morgan to grow and build a world-class communication and journalism program and lead the University toward the realization of a School of Global Communications and Journalism," according to a June 28 announcement from Morgan State President David Wilson.

"It's a great time to be at Morgan State University," Bembry, a longtime sports journalist who has covered professional basketball for ESPN and the Baltimore Sun, messaged Journal-isms. "DeWayne Wickham is bringing great ideas, and the people on campus are excited about the direction the program is going in as he creates the new School of Communications."

He added, "Just a little background on my relationship with DeWayne: I came to Baltimore in 1985 as a reporter with The Baltimore Sun. In 1987 DeWayne gave me my first professional opportunity as a television reporter on the TV show that he produced, Urban Scene, that aired nationally on BET.

"In the past he's invited me to speak to the students at North Carolina A&T, and I had a first hand look at what he did for that program. I've always had a lot of respect for DeWayne as a journalist and a businessman. I spent the last year working as a senior video producer for the website at WYPR in Baltimore, and I'll be teaching broadcast classes in both radio and TV. I met with DeWayne on Morgan's campus to discuss the position just two weeks after I had surgery for prostate cancer (I wrote about my family's battle with cancer for The Root on May 19). My surgery on July 12 was successful: I'm now cancer-free."

Jones, who has worked at several newspapers, taught at Penn State and is also a career coach, said she will be teaching "Introduction to Media Studies" and "Fundamentals of Media Writing."

"This is an exciting opportunity," Jones said via email. "After seeing what he had done with the program at North Carolina A&T, I jumped at the chance to work with DeWayne Wickham. Morgan State will benefit greatly from his presence and I expect to learn as much, if not more, as I teach. I'm looking forward to getting started."

Chinese Media Giants Influencing Africa's News

". . . At a time when most Western broadcasting and newspaper companies are retrenching, China's state-run news media giants are rapidly expanding in Africa and across the developing world," Andrew Jacobs wrote Thursday from Nairobi, Kenya, for the New York Times. "They are hoping to bolster China’s image and influence around the globe, particularly in regions rich in the natural resources needed to fuel China's powerhouse industries and help feed its immense population.

"The $7 billion campaign, part of a Chinese Communist Party bid to expand the country's soft power, is based in part on the notion that biased Western news media have painted a distorted portrait of China.

“. . . Beijing's bid to provide a counterpoint to Western influence, however, is raising alarms among human rights activists, news media advocates and American officials, who cite a record of censorship that has earned China a reputation as one of the world's most restrictive countries for journalism.

" 'We are engaged in an information war, and we are losing that war,' Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned a Congressional committee last year, citing the growing influence of state-backed outlets like Russia Today and CCTV," a Chinese broadcasting behemoth.

Protesting Nigerian journalists carried signs such as "We fight for the public but nobody fights for us." (Credit: Leadership)

Nigerian Journalists Protest Assaults, Manhandling

In Nigeria, "As more journalists continue to fall victims of brutality in Lagos State, members of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Lagos Chapter, yesterday staged a peaceful protest to the office of the State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, to register their displeasure over the harassments of its members carrying out their duties," George Okojie reported Friday for the Leadership newspaper in Abuja.

". . . The visibly enraged members of the pen profession carried placards and big banners, some of which bore the photographs of the bloodied faces of LEADERSHIP Newspapers photojournalist, Ben Uwalaka, and former photo editor of the Nigeria Compass, Tunde Ogundeji, who were manhandled and inflicted with severe injuries by overzealous mortuary attendants at the Lagos State University teaching Hospital (LASUTH) and thugs purportedly from the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) respectively.

"Some of the placards had inscription like: 'Journalists Are Friends, Not Foes'; 'We Will No Longer Tolerate These Assaults'; We Demand Our Rights', 'Stop The Assaults', 'We Will Resist The Brutalities', amongst others.

"The journalist[s], who chanted solidarity songs, demanded to meet the governor but were told by the security personnel at the gate that the governor was not around, however, assuring them that a representative will stand in for him.

"Piqued by the delay, the journalists sat on the bare floor of the entrance to the State House and kept the protest alive, chanting songs while they waited for the government representative to attend to them. . . ."

Short Takes

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Best Practice : Moderators should withdraw under protest

The new narrative on race in America of late is that those who dare to question and challege racism are themselves racist. Some feel people of color should be content with having President Obama on the stage and that is enough.

The Commission on Presidential Debates instead of adopting a policy of inclusion is now strident in their posture of not including people of color as moderators.

There is solution. Those who have been appointed moderators can withdraw from the debates unless the commission changes the composition of the moderators.

Action always speaks louder than words!!!!!!

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