When Angelou Learned to Be a Journalist
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Maya Angelou, the Renaissance woman who assumed roles ranging from poet to calypso singer, for a brief time was also a journalist. Angelou, who died at 86 Wednesday at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., had her baptism of fire in journalism in 1960.
As Angelou explained on her web page, "In my travels in Egypt, I met a civil rights activist over there named Vusumzi Make. We married and then moved to Cairo, in Egypt. That was where I got my job as an editor for The Arab Observer," an English-language magazine. Angelou knew nothing about being a journalist, but David Du Bois, a journalist in Cairo who was the stepson of the renowned intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois, introduced her to Zein Nagati, president of the Middle East Feature News Agency.
"He was hiring a Hungarian layout artist, and already had twelve reporters working," Angelou explained in 1981's "The Heart of a Woman," part of her six-book series of autobiographies.
"Du Bois said I was an experienced journalist, wife of a freedom fighter and an expert administrator. Would I be interested in the job of associate editor? If so I should realize that since I was neither Egyptian, Arabic nor Moslem and since I would be the only woman working in the office, things would not be easy. He mentioned a salary that sounded like pots of gold to my ears . . . "
Du Bois would tell her, "Girl, you realize, you and I are the only black Americans working in the news media in the Middle East?"
With Du Bois' help, she weathered the anger of her African husband over accepting a job without clearing it with him. Her next challenge was working with men who had never worked with a woman, except possibly their secretaries, yet were "cultured and capable." Angelou wrote that she felt like Bre'r Rabbit thrown in the briar patch.
Angelou was expected to cover African affairs and was assigned to a room with a library containing hundreds of books in English. "For two weeks I stayed in the room, using each free moment to cull from the shelves information about journalism, writing, Africa, printing, publishing and editing," she wrote. "Most of the books had been written by long-dead authors and published years before in Britain; still, I found nuggets of useful facts.
"The arrival of secretaries forced me back into the larger room with my male colleagues, but by that time I had a glimmering of journalistic jargon. I began to combine a few news items taken directly from the Telex, and insert some obscure slightly relevant background information. Then I would rehead the copy and call it my own.
"I stayed at the Arab Observer for over a year and gradually my ignorance receded. I learned from Abdul Hassan how to write an opinionated article with such subtlety that the reader would think the opinion his own. Eric Nemes, the layout artist, showed me that where an article was placed on a page, its typeface, even the color of ink, were as important as the best-written copy.
"David Du Bois demonstrated how to select a story and persevere until the last shred of data was in my hands. [Vusumzi] supplied me with particulars on the politically fluid, newly independent African states. I received a raise from Dr. Nagati, the respect of my fellow workers and a few compliments from strangers. . . ."
Britain's Guardian newspaper notes, "Maya then spent several years in Ghana as editor of African Review, where she began to take her life, her activism and her writing more seriously."
Angelou, celebrated as author, poet, educator, producer, actress, filmmaker and civil rights activist, returned to journalism later in life as a documentary filmmaker. Her documentaries included "Afro-Americans in the Arts," a PBS special that she wrote and produced, and for which she received the Golden Eagle Award.
In a 1988 book, "And Still We Rise: Interviews with 50 Black Role Models," then-USA Today Inquiry page editor Barbara Reynolds said Angelou's poem, "And Still I Rise," inspired the book. Reynolds asked Angelou, "Looking back on your life, what do you feel you have contributed?"
Angelou replied, "What I really would like said about me is that I dared to love. By love I mean that condition in the human spirit so profound it encourages us to develop courage and build bridges, and then to trust those bridges and cross the bridges in attempts to reach other human beings.
"I would like to be remembered as a person who dared to love and as a very religious woman. I pray a lot. I am convinced that I am a child of God. And that everybody is a child of God. Now I blow it a lot. I am not proud of that, but I do forgive myself and try to ameliorate my actions."
In an interview May 9 at her Winston-Salem home, commentator Armstrong Williams asked Angelou, "What in your life over the decades have made you a better human being, that you can pass on to others?"
"Well I've learned among other things, this is just off the top," she told Williams for his American CurrentSee magazine. "I've learned that forgiving is one of the greatest gifts that I can give myself, when I forgive other people. I let them go, I free them from my ignorance. And as soon as I do I feel lighter, brighter, and better.
"I like that feeling, so I don't carry somebody else's mistreatment of me around as baggage. That’s one thing that I've learned. I’ve learned to laugh, try to laugh as much as I cry. Yes I'm still practicing; I'm working at it. . . ."
WGHP-TV in High Point, N.C., incorporating material from CNN, closed its obituary with a different quote:
"Angelou is famous for saying, 'I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.' "
- BK Nation Editorial Team: #MayaAngelou: Phenomenal Woman (special tribute of blogs, videos, poems, quotes, a timeline and more)
- Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute: What journalists can learn about authorship from Maya Angelou
- Mary C. Curtis, Washington Post: Maya Angelou tributes take a cue from the poet herself
- Mark Dawidziak, The Plain Dealer, Cleveland: Maya Angelou also made contributions in film and TV
- Jaime Fuller, Washington Post: What Maya Angelou wrote and said about race and politics
- Gautham Nagesh, stiffjab.com: R.I.P. Maya Angelou, 1928-2014
From the world of book publishing to newspaper newsrooms to online media, the news about diversity this week is one of stagnation if not retrenchment.
"Three years ago, guest speaker Mindy Kaling joked that publishing’s annual national convention, BookExpo America, resembled 'a high school reunion where all the jocks were killed in a plane crash, and all the minorities, too,' Hillel Italie wrote Tuesday for the Associated Press.
"From Wednesday to Saturday, tens of thousands of publishers, authors, agents and librarians will meet at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York for a convention predominantly organized by whites, spotlighting books predominantly written, edited and published by whites.
"Non-whites are virtually absent from BookExpo planning committees and prime promotional slots. Tavis Smiley is the only non-white among the 16 scheduled breakfast and author tea speakers, who also include Jodi Picoult, Lena Dunham and Anjelica Huston. There is little non-white representation for various other high-profile events, from 'Buzz' forums for upcoming adult, young adult and middle grade releases to an all-white panel that will discuss discrepancies between how men and women fiction writers are treated.
" 'I don’t have a good answer for you,' said BookExpo event director Steven Rosato, who noted that publishers submit candidates for panels and other gatherings. 'Clearly, there’s a gap between the industry and what’s representative of the country.' . . "
Meanwhile, Monica Anderson of the Pew Research Center made reference to the ascension of Dean Baquet, a black journalist, to executive editor of the New York Times. Anderson reported Wednesday, "Our data analysis finds that in newspaper newsrooms, the percentage of overall staffers and supervisors who are black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or multiracial has remained virtually unchanged in the past two decades — accounting for about one in every 10 positions.
"The situation is slightly different in broadcast news, where minority staffers are still vastly outnumbered, but their presence has, in some cases, risen modestly. . . ."
The news is similar in the online news world.
"According to a national analysis of more than 100 hyperlocal online news sites and state-based topical sites in Spring 2013, 59 percent of the sites represent the demographics of the regions they cover," Michelle Ferrier of Ohio University has reported.
Ferrier, associate dean for innovation at the Scripps College of Communication, called attention this week to a study finding, "Many of the sites' online readers reflect a Caucasian majority, which may not be reflective of the total regional population. In a more detailed content analysis of the sites' homepages, only 40 percent of the sites accurately represent the full range of the residents in their geographic region either on the demographic factors of ethnicity, gender or both. . . ."
Ferrier also wrote, "Earlier ethnographic research conducted in the April 2013 by Dr. Ferrier on hyperlocal online news publishers found that only 5.5 percent of hyperlocal online news sites were founded or run by people of color. Census data from 2010 shows that minorities make up 28 percent of the U.S. population."
"If you care about the diversity of the tech industry, then Google deserves credit for releasing the demographics of its workforce, which it did for the first time Wednesday," Michelle Quinn wrote for the San Jose Mercury News.
"Not so much for the numbers themselves, which illustrate how far the company has to go to create a truly diverse workforce, but for its willingness to shed light on the issue. . . .
"The statistics are detailed but easy to sum up: Google is still mostly a white male tribe, especially in tech jobs and leadership roles. Men make up 70 percent of its global workforce, and hold 83 percent of what it calls tech jobs. Whites are 60 percent of its U.S. workforce, and 72 percent of what it calls its tech jobs. Whites are 60 percent of its U.S. workforce, and 72 percent of what it calls its 'leadership' team."
Blacks were 2 percent of the total; Hispanics 3 percent; Asians 30 percent; two or more races 4 percent; and others less than 1 percent.
Prodded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Google pledged to disclose its diversity figures two weeks ago in a reversal of the long-held refusal to do so by Google and other Silicon Valley firms.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company said Wednesday, "We're not where we want to be when it comes to diversity. And it is hard to address these kinds of challenges if you're not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.
"All of our efforts, including going public with these numbers, are designed to help us recruit and develop the world’s most talented and diverse people."
Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, reacted in a statement, "Obviously these numbers leave much to be desired. However, I am encouraged that Google has taken the important first step necessary for any company to truly transform its inclusion of diversity: transparently face up to the numbers and admit that it has a problem.
"The talent is available. Last month we learned that the University of California system — in Google's home state — admitted more Latinos than whites for the first time in history. The next step won't be easy, but it is critically important, and that is to help Google connect to the deep pool of Latino talent that is equipped to move the company into the next generation, both in terms of technology and multiculturalism."
Quinn reported that Google is already making progress. "In recent years, the company has given 'unconscious bias' training to more than 20,000 employees. It is also working on its recruiting efforts, broadening the number and kinds of colleges it visits.
"A few small milestones: Of Google's technical hires in 2013, 19 percent were women, compared with 16 percent the prior year. And last year, Google's black workforce increased by more than 30 percent.
" 'We are not where we want to be as an industry,' said [Nancy Lee, Google's director of people operations.] 'Everyone uses technology but we don't want people just to use it, but also create with it.'
"Let's see if Google's disclosure prompts more companies to do the same."
Media writer Amy Alexander made a different point on LinkedIn: "Is Google attempting to mollify critics or is it preparing to turn the corner into becoming a news and technology company? And if Google and other technology companies plan to continue overtaking the news industry's market share, will they do a better job than traditional news organizations of developing teams that reflect the population they seek to cover?"
- Gwen Ifill with Laszlo Bock, Telle Whitney and Vivek Wadhwa, "PBS NewsHour": Google’s diversity record shows women and minorities left behind
"On April 19, we marked the 25th anniversary of the sexual assault of Trisha Meili, the 28-year-old white, female jogger at the center of the 1989 Central Park-rape case," Natalie Byfield wrote in a blog post Tuesday by the Huffington Post.
Byfield, who describes herself as an author, journalist and professor of sociology at St. John's University, continued, "I cannot help but ask myself what the ultimate significance of this case will be. The rape along with some assaults and 'menacing' acts were used by the media to invent a new form of urban terror labeled 'wilding.' That a mostly white media used language like 'savage,' 'wolfpack,' 'animal' and even 'feral' to describe the group of African American and Latino teens 13 to 16 years old accused of rape automatically then, as it does now, points to the racial context in which the media placed Meili's assault. . . ."
Byfield also wrote, "Back then, I worked as a journalist covering New York City for the Daily News. I was one of about 10 black journalists hired by the paper as News managers worked to either ward off or diminish the effects of what ended up being a successful racial-discrimination lawsuit brought by four black editorial employees. While the particulars of this conflict made it historic — it was reportedly the first lawsuit of its kind brought by editorial employees that landed before a jury — its impact on diversity among News staffers indicated something had changed. Many saw racial progress.
"When I was assigned to cover the jogger story almost daily for nearly the first two months after the attack, I viewed up close what this progress meant: my perspective would hold little weight, and I would appear to be part of the media's denigration of the black and Latino communities and the falsely accused boys who grew into the men we call the Central Park Five. . . ."
"Jorge Ramos, the most popular Hispanic news anchor in America, arrived in Washington recently on an unusual journalistic mission: He wanted to challenge Speaker John Boehner about why he’s 'blocking' immigration reform," Dylan Byers wrote Wednesday for Politico.
“ 'Republicans don't get it. They're going to lose the 2016 election if they don't move on immigration reform, and they're going to lose again in 2020,' Ramos said in an interview. 'They have a very short memory. They forgot in 2012. They'll remember after 2016.'
"Ramos is startlingly blunt for a news anchor, but he makes no apologies for his outspoken stance on immigration reform — or his plans to push his views throughout this midterm election year and into the next presidential cycle. He's a declared political independent who doesn't hesitate to confront both Republicans and Democrats when he believes they are standing in the way of overhauling the nation's immigration policy.
"And he's got a massive megaphone to do it. More than any other media figure, Ramos, 56, is the conduit between Washington politics and Hispanic America, population 55 million and growing. His Univision newscast is the most-watched Spanish-language news program in the United States, with an average viewership of 2.1 million. . . . "
Byers also wrote, "His blunt advocacy on immigration and other issues has drawn criticism from some in the mainstream media, who say he's crossed the line from objective coverage of an issue. . . ."
"Representatives from some of the nation's most notable media organizations met with Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday to discuss recently implemented revisions to the Justice Department's media guidelines," Hadas Gold reported Tuesday for Politico.
"The group's primary concerns, according to a source present at the meeting, were 1. the James Risen case involving The New York Times reporter who has refused to testify against his suspected source, and 2. the new DOJ standards that serve as guides to prosecutors, which have new language about when it is appropriate to subpoena reporters and search news rooms.
"Holder said he couldn't discuss the tactics in the Risen case, but according to the attendee declared that, 'As long as I am attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.' He later reiterated the statement, saying, 'As long as I am Attorney General, somebody who is doing their job is not going to get prosecuted. . . . '
Ken Strickland, Washington bureau chief of NBC News, told Journal-isms that he was the only journalist of color in the room and that the session was on background, "with the exception of [Holder's] comments about not wanting to see a journalist go to jail, which was on the record."
MSNBC host Touré apologized Tuesday for a tweet on reparations that prompted Efraim Zuroff, Israel office director at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to say the Twitter message was "obviously absurd and smacks of intense and disgusting anti-Semitism," Jordan Chariton reported Tuesday for TVNewser.
On Friday, Touré responded to a tweet that said, "My family survived a concentration camp, came to the US w/nothing, LEGALLY, and made it work." Touré retweeted the message and added, "The power of whiteness."
In a four-part Twitter message Tuesday, Touré said, "Late last week, I foolishly got involved in a twitter exchange regarding an article about reparations... (1 of 3)" "It was a dumb idea by me to debate serious and nuanced topics in 140 characters or less... (Cont.)" "In an attempt to comment on racism in post World War II America, I used a shorthand that was insensitive and wrong. (Cont.)" "...I am very sorry and will make sure this doesn’t happen again."
- Jennifer Vanasco, Columbia Journalism Review: The Atlantic's Coates discusses his epic reparations cover story
- Errin Haines Whack, the Guardian, Britain: The 'Case for Reparations' is solid, and it's long past time to make them
"The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned recent threats against Trinidad and Tobago journalist Mark Bassant that led the reporter to leave the country last week in fear for his life," Vanessa I. Garnica reported Monday for the institute.
"On May 22, Bassant, a senior investigative reporter for the Caribbean Communication Network, Channel 6 (CCN TV6), released a video on the network stating that he had received a call from what he called 'a very reliable underworld source' on May 7 advising him that criminal entities wanted to harm him.
"Later in the week following the initial threat, Bassant reported in the video, he met with another source who confirmed face to face that a €2,000 [$2,721]-hit had been ordered against him. Bassant reported the threat to a member of the national security services, who reportedly confirmed that the threat was imminent and advised the journalist to arrange around the clock security. . . ."
- "Time Warner Cable and the Los Angeles Lakers have been jointly named in a lawsuit by a Spanish-language radio announcer claiming he has been racially discriminated against," Debbie Emery reported Tuesday for the Hollywood Reporter. "Fernando Gonzalez is suing the team and the cable company for $1 million in the complaint that was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday." In addition, Emery wrote, "The lawsuit also states that when the Lakers won the NBA championship in 2000, 'almost all' the staff members and broadcasters received a $6,000 commemorative ring, but Gonzalez and [his co- broadcaster, Pepe] Mantilla were told they had to pay $3,000 each for the memorabilia. Other discrimination claims include not being permitted to bring spouses into the 'family room,' not receiving season tickets or valet parking (until 2003), and not being invited to the NBA annual meetings in New York or New Jersey. . . ." Bill Oram reported for the Orange County Register, "The Lakers refuted the claims . . . saying in a statement, 'We do not believe these allegations have any merit.' "
- "One of Brian Williams' longtime producers has exited NBC News, NBC confirmed to On The Money," Claire Atkinson reported Sunday for the New York Post. "Subrata De, who globetrotted to the world's war zones with Williams since 2003, left 30 Rock for good on Friday. . . ."
- "Effective immediately, Perry Bacon Jr. is joining the NBC News team as a Senior Political Reporter, contributing to NBCNews.com and other platforms. Working with Chuck Todd and Mark Murray, Perry will be one of our leading voices covering the upcoming 2014 and 2016 campaigns and beyond," Ken Strickland, NBC Washington bureau chief, announced on Wednesday. "No stranger to NBC viewers or the bureau, Perry joined us in December 2011 as Political Editor for theGrio.com, as well as an MSNBC contributor. While at theGrio, Perry led the site's coverage of the 2012 election and Obama’s second term, with a special focus on the Affordable Care Act and its impact. A Louisville native and graduate of Yale, Perry is a longtime Washington political reporter. Prior to NBC, he covered the 2004 presidential campaign and Congress for TIME magazine, then moved on to a similar role at the Washington Post, where he served as a national political correspondent and White House reporter. . . ."
- "A 1921 memorial dedicated to Calhoun Countians who died in service to their country during World War I left off the names of 19 soldiers and sailors," Phillip Tutor wrote Sunday for the Anniston Star in Alabama. "On this Memorial Day 2014, we tell the stories of those long-forgotten men." Tutor also wrote, "Time's passage makes it difficult to definitively say why these men weren't included. Blaming the segregated society of the Jim Crow South tops the list of probabilities for the nine black Calhoun County men who were left off, though that doesn't explain the omission of the 10 white men. The U.S. Army wasn’t integrated until 1948, and blacks in the U.S. military during World War I often were treated more as laborers than fighting men, their service deemed less worthy than that of whites. Other Southern towns, such as Selma, Natchez, Miss., and Durham, N.C., for instance, erected war monuments that either excluded the names of black soldiers or listed them separately in a sort of macabre after-death segregation. However, of the 41 names on the Quintard Avenue plaque, one identified soldier — Frank Heath, of Anniston — is listed by the Alabama State Military Department as 'colored.' . . ."
- Activist and journalist Kevin Powell wrote four cover stories and additional pieces for the June Black Music Month edition of Ebony magazine. The four covers feature Beyoncé, Jay Z, Kanye West and Rihanna.
- CNN anchor Don Lemon invoked personal experience in a commentary Tuesday on the case of California mass killer Elliott Rodger. "After seeing the social media posts alluding to suicide and killing people his parents contacted police. But the family could not do much because when police arrived [Rodger] told the deputies that it was a big misunderstanding. He promised he wasn't going to hurt anyone. The deputy told CNN that Rodger was articulate, polite, even timid during their visit. And from my personal experience that is usually the case with those who hide their mental health issues from friends and coworkers. I dealt with it recently for five years in a relationship. To this day, no one other than me and a few family members know. . . ."
- "The memorial service for Chuck Stone has been set for Saturday, June 7 at Historic Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, 419 S 6th St, in South Philadelphia from 3 to 5 p.m.," the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists announced on Tuesday. The announcement also said, "All who knew Chuck Stone are invited to share your memories. For more information about the memorial please contact PABJ President Johann Calhoun at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 893-5739." Stone, a Philadelphia Daily News columnist, journalism professor and founding president of the National Association of Black Journalists, died April 6 at 89.
- "The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detention of a journalist without charge since Monday and calls on Ethiopian authorities to release him immediately. An Ethiopian court on Tuesday extended by 14 days the pre-trial detention of Elias Gebru, according to news reports," the press freedom organization said on Wednesday. Gebru is editor-in-chief of the independent news magazine Enku.
- Referring to Honduras, Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday it "condemns the censorship of Suelte la lengua (Talk freely), a programme that Canal 6 TV has not broadcast since 15 May without any explanation from its CEO, Paul Misselem. Presented by Jorge Burgos and Emy Padilla, the programme is openly critical of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s government." The press freedom group said, "Burgos and Padilla have repeatedly been censored by Canal 6’s own management. Their programme, which has often linked banks and commercial enterprises to corruption, has upset some of the TV station’s shareholders. . . ."
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- Richard Prince with Charlayne Hunter-Gault, "PBS NewsHour," "What stagnant diversity means for America’s newsrooms" (Dec. 15, 2015)
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