Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

25 Years Ago, It Was "the Place to Be"

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

USA Today Had Reputation as Diversity Leader

When Wanda Lloyd was at the Washington Post in the early 1980s, as an editor at the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service, "anytime I heard about a speech made by John Quinn, Al Neuharth or Cathie Black" — early principals of USA Today — "there was something in their presentations that said something about women or people of color being an integral part of the organization.

The first edition of USA Today, published Sept. 15, 1982.

"Something across the river" — USA Today was across the Potomac in Arlington, Va. — "made me think there's an opening for someone like me."

Lloyd left the Post for USA Today, where she rose to senior editor. She is now executive editor of the Gannett Co.'s Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser.

USA Today is celebrating its 25th anniversary this week, but amid the hoopla, it might be forgotten what a beacon for diversity the "nation's newspaper," now the country's largest, was at its founding.

"It was a little frustrating," Quinn, who was Gannett's chief news executive at the time, told Journal-isms on Wednesday. "Some of my colleagues would say, 'I know this great person who can do what we want.' We said, 'We've got a lot of those; we've got to have somebody else'" who could add to the diversity of age, gender, race and geography. And sometimes that meant going outside Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper company: People such as W. Curtis Riddle and Monte Trammer, African American Gannett executives, started their Gannett careers as part of that founding effort.



The percentage of people of color at USA Today's founding, Quinn said he believed, exceeded that in the nation as well as in the newspaper industry. Of the five managing editors, two were women. At the level below them were two more women and two African Americans. The average age was 30. "More important, we had the talent we needed," Quinn said.

Today, according to Ed Foster-Simeon, the deputy managing editor for news who handles recruitment, the representation of newsroom professionals of color stands at 17.8 percent of a total of 448. For the newspaper industry, the figure is 13.62 percent, according to the latest census of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, released in March.

For the nation as a whole, it is 33 percent.

USA Today's 17.8 percent includes 1 percent who are Native American, 5 percent Asian American, 9 percent black or African American, 2 percent Hispanic and 2 percent were of two or more races, Foster-Simeon said.

Five of 14 deputy managing editors are African American, but no black journalist ranks higher. At the time of the ASNE report, USA Today had 56 professionals in its fast-growing online component. Of those, 10.7 percent were people of color: 5 percent Native American, 3 percent Asian and 3 percent black.



Not everyone reads those figures the same way. "Twenty-five years ago, this was the place to be," a longtime African American newsroom employee told Journal-isms. "Gannett led the way in diversity, particularly among African Americans. Twenty-five years later, that is not the case. We make a big deal about it, but our numbers have dwindled. When people leave, they are not replaced. There has never been a minority section head in Sports, Life, Money or News. You can make the DME (deputy managing editor) rank and that seems to be the ceiling."

Barbara Reynolds helped launch the paper as one of the founding editors, with responsibility for the op-ed page.

"At that time, there were men in charge — John Seigenthaler, editorial page editor, John Quinn, Peter Pritchard and founder Al Neuharth," she told Journal-isms, "and a woman, Nancy Woodhull — who actually believed in diversity. In fact, much to my surprise, action was threatened against those who foot-dragged on diversity. I remember in the early days when editors would say they couldn't find any 'competent blacks' and other people of color, they were threatened with pay [reductions]. And alas, suddenly 'competent blacks' were brought into the fold. I saw how the paper benefited from its more diverse employee base, whose shared culture and contribution could attract and appeal to all segments of society. Initially I saw how this paper was truly the best example of an all-American paper which saw value in everyone. The eighties were the age of diversity."

Lloyd agrees. "USA Today really set the pace for this industry in terms of content diversity," she said. In fact, "It was perceived by some, including readers, as going too far. The paper had a rule that a person of color and a woman had to be on the front page, above the fold, every day. What that did was — because USA Today's Page One is kind of a billboard for the rest of the newspaper — it forced the rest of the newspaper to be diverse. You had to have people of color in Life and women in Sports."

Others recalled a kind of golden era where Reynolds and columnist DeWayne Wickham were writing in the opinion section; Jessica Lee was covering the White House; Donna Britt, who went on to become a Washington Post columnist, was based in Los Angeles writing entertainment news; and Lee Ivory, now a deputy managing editor, headed the USA Today Baseball Weekly. Early on, Karen Howze, another black journalist, was managing editor for the international edition. Dorothy Bland ran news research, went on to become a Gannett publisher and now directs the journalism division at Florida A&M University. Joel Dreyfuss, a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, was the first New York bureau chief. Ellis Cose, another veteran and a former president of the Maynard Institute, covered workplace and management issues.

If it is true that African Americans have not risen above the deputy managing editor level, Quinn said, it is also true that they have gone elsewhere within Gannett to become publishers and editors.

Quinn, who also served as USA Today editor, left in 1990, when the paper reported 18.15 percent journalists of color, compared with 7.89 percent in the industry overall. And while succeeding editors professed the same vision, it was executed unevenly. Reynolds was dismissed in 1996. "The paper changed from a pro-people paper to a pro-business paper, chasing profits, access to the rich and powerful more so than any high ideals about diversity and inclusion," she said. Ivory's weekly section was merged into the Sports section. One top editor promoted seven white men at once without a second thought to appearances, a step that would not have been taken previously.

Now a rotating roster of black women writes for the op-ed page every Friday in Reynolds' old spot. Wickham still has a travel budget that allows him to cover "people that the majority may not want to hear," which he said keeps USA Today true to the Kerner Commission's 1968 charge to the news media to integrate and report on African Americans.

Foster-Simeon says that 52 percent of the newsroom hires were minorities in 2006 and 46 percent were in 2005; eight were African American, six Hispanic, nine Asian American and one Native American. "This at a time when the industry is [struggling] and some newspapers are seeing the number of journalists in their newsroom shrink," he said.

"What's more. We are keeping the journalists of color that we have. Of the 28 people who left the USA TODAY payroll this year only one was a journalist of color — and that was a long-term disability," he added by e-mail. "Ken has stated we need people of color," he said, speaking of top editor Ken Paulson.

"I learned about the importance of diversity firsthand from both Al Neuharth and John Quinn, having had the good fortune to meet both of them during my first year as a young reporter and working with both throughout much of my career," Paulson told Journal-isms via e-mail. "Their commitment to diversity inspired me then and inspires me now."

Asked when he foresaw journalists of color at the top newsroom levels, Paulson said, "There are no current openings for deputy managing editor or above, so there's no timetable. However, minority journalists are given serious consideration for every position in the USA TODAY newsroom or the job isn't filled. Journalists of color continue to figure prominently in our list of most promotable staffers and in our recruiting efforts."

Not surprisingly, some aren't as optimistic. One internal observer said USA Today is in many ways like the rest of the industry. "Time has passed and the pressure is off and the goal posts have continued to be moved up."

Said another, referring to founding editor John Curley: "There's not the same push that the Curleys and the Neuharths and the early regimes and founders of USA Today had."

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W.Va. Family Wants World to See Torture Injuries





In an action somewhat reminiscent of the way Mamie Till-Mobley five decades ago held an open-casket funeral to show the world the brutal nature of the killing of her son, Emmett Till, the family of Megan Williams was adamant that the damage to Williams, the result of a week-long torture in West Virginia, be shown to the public.

"Normally, we wouldn't identify rape victims," City Editor Rob Byers of the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette told Journal-isms on Wednesday. But Williams' family "wanted people to know about this story and we were going to tell it in the most sensitive manner we could." The family invited a photographer to the woman's hospital bed to record the injuries.

"According to criminal complaints filed against six people in this case, she was beaten, stabbed, choked, sexually assaulted and threatened with death," Gary Harki wrote of Williams in the Gazette on Tuesday.

"The details are even more horrible. According to the complaints, she was forced to eat dog and rat feces and to lick up blood. She was made to lick parts of [group leader Frankie Lee] Brewster's body, under the threat of death. Her hair was pulled out. She was made to drink from the toilet. She was sexually assaulted while hot water was poured on her body, and while a man held a knife to her.

"A woman allegedly cut Megan Williams' ankle and said, 'That's what we do to niggers around here.'"

Byers said the paper has dedicated a reporter to the story and that it would continue on the front page. On the paper's Web site, where a lead story might usually generate 10,000 hits, this story recorded 72,000 on Tuesday. It had received 18,000 more by 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

"Everybody is very upset by it. It casts a pall over West Virginia. Everybody wants everybody to know this is an isolated incident," he said.

"This ghastly story demands a full explanation," the Gazette said in a Wednesday editorial. "Was the week-long attack motivated solely by racial hatred? Are the suspects affiliated with any white supremacy group or cult?

"It's hard to imagine such an unthinkable incident in West Virginia. It's fortunate that the FBI is investigating the occurrence as a hate crime. We hope that authorities soon lay complete facts before the public."

Harki reported on the paper's Web site Wednesday that Charles Miller, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, said no federal charges are planned against the six.

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Leonard Pitts Column Among Five Most Popular


"George Will's column runs in more newspapers than any writer in the nation, according to a new study by a liberal media watchdog group that concludes conservative voices such as his dominate editorial pages," David Bauder reported on Tuesday for the Associated Press.



Of the five most popular columnists, one, Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald, is a person of color.

"This project did something that has never been done before: It amassed data on the syndicated columnists published by nearly every daily newspaper in the country," the watchdog group, Media Matters for America, said.

"While a few publications, most notably Editor & Publisher, cover the syndicated newspaper industry, no one has attempted to comprehensively assemble this information prior to now. Because the syndicates refuse to reveal to the public exactly where their columnists are published, when Media Matters for America set out to make a systematic assessment of the syndicated columnist landscape, we had no choice but to contact each paper individually and ask which syndicated columnists are published on their op-ed pages.

"The results show that in paper after paper, state after state, and region after region, conservative syndicated columnists get more space than their progressive counterparts."

In a listing of the top 100 columnists by "reach," defined as "the proportion of the total American daily newspaper circulation that each columnist reaches," the writers of color included Pitts, ranked No. 5; Clarence Page, No. 13; Eugene Robinson, 14; Ruben Navarrette Jr., 16; Thomas Sowell, 17; Bob Herbert, 18; Michelle Malkin, 22; Cynthia Tucker, 30; DeWayne Wickham, 32; Walter Williams, 37; Mary Sanchez, 49; Star Parker, 60; Linda Chavez, 65; Stanley Crouch, 86; Marcela Sanchez, 88; and Roger Hernandez, 90.

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Ken Burns Nemesis to Be Among NAHJ Honorees


"Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, a journalism professor who helped spearhead a grassroots campaign for meaningful inclusion of Latinos in the upcoming Ken Burns' documentary titled 'The War,' and Maria Burns Ortiz, a college soccer columnist with and one of the newer Latino voices in the country's newsrooms, are among those to receive the prestigious ñ Awards next month from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists," NAHJ announced on Wednesday.

"Rivas-Rodriguez, from the University of Texas at Austin, and Burns Ortiz will receive the Leadership Award and the Emerging Journalist of the Year Award, respectively.

"Others honored with ñ Awards include Dianne Solis of The Dallas Morning News for her thoughtful and sincere coverage of immigration, Gary Coronado of The Palm Beach Post for his stunning photographs chronicling the physical risks Central Americans take jumping trains to go north and enter the U.S., and Rebecca Aguilar of KDFW-TV Fox 4 in Dallas for her reporting work that gives a voice to those who typically don't have one in the media. They will receive the Frank del Olmo Print Journalist of the Year Award, the Photojournalist of the Year Award and the Broadcast Journalist of the Year Award, respectively.

"All the ñ Award recipients and winners in 14 other categories will be honored at the 22nd Annual Noche de Triunfos Journalism Awards Gala on Oct. 4 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C."


Soldier Who Co-Wrote Op-Ed Dies in Baghdad


"The Op-Ed by seven active duty U.S. soldiers in Iraq questioning the war drew international attention just three weeks ago. Now two of the seven are dead," as Greg Mitchell reported Wednesday in Editor & Publisher.




One was Sgt. Omar Mora, who died Monday in a vehicle accident in western Baghdad, one of seven U.S. troops killed in the incident "which was reported just as Gen. David Petraeus was about to report to Congress on progress in the 'surge.' The names have just been released." The other fallen soldier and co-author was Sgt. Yance T. Gray.

"Gen. Petraeus was questioned about the message of the op-ed in testimony before a Senate committee yesterday.

"Mora, 28, hailed from Texas City, Texas, and was a native of Ecuador, who had just become a U.S. citizen. He was due to leave Iraq in November and leaves behind a wife and daughter. Gray, 26, had lived in Ismay, Montana, and is also survived by a wife and infant daughter."

Mora's stepfather, Robert Capetillo, said Mora told his family the opinion piece had been misunderstood by many who have used it as political ammunition in calling for troop withdrawals, Mark Collette wrote Wednesday in the Galveston (Texas) Daily News.

"But Mora and his comrades didn't call for that. Instead, they said the United States should 'increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.'

"Olga Capetillo said that by the time Mora submitted the editorial, he had grown increasingly depressed.

"'I told him God is going to take care of him and take him home,' she said. 'But yesterday is the darkest day for me.'"

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White Hip-Hop Fan Asks Why Peers Don't Speak Out



"When it comes to sexism and racism in hip-hop, I'm part of the problem," Justin D. Ross wrote Sunday in the Washington Post's Outlook opinion section.

"Let me explain. I love hip-hop — have ever since it first came on the scene when I was in elementary school," wrote Ross, a Democrat who represents suburban Prince George's County in the Maryland House of Delegates.

"So I'm not just sounding off when I say this: It's time for a boycott of all rap music that stereotypes African Americans or insults and degrades women. And in particular, the people who need to be doing the boycotting are white fans like myself.

"In the current debate over whether hip-hop has become degrading to women and harmful to race relations, I've heard quite a bit from black activists, some of whom have fought for years against the sort of lyrics I'm writing about, and I've gotten several earfuls from black rap artists. But I haven't heard a peep from the white fans who essentially underwrite the industry by purchasing more than 70 percent of the rap music in this country, according to Mediamark Research Inc. I don't presume to tell any artist, studio executive or record label what to record or not record. But I will presume to ask young white customers: Why are we buying this stuff?"

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Univision Said to Have Overstated Debate Audience


"Univision routinely beats the English-language nets in the 18-34 demographic, but it overstated its case with a press release this week claiming victory over ABC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC with its Democratic forum on Sunday," Michael Learmonth reported for Variety on Wednesday.

"Spanish-language Univision claimed 4.6 million viewers, a figure that would have blown away Fox News' Republican debate in New Hampshire, which drew 3.1 million last week.

"Such a powerhouse . . . would have lent credence to anecdotal assertions about Hispanic engagement in politics and Univision's potential power as a kingmaker in the coming 2008 campaign.

"The Associated Press, Adweek and MediaWeek went with the story, and the Drudge Report carried a link to the release on Tuesday.

"The trouble is that Univision's assertion was only half true. The 4.6 million was derived from an analysis of viewers who had tuned in for at least six minutes of the 90-minute forum.

"The total average viewers for the debate came in at just 2.1 million, according to Nielsen Media Research, making it the sixth highest-rated debate behind two held by FNC, two by CNN and one by ABC."

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Short Takes


  • Chuck Stone, retired professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, pioneering journalist and founding president of the National Association of Black Journalists, will be awarded the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award, the Society of Professional Journalists announced on Monday.

  • Dean Baquet, Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, Paula Madison, executive vice president of diversity for NBC Universal, Russ Mitchell, anchor and correspondent for CBS News, and Oh Yeon Ho, founder of citizen journalism Web site OhmyNews, are among 10 journalists and alumni receiving distinguished service awards from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism, the school announced on Friday.

  • Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, an assistant city editor with the San Mateo County (Calif.) Times, has been named city editor of the Oakland Tribune, a Times sister paper.

  • A group calling itself the "Enough is Enough!" campaign plans a rally and demonstration at the Washington, D.C., residence of Debra L. Lee, chairman and CEO of Black Entertainment Television Networks, on Saturday. The organizer, the Rev. Delman L. Coates, said the effort is "aimed at combating the commercialization and marketing of negative and derogatory images of black men and women in the entertainment industry," reported on Wednesday.

  • In Orlando, WOFL-TV sports anchor Thomas Forester is accusing News Director Bob Clinkingbeard of blocking his exit from a room and bumping him. Police Detective Matt Schaefer said he would decide whether to charge Clinkingbeard with battery, a misdemeanor, once he had interviewed Forester, Rene Stutzman reported Tuesday in the Orlando Sentinel.

  • A crew from KMTV-TV in Omaha, Neb., was reporting on a triple shooting, when someone drove up, fired a gun and yelled profanity at the crew, the station reported on Tuesday. Police picked up Shawn Sweet, who told the station the media were killing black people "by exploiting their business. If you go somewhere else they'd shoot you for putting their business out there like that. Where I come from, what happens in the streets, stays in the streets because it's considered, it's telling." Reporter Dave Roberts said, "Sweet also tells us that he was on something when he decided to act violently towards our news crew on Sunday. However he wouldn't tell us exactly what he was on."

  • "Grant Woolard, the Cavalier Daily cartoonist whose comic strip titled 'Ethiopian Food Fight' created a wave of controversy last week, has been forced to resign," Barney Breen-Portnoy reported Tuesday in the Charlottesville (Va.) Daily Progress. In the Sept. 4 cartoon in the University of Virginia newspaper, "nine almost naked black men are depicted fighting one another with an assortment of random objects. The drawing prompted strong condemnation from the universityâ??s black community. On Wednesday evening, nearly 200 people staged a sit-in outside the paperâ??s office . . . demanding an apology and for Woolard to be fired."

  • Rutgers University basketball player Kia Vaughn on Tuesday withdrew a slander and defamation lawsuit she had filed against Don Imus and CBS Radio, among others, after the shock jock called the team "nappy headed hos," the Associated Press reported. "Marti McKenzie, a spokeswoman for Vaughn's attorney, Richard Ancowitz, said in a statement that Vaughn had chosen to focus on her education at New Jersey's Rutgers University as a journalism major and as an athlete with the basketball team."

  • In Cincinnati, "Dayna Eubanks, WKRC-TV's 4 p.m. news anchor since its debut 10 years ago, will leave Channel 12 Friday," John Kiesewetter reported. "She has a new job . . . but Eubanks declines to say where she's headed."

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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