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Sunday, March 20, 2005

"Gross Misconduct" Charged After Office Affair

Two producers and a reporter at KNBC-TV, the NBC Universal owned-and-operated station in Los Angeles, were fired last week after the reporter, Kyung Lah, and her field producer, Jeff Soto, reportedly had an affair. Both are married.

"The contract has provisions [stating] that people can be terminated for gross misconduct," Lawrence Mayberry, broadcast director of the Los Angeles office of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, told Journal-isms, "which is how this event is being characterized by the station." Lah is an AFTRA member.

Lah's bio said she was active in the Asian American Journalists Association (she is not a current member, AAJA says), she is listed in "Who's Who Among Young Asian Americans," and in Chicago, she was honored by the Organization of Chinese Americans. She was the only Asian American reporter at Chicago's WBBM-TV when she left for Los Angeles in 2003.

Lah's husband, Curtis Vogel, continued as an executive producer of morning and midday newscasts at NBC's WMAQ-TV, and later moved to L.A., where he did freelance producing for NBC.

"I cannot comment," Paula Madison, president and general manager of KNBC and a Maynard Institute board member, said of the developments. Lah's agent,Steve Sadicario of the N.S. Bienstock agency in New York, did not return telephone calls.

But a subscription-only newsletter for L.A. television insiders, "Ron Fineman's On The Record," reported late last week:

"Part of the problem was that as producer-whether it went down this way or not-Soto was in a position to give Lah favored treatment when it comes to story assignments. Further, one insider suggests that with KNBC being sued byChristopher Nance-who was fired after his relationship got too personal with an intern-KNBC could not look the other way on this one. I'm not saying the two relationships were exactly the same, but possibly close enough to where KNBC management felt it needed to take this action."

"NO ONE has come forward to disagree with anything I wrote," Fineman said in an e-mail to Journal-isms.

The other fired producer, Jim Bunner, responsible for the 11 p.m. newscast, was said to have passed along an incriminating note written by Lah to Soto that eventually found its way to management. Events after the discovery also might have played a role in management's actions.

Neither producer is a member of AFTRA.

Madison told the staff when she arrived at the station in 2000 that she considered such relationships to be firing offenses. Under the AFTRA contract, Mayberry said, employees fired for gross misconduct lose their entitlement to severance pay.

Before her Chicago and L.A. tours, Lah was a general assignment reporter at WWMT-TV in Grand Rapids, Mich. She began her career as a reporter and anchor at WDWS-AM/WHMS-FM Radio in Champaign, Ill.


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Weathers Stepping Down as Top Essence Editor

Diane Weathers, Essence magazine editor-in-chief since 2001, is stepping down from the top job, Essence spokeswomen told Journal-isms today.

"The June issue will be her last. Diane will become an editor-at-large for the magazine, as she devotes more time to her family and concentrates on writing books and other special projects.

"While we search for a successor, Susan L. Taylor will continue to oversee the editorial direction of the magazine as well as handle the major responsibilities of the editor-in-chief position," spokeswoman Sonya McNair said.

Weathers is a veteran reporter, writer and editor for such magazines as Newsweek and Black Enterprise, as her bio notes. She began her most recent Essence stint after being senior editor for news features at Redbook magazine and associate editor at Consumer Reports.

"Diane and I both joined the magazine about the same time. Diane is, in my estimation, just a great, great journalist," Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications, told Journal-isms.

"I remember when she came in and spoke to the management team in the conference room. She had a clear vision and such energy about how she wanted Essence to evolve."

One of her first initiatives was a series called "War on Girls," about young black girls and their challenges, an issue particularly important to Weathers because she had an 11-year-old (who is now 14). Another was "Our Bodies, Ourselves," which discussed health issues. It "became very intimate" as she discussed her own weight challenges with readers, Ebanks said. "I don't know another editor who was so transparent."

Weathers followed Monique Greenwood, who was charged with trying to attract younger readers. "Diane did something very different," according to Ebanks. "It was profound in its simplicity. She said, 'Essence is ageless. It is about a mindset whether you're a black woman in your 20s, 30s or 40s.'"

Ebanks said that 15 percent of black men and 40 percent of black women read the publication, which has a circulation of more than a million. The 35th anniversary issue in May will boast 350 pages, 190 of them advertising. "She is a great journalist who loves this audience," Ebanks said of Weathers.

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Blacks Making Inroads on Magazine Covers

"Racism in the United States is not as out-in-the-open as it was 40 years ago this month in Selma, Ala., when civil rights marchers were beaten by the local police. But part of the 'subtle' racism of this generation comes from the response to magazine covers," Media Industry Newsletter (min) declares in its annual list of the best- and worst-selling magazine covers. Steve Cohn is editor-in-chief.

"Yes, Oprah Winfrey (with her own magazine), Tiger Woods, and Michael Jordan are institutions, but others do not always fare as well. A pre-Oscar-winning Halle Berry was a worst seller (McCall's/ October 2000), as was Will Smith (Details/July 1999), and the paucity of Denzel Washington covers on monthlies is seen in his never being a best or worst (ditto 2004 'Best Actor'Jamie Foxx).

"That is why Beverly Johnson was a refreshing newsstand best-seller last year for Golf for Women. The model's superb golf game is why GfW editor-in-chief (since January 2002) Susan Reed put her on the May/June cover, and she proved to be no 'handicap.'

"'Refreshing' also applies to Mo'Nique being the best-seller for Essence (July). The Baltimore-born comedienne/Skinny [Women] Are Evil author was the least svelte of Essence's 12 covers last year, but editor-in-chief (since July 2001)Diane Weathers told [Media Industry Newsletter] (November 22, 2004) that the former Monique Imes-Jackson 'resonated with our readers because they can identify with her.'

"The singer born¬†Beyonc?جø?ì Knowles¬†joins Halle Berry and Will Smith (and many white people) as a worst seller with the January 2004 IS [In Style]. To be fair, Beyonc?جø?ì was less of a name then than now, following her stunning "Best Song" performances at the Oscars. January and July are frequent worsts, but Mo'Nique . . . broke that mold in Essence."

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Detroit Free Press Editorializes for Emery King

It's not every day that a big-city newspaper editorializes about the state of affairs at its broadcast counterparts, but the Detroit Free Press did so today in the case of ousted WDIV-TV anchor Emery King. "Heed viewers who appreciate the likes of Emery King," was the headline.

"In a market where TV news has become a sorry mix of thin gruel-the more violent or tragic the better-cotton candy and 'gotcha!' reporting, WDIV's decision to dump veteran anchor Emery King wasn't all that stunning," the editorial said. "A substantive, thoughtful broadcast journalist, King may have felt out of place, anyway, in the flash-and-dash atmosphere that's so prevalent in local TV newsrooms."

The outcry over King's ouster "amounted to notice that local TV news may be underestimating its viewers. Could it be that their attention span is not as short as the pace of newscasts plays to? Is it possible that they value a familiar face with experience delivering important local stories?" the editorial read.

"We opine on matters we feel are important or of considerable public interest," editorial page editor Ron Dzwonkowski told Journal-isms. "Our volume of mail on Mr. King, and what we know about TV viewing habits in our market-Detroit-area people watch a lot of TV-tells us this is of considerable public interest. The editorial, we felt, was about Mr. King but also about the state of local TV news in general, using Mr. King's ouster as exemplary."

Other newspaper commentary on King:

  • Betty DeRamus, Detroit News: Detroiters rally to Emery King's side, and station may be listening

  • Brian Dickerson, Detroit Free Press: Really, it all boils down to stupidity

  • Tim Skubick, Oakland (Mich.) Press: TV broadcaster's departure is bad news for all of us
As reported Friday, station officials indicated they might want to reopen contract negotiations with King this week, but John Moye of Denver, King's lawyer, said then that the station had not moved beyond a preliminary feeler.



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Walters Leaving as Executive Director of NAJA

Ron Walters is leaving as executive director of the Native American Journalists Association, effective April 10, NAJA announced Friday. "Walters cites the deteriorating health of his parents and his need to be closer to home as the reason for his resignation," an announcement said.

"While at NAJA, Walters was instrumental in recruiting more Native American students to the organization, convincing them to get more involved with the Native American journalism movement. His recruiting trips took him all over the country educating young Native Americans on career opportunities in journalism.

"Walters also re-established a solid partnership with the Freedom Forum and other influential mainstream organizations such as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Ford Foundation. With the help of some active NAJA board members, Walters also began establishing partnerships with other prominent Native American organizations such as the Native American Rights Fund, National Congress of the American Indians and the National Indian Gaming Association," the announcement continued.

"We will begin a national search for a new executive director shortly," NAJA president Dan Lewerenz said.

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Posthumous Honors for Detroit's First Black Anchor

The late Jerry Blocker, who in 1968 became Detroit's first black anchor, was to be honored last Thursday at the Detroit Urban League's 26th annual Distinguished Warriors Dinner.

"Blocker, who died five years ago at the age of 70, also became the first black, full-time, on-air television reporter in Detroit in 1967, just a few weeks after civil disturbances had rocked the city," senior editor Luther Keith wrote Thursday in the Detroit News.

"It was an important first step as local television officials began to recognize that it was only fair that their on-air talent reflect the diversity of their viewers."

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Can't Have Both White Women and People of Color?

Michael Kinsley, the Los Angeles Times editorial and opinion editor whose exchange with Susan Estrich prompted the current discussion over the low numbers of women on op-ed pages, revisited the issue over the weekend.

This time, Kinsley expressed his support for more women's voices, but said they would be added at the expense of those of people of color.

"Newspaper opinion sections also want diversity of political views," he wrote. "In recent years, that, frankly, has led to reverse discrimination in favor of conservatives. And an unpleasant reality is that each type of diversity is at war with the others. If pressure for more women succeeds-as it will-there will be fewer black voices, fewer Latinos and so on."

Hot air and the X chromosome (Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune)

Female chauvinist digs (Debra J. Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle)


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Rice Joined Reporters Who Dine to "Keep in Touch"

"Who fascinates you most in the current administration?" Charlotte Observer editorial writer Fannie Flono asked Gwen Ifill of PBS in a Sunday Q-and-A.

"Condoleezza Rice," replied Ifill.

"I read that you invited her over for dinner. You cooked, and she came. Is that true?"

"She mentioned that once [in 2003] at a NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) meeting where I introduced her, and it's going to haunt me for the rest of my life."

"Has it been just once?

"It was one time. It wasn't private. It was a bunch of reporters. It happens all the time in Washington with administration officials. It's just a way of getting to know people."

True enough, Anna Perez told Journal-isms today.

Perez is executive vice president for communications at NBC Universal in New York, but before that, she was deputy assistant to the president and counselor for communications to Rice, then national security adviser. Perez is among the circle of friends who periodically got together for dinner.

The circle varies, she said, and has included Michel Martin of ABC News and her husband, lawyer Billy Martin, and former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw and his wife, Linda Shaw.

"It's just a way of keeping in touch with people you know," Perez said. "It's not terribly formal."


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N.Y. Ethnic Press Sees Unresponsiveness

In New York, "the ethnic press feels discriminated against by government agencies, the government regularly fails to produce information promptly enough to be useful, and the New York Police Department on the local level and the Department of Justice on the federal level are two of the most inaccessible agencies," according to a report from the Independent Press Association-New York.

The survey was issued in conjunction with last week's Sunshine Week, the news-industry-wide focus on obstacles to access to information.

"Respondents also overwhelmingly criticize city and federal governments for not collecting data specific to or useful to their communities," the summary continued. "In addition, de facto government censorship may result from rudeness, inaccessibility and unresponsiveness, all documented in the survey. If even half of the criticism documented here is well-founded, these newspapers' readers are experiencing a partial blackout of news from an unresponsive government."

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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