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50 Years of Walking History

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Jet Magazine's Simeon Booker Retires at 88

After a career of more than 50 years in which he chronicled the civil rights movement, became the first full-time black reporter at the Washington Post and opened Johnson Publishing Co.'s Washington bureau, Simeon Booker is retiring.

A retirement reception is scheduled for Booker, 88, on Tuesday at Washington's National Press Club.

Among those expected are Linda Johnson Rice, CEO of Johnson Publishing Co., publishers of Ebony and Jet magazines; retired Ebony editor Lerone Bennett; Bryan Monroe, editorial director of Ebony and Jet; retired CNN anchor Bernard Shaw and Eleanor Clift, Newsweek Washington correspondent.

 

 

Booker's office said the veteran journalist was not up to sharing his story again for this column, but in 1982, the Washington Post's Jacqueline Trescott put it this way:

"After 27 years in Washington, Booker is a mini-institution. The second black reporter to win a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he became The Washington Post's first full-time black reporter in 1952. His coverage of the murder of Emmett Till, a young black who allegedly whistled at a white woman in Mississippi, in Jet during 1955 is credited with mobilizing support of the southern civil rights movement. His column is the only weekly news-gossip column about black politicians and professionals, and he has a special personality, all the rough edges of the old-fashioned movie reporter and the charm of a Runyonesque character. His office is an-office-away-from-the-office for a lot of black Washington bureaucrats, who periodically stop by for some scotch, some often raucous talk and, occasionally, a fast poker game."

Booker is obviously walking history. Hired at the Post after stints at the Baltimore Afro-American and the Cleveland Call & Post, organs of the black press, and a Nieman fellowship, he described his two Post years as "almost as a nightmare."

"One men's room was open to him in the Post building," on the newsroom floor, Howard Bray wrote in his 1980 book, "The Pillars of the Post." "He avoided the inhospitable company cafeteria; many other eating places were closed to him. Booker's editors kept him in the office for a long spell, but when they finally sent him out to cover a robbery the police nearly arrested him as a suspect. He had trouble getting white cabbies to take him back to his office in time to write his stories before the deadline. Booker's copy was sometimes scrawled with racial epithets."

Moreover, some of the stories he wanted to write about black grievances conflicted with the political priorities of publisher Philip Graham, and those were buried or spiked.

It is the Till case for which Booker's name will forever be linked, however. Twenty-first century journalists will have a difficult time imagining a courtroom ruled by a Southern sheriff where black reporters were shunted to a less desirable part of the courtroom, denied access to the washrooms and drinking fountains, and greeted by "Mornin,' niggahs," as Mamie Till-Mobley, Emmett Till's mother, wrote with Christopher Benson in the 2003 book "Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America."

A big part of the trial drama was finding — and persuading — justifiably frightened black witnesses to testify, as Booker recounted in a piece he wrote for the January 1956 issue of Nieman Report. The black reporters — 12 of them covered the trial — became part of the backstage story.

After the all-white jury failed to convict the perpetrators, it fell to Booker to help keep Till's story alive. The FBI reopened the case in 2005, but decided that the five-year statute of limitations on federal civil rights violations had expired.

Booker made a different kind of history in Washington, where he opened Johnson Publishing Co.'s Washington bureau in 1955 and has remained there ever since, writing his familiar Jet "Ticker Tape" column.

"In his office Booker is never still. Tall and husky, he moves rapidly. His thick hair is almost white, and his plain shirts are brightened with bow ties. He turns down his hearing aid if he doesn't want to be bothered. His voice, a rumble like a vacuum cleaner, reverberates through the office. As he talks, he never finishes what he starts, and that's the style of his column, always punchy, leaving the end dangling," Trescott wrote in 1982.

No successor has been named, a Johnson spokeswoman said.

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King Day Related to Indians, Self-Sacrifice

"On the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, open season has been declared on Native Americans and other people of color at settings where intolerance and hate might least be expected — at some of our foremost American colleges," George Benge wrote for Gannett News Service.

"At Massachusetts' Tufts University, deemed 'one of the premier universities in the United States,' a vile Christmas carol titled 'O Come all Ye Black Folk' (Sung to the tune of 'O Come all Ye Faithful') was published in The Primary Source, a 'Journal of Conservative Thought.'

 

 

"At Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., loftily described by its president as 'at the forefront of American higher education since 1769,' a recent cover of The Dartmouth Review featured a large and offensive illustration of a Native American warrior holding aloft a grisly human scalp. A tasteless, cliched headline with the illustration said, 'The Natives are Getting Restless.'

"The most dangerous climate for people of color exists at the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign, where . . . A Native American student, whose name is not being used here to protect her safety, is starting spring semester . . . fearful and anxious after her life was gruesomely threatened in a posting by another Illinois student on Facebook, a popular social-network Web site."

Benge's column was one of several that appeared during this week of Martin Luther King Jr. observances. On the Boston Globe Web site, columnist Derrick Z. Jackson prepared an audio-and-visual commentary on King's emphasis on self-sacrifice and sports.

Gannett News Service developed a Web portal site tied to King's birthday that updates readers about progress in building a Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, and the Gannett Co.'s news division put together a site featuring the different approaches newspapers took in commemorating King.

In the Nation magazine, John Nichols, a co-founder of Free Press, which organized last week's National Conference on Media Reform in Memphis, quoted King writing about the effect of media coverage of the 1963 March on Washington:

"Millions of white Americans, for the first time, had a clear, long look at Negroes engaged in a serious occupation. For the first time millions listened to the informed and thoughtful words of Negro spokesmen, from all walks of life. The stereotype of the Negro suffered a heavy blow. This was evident in some of the comments which reflected surprise at the dignity, the organization, and even the wearing apparel and friendly spirit of the participants. If the press had expected something akin to a minstrel show, or a brawl, or a comic display of odd clothes and bad manners, they were disappointed. A great deal has been said about a dialogue between Negro and white. Genuinely to achieve it requires that all the media of communications open their channels wide as they did on that radiant August day."

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New Politico Still Has Only One Journalist of Color

Politico, the new Washington-based multimedia political news venture, is readying for its debut Tuesday, but with no more journalists of color than it had a month ago when leader John F. Harris said the new venture was committed to diversity.

Helena Andrews, a style writer for the publication who had been a news aide at the New York Times Washington Bureau, told Journal-isms she remained the only journalist of color, but said Harris had told the staff of 52 staffers, including 19 journalists, that the venture was seeking diversity.

In the last month, the Politico newspaper and thepolitico.com, financed by the deep pockets of Allbritton Communications, have hired USA Today's Bill Nichols as deputy managing editor for the print edition and Web site; Robin Reid, who worked at National Geographic, as a senior editor and Carrie Budoff of the Philadelphia Inquirer as a Senate reporter, among others.

Harris, a former national political editor at the Washington Post, and James VandeHei, a former Post political writer, previously hired Mike Allen, a reporter who covers the White House for Time magazine, and Roger Simon, chief political correspondent for Bloomberg News.

Andrews, 26, said she had written pieces about a high school that a number of members of Congress attended, and about inside-the-Beltway humor, and said she planned restaurant, movie and television reviews.

"I'm in favor of diversity . . . to inform the journalism," Harris said in December. Spokeswoman Ta'Mara Blake told Journal-isms last week, "John is looking forwarding to speaking with you again however at this time his focus is directed on the launch of the paper."

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Esther Renteria, Latina Media Activist, Dies at 67

"Esther Renteria was moved by what she did not see on television," Jocelyn Y. Stewart wrote Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times.

"With the premiere of 'Ahora!' on KCET-TV in 1969, the journalist became the first Latina to appear in a nightly newscast. But in the years that followed, that success underscored a harsh reality: the near absence of Latinos from broadcast media.

"Correcting the injustice became Renteria's passion. For decades, she worked to increase the number of Latinos in news and other programs. She formed advocacy groups, met with general managers of stations, filed petitions with the Federal Communications Commission and raised scholarship funds for Latino journalism students.

"Renteria died of cancer Jan. 8 at her home in Montebello. She was 67."

Pam Wight added in the Whittier (Calif.) Daily News:

"Renteria was best-known for founding the Hispanic Americans for Fairness in Media, a nonprofit group that fights against Latino stereotyping in the media, lobbies for more Latino representation on television and in the movies, and sponsors an annual fundraising dinner at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel every March.

In addition to creating the scholarship foundation, Renteria in 1985 helped found the Hispanic Public Relations Association, the National Hispanic Media Coalition in 1986, and the online job bank, www.latinocareers.org, in 2000."

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Letters Split on Piece Deriding Certain Blacks

When Esquire magazine published a piece in its November issue in which black producer John Ridley derided other blacks by using the well-known racial epithet, an Esquire spokesman said, "To date, we have received a great deal of mail and e-mail from readers about Ridley's essay — most of it from African-Americans — and the preponderance of the response has been positive."

The response from columnists of color was nearly unanimous in condemning the piece. In its February issue, Esquire publishes a selection of letters reacting to Ridley's essay.

"As a twenty-nine-year-old African-American, that article had me twisting and rocking in my seat," wrote Derek Kelley of West Des Moines, Iowa. "It's like when someone talks about your kid, and you know your kid is bad as well but you can't say anything. Ridley said what a lot of us think but are afraid to say."

The other letters were split. An Esquire spokesman did not respond to a question on exactly how much response the article generated.

William Jelani Cobb, a writer and Spelman College professor who said he would organize a boycott of Esquire and its advertisers over the Ridley piece, told Journal-isms, "I have serious questions regarding their claim that their feedback was 'overwhelmingly positive,' but that's not an easily verified statement in any case. Similarly my feedback has been largely supportive, though not entirely so. We ultimately did not organize a boycott given the small numbers of black Esquire subscribers, instead we encouraged people to write and call the editor-in-chief and publicized his phone number.

"Esquire did not bother to mention, however, that the same month that they published Ridley's rant about black people's whiny fixation on police brutality Sean Bell was killed and his two unarmed friends were shot and Katherine Johnson was shot dead in her home in Atlanta. But I suppose they were too busy indulging in their 'positive' feedback to note those two details."

Meanwhile, in Asian Week, Asian writer Kenneth Eng opined on "Why I Hate Asians." However, Eng tweaked those of higher, not lower economic status.

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What Katie Couric Didn't Say About the Briefing

CBS-TV anchor Katie Couric received some attention from media writers this week with her observation Monday that at a White House briefing for network anchors, she was the only woman. "As I was looking at my colleagues around the room — Charlie Gibson, George Stephanopoulos, Brian Williams, Tim Russert, Bob Schieffer, Wolf Blitzer, and Brit Hume — I couldn't help but notice, despite how far we've come, that I was still the only woman there. Well, there was some female support staff near the door. But of the people at the table, the 'principals' in the meeting, I was the only one wearing a skirt. Everyone was gracious, though the jocular atmosphere was palpable," Couric wrote.

Her notation about women drew hostile reader comments. But missing from Couric's observation— and those of the readers and media writers — was that there were zero journalists of color in the room.

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Blind Intern "Runs Circles Around" the Others

Last month, Chicago's feisty Lakefront Outlook carried a three-part report on Third Ward alderman Dorothy Tillman and the Harold Washington Cultural Center at 47th and King Drive, which Tillman had championed as "the cornerstone of historic Bronzeville's economic and cultural rebirth," Michael Miner reported Friday in the Chicago Reader.

 

Chicago Reader

Chicago intern Kalari Girtley has been blind since age 6.

"The three-year-old center is considerably less than that, the Outlook reported. It described the center as an infrequently occupied, money-losing operation run by Tobacco Road Inc. as a nonprofit corporation that Tillman has staffed 'with her family, friends and political allies.' The Outlook reported 'apparent conflicts of interest involving current and former board members and management [and] appearances of possible self-dealing conduct.' The center originally was to be named after Lou Rawls, the paper recalled, but the late singer backed out in frustration 'amid a series of construction delays.'"

Miner wrote that the investigation was brought to his attention by its lead reporter, Daniel Yovich.

And Yovich said he had worked with Kalari Girtley, a blind African American intern who graduated in May from the University of Illinois. He worked with her two days before he even realized she was blind. "Kilari's role, initially, was my gofer," he said. "At the end she was leading the charge. I've worked with a lot of Medill kids, Columbia kids. She runs circles around them."

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Short Takes

  • The Asian American Journalists Association sent a letter Tuesday to Brian Tierney, publisher and CEO of the Philadelphia Inquirer, expressing concern about the disproportionate impact of the paper's announced layoffs on journalists of color.
  • Carole Simpson, retired weekend anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight," is serving as "Leader-in-Residence" at Emerson College in Boston beginning this term. "Her role on campus will include teaching, mentoring, and leading community conversations," the college announced on Tuesday.
  • The Center on Media and Society at the University of Massachusetts at Boston has launched GoNewz, where "Each week we will offer you not only the best ethnic news stories and opinions in New England." It will also offer "a chance to comment on individual stories and issues in our Community Blog, and work on our upcoming . . . code of media ethics that we all will be writing together, thanks to the wonders of the Internet." Ellen Hume, formerly of the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, directs the center, as Will Kilburn reported in the Boston Globe on Dec. 31.
  • Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, met with Dean Baquet less than two weeks after Baquet was fired on Election Day as editor of the Los Angeles Times. Keller made it known he wanted Baquet to come back to New York, Joe Strupp reported Wednesday in Editor & Publisher. "He and I had lunch and I made it clear I would love to see him back at the [New York] Times," Keller said Wednesday, adding that Baquet was in New York at the time for a Committee to Protect Journalists dinner. Baquet declined to comment about his next job when contacted by E&P, saying, "I'm going to pass."
  • The Chicago Defender has dropped its front-page slogan: "Honest. Balanced. Truthful. Unapologetically Black," Mark Fitzgerald reported Friday in Editor & Publisher. "Not surprisingly, Real Times current CEO, Hiram Jackson, didn't return a phone message asking why a black-owned paper would want to pull a slogan like that." Fitzgerald also wrote, "What the Real Times folks also want, apparently, is to turn the paper from a daily to a weekly." Editor Roland S. Martin, who is leaving in March, "opposed that for any number of sound reasons, but it looks like a done deal."
  • Wendy Chioji will become solo anchor of the 6 p.m. newscast at WESH-TV in Orlando, Hal Boedeker reported Friday in the Orlando Sentinel.
  • Last week's departure of analyst Will Jones from Altitude, a Colorado sports-and-entertainment network that brags that it is "the proud television home of the Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Mammoth, Colorado Springs Sky Sox and Colorado Eagles," leaves the network with 11 on-air personalities, "not one of them African-American — unheard of in a world where there are dozens of high-profile black athletes," Dick Kreck wrote Wednesday in the Denver Post. Amani Ali, president of the Colorado Association of Black Journalists, said, "To be at that point where we don't have people of color is disconcerting."
  • In sports journalism these days, "Nobody wants to work. Everybody wants to sit around and make predictions," according to Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech's basketball coach, who has a degree in journalism from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y. "Hewitt's tips for a cub reporter: get to know a team's trainer, the strength coach, everybody, and talk to them." He told Matt Winkeljohn of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I would be more interested in knowing what Drew Brees did to prepare to take over the Saints as opposed to hearing Sean Salisbury or whoever say in August, "The Carolina Panthers are going to win the Super Bowl."
  • "Hearst-Argyle Television is developing a series with former CNN host Carlos Watson featuring on-location interviews with figures in entertainment, sports and politics," Variety reported on Monday. "'The Edge With Carlos Watson' will begin airing on all of Hearst-Argyle's stations as a quarterly primetime special, but the station group has high hopes the show could ultimately take a daytime spot on the stations and be offered for syndication nationally."
  • Historic papers and photographs from the estate of the Dallas Morning News' Julia Scott Reed, who in 1967 became the first black writer hired full time at a major daily newspaper in Dallas, and one of the first hired at a major daily in the South, have been donated to the Archives of Women of the Southwest at Southern Methodist University's DeGolyer Library, Norma Adams-Wade reported Wednesday in the Morning News. A reception is scheduled for Jan. 28.
  • "The battle between The Source and its former co-owners David Mays and Ray 'Benzino' Scott continues, as the new owners of The Source have sent a cease and desist notice to the pair's new venture, Hip Hop Weekly," Nolan Strong reported Tuesday for allHipHop.com. "The Source accuses the recently launched Hip-Hop tabloid of trademark infringement and unfair competition."
  • Robert "Rob" Redding, a former Washington Times reporter whose media ventures include a Matt Drudge-like Web report of African American news, is studying at the University of Louisiana, courtesy of the school's debate team. "I am working toward obtaining my masters in communications and plan to head to law school," he told Journal-isms.
  • "Alturo Rhymes, one of the first persons chosen two years ago to be part of the CBS News Minority Training Program, has just been promoted from CBS Newspath to producer for the CBS EVENING NEWS weekend editions," according to the in-house CBS Update.
  • Sree Sreenivasan, a founder of the South Asian Journalists Association, is joining New York's WNBC-TV as technology reporter, reporting on air and online, and leading a number of new media initiatives at WNBC, the station said. For the last six years, Sreenivasan has been the technology reporter at WABC.
  • Sage Steele of Comcast SportsNet is leaving Feb. 2 to join ESPNews as an anchor, starting Feb. 20, Ray Frager reported Friday in the Baltimore Sun.
  • Anthony McCarthy, a longtime political reporter who was once editor of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper and host of a weekly news round up program on WYPR-FM, will become the chief spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon, John Fritze reported in the Baltimore Sun on Thursday.

  • "Rene Marsh, 26, and Michelle Marsh, 23, are the only sisters working on-air at the same TV station in this market — and perhaps anywhere in the country," Mark McGuire wrote Friday in a feature on the sisters in the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union.

A photo caption in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine, a tribute to James Brown, identifies the subjects of a 1974 photo as Brown and the Rev. Al Sharpton. But "it ain't me," Sharpton said Thursday on his Syndication One radio show. He said the image is of Brown and trombonist Fred Wesley

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 BugMeNot.com 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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