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Benjamin Hooks Brought Diversity to the FCC

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010
NAACP Leader, 85, Was Advocate for Media Ownership

The Rev. Benjamin Hooks delivered his final sermon at Memphis' Greater Middle Baptist Church in 2008. (Credit: Brandon Dill/Commercial Appeal)NAACP Leader, 85, Was Advocate for Media Ownership

The Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, who in addition to serving for 15 years as director of the NAACP was the first African American member of the Federal Communications Commission, died Thursday in his Memphis hometown, the Commercial Appeal reported. He was 85 and "had long suffered from various illnesses," the paper said.

"Black people were bereft of representation in the media," Hooks told the Memphis newspaper in 2004, speaking of his tenure on the FCC board.

""At the FCC, they knew things were wrong," Hooks said. "There just hadn't been anything done about it." (Credit: Museum of Broadcast Communications)In 1972 not a single TV station in the country was owned by a black person and only 13 radio stations. People don't realize how powerful the regulatory agencies are. They have the power to make real social change. When I was with the FCC [it] was a time of great change and significance. The country was beginning to recognize that black people had a right to employment in broadcasting, and we had to make sure that the top jobs would be available to them."

When Hooks left in 1978, there were more than 200 black-owned stations of the 7,000 in the nation.

"He was my role model," Tyrone Brown, who succeeded Hooks and became the second African American on the FCC, told Journal-isms, "in terms of the major issues and in how to try to bring people together politically. Ben was a Republican - people forget that. . . . But he addressed issues not as a flag waver but to try to move the ball a few yards on each play."

The FCC chairman who served with Hooks, Richard E. Wiley, echoed that.

"He and I hit it off great," Wiley, a Republican, told Journal-isms. "We were of different parties and different races and we agreed on most things.  He was very responsible and very careful." And, added Wiley, who became friends with Hooks and his wife of 50 years, Frances, "if you saw him preach, you'd begin to believe what he believed. He was a real firebrand in the pulpit."

Hooks, formerly a Republican, was a Democrat by the time President Richard Nixon appointed him to the FCC. 

A look at Hooks' five years at the agency illuminates how little the intervening decades have affected the issue of radio and television ownership.

A 2007 study by the media advocacy group Free Press found that while people of color comprise 34 percent of the U.S. population, they own just 3.15 percent of television stations. Women make up 51 percent of the population, but own just 5.87 percent of television stations.

Yet those changes in technology are a boon to people of color in a way that the advent of radio and television have not been, Brown said.

"That's one of the reasons why the Internet is very important, because in order to develop a service, you don't have to bring . . . hordes of dollars in order to play, you just have to bring new ideas. You will be surprised at the number of young African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans who are getting ownership in that arena."

As recently as December, Hooks recognized the Internet's power in an opinion piece in the Commercial Appeal: "Here's the problem the FCC must address: Millions of Americans cannot afford high-speed service or worse, cannot even access it," he wrote.

And Reed Hundt, another former FCC commissioner, disclosed last month that the FCC had tilted its policies toward the Internet, at the expense of television, because  the Internet was "certain to be diverse in every conceivable respect and not by dint of regulation - diverse, meaning it would be in every language and every race would be welcome and the content would be . . . generated by people who . . . would choose any points of view; and any kind of ownership of the content would be admissible and any form of ownership of the content would be possible." 

In his five years on the FCC, Hooks also addressed the minority employment statistics for the broadcasting industry, and the image of blacks in the mass media. He also helped to increase the number of African American lawyers at the FCC from three to 150, the Voice of America reported.

"At the FCC, they knew things were wrong. There just hadn't been anything done about it. And there was more willingness to change than people would have thought," Hooks said.

Hooks was a first, and even his waiting room signaled change, as columnist Askia Muhammad wrote in the Washington Informer in 2008. "In an interview, Dr. Hooks told me he always kept copies of Muhammad Speaks in his office waiting room so that everyone who came in could see that his eyes were open to a variety of opinions and perspectives," the columnist wrote.

Hooks supported some policies that have since been reversed or gone out of fashion: The "fairness doctrine" that required equal time for opposing views, regulation of broadcast ownership and enforcement of prohibitions against foul language on the air, for example.

In 2001, he said media companies were not as dominant during his tenure because ownership was limited to seven TV stations and 14 radio stations. "I believe that rule was better for everybody," he said to BlackAmericaWeb.com.

Hooks was on a commission that voted unanimously to deem inappropriate for airing from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. what became known as the "seven dirty words."

As NAACP director, Mr. Hooks told the Washington Times in 1991 that there was a relationship between images conveyed in popular culture and the decline of values, Ronald A. Taylor reported then.

"When we step back far enough to see where we are in our society, this is a violent society," Hooks said. "But white people have been moving away from some of that violence, and I think we [blacks] are going through a phase now. I must confess that I do not have all of the answers I would like to have."

"But, he said, he believes the solution may lie in a return to the kind of family values," Taylor wrote, "the conventional nuclear family structure with gainfully employed parents - expressed in what he described as the 'Southern Baptist morality.'"

Hooks continued to monitor the media as NAACP director. In 1982, the New York Times reported that "Blacks and members of other minority groups trying to get jobs in the film industry will receive a helping hand from Walt Disney Productions, which announced a series of actions to be taken after 10 months of talks with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People."

Hooks was born in 1925 into what he described as "sort of a militant family," Tommy Perkins wrote in the Memphis Business Journal in 2002. "He was the first black judge in the South since Reconstruction, serving first as a Shelby County Criminal Court judge in the 1960s and later on the Special Supreme Court. He was the first black person appointed to the Federal Communications Commission, of which he was later commissioner."

He added, "Hooks says he passed up an opportunity to be the FCC's chairman in 1977 to lead the NAACP out of financial turmoil after its boycott of businesses in a Mississippi town led to a massive recovery judgment against the organization."

In his first news conference at the NAACP, he kidded the television reporters, saying, "In a sense I move from being your supervisor to depending on you."

Milton Coleman Champions Editors' "New Attitude"

April 14, 2010
Washington Post Veteran Assumes ASNE Leadership

Diversity Chair Wants New Strategies From Media Firms

Reporters Complain About Obama's Press Restrictions

Blacks Say Press Too Tough on Tiger Woods, Obama

400 Lost Jobs in Local TV News, RTNDA Says

O'Reilly: "We . . . Dropped That Race Stuff" After 9/11

Cuban Journalist Shared Cell With Murderers

Pat Harvey Changes Stations in L.A. Shakeup

Nominate a J-Educator Who Has Helped Diversity

Milton Coleman says on his first day as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, "ASNE is back in the game, with momentum on our side." (Credit: Michael Lutzky/Washington Post)

Washington Post Veteran Assumes ASNE Leadership

With nods to Abraham Lincoln, Robert C. Maynard and others, Milton R. Coleman, senior editor at the Washington Post, pledged that "we've got a new attitude, and a new game" Wednesday as he became president of the American Society of News Editors,

ASNE has assumed, Coleman said, "our rightful place as multi-platform news leaders."

Coleman becomes the third African American to lead the organization, following William A. Hilliard of the Oregonian in Portland (1993-94) and Karla Garrett Harshaw of the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun and Cox Community Newspapers (2004-05). ASNE was founded in 1922, and was formerly known as the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

It is an organization whose members are searching for a viable business model in the age of new media, and whose signature diversity effort — setting a goal that newsroom staffs equal the percentage of people of color in the population by 2025, seems more unattainable than ever as newsrooms recover from a loss of 13.500 journalists since 2007.

The ability of ASNE to steer members past the adversity has not always been clear.

Asked how the leadership of ASNE affects the average journalist, Carlos Sanchez, editor of the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald, told Journal-isms, "in this day and age . . . it would make little difference, and that will be Milton's challenge."

Sanchez said the diversity "call to parity" from ASNE in the 1980s made "a profound difference to me as a young journalist," and that Coleman needs to "issue some sort of edict or pursue some kind of goal or call to parity" that would be comparable. "The media is under constant attack," Sanchez added. "We as media don't push back because we have so many different components."

However, others said ASNE clearly affects everyday newsroom workers through the information it provides to newsroom leaders, in forging alliances with other journalists and industry groups, and by using its bully pulpit on such issues as press freedoms, ethics, accountability and other traditional journalism values.

Coleman, 63, has learned Spanish and interacts with Latin American news executives through the Inter American Press Association, of which he is an officer. Next year's ASNE convention is to be held in San Diego in conjunction with the IAPA. Coleman is expected to bring ASNE members closer to their hemispheric colleagues.

That's significant, said Gilbert Bailon, editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and 2007-2008 president of ASNE. Speaking of the continuing danger faced by Mexican journalists, Bailon told Journal-isms that, "Not enough journalists realize the importance in our own country."

Many hope that Coleman will act on backsliding diversity efforts. "To have a person like Milton, we will have a national face for the imperative of putting this at the forefront again," Ronnie Agnew, executive editor of the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, said. Agnew volunteered to be ASNE's new diversity chair, and Coleman said he quickly agreed.

Coleman acknowledged Maynard in his debut speech as ASNE president, a speech in which he noted that ASNE held its first convention "four score and seven years ago" at Washington's Willard Hotel, across the street from where he spoke to the ASNE audience.

He called Maynard "a pioneer, a door opener, a builder and a personal mentor, who inspired and launched an entire generation of journalists of color, telling and showing us how to get into the business, how to succeed and how to rise to the top, and one who pressed this organization to be a drum major for diversity in our industry." He thanked Dori J. Maynard, Bob Maynard's daughter and president of the Maynard Institute, for being present.

Under his leadership, Coleman pledged, "ASNE will be an organization that interacts with its members far more frequently than in the past, with useful and practical information to help you lead. The new technology will not be just something we talk about, but something we do — regularly and at times, almost exclusively.

"There will be an ongoing online program to better move us as an organization at the faster pace of communication today. More of our members will be involved through a more interconnected organizational structure, more active board members, and an expanded array of hard-working committees focused on key needs and issues. Our Web site will be a more essential and lively destination. As an organization, we will learn to function even better in times of less. And we'll very consciously do a better job of tooting our own horn about all the many essential and often unique things that we do."

Charlotte Hall, editor of the Orlando Sentinel and another past ASNE president, said of Coleman, "I expect him to be a visionary, to speak to our core values and at the same time be immersed in the creation of the new journalism." She said Coleman always reminded ASNE board members of the communities for whom editors publish. He would often say, "never forget why we do this — which is to serve human beings," Hall said.

Other journalists of color assumed ASNE committee chairmanships, the organization announced on Wednesday: Gregory L. Moore, editor of the Denver Post, is convention program chair; Lorraine E. Branham, dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, heads Education for Journalism; Diana Fuentes, editor, Laredo (Texas) Morning Times, chairs the High School Journalism Committee; Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor of Al D??a, in Dallas, co-chairs the International Committee; and Mizell Stewart III, editor, Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press, chairs the Online Programs Committee.

Diversity Chair Wants New Strategies From Media Firms

Ronnie AgnewRonnie Agnew, the new chairman of the Diversity Committee of the American Society of News Editors, says he hopes to "help change the strategies of some of the major companies" to restore "a sense of urgency" to diversity efforts.

"I think it's time to bring back the commitment that many of our companies have lost," said Agnew, executive editor of the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.

"In the '80s, you didn't have to do that. Now, in 2010, we have to start over in some sense."

Next week, he said, the Gannett Co., for which he works, is having a task force meeting on just that topic. "We want to leave that meeting with an action plan on how we recover," he told Journal-isms. "It's important for me to tell young people they have a future" in this business. "In the last two years, I have to tell you, that was a tough conversation."

Diversity "makes good business sense," he said.

On Sunday, ASNE released the results of its annual census. It showed that since 2001, the number of Asian Americans had risen by 4.4 percent, but the number of blacks had declined by 31.5 percent, Hispanics by 7 percent and Native Americans by 20.9 percent. The number of white journalists also fell by 20.9 percent.

"We lost so many people of color," Agnew said. "They lost trust in the industry. They took buyouts, they got laid off, or they just chose to be proactive and left the industry."

Separately, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists reacted Wednesday to the ASNE figures.

"This is, in a word, frustrating," said O. Ricardo Pimentel, NAHJ president. "We understand the complex factors that contributed to job losses across the board but also understand that, particularly in times of deep economic distress, diversity must remain a key strategic goal. These numbers — on top of insufficient gains in 'good years' — suggest that this value has taken a battering of late. Recruitment and retention efforts have not kept up with the need, given how fast the Latino population is growing. This is a strategic imperative."

Reporters Complain About Obama's Press Restrictions

"World leaders arriving in Washington for President Obama's Nuclear Security Summit must have felt for a moment that they had instead been transported to Soviet-era Moscow," Dana Milbank wrote Wednesday in the Washington Post.

". . . Reporters, even those on the White House beat for two decades, said these were the most restricted such meetings they had ever seen. They complained to both the administration and White House Correspondents' Association, which will discuss the matter Thursday with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

"The restrictions have become a common practice for the Obama White House. When Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came to the White House a couple of weeks ago, reporters were kept away. Soon after that, Obama signed an executive order on abortion, again without any coverage.

"Over the weekend, Obama broke with years of protocol and slipped off to a soccer game without the 'protective' pool that is always in the vicinity of the president in case the unthinkable occurs. Obama joked about it later to Pakistan's prime minister, saying reporters 'were very upset.' "

Blacks Say Press Too Tough on Tiger Woods, Obama

More than half of African Americans (55 percent) say press treatment of Tiger Woods has been too tough, compared with 36 percent of whites, according to a survey of 1,012 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

The poll, released Wednesday, also found that 51 percent of African Americans see press treatment of President Obama as too tough, compared with just 17 percent of whites. "About a third of whites (34%) see coverage as too easy, much more than the 7% of African Americans that share this view. Similar numbers for each group see treatment as fair (42% among whites, 38% among blacks)," Pew said.

Overall, the poll found that 38 percent of Americans said that the press has been too tough on Woods. "About as many say treatment of Woods as he returned to tournament play has been fair (39%), while 14% say it has been too easy."

Pew said 112 blacks and 806 whites were in the sample.

400 Lost Jobs in Local TV News, RTNDA Says

"The RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found that 2009 meant another year of TV news doing more with less and news leaders typically feeling optimistic about staffing levels staying the same or growing in 2010," the Radio Television Digital News Association reported on Wednesday.

"All told, 400 people in local TV news lost their jobs in 2009, according to the survey — accounting for 1.5 percent of the local TV workforce. That may be considered a bad year, but not nearly as bad as 2008, when 1,200 people lost jobs in TV news (4.3 percent of the workforce).

"Even as staffing fell, the amount of news on the average station rose to another record high of five hours per weekday. That’s up from last year’s record 4.7 hours.

"The best news in this year's survey regards planned staff changes in 2010. In a dramatic turnaround from a year ago, over 60 percent of TV news directors say they expect staffing levels to stay the same. That's up nearly 20 points from a year ago."

O'Reilly: "We . . . Dropped That Race Stuff" After 9/11

Bill O'Reilly addressed a largely African-American audience at Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network Conference. <a mce_thref="http://www.thegrio.com/news/oreilly-booed-at-sharptons-national-action-network-conference.php">Click to view video</>. "Fox News host Bill O'Reilly addressed a largely African-American audience at Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network Conference on Wednesday afternoon, receiving warm applause after he was introduced by Sharpton. But his reception quickly soured when he began to talk about his perception of race in America, particularly after 9/11," theGrio.com reported.

O'Reilly found little agreement from the audience when he asserted that "we pretty much dropped that race stuff" after 9/11.

Cuban Journalist Shared Cell With Murderers

Oscar S?°nchez Madan "When I asked Cuban journalist Oscar S?°nchez Madan to describe in one sentence his three years in jail, he told me: 'I don‚Äôt wish on anybody the dreadful experience I had in prison,'" Jos?© Barbeito wrote Wednesday for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"A municipal court in Uni??n de Reyes, province of Matanzas, freed him on Sunday after he completed a three-year prison term. . . . During his confinement, S?°nchez said, he shared an 86-square-foot (8-square-meter) jail cell with 12 other prisoners. The cell, he described, had three walls with tiny windows near the ceiling, bars on the front, and a toilet with running water only once a day. 'If we wanted to have water the whole day, we had to store the water in our own buckets,' he said.

"The irregular water service along with a lack of cleaning supplies severely affected the prisoners‚Äô health, the journalist said: 'Detainees, including me, were diagnosed many times with severe, chronic diarrhea and parasites.' At one point, it was so bad the state health agency had to be called in, S?°nchez said.

"Some of the detainees sharing S?°nchez‚Äôs jail cell had committed murder and other serious crimes. S?°nchez himself was in prison for 'social dangerousness,' a vague charge in Cuba‚Äôs penal code he was given in 2007 after covering a local corruption scandal."

Pat Harvey Changes Stations in L.A. Shake-Up

Pat Harvey, left, and Sharon TayIn a major shake-up at two Los Angeles television stations, "Pat Harvey, one of the most prominent news anchors in Los Angeles and the most identifiable personality of KCAL's prime-time newscast, jumped . . . to the anchor desk at sister station KCBS," Greg Braxton reported April 8 for the Los Angeles Times.

"Harvey, who helped launch KCAL's prime-time newscast two decades ago, will now anchor the 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts with Paul Magers at KCBS. His former co-anchor Laura Diaz has moved to a solo anchor slot on KCBS' 6 p.m. newscast.

"KCBS weekend anchor Sharon Tay has succeeded Harvey as co-anchor of KCAL's 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts. Tay, who sparked controversy several years ago as an anchor at KTLA when she appeared in revealing layouts in men's magazines, joins Rick Garcia at the anchor desk."

"Harvey was the last remaining anchor of KCAL's groundbreaking three-hour nightly newscast, which was part of a risky experiment by the station's then-owner, the Walt Disney Co. The news block marked the first time in the country that a commercial station had devoted its entire evening programming to news instead of entertainment."

Nominate a J-Educator Who Has Helped Diversity

The National Conference of Editorial Writers annually grants a Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship — actually an award — "in recognition of an educator's outstanding efforts to encourage minority students in the field of journalism." The educator should be at the college level.

Nominations, which are now being accepted for the 2010 award, should consist of a statement about why you believe your nominee is deserving.

The final selection will be made by the NCEW Foundation board and will be announced in time for the Sept 22-25 NCEW convention in Dallas, when the presentation will be made.

Since 2000, an honorarium of $1,000 has been awarded the recipient, to be used to "further work in progress or begin a new project."

Past winners include: James Hawkins of Florida A&M University (1990); Larry Kaggwa of Howard U. (1992); Ben Holman of the U. of Maryland (1996); Linda Jones, Roosevelt U., Chicago (1998); Ramon Chavez, U. of Colorado, Boulder (1999); Erna Smith of San Francisco State (2000); Joseph Selden of Penn State (2001); Cheryl Smith; Paul Quinn College (2002); Rose Richard, Marquette University (2003), Leara D. Rhodes of the University of Georgia (2004), Denny McAuliffe of the University of Montana (2005), Pearl Stewart of Black College Wire (2006), Valerie White of Florida A&M University (2007), Phillip Dixon of Howard University (2008) and Bruce DePyssler of North Carolina Central University (2009).

Nominations may be e-mailed to Richard Prince, NCEW Diversity Committee chair, richardprince (at) hotmail.com. The deadline is May 21.

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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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Comments

Online response to ASNE diversity survey (David Cay Johnston)

Neither Slate.com, owned by the Washington Post Company, and About.com, owned by The New York Times Company bothered to respond to the ASNE survey on staff diversity, according to Richard Prince. http://mije.org/richardprince/asne-releases-diversity-figures#Online%20C... Nor did NPR. The question now is whether the chief executives of these three very responsible enterprises will pick up the phone and tell their subordinates to get the data turned over pronto, along with apologies to ASNE, so it can issue a revised report. Mr. Graham? Ms. Robinson? Ms. Schiller? And what of Yahoo (Carol Bartz), Daily Beast (Tina Brown), Huffington Post (Arianna Huffington), Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall) and of all places the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (whose board chair os Brat Houston and whose board vice president is Charles Lewis) and whose website today is the latest installment in its examination of "diversity in dairyland?" News organizations should hold themselves to the same standards to which they hold others.

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