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"Black Man" in Demand

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Sunday, June 4, 2006

D.C.'s Post Finds Topic Ripe for Discussion

A year-long Washington Post series on "Being a Black Man" debuted over the weekend to enthusiastic responses from readers who are using the articles as discussion points, according to the journalists involved in the project.

The Post's Web site has featured two online chats, a multimedia presentation that includes a timeline of the history of African American men starting in 1492, reader responses to the question "What does it mean to be a black man?" and the results of a survey of 2,864 people, including a sample of 1,328 black men.

The article about the survey, which dominated the printed Post's front page on Sunday, was the most e-mailed article for most of today, and the Post Web site linked to 40 blogs discussing the series.

"The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, often emotional," Kevin Merida, the associate editor who is coordinating the series, told Journal-isms today. "It has come from all over the country. People wanting to tell their own stories. People wanting to offer themselves and their expertise as resources. People wanting to suggest new avenues of exploration. People expressing surprise, then gratification that black men would be featured so prominently and portrayed with complexity in the Washington Post, etc., etc.

"Of course, there are a few who have wondered aloud: Why do black men deserve such treatment? And, what about a series on 'Being a White Man'? But such comments have been relatively few."

Merida added in Friday's online chat: "I would love to read a series on 'Being a White Man.'"

In today's chat, a reader from Tracys Landing, Md., asked, "What does the Washington Post plan to do about changing its historic pattern of reporting mostly negative news about Black men – a pattern that has contributed to Black men's (and others') negative views about them?"

Post pollster Richard Morin replied, "I think this series is something the Post is doing right now to change the pattern you describe."

The survey aimed "to capture the experiences and perceptions of black men at a time marked by increasing debate about how to build on their achievements and address the failures that endure decades after the civil rights movement."

Among its many findings, "Six in 10 black men said their collective problems owe more to what they have failed to do themselves rather than 'what white people have done to blacks.' At the same time, half reported they have been treated unfairly by the police, and a clear majority said the economic system is stacked against them."

The experience also underscored how much the images of young black men have come to obscure those of their elders.

"I found something very curious when I called people who participated in the poll to ask them follow-up questions," Steven A. Holmes, a Post editor who wrote the Sunday story with Morin, said in today's chat. "Almost all of the time when they started talking about black men, they talked about young black men. They didn't talk about middle-aged black men, or elderly black men, but young kids. I don't know why, but that is the dominant image when it comes to black men, just like I feel the business executive is the dominant image that comes to mind when people think of white men."

As with a story about poorly educated black men in March in the New York Times, and with 1995's Million Man March, the series appeared to tap into a deep hunger to discuss the subject. "I have been waiting for this to come out for two weeks. When I got the Post this morning and saw that this series not only made the front page of the Post, but it was above the fold, my knees got weak," a man who called himself Native Son wrote Friday on

On his site, Spencer Overton, a professor at George Washington University, said, "Business organizations, schools, churches, boys and girls clubs, YMCA's, mentoring programs, and other community organizations should have discussion groups around this series. It's a must read and 'every American' should read this powerful body of work!"

Not all the feedback has been positive. Hamil R. Harris, another Post reporter working on the series who did a video presentation for the Post Web site, found feedback to be "very mixed . . . I think people are using the series as an opportunity to vent" or to express "their concerns on the issues of race and class," he told Journal-isms.

The printed Post received 10 to 15 letters that could be classified as negative and only two or three positive, said Gina Acosta of the Post's editorial page staff. The "negative" letters expressed the view that only by interviewing every black man in the country would the Post truly be exploring the issue, Acosta said.

At least four more pieces are planned. Reporter Michael A. Fletcher, who said he had received perhaps 50 e-mails – "overwhelmingly positive" – since his report opening the series appeared Friday, said in Friday's chat that this week "there will be an in-depth profile of a black man who defies racial expectations to work in the Bush administration."

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Plight of Black Men, Women a Staple for Columnists

The subject of the role of black men has never really gone away. It won renewed attention as Bill Cosby traveled the nation addressing town-hall-style meetings on parental responsibility, including one session May 15 in Washington, and as an Oprah Winfrey production, "Legends Ball," honoring such black women as Gladys Knight, Maya Angelou, Cicely Tyson, Dorothy Height, Leontyne Price and others, aired May 27 on ABC-TV.

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Star Tribune Prefers Term "Illegal Immigrant"

The Star Tribune in Minneapolis has declared "illegal immigrant" the preferred term when writing in general about "those who enter the United States with no passport, visa or other document to show that they may legally visit, work, or live here," reader representative Kate Parry wrote in her Sunday column.

"The term 'undocumented immigrant' is to be avoided, but can be used in some cases, such as where the word 'illegal' already appears in a sentence. Care is to be taken in calling an individual an illegal immigrant because a person's legal status can't always be known.

"'Alien' and 'illegal alien' are regarded in the new style as 'technically correct,' but potentially conveying menace or strangeness. As a noun, the word 'illegal' is not the preferred way to refer to illegal immigrants. The style urges resisting the use of 'alien,' 'illegal alien' or 'illegal' except when a tight headline count doesn't allow for better terms. Those instances must be approved by a supervisor, adding a layer of oversight to help limit their use."

Parry said the paper began re-examining its style after the National Association of Hispanic Journalists urged an end to using the words "alien" and "illegals," a position it reiterated in March.

"I'd prefer a style banning use of 'illegal' or 'illegals' as a noun referring to human beings," Parry continued. "I find that dehumanizing. As for 'alien,' it seems a fitting description only for, well, Martians. None of these terms – illegals, aliens, undocumented workers – are words most of us would use in conversation.

"But the newsroom is reluctant to flatly ban any word."

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times on Saturday took readers back to the sweeping immigration reform bill signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 that features, "among other things, widespread legalization of illegal immigrants, tougher border enforcement and measures aimed at eliminating the hiring of unauthorized workers.

"For better or worse, the law has become a key reference point in the current debate about how best to reform a still-dysfunctional immigration system," said the story by Teresa Watanabe and Anna Gorman.

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Debra Lee, George Curry Join in AIDS Call to Action

Media figures Debra L. Lee of Black Entertainment Television and George E. Curry of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service joined other African American leaders today in a call to action commemorating the 25th anniversary of the first AIDS diagnosis in the United States.

"In 2006, AIDS in America is a Black disease," said Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, in a news release. "The only way for AIDS to be over in America is for AIDS to be over in Black America, and the only way to stop AIDS in Black America is for Black people to take ownership of the disease and mount a mass Black mobilization."

"The AIDS story in America is mostly one of a failure to lead," said Lee, chairman and CEO of BET Networks. "BET is proud to stand with the Black AIDS Institute and other leaders in calling on Black leaders and organizations to step forward. Whether as opinion shapers or industry titans, we all must use our positions to help build a mass grassroots community movement to end HIV/AIDS."

The Black AIDS Institute released its report, "AIDS in Black Face: 25 Years of An Epidemic," at a news conference in New York.

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Iraq "Will Affect the Life My Kids Will Have"

James Blue, a black journalist who worked with Ted Koppel at ABC-TV's "Nightline" and remains with him as a Discovery Channel producer, was one of seven journalists interviewed by Broadcasting & Cable about why they risk their lives in Iraq.

"While their experiences differ, they remain united in one thing at least: a strong sense of duty to report this most vital of news stories," John M. Higgins and Allison Romano wrote today. "They are also, sadly, their own human-interest story."

"One morning, the Iraq [report] was that there were 30 dead in Baghdad," said Blue, who has been in and out of Iraq since 1997.

"My [6-year-old] son said in a knowing way, 'Another bad day in Baghdad,' then looked at me. He didn't have to say any more than that. He knows I go there for my work. He can tell that's part of the equation. He's seen my Kevlar, the fatigues, the things I have to wear on an embed. On the one hand, he thinks it's exciting; he thinks I work for the U.S. Army. On the other, I think he knows that there's danger as well."

Blue also said, "I'm amazed at what the U.S. and coalition involvement has done to Iraq, both good and bad. Recording and marking that is pretty high on the scale of stories that need to be told. It will affect the life my kids will have. The outcome, the anger, rage and ill will in Iraq will be in effect for ages to come."

Others interviewed were Clark Bentson and John Berman of ABC News; Richard Engel of NBC News; Lara Logan of CBS News; Mimi Spillane of the "CBS Evening News" and Michael Ware of CNN.

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Short Takes

  • "The Times-Picayune should be able to see paperwork that led to the Aug. 3 raid by federal authorities on the New Orleans home of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, along with his car and the office of his campaign treasurer, Jack Swetland, a federal appeals court judge has ruled," the Associated Press reported Saturday.
  • "In one of his first official duties, Robert McDowell, the Federal Communications Commission's new Republican commissioner, is planning to vote next week on a controversial proceeding to relax agency media ownership restrictions, Dana Brown Shaffer, his press liaison, said Monday," Doug Halonen reported today for Television Week. "FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has made clear that he wants to relax rules that currently bar daily newspaper owners from buying radio and TV stations in their markets and limit the number of stations broadcasters can own in their service areas."
  • The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer acknowledged on Sunday its role in the 1898 riots in Wilmington, N.C., "America's only documented instance of a violent coup d'etat to oust a legally elected government. The battle for power in Wilmington was part of a campaign across the state and the South to create the segregationist system in which intimidation and Jim Crow laws repressed generations of black Americans," it said.
  • "A decision by five major news organizations to pay $750,000 to nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, named in news stories as the target of an espionage investigation, "is prompting warnings that the unusual payment could embolden others aggrieved by government leaks and lead to more litigation involving the press," Josh Gerstein wrote today in the New York Sun.
  • "Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's National Assembly, will be the guest speaker at the kickoff for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' convention this month in Fort Lauderdale, organizers said Thursday," Madeline Bara Diaz reported Friday in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
  • "'60 Minutes' star Ed Bradley and CBS execs are at loggerheads over the 64-year-old correspondent's contract as the network chases a younger audience for its venerable show," Rush and Molloy wrote today in the New York Daily News. Bradley told Journal-isms he does not discuss contract negotiations.
  • Earl G. Graves Sr., founder of Black Enterprise magazine, has become the latest African American leader to be inducted into Baltimore's National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, a news release announced Friday.
  • "Nieman fellows from Canada and Latin America report deteriorating, often hostile feelings toward the United States in their countries. 'Disbelief,' 'regret,' 'incalculable damage to its image', 'universally unpopular' and 'the big devil' are descriptors used in response to this Web site's survey of perceptions of America," Barry Sussman wrote today on Sussman reported on May 31, "Some Asian Nieman fellows are highly critical of the American press."
  • Thirty students from 16 historically black colleges and universities attended the fourth class of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, hosted by Dillard University in New Orleans, Jasmine Elise Haynes reported today on the Black College Wire. "The students' stories ranged from the historic New Orleans mayoral election to a poker tournament exclusively for women to the reopening of a sno-ball stand. One was published in the news section of the Sunday New York Times," she wrote.
  • Rwandan president Paul Kagame on Wednesday dismissed the Oscar-nominated drama "Hotel Rwanda" as an attempt to rewrite the history of the central African country's 1994 genocide. Kagame said the movie's portrayal of Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of a luxury hotel, as a hero during the genocide was exaggerated, Reuters reported on Thursday.
  • "The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned that courts in Brazil have issued gag orders on two newspapers for their critical reporting on politicians in the run-up to a general election in October," the organization said on Friday.

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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