Black Press Gets Moment at Rally
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Editor Links White Media With Assaults on Poor
The black press got its moment at the Millions More Movement rally on the National Mall in Washington Saturday when George E. Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, used his short time on stage to deliver a 673-word speech that denounced the white-owned press and pleaded for support to "make our Black media stronger."
Although organizers cautioned that it was the start of a "movement" to address 10 key issues, and not a one-day event, Saturday's was still the largest assembly of African Americans in 10 years. "Authorities at the scene -- who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they do not officially give crowd counts -- said they estimated that about 100,000 people attended," Robert E. Pierre and Hamil R. Harris wrote in the Washington Post.
As he joined the day-long parade of speakers about 11:15 a.m., Curry told the crowd, "I am proud to be a journalist but I am not proud of how my profession has performed its duties.
"While NNPA-member newspapers were publishing stories about Black churches and ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things to help their brothers and sisters, the White-owned media was obsessed with stories about the limited number of victims looting while ignoring the massive looting that was taking place at the gas pump. . . . It becomes easier to dismiss the plight of the needy when labels can be hung on them," said Curry, a veteran of the Chicago Tribune, editor of the late Emerge magazine and the National Association of Black Journalists' 2003 Journalist of the Year.
"The White-owned news media has lost much of its credibility because it has adopted the language of the Far Right," Curry continued. "Many people are confused about affirmative action because the media talks about race-based or gender-based preferences. Affirmative action is not race- or gender based. Historically Black Colleges and Universities don't admit students based on their race. . . .
Citing "assaults on the poor," Curry said, "We can't rely on anyone else to tell our story. Our Black media, like other institutions in our community, are under attack. We've already lost Motown, we lost Johnson Hair products in Chicago, BET sold out to Viacom, Time, Inc. has purchased Essence and BlackVoices.com.
"And it's going to get worse," he said.
"Over the next 50 years, the U.S. population is going to grow by 50 percent ?- 90 percent of that growth will be among people of color. Only 7 percent of that growth will be among Whites. That means ?- and let's be very clear about this ? the only way for media giants to grow will be by buying Black-owned companies.
"This is the time to make our Black media stronger so that we can continue to tell our stories. The motto of the first Black newspaper in 1827 -? Freedom's Journal -? is just as relevant today as it was 178 years ago: 'We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.'"
The mainstream media received another scolding from the march organizer, Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, when he included an "information ministry" among his proposals for separate efforts outside the government to redress failures elsewhere. The others, he said in his 75-minute address, would be ministries of health, agriculture, culture, trade and defense.
A survey of front pages posted on the Newseum's Web site showed the event mentioned on Page One in only a handful of papers, including the Washington Post (PDF), which displayed its story above the fold, Washington Times (PDF), Miami Herald (PDF), Virginia's Richmond Times-Dispatch (PDF) and the Democrat and Chronicle (PDF) in Rochester, N.Y.
Erin Texeira of the Associated Press quoted Danny Bakewell, publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, a black weekly, saying the gathering was "a glaring symbol of the possibilities that are in front of black people. This is not the end, it's a beginning."
The Washington Post, one of the few papers providing next-day commentary, ran an op-ed column by Eugene Robinson and an essay by Lynne Duke, both taking a different tack from critics who said the event should be judged by its plan of action or quoted statistics showing that the plight of African Americans had not much changed since the original Million Man March in 1995.
"What's wrong with wanting a new black movement? What's wrong with wanting some kind of mass momentum toward a common goal?" began Duke's essay, which proceeded to quote march participants.
"You can keep your cold-eyed analysis and save all your gloomy statistics," wrote Robinson.
"When a locked door is swung open and you see that beyond it lies a better world, something has changed. Even if the door slams shut again, you're not the same person you were before. You can't be," he said of the power of the original march.
Eugene Kane, Metro columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, also filed from Washington Saturday night. "Farrakhan proved again that his credibility with blacks and other groups is just as powerful," he wrote. "His harsh comments on the war in Iraq and the aftermath of Katrina and his blistering criticisms of the Bush administration still strike a chord.
"Nobody else, not [Jesse] Jackson, [Al] Sharpton or even Bill Cosby, could have pulled this off a second time. . . . There was no way to duplicate the magic of the first Million Man March. But this was like seeing your first love 10 years later, and realizing the spark that captured you the first time was still there."
The Sunday network talk shows decided to skip mention of the event, preferring to focus on the vote in Iraq on a proposed constitution and other topics.
The exception was ABC's "This Week," which featured a short segment with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. "If it's God's work then it's the right thing to do, and a number of people, if it's a couple hundred thousand or a million, it's still an inspiring day. It's still a call to action. It's still a success story, at least in my eyes," Simmons said.
On his own Web site, Keith Boykin, who at the last minute was denied permission to speak as a representative of the gay community, published what he had planned to say, and on BlackAmericaWeb.com, columnist Deborah Mathis took the opportunity to remind readers that a few months ago, Sharpton had ?pledged to jumpstart a grassroots movement that would address the issue of homophobia in the black community.? She noted that nothing had happened.
This morning in the New York Daily News, commentator Stanley Crouch, a harsh critic of Farrakhan and of much of rap music, wrote, "many suspect that entrepreneur Russell Simmons, the 'godfather of hip hop,' is a strong financial supporter of the Nation of Islam. Perhaps that explains why Simmons can support and promote cultural monstrosities such as 50 Cent and be sure he will hear nothing derisive from Farrakhan."
National Public Radio's "News and Notes with Ed Gordon" today devoted four segments of the program to the event.
The other media figure who was part of the program was economist and commentator Julianne Malveaux, who introduced Curry and other speakers.
"The Millions More Movement activity on October 15 demonstrated what African American people can do best when we work together," she told Journal-isms today by e-mail. "The multidimensional nature of our community was featured, with remarks from our elders and from our youth, from the nationalist community and from the civil rights community. Women played an equal role in the design, implementation, and participation in the program. Now, the focus must be on next steps. As [Wyclef] Jean sang, 'It's more than a march, it's a movement.'"
Among the pre-march commentary was an essay by Sonsyrea Tate, a disillusioned former member of the Nation of Islam who now edits the weekly Washington Informer and wrote the book "Little X."
"I will not ask why nobody has looked into Farrakhan?s own nation to check its levels of democracy, and fairness in opportunities, to check the level of support this mini all-Black nation offers its members falling on hard times," she wrote. "I will ask why a man who mobilized a million men ten years ago in the nation?s [capital] could not mobilize half a million men to go to New Orleans? Ward Nine to rebuild a community completely destroyed."
There was this other pre-march commentary:
- Lawrence Aaron, The Record, Hackensack, N.J.: New emphasis for organizers of march
- Colbert I. King, Washington Post: We (Still) Need More Than a March
- Roland S. Martin, Creators Syndicate: Farrakhan's Millions More Movement Must Deliver Results
- James Ragland, Dallas Morning News: What strides will this march make?
- Wendi C. Thomas, Memphis Commercial Appeal: O Brothers, where art thou as filth pounds on?
- Dawn Turner Trice, Chicago Tribune: Only real plans make a march a movement
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Reginald Stuart, a veteran journalist and recruiter for Knight Ridder, accepted the Ida B. Wells Award Saturday night from the National Association of Black Journalists with a call for audience members to oppose media consolidation and unpaid internships, to speak up at news meetings to be sure there is a "meaningful minority presence and participation in every aspect of what we do," and to remember when they tell someone he or she is unqualified for a job, that "you once were not qualified, either."
The Wells award is bestowed annually by NABJ and the National Conference of Editorial Writers "to recognize media executives who have made outstanding efforts to ensure newsrooms more accurately reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. It is named for the 19th century journalist who crusaded against lynching and is administered by Northwestern University?s Medill School of Journalism," in the words of NCEW.
Wells' great-grandson, Dan Duster, presented the honor to Stuart at NABJ's second annual awards gala in Washington, a black-tie-optional event attended by 291 people, NABJ Executive Director Tangie Newborn said today. Tickets were $100 for full and associate members; $75 for student members and $125 for non-members, though the event was not intended to be a fund-raiser, Newborn said. Among the honorees was CBS-TV's Ed Bradley, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
"Are you insisting at every turn that interns be paid for the work they do?" Stuart asked. "At the Howard University Jobs Fair yesterday, I was reminded how engrained this no-pay notion is, especially in the heads of young recruiters who need to be on the front lines fighting it. I asked a young recruiter if his company was paying its interns. 'Oh no,' he said. 'They don?t do that.' If he?s working for them, shouldn?t he be saying 'we?'
"In one breath, I was ashamed of him and for him. He reminded me of the character in the movie 'Crash' who seemed powerless to determine anything in his company, even how a line of script in a sit-com should be read. Trust me. Paying interns is an easy one."
The issue of unpaid internships has been thorny, and not just in the broadcast media. "Cokie Roberts, a political commentator for ABC News, told a group of congressional interns last year that unpaid internships are 'something that really makes me nuts' because they make it 'more difficult for people who don't have economic advantages to catch up,'" USA Today reported in July.
On the other hand, broadcaster Ed Gordon got into the business after a friend got him an unpaid internship at the PBS affiliate in Detroit, his home town, according to the Washington Post. Gordon was eventually hired by the station and began his broadcast career.
Columnist Tannette Johnson-Elie of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted Martha Artiles, chief diversity officer for Manpower Inc., this year saying the notion of paying interns has been a growing trend in the last 10 to 15 years, especially among Fortune 500 companies. "To get top talent you've got to pay. If you want to be more competitive at getting top talent, whether it's diverse or not, then you've got to pay," Artiles said.
In 1994, Stuart became the first African American president of the Society of Professional Journalists. He urged listeners Saturday night to "do all you can to protect the First Amendment and promote diversity of voices and ownership. . . . If you are silent on this matter, you are helping choke the First Amendment's ability to breathe. And be warned, the less it breathes for us in the media, the less it breathes for us as a society of people of color."
When confronted by job applicants who do not seem qualified, the Knight Ridder recruiter urged, "Take the higher road, not the escape route. When some untrained, not-ready-for prime timer approaches you, tell them ?you know, you remind me of myself when I started. You?re not qualified, but I think you are ready for the challenge. Let?s talk.? Are you doing your part every day to make milk out of powder?"
To help celebrate Bradley's Lifetime Achievement Award, his colleagues Mike Wallace and Morley Safer appeared via video. "In this crowd at '60 Minutes,'" Safer said, "he's a mere teenager." Wallace is 87, Safer, 73, Bradley, 64. "I'm not finished yet," Bradley told the crowd. "There are many more rivers to cross and, many more stories to cover."
Bradley recalled that when he joined WCBS Radio in New York in 1967, only three people of color were at the station -- himself, a radio technician and a janitor. Today, one-third of the staff is of color, he said. Bradley also picked up two awards, for stories on entertainer Ray Charles and lynching victim Emmett Till.
Other honorees included Krissah Williams of the Washington Post as "Emerging Journalist of the Year." Williams writes about minority and immigrant business for the paper and last week reported from Guatemala on the flooding and mudslides that hit that country. She said her mission was to "reflect the diversity of the communities that we live in locally and in the world." Her newspaper picked up five contest awards, dominating the newspaper category. One went to Wil Haygood for a story on former mayor Marion Barry's ultimately successful campaign to return to the City Council. To the crowd's delight, an announcer read this line: "Barry is an old story, a nostalgia act -- like the Dells or the Stylistics singing groups, some say."
Named Journalist of the Year was Andy Alford of the Austin American-Statesman, who, with Erik Rodriguez, produced a four-part series showing that police were more likely to use excessive force against people of color than against white people. "When you uncover ugly truth, you get ugly responses," Alford said of some of the feedback she received.
The event took place in the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, which as the Sheraton Park Hotel was the site of the organization's founding 30 years ago, on Dec. 12, 1975. As part of the commemoration, NABJ President Bryan Monroe and Newborn presented a plaque to the hotel manager, Reggie Dennis. Founders who were present for the ceremony marveled that 30 years after their meeting, the hotel has an African American manager.
Photo gallery by Melanie Burney, NABJ parliamentarian
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