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Black Scribes Hopeful for White House Access

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Barack Obama told black journalists, 'My attitude is that if you were covering me when nobody wanted to cover me, then they should cover me when everybody wants to cover me.' Above, with Michael Cottman of (Credit: Robert Gibbs/Obama campaign),

An Ex-Journalist Becomes an F.O.B. (Friend Of Barack)

It was just a few years ago that Crystal Nix was a journalist whose byline graced the front page of the New York Times.

Now, as Crystal Nix Hines, Politico reported this week, she is one "of the folks Obama can call true blue, according to several insiders who worked on his campaign." She is among the select few F.O.B.s - Friends of Barack.

It's a safe bet that had Nix Hines remained a reporter at the Times, she would be outside that charmed circle: perhaps getting a chance to cover Obama, maybe not; and if she did, treated professionally but warily, like other journalists.

But Nix Hines, a 1985 graduate of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, left journalism in 2001.

This is what Politico's Jeffrey Ressner wrote about one of "Obama's real friends in Hollywood":

"Another member of the 'Harvard Law Mafia' who stayed in close contact with Obama years after graduation, Hines, who wrote for The New York Times both before and after law school, opted to forgo legal work and instead pursue television writing in Hollywood. She penned and produced several episodes of 'Commander in Chief' for director Rod Lurie, who went to the same Hawaii high school as Obama, and also served as executive story editor for the second season of 'Alias,' created by sci-fi/fantasy mogul (and longtime Democratic Party activist) J.J. Abrams."

She also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, wrote a glowing recommendation for Obama on the candidate's Web site, and, according to the nonprofit group Public Citizen, raised at least $100,000 for her former classmate.

She also has ties to Michelle Obama, having gone to Princeton with the future first lady, becoming the first black editor of the Daily Princetonian. "Mrs. Obama . . . was thrilled that a historic barrier had fallen," Michael Powell and Jodi Kantor wrote this year in the New York Times.

The non-F.O.B.s - the ones who remained in journalism - have differing feelings about Obama's rise to the presidency.

Some, particularly those in Chicago, remember him when.

Obama with Tonyaa Weathersbee of the Florida Times-Union and Les Payne of Newsday as he met with the Trotter Group last year. (Credit: Julia Cheng)"Black reporters who know him, particularly those in Chicago, feel a bit bittersweet about their relationship with him now," Sabrina Miller, a former Chicago Tribune reporter who worked in the Obama campaign this year, told Journal-isms on Friday. "The stakes have changed in an extraordinary way that we're all still trying to get our heads around.

"I can remember when I was a reporter at the Tribune calling him at home - and him answering the phone himself - for a quote before deadline. I remember him standing alone at the 100 Black Men of Chicago gala and walking right up to him with my father and introducing them. I remember when we were both speakers for the Mikva Challenge (a civic leadership organization for high school students) and there were as many people in my session as there were in his! I lived around the block from him in Hyde Park, I used to see him at church, used to see him at the bookstore . . . lots of us have those kinds of stories.

"So, we still feel like he's 'ours' - and he is, but he isn't. The reality is, you can't call him at home anymore and you can't sit down with him at Valois cafeteria and you're not just going to bump into him at the Urban League dinner. Chances are slim that he's going to appear on your local radio show on Sunday afternoon, even if you could get him to do that as recently as a year and a half ago. It's natural that Chicago wants to feel 'taken care of' because we've been with him so long but I'm not sure it's realistic.

"The challenge for those of us who know him and/or have covered him will be to manage our expectations while also still holding him and his communications team accountable for the extent to which Black media continues to have access to the Administration, and to addressing the very issues concerning African-Americans that were made a priority during the campaign."

At the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Las Vegas last year, Cheryl Smith, editor of the Dallas Weekly, asked Obama whether he would continue to reach out to the black press if elected.

Naming three Chicago black newspapers - the Defender, the Crusader and the Citizen - Obama said that when he served in the Illinois Legislature, those papers would cover issues he was working on that the mainstream press would not.

"My attitude is that if you were covering me when nobody wanted to cover me, then they should cover me when everybody wants to cover me. That attitude will continue when I'm in the White House," he said.

The evidence shows that Obama kept his word during the campaign, reaching out to black radio, black Web sites and the black press. Ebony and Jet magazines and both bagged exclusive interviews on Obama's campaign jet. Essence magazine was there, too.

Black journalists in the mainstream press couldn't always claim the same access. "Obama doesn't have lots of long-time relationships with journalists and even fewer with black ones because there were few black reporters covering his campaign," a black mainstream journalist who was on the campaign trail told Journal-isms.

Michael H. Cottman, who took a turn in the press pool for, agrees. He told Journal-isms, "My impressions are based more on intuition than facts because I haven't seen Obama around many black journalists to make an informed assessment because major media organizations did not send many black journalists on the road to cover him.

"I'd like to think President-elect Obama seriously considers black journalists when requests are made for interviews, but my feeling is that Obama (and his advisers) also look for journalists who are fair and objective. In my observations, it appears that Obama, at least publicly, relates to black journalists in much the same way he orchestrated his campaign: walking a tightrope with regards to race - not overly appealing to voters because they are black or white, and therefore not appealing to journalists because they are black or white."

Still, there will be expectations - particularly among those who knew Obama back in the day.

"I think a lot of us in Chicago still have to remind ourselves to call him 'Mr. President' or 'President-Elect Obama' rather than just 'Barack,'" Miller said. "On Election Night right after his acceptance speech, I was waiting in the rope line to offer my congratulations, and when he finally got to me I said 'Congratulations Barack!' And then I corrected myself and said, 'Congratulations, Sen. Obama!' And then I corrected myself AGAIN and called him Mr. President. He gave me a break - he said, 'It's OK, it's only been a few hours!'"

21 Leave Newseum; Native J-Program Faces Trims

Nineteen staff members at the Freedom Forum, including the Newseum in Washington, took a voluntary buyout package and two others retired, a Newseum representative said on Monday, and "sensible expense reductions" will take place at "Freedom Forum Diversity Institute programs including our three Native American initiatives," a Freedom Forum vice president told Journal-isms on Friday.

The Freedom Forum staff was 38 percent people of color before the reductions and remained at 38 percent afterward, spokeswoman Susan Bennett said. Retiring are Jack Hurley, senior vice president/broadcast, and Rod Sandeen, vice president for administration and publications.

"We may reduce the total number of participants while we work to preserve and improve our core programs," Jack Marsh, vice president of the Freedom Forum and Diversity Institute, said. The three Native American initiatives had 185 to 190 Native students last year, he added.

Patrick W. Gavin, who edits the FishBowl site, wrote on Friday:

"When we asked the Newseum (after their original response), 'Why, in light of such positive news," about attendance, "19 folks would take the buyout package, or why a buyout package was offered?', they responded: 'The Freedom Forum, which is principal funder of the Newseum, has experienced losses in its endowment similar to other non-profit foundations because of the dramatic downturn in the stock market. The endowment is down about 25% and the leadership of the foundation and the museum decided the prudent action to take, sooner rather than later, was a belt-tightening that included some buyouts.'"

Marsh said he sent a letter Friday to prospective mentors at the annual Native American Journalism Career Conference saying, "The size and success of the annual Native American Journalism Career Conference depends on how many qualified mentors like you will volunteer their time and pay their own travel and lodging expenses to help with next year's gathering, April 14-16, 2009, at Crazy Horse Memorial. . . . The committee needs to estimate the number of mentors before determining how many high school and college students can be accommodated and recruited."

"Freedom Forum is underwriting most of the conference costs and will pay the expenses of student participants and the teachers who accompany them. Mentors donate their time and are responsible for their travel and lodging expenses. Freedom Forum pays for meals during the conference.

"In the past nine years, we have hosted more than 1,000 students and offered special workshops for scores of teachers and journalism advisers." [Updated Nov. 24]


Constitution's Tenets "Actually Apply to Us"

As evidence of how the Barack Obama victory resonated in different communities, Seattle's Northwest Asian Weekly had this to say in its Nov. 8-14 issue:

"Congratulations to the Black community — many have worked tirelessly for him. Congratulations to the Latino community — a constituency that voted for President Bush in 2004 but turned out Tuesday night voting an impressive two-to-one for Obama. Congratulations to our community. So many of us have stood in the rain urging people to vote. So many of us sacrificed our time for his campaign.

"Our race holds one of the biggest immigrant populations. Many of us are young enough to remember the days of forced segregation and anti-miscegenation laws. Many of us remember when we were expelled from Tacoma, when we were imprisoned in internment camps. Today, all Asian Americans can be confident in finally knowing how it feels to have a voice in the White House that will speak for immigrants. Today, we can believe that the tenets of our Constitution, the ideologies that this country was founded upon — that every American is granted the same civil rights, that every individual is equal, that these rights are inalienable — actually apply to us. Now we can say that we truly believe that America is the best nation on earth. Now we can believe that America's best is yet to come."

"Religion Received as Much Coverage as Race"

"Religion played a much more significant role in the media coverage of President-elect Barack Obama than it did in the press treatment of Republican nominee John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign, but much of the coverage related to false yet persistent rumors that Obama is a Muslim," the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life said on Thursday.

"Meanwhile, there was little attempt by the news media during the campaign to comprehensively examine the role of faith in the political values and policies of the candidates, save for those of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

"And when religion-focused campaign stories were covered by the mainstream press, often the context was negative, controversial or focused on a perceived political problem.

"In all, religion was a significant but not overriding storyline in the media coverage of the 2008 campaign. But in a campaign in which an Obama victory would give the U.S. its first black president, religion received as much coverage in the media as race," with each occupying 4 percent of the campaign newshole.

"These are some of the findings of a new study of the coverage of religion in the campaign conducted by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The study examined religion-focused election coverage in 48 different news outlets between June 1 and Oct. 15, 2008."

Americans Divided Over Helping Auto Companies

"The latest Gallup Poll suggests Americans are divided over the federal government's helping the 'Big Three' U.S. auto companies stay afloat," Gallup's Jeffrey R. Jones reported on Tuesday.

"Republicans and Democrats hold opposing views on the matter, with 60% of Democrats in favor of government assistance to the auto companies and 65% of Republicans opposed. Independents are more likely to oppose than to favor government assistance.

"The vast majority of those who oppose government help for the auto companies — 79% (equivalent to 39% of all Americans) — say in a follow-up question that they would be opposed to the aid even if one or more of the Big Three were certain to fail without it. But 18% (9% of all Americans) would favor assistance under those circumstances, bringing overall support for government aid to the majority level (56%) — assuming government assistance is the difference between the companies' surviving or going under."

Andrew Mwenda of Uganda said in 2007 that the media's focus on war and poverty in Africa covers symptons, not causes. He was honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

African Writer's Office Raided as He Is Honored in U.S.

"Five journalists and an attorney who has long battled for press freedom were cited Thursday for risking their lives and liberty to report the news, often under the pressure of authoritarian regimes," H. Josef Hebert of the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

"The six, who work in Iraq, Afghanistan, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Cuba, are recipients of this year's International Press Freedom Award presented by the Committee to Protect Journalists. At a press conference, Andrew Mwenda, managing editor of the Ugandan news magazine The Independent, said only hours earlier he had been informed that his publication had been raided by security forces in Kampala when employees reported for work at 8 a.m., and documents and computer files were seized.

"'If he had been there 'I would have been arrested,' said Mwenda, who plans to report to the police when he returns to Uganda next week. Last April police also raided Mwenda's offices and detained him and two reporters because of news stories critical of the Army's role in northern Uganda's civil war.

"In all, Mwenda is fighting 21 criminal charges, including sedition and 'promoting sectarianism,'” Uganda's newspaper the Independent reported. "He has challenged the constitutionality of the charges in court."

"Other recipients of the freedom award are Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, released last April after two years in detention by U.S. forces in Iraq; Danish Karokhel, managing editor, and Farida Nekzad, deputy director, of Pajhwok Afghan News, Afghanistan's leading independent news agency; Hector Maseda Gutierrez, a leader in Cuba's independent press movement, who is now serving a 20-year prison sentence in Cuba; and Beatrice Mtetwa, who has defended numerous journalists caught up in Zimbabwe's repressive media laws," the AP saidl.

Journalist Flees Ciudad Juarez for the United States

"Jorge Luis Aguirre, director of the news website La Polaka, has fled Mexico with his family to the United States after receiving death threats in his home city of Ciudad Ju?°rez, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua," Deborah Bonello reported¬†from Mexico City for the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.

"His departure follows the killing of crime reporter Armando Rodr??guez, who was shot to death last Thursday when he was in his car.

"Aguirre told the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics, or CEPET, a nonprofit based in Mexico City, that he was on the way to reporter Armando Rodr??guez Carre??n's funeral last week when he received a call on his cellphone.

"'They told me, "You're next," and because of the way things are, I decided to take my family and leave,' Aguirre said.

"'I left everything: my house, my office. I left my car in a public parking lot. I was very scared. I didn't ask the authorities for help, I don't trust them.'"

Short Takes

  • "The Oakland Police internal affairs and state Department of Justice investigations into the handling of journalist Chauncey Bailey's killing have expanded beyond that case's lead detective to now include two top city police officials, according to sources with knowledge of the matter, "Thomas Peele, Bob Butler and Mary Fricker" reported for the Chauncey Bailey Project. "Deputy Chief Jeffrey Loman and homicide Lt. Ersie Joyner are now under investigation along with Detective Sgt. Derwin Longmire, sources said Friday."
  • "A Chinese writer and journalist who was arrested after protesting against a power plant in southwest China was sentenced Friday to three years in prison on charges of subverting state power, his lawyer said," Henry Sanderson reported¬†for the Associated Press. "Chen Daojun was sentenced in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, in a trial lasting a little more than 30 minutes, said Beijing-based lawyer Zhu Jiufu."
  • November issueSILatino is the latest Time Inc. title to be put on ice as the company, like other publishers, scrambles to realign its magazine portfolio amid the economic debacle," Lucia Moses reported Friday for Mediaweek. "A company rep said Sports Illustrated's Spanish-language spinoff would be placed on hiatus after the December issue. The title was mostly produced and sold by existing SI staff, although one business-side person devoted to the title was let go as a result. Launched in 2005, SILatino had a controlled circ of 500,000 and claimed 2 million readers. In addition to profiles of Hispanic athletes, it published swimsuit and sportsman of the year issues." It published every two months.
  • A Fresno County, Calif., Superior Court judge dismissed all 50 members of a jury pool this week because Bob Hall, general manager of KFSN-TV, who is African American, said during jury selection Monday and Tuesday that he couldn't be a fair juror in a Hispanic man's carjacking trial. "He said research by the station's newsroom showed a propensity for Hispanic males to commit violent crimes. He also said the District Attorney's Office wouldn't spend money on these cases unless the suspect was guilty," Pablo Lopez reported¬†Thursday in the Fresno Bee. "Hall also said his brother was a victim of a carjacking, and that might taint his judgment." Hall told Journal-isms he did not want to comment publicly. [Update: Hall resigned on Sunday.]
  • ¬†Wil Haygood"Sony has snapped up feature rights to "A Butler Well Served by This Election," the life story of an African-American butler at the White House, and set up the project with Laura Ziskin," a film and TV producer whose credits include the "Spider-Man" franchise and "Pretty Woman," Dave McNary reported¬†Thursday in Variety. "Deal closed Wednesday, a dozen days after the Washington Post published Wil Haygood's front-page report on Eugene Allen's 34 years at the White House. Allen worked for eight presidents, starting with Harry Truman in 1952 and ending in 1986 with Ronald Reagan. Haygood will be an associate producer and researcher on the project."
  • Roger Ailes, the savvy and hard-charging television executive who transformed the Fox News Channel from an upstart enterprise to the top-rated cable news network, sealed a deal Wednesday to remain in his post for another five years, Matea Gold reported¬†Friday in the Los Angeles Times. "Ailes said he had not given any orders about how the network should treat Barack Obama, despite a recent report that he had instructed Fox News hosts to show deference to the president-elect. Rather, he said he told staffers at a meeting that 'all presidents deserve time to get their team on the ground and get organized.'"
  • The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University has secured more than $5.3 million to fund one of the nation's few business journalism programs, the Phoenix Business Journal reported¬†on Thursday.
  • On Long Island, N.Y., Patchogue-Medford school district officials should not have forced a Newsday reporter out of a public meeting at the high school Wednesday, the head of the state's Committee on Open Government said Thursday, Joie Tyrell of Newsday reported. Reporter Jennifer Sinco Kelleher was removed from a parent forum called in response to the arrests of seven of the high school's students, who were charged in connection with the fatal stabbing of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant. "Several parents grew angry at the media during the meeting and many more began screaming at the reporter to leave," the story said.
  • Eugene Shelton, a former news photographer at WCTI-TV in North Carolina who was accused of tipping off a police raid, was found guilty Thursday in an Onslow County, N.C., courtroom, the station reported. "A district court judge sentenced him to pay a $250 fine, plus $121 in court costs. Shelton is also ordered to perform 72 hours in community service."
  • In the midst of a five-city tour promoting his new film, "Seven Pounds," Will Smith visited the newsrooms of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dallas Morning News and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "The women went CRAZY!" during Wednesday's visit there, Post-Dispatch columnist Sylvester Brown Jr. told Journal-isms. He visited¬†the Miami Herald newsroom on Tuesday and was in Denver on Friday.
  • Keith Knight, author of the comic series "The K Chronicles," spoke to a group of roughly 100 students and community members Wednesday night at the University of Arizona about his now-infamous cartoon, based on a real situation in which a Barack Obama campaign worker encountered a couple who referred to the then-presidential candidate by the N-word, Ian Friedman reported¬†in the Daily Wildcat on campus. "I was afraid to do it because I knew it would be taken out of context and something would happen and it would be blown up into this whole huge controversy and that's exactly what happened," Knight said.
  • S?? TV is launching "Take the Lead," a multiplatform initiative to celebrate the achievements of prominent Latinos in entertainment, politics, business and community action and to mentor the next generation of Latino leaders, officials said Thursday, Lucia Moses wrote¬†Friday for Multichannel News. Among the celebrities profiled is CNN's Rick Sanchez.

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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