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Bob Johnson Applauds Essence Sale

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Tuesday, January 4, 2005

BET Founder Expects Other Black Firms to Follow

Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, said today that the owners of Essence magazine had "an obligation" to shareholders to sell the company to Time Inc. And he said of other African American-owned media companies that are not family-owned: "At the end of the day, they will sell to the highest bidder," who will likely be white. "It's just a question of when."

He was speaking of such companies as radio host Tom Joyner's Reach Media and Radio One, Inc., the largest black-owned radio chain, headed by Alfred Liggins and his mother, Catherine Liggins Hughes.

"Black businesses will have to realize that to be in business takes precedence over being black, if you're going to grow your business," Johnson said. Time Warner has the resources to expand the Essence brand into television, apparel and other areas, as well as to continue the Essence message and legacy, factors that co-founder Edward Lewis told him he believed important, Johnson said.

However, Earl G. Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, issued a statement late today saying that black firms should have had an opportunity to bid for the company publishing the top-selling magazine for African American women.

The statement read: "In selling their controlling interest to Time Warner, CEO Ed Lewis and the shareholders of Essence Communications have made the best deal they felt they could make. It is unfortunate, however, there wasn't an open bidding process in which black entrepreneurs could have made an offer for the company and possibly preserve Essence as a black-owned business and institution. There are a number of black entrepreneurs -- including those who own and operate BE 100s companies -- who had the resources and management capability to acquire and run Essence Communications."

Johnson's comments came in an interview at BET headquarters in Washington after he taped a segment for tonight's "BET Nightly News," which airs at 11 p.m. Eastern time.

As reported Tuesday, Time Inc., which owned 49 percent of Essence Communications, has signed a non-binding agreement to acquire the rest of the company.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Johnson, asked by Journal-isms to estimate how much money was involved, calculated the company's worth at about $175 million, meaning Time had to pay about $80 million for the remainder of the enterprise.

Johnson became the first African American billionaire when the parent company of Black Entertainment Television was sold to Viacom for nearly $3 billion in 2000.

He said that the only way to prevent such sales is to create a black conglomerate that can afford to buy such companies. He said he had discussed creating such a company with Alfred Liggins before selling BET to Viacom, but the talks were not fruitful. He speculated that Liggins did not want to be subordinate to him.

Otherwise, he said, "if the issue is pride of ownership . . . we're going to have to come up with a new model for appreciating that." It might be that white companies will have to "continue to create an emotional relationship" with African Americans by embracing black causes, as a black-owned company might.

Exempted from Johnson's prediction that black media firms would sell to bigger white firms were such companies as Johnson Publishing, publishers of Ebony and Jet magazines, which has vowed to stay family-owned; and Earl G. Graves Ltd., which Johnson said is also family-owned.

Time Inc. was interested in Essence, Johnson said, because white-owned companies "see the growth potential of the African American market -- the second fastest growing group in the country," he said in the television interview. Blacks, he said, are seen as trend-setters and loyal consumers. "The fact that there are so few dominant African American brands" means that "when they come on the market, you almost have to buy them," Johnson said.

In a New York Times article today, Reed Phillips III, a managing partner of DeSilva & Phillips, a media investment banking firm, agreed. "Time Inc. is struggling on the publishing side to add more mass. They are so saturated with big magazines that one of the directions that they need to go is into ethnic markets," Phillips was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Time Inc. spokesman Peter Costiglio confirmed a report that the current Sports Illustrated building at 135 W. 50th St. in Manhattan would be renamed the Essence building toward the end of the year, after Sports Illustrated returns to the Time-Life building next door.

Essence bought by Time, no longer Black-owned (Chicago Defender)

E&P Cover Features NABJ's Journalist of the Year

Hannah Allam, the 27-year-old Baghdad bureau chief for Knight Ridder who was named 2004 Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists, is the subject of a cover story in this month's Editor & Publisher magazine.

The 4,000-word piece by Joe Strupp was posted today.

"In the 18 months since her first Iraq assignment, Allam has been dragged from her room in the middle of the night by Najaf police, spent a night under attack in a shrine, and scored the first Western interview with a major insurgent leader," Strupp wrote. "Three of her closest Iraqi friends have been killed in the past year, and she had to help her translator escape Iraq after three members of the woman's family were executed. One of her journalist colleagues recently sent her an 'inspirational' message tinged with 'gallows humor,' as Allam put it. It read: 'Keep your head up – and on.'

". . . Jack Willis, a University of Oklahoma journalism professor and newspaper advisor, remembers Allam penning articles on the sociology of light-skinned and dark-skinned blacks on campus, and on the university's few tenured black professors." Allam's father is Egyptian. "They were real enterprise pieces," Willis is quoted as saying. "She also broadened the paper's access to many groups on campus as editor." In addition, college marked Allam's first involvement with NABJ as an activist in a student chapter, Strupp wrote.

The cover piece is E&P's first one on a black journalist since November 2002, after Greg Moore was named editor of the Denver Post. Publisher Alberto Ibargüen of El Nuevo Herald (and the Miami Herald), who is half-Puerto Rican and half-Cuban, graced the cover of the March 2004 issue for a story called, "Newspapers Rock en Espanol." A five-page feature in November on the black press ran inside.

CNBC's Thomas-Graham Reported on Way Out

Pamela Thomas-Graham, who as CEO of CNBC is one of the highest ranking black women in television, may be on the way out, the New York Daily News and New York Post both reported today.

"The possible changing of the guard comes as News Corp.'s powerful Fox News Channel is preparing to wage an assault on CNBC by launching a financial news network this summer," Phyllis Furman wrote in the News.

"CNBC has seen its ratings decline. Fixing it has been a focus of NBC Universal TV chief Jeff Zucker. The network remains a key money-maker for General Electric's NBC Universal, generating some $250 million in annual profits.

"An NBC Universal spokesman told the News, 'Pamela is president and CEO of CNBC and continues to be a valued member of our team.'"

In a Business Week analysis in its issue dated Jan. 10, however, Thomas-Graham expressed confidence. "CNBC execs say they're not worried" about News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, the man behind Fox, the article read. "They insist CNBC, which generates an estimated $100 million-plus a year in cash flow, owes its success to a core audience of elite viewers, including many CEOs who have the channel on all day in their offices. CNBC Chief Exec Pamela Thomas-Graham says advertisers have responded to those viewers by paying higher rates for spots on the channel," the piece read.

Thomas-Graham, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard College, Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School, where she served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review, became CEO at CNBC in 2001. She is the author of three Ivy League mysteries, the mother of three children, and the wife of Lawrence Otis Graham, author of "Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class" and "Member of the Club: Life in a Polarized World."

Papers Didn't Mention Sontag's Lesbian Side

"On Dec. 29, 2004, major gay and lesbian news organizations announced that 'lesbian writer Susan Sontag' had died," author Patrick Moore wrote Tuesday in a commentary in the Los Angeles Times. "In its obituary of Sontag, the New York Daily News wrote, 'Famed photographer Annie Leibovitz had been her longtime companion.'

"On Dec. 29, 2004, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reported Sontag's death on their front pages, with more stories inside. Yet neither paper mentioned Sontag's relationships with Leibovitz and other women.

"It seems that editors at what are, arguably, the nation's most respected (and liberal) newspapers believe that one personal detail cannot be mentioned in even the most complete biographies – being a lesbian.

". . . Sontag's reticence is surely part of why the two Timeses neglected this part of her life. But she didn't deny these relationships. And given that obituaries typically cite their subjects' important relationships, shouldn't the two best newspapers in the country have reported at least her most recent one, with Leibovitz, as well as her marriage, which ended in 1958?" Moore wrote.

"We've certainly been discussing it ad nauseum," Eric Hegedus, president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, told Journal-isms.

"Some journalists feel that an alleged relationship should have been researched more in depth by news organizations. Others feel that Sontag's and Leibovitz's silence on the issue should be enough -- that journalists should respect their privacy. Of course, the thoughts aren't limited to those.

"What's been interesting is that there is a huge swath of opinion out there. And details of past interviews with the subjects are getting raised in articles as evidence of different sides. Frankly, it's hard to come up with one clear-cut answer for how the coverage could or should have unfolded. It's not that simple of an issue," said Hegedus, a page designer at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Columnist Navarrette Leaving Dallas for San Diego

"Editorial columnist Ruben Navarrette has decided to trade in his Lone Star spurs for the beaches and sunshine of southern California," Keven Willey, editorial page editor of the Dallas Morning News, announced to the staff Monday. "Ruben and his wife, Veronica, are expecting a daughter later this month and have decided to raise her nearer Ruben's extended family on the West Coast."

"The 37-year-old Navarrette was named one of the top syndicated creators of 2004 in E&P's November issue," Dave Astor added in Editor & Publisher. Noting that Navarrette's column is syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group, Astor said, "his column client list rose from 55 to 172 papers during the first 10 months of last year, with WPWG citing the feature's unpredictability -- conservative on some issues and liberal on others -- as one reason for the growth."

Durham Paper to Slash 23% of Newsroom Jobs

"The new owner of The Herald-Sun in Durham took control of the 50,000-circulation newspaper Monday morning and promptly dismissed the publisher and the top editor -- and began letting go scores of other employees," David Ranii and Michael Biesecker reported Monday in the News & Observer in next-door Raleigh, N.C.

The Herald-Sun reported that, "In all, 81 jobs will be eliminated -- 23 percent of the newspaper's 351 total positions. In the 87-employee newsroom, 17 positions will be cut."

The Triangle Association of Black Journalists issued a statement Tuesday saying it was "hopeful that the new owners of the Herald-Sun are committed to diversity in the newsroom and throughout the whole newspaper operation.

"They should be.

"In the city of Durham, where its coverage is based, blacks represent 45 percent of the population. Durham County is 40 percent black."

The Herald-Sun reported 6.0 percent people of color in the latest newsroom census of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The News & Observer reported 17.4 percent.

Ti-Hua Chang Resurfaces at WCBS New York

Reporter Ti-Hua Chang, who left WNBC-TV in New York over the summer, resurfaced this week at rival WCBS-TV, where he had worked from 1991 to 1992.

According to his bio, Hua-Chang had been with the NBC flagship since October 1993, "often traveling around the globe," and in 1996, won the Peabody Award for a series on accused drug-dealing murderers who escaped to the Dominican Republic. He did not return a call from Journal-isms.

St. Louis Photog Arrested While Taking Photos

Gabriel B. Tait, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer, was arrested over the weekend while taking pictures at an accident scene because he refused to get out of the way for oncoming emergency workers, the Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday.

Tait, 32, is active in the Visual Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists.

In Berkeley, Ill., Tait "was taking photos on Interstate 70 near Hanley Road, where an SUV had overturned, when he was arrested Saturday. Tait said he was standing in an area with other observers when an officer ordered him to stop taking pictures and leave. He said an officer then grabbed his camera, pushed him against a Fire Department vehicle and he was handcuffed and arrested," according to the story by Bill Bryan.

Arnie Robbins, managing editor of the Post-Dispatch, was quoted as saying, "We strongly back our photographer and will vigorously pursue this matter in order to protect the rights of this newspaper and our journalists."

Creator of "Gospel EUR" Newsletter Dies at 45

Donald McIntyre, who created and wrote the "Gospel EUR" offshoot of the entertainment news site EUR Web, died over the weekend after suffering a stroke. McIntyre, 45, of Fort Worth, Texas, "was found brain dead after lying alone in his apartment for two days," Avery Holton reported Tuesday in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Gospel EUR has been around for about five years. It is published weekly in its newsletter form and has 30,000 subscribers, publisher Lee Bailey told Journal-isms.

The Web site ran expressions of condolences from readers.

The Star-Telegram mentioned McIntyre's death in a sports story explaining what motivated his son, Donald Harris, to score 14 points Monday to help Texas win a 102-97 victory over Arkansas:

"'The game was the only way for me to get out and away from it all,' said Harris, who nailed two free throws with two seconds left Tuesday to help Texas move to 9-4. 'It's been tough, but it's a big win.'"

Chairman of TV Azteca Charged With Fraud

"Securities regulators charged one of the richest men in Mexico, Ricardo B. Salinas Pliego, with fraud yesterday, in a lawsuit that seeks to have him barred as a director or officer of any company whose shares trade on an American exchange," Patrick McGeehan and Jenny Anderson reported today in the New York Times.

"The Securities and Exchange Commission also sought to have Mr. Salinas Pliego, the chairman of TV Azteca, the second-biggest Spanish-language broadcaster, give up more than $110 million he made from trading in the company's stock and debt.

"The suit, filed in federal court in Washington, came after a long investigation into financial dealings between TV Azteca and a private company owned by Mr. Salinas Pliego."

DirecTV Invests in, Will Carry TV One

DirecTV, which calls itself "the nation's leading and fastest-growing digital television service provider," today announced it had become an equity investor in the TV One cable channel and was making the channel available to DirectTV customers who subscribe to any "Total Choice" programming package.

"Delivered for the first time on a nationwide television service platform, TV One will be offered on DIRECTV channel 241, at no additional charge," a news release said.

TV One launched last year, aiming at African American adults.

Just before Christmas, it announced that it had launched earlier in December on Comcast cable systems in Los Angeles; Little Rock, Ark., and southeast Michigan, including Southfield, Ann Arbor and the Detroit metro area; and on Cox Communications' cable systems in Fairfax County and Fredericksburg, Va.

It said that before the end of the year it would transmit via on Comcast systems in Indianapolis; Muncie, Ind., and Augusta, Ga.; and on Cox Communications' cable systems in New Orleans; Baton Rouge, La.; and Roanoke, Va.

Larry Olmstead to Co-Chair Women's Media Group

Larry Olmstead, vice president/staff development and diversity at Knight Ridder, and Eleanor Clift, contributing editor at Newsweek, have been named co-chairs of the International Women's Media Foundation, the organization announced today.

Olmstead becomes the first man to lead the organization. Both Olmstead and Clift are long-time board members at the foundation. "I'm very committed to the IWMF's mission," Olmstead said in the release. "IWMF fellowships and training programs have been created to empower women around the globe to reach the heights of their profession. The IWMF's Courage in Journalism Awards recognize some of the bravest journalists working around the globe. I am very proud to take on a larger role in this very important work at this crucial time in the organization's history."

Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2004

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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