Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Byron Pitts: ABC "Talks the Talk" on Diversity

Send by email
Sunday, March 31, 2013

Network Makes Official Its Poaching From CBS

Unity, NAHJ Take Their Outrage Beyond Journalism

Coates Says His Blog Is Not Meant to Be Perfect

Columnist Keeps Focus on Gap in NCAA Graduation Rates

Romona Robinson, Fox Win in Cleveland Musical Chairs

Ebony, Slate Among Outlets Examining Gun Violence

Asian Americans' Numbers, Languages Make Polling Difficult

Long-Sought News Archives a Treasure Trove on Till Killing

Short Takes

Network Makes Official Its Poaching From CBS

ABC News officially named CBS correspondent Byron Pitts as an anchor and its chief national correspondent Monday, moving Pitts to a network where "diversity is as important as it is to me" and leaving one, he told Journal-isms, that has lost half the number of black correspondents it had when he arrived 16 years ago.

For Byron Pitts, the film was close to home.

"I don't think any news organization is where it should be, but the people at ABC are at least talking the talk and making efforts to walk the walk," Pitts said by telephone.

As chief national correspondent, Pitts said, he will be covering the nation's major stories. It is a title held by no other person of color at the other networks. Two weeks ago, Jeff Zucker, new president of CNN, said he was excited that Jake Tapper, who is white, will be "the face" of CNN. At that network, John King is chief national correspondent. (Jim Avila, also at ABC, is senior national correspondent and told Journal-isms he is the the first full time Hispanic White House correspondent at a major network.)

Pitts, 52, will also be anchoring hourlong prime-time news specials, another breakthrough for him. He is to fill in as a news reader on "Good Morning America" and on the weekend news. However, Pitts will not be a backup on "World News With Diane Sawyer," he said, explaining that "the line to that chair is pretty long."

In his announcement, ABC News President Ben Sherwood said of Pitts, "An accomplished reporter and brilliant storyteller, Byron has a unique talent for stories about people and communities facing the longest odds.

Ben Sherwood

"In his new role, he will file for all platforms, bringing his signature thoughtfulness, seriousness of purpose, and flair."

Pitts told Journal-isms that Sherwood "came after me aggressively," along with Barbara Fedida, senior vice president for talent and business.

"He said, 'We know what you do, and we want you to do that here.' He talked about diversity." The subject "was something that he initiated. He said that was a priority for them. He said they want to own the future."

Pitts mentioned that one of ABC News' first pieces during the election of Pope Francis last month was by a Hispanic reporter who talked about the significance of the choice to Latin America. Cecilia Vega was in Rome for ABC then.

Pitts was also a contributor to "60 Minutes" and chief national correspondent for the "CBS Evening News." His departure from "60 Minutes" leaves it with an all-white correspondents lineup.

He named nine African American reporters at CBS when he arrived: Ed Bradley, Harold Dow, Bill Whitaker, Randall Pinkston, Russ Mitchell, Vicki Mabrey, Troy Roberts, Jacqueline Adams and Mark McEwen. Today, he said he could name five: Michelle Miller, Terrell Brown, Pinkston, Roberts and Gayle King.

"Numbers don't lie," he said. "One of the challenges with diversity with the networks is, (1) Hire us. (2) Put us in positions to be successful." He said ABC is doing both.

At CBS, Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp., which includes CBS News and other CBS operations, has "spoken passionately about diversity," Pitts said. Sean McManus served concurrently as president of CBS News and CBS Sports for more than five years before being named chairman of CBS Sports in 2011. He had "an open door" on diversity matters, Pitts said.

The meetings that McManus held "stopped after he left,"  Pitts said. David Rhodes became president of CBS News in February 2011.

[According to CBS News spokesperson Sonya McNair, CBS has 'more than double' Pitts' estimate of seven correspondents of color," Gail Shister reported Tuesday for TVNewser. " 'We wish Byron well,' she adds. ABC News has a total of 29, says division rep David Ford." Pitts apparently amended his estimate to seven.]

Sherwood succeeded David Westin as ABC News president in 2010. Under Westin, ABC lagged behind CNN on cable and NBC in broadcast on diversity concerns.

"He had some opportunities to really move some African Americans into key positions as correspondents," Kathy Times, then president of the National Association of Black Journalists, told Journal-isms when Westin announced his retirement. She said she would have liked to have seen more support from ABC for NABJ during the year and at its convention, and looked forward to that from his successor.

Unity, NAHJ Take Their Outrage Beyond Journalism

Hugo Balta, left, and Tom Arviso Jr.

Nearly everyone agrees that Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, was offensive when he used the term "wetback" last week in a radio interview.

Young remarked that when he was a boy in California, his father "used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes" on his farm.

Is that a subject for organizations of journalists to become outraged about? Yes, says the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, followed Monday by Unity: Journalists for Diversity.

Both groups issued statements of outrage calling for Young to apologize. The congressman has now done so at least twice. Yet the goals articulated in each organization's bylaws indicate that journalism and newsrooms are the associations' stated focus. They don't say that the associations go beyond those parameters, and if they do say so implicitly, they don't spell out which offensive comments are deserving of rebuke.

Unity also released a letter Friday calling on Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., to hold hearings on the proposed "Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons [or] Peoples in Trademark Registration Act of 2013."

"H.R. 1278 is important legislation because it would strike a public blow against racist stereotypes, which are an anathema to human dignity and diversity," the Unity letter said. "There is no worse racial epithet used to refer to Native American people than the name of the Washington professional football team. It has heinous origins in the bloody history of commoditization of Native skin and other body parts as bounties and trophies, and these despicable practices trace directly to today’s 'Native mascots' that glorifies a savage past.

The letter was signed by Unity President Tom Arviso Jr., a member of the Native American Journalists Association, which has long spoken out against terms offensive to Native Americans. It notes that Unity is "an alliance of four journalism organizations representing more than 4,000 journalists."

Journal-isms asked Arviso and Hugo Balta, president of NAHJ, whether the news releases on the "wetback" term represent changes in position by commenting on offensive terms apparently uttered outside a journalistic context. And if so, what the guidelines are.

Balta replied by email, "The National Association of Hispanic Journalists champions the fair and accurate representation and coverage of Latinos. Our members are part of the Latino community and as such stand to speak out against issues that affect all of us (not just journalists). Representative Don Young's insensitive and inaccurate description of migrant workers merits our (NAHJ) response and demand for action. As journalists it is our constitutional right to give voice to the voiceless, hold the powerful accountable and empower the community."

The NAHJ bylaws, however, don't quite go that far. They say:

"The goals of the association are:

"To organize and provide mutual support for Hispanics involved in the gathering or dissemination of news.

"To encourage and support the study and practice of journalism and communications by Hispanics.

"To foster and promote a fair treatment of Hispanics by the media.

"To further the employment and career development of Hispanics in the media.

"To foster a greater understanding of Hispanic media professionals' special cultural identity, interests, and concerns."

Unity's mission statement says:

"UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, Inc. is a strategic alliance advocating fair and accurate news coverage about diversity — especially race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation — and aggressively challenging the industry to staff its organizations at all levels to reflect the nation’s diversity. . . . "

And the NAJA statement of purpose says that organization "seeks to develop and to improve communications among Native American people and the Non-Native American public."

[Arviso replied by email on Tuesday, "I did not address the
mascot letter that UNITY issued but it's the same principle when it
comes to advocating for our members and educating the media and

[In October, Unity issued a statement supporting two newspapers that decided not to use the name of the Washington Redskins NFL team. However, that action specifically concerned the use of language in newspapers.]

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times produced a story Monday by Marisa Gerber headlined, " For Latinos, a Spanish word loaded with meaning."

"An Alaska's congressman's reference to 'wetbacks' during a radio interview last week stirred an uproar and he was forced to apologize. In Latino communities, the episode highlighted how cultural reactions to the word have changed through generations," Gerber wrote.

"Everyone seems to agree that the English version of the term is highly offensive to Latinos when others use it. But when Latinos use mojado — which literally means 'wet' but is also used to describe illegal immigrants in the United States — it's different. . . ."

Coates Says His Blog Is Not Meant to Be Perfect

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates, the senior editor for the Atlantic who on Monday was named a finalist for a National Magazine Award, says to cut him some slack on his blog posts.

"What I'm doing on my blog is different from what I'm doing for the magazine," Coates told Journal-isms by telephone on Sunday. "The blog for one is an opportunity to see the work as it's in progress. It's somewhere between the world of me talking and the world of me writing." For example, facts are not always correct, he said, and are sometimes changed as he receives feedback.

Coates was responding to a Journal-isms item Friday that wondered whether his blog was edited, pointing out grammatical and spelling mistakes. Coates was in Europe, as his blog readers know, and Natalie Raabe, the Atlantic's communications director, replied that the magazine would correct the errors in the recent postings — and did — and explained, "At the speed at which folks work on the web, things sometimes slip through."

Coates said he does indeed have editors, but "I am posting at 3 in the morning" sometimes. "There are times when I post without editors. That was part of the freedom of it. I do not always adhere to the system, that's the honest answer."

Coates has made no secret of his public school education in the 'hood of West Baltimore and that he dropped out of Howard University, "failing both British and American literature. Before that, he failed 11th-grade English," as Jordan Michael Smith wrote in a profile of Coates last month in the New York Observer.

Smith also called Coates "the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States," a description Coates began the Sunday conversation saying was not one he agrees with. "That's not who I am," he said. Coates also said he would not change the grammatical and spelling errors in a 2008 piece on Sarah Palin cited in the Journal-isms item because the piece would then be inauthentic.

The conversation echoes debates in other venues about the diminishing value accorded copy editors and copy editing; the difference between a blog and polished writing; the importance, or lack of it, of grammar and spelling; and schools' role in teaching those disciplines well.

Coincidentally, the New York Times Sunday Review ran a piece that assumed that some readers do place a high value on grammar. Henry Hitchings, author of three books exploring language and history, held forth on "Those Irritating Verbs-as-Nouns."

Coates' National Magazine Award nomination was in the "essays and criticism" category for "Fear of a Black President." It was an Atlantic magazine piece, not a blog entry.

University of Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware's gruesome compound leg fracture had NCAA Tournament fans glued to the screen and his teammates and coach in tears as Ware told them to win the game against Duke Sunday night, ABC News reported. They beat Duke, 85-63. (Video)

Columnist Keeps Focus on Gap in NCAA Graduation Rates

"This is my 17th year of charting graduation rates for basketball tournament and football bowl teams, and a record 25 men's programs in the 68-team field for the NCAA basketball tournament had black player graduation rates of at least 80 percent," Derrick Z. Jackson wrote Saturday in the Boston Globe.

"These lofty ranks included former whipping posts of mine such as Nevada Las Vegas and Louisville, whose black players had graduation rates of 14 percent and 25 percent in 2006. Other schools that rose to at least 80 percent from 33 percent or below were Kansas, UCLA, Kansas [State], Creighton, and St. Mary's.

"But the very success of those schools has created an even greater chasm between them and the schools that do not even try."

Jackson noted earlier in his column, "For the third straight year in the 68-team field, 21 teams had black graduation rates below 50 percent. They include Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Syracuse, Arizona, and the ostensible 'public Ivy' California, along with small-school darlings Butler and LaSalle. Florida was at the bottom of the barrel at zero.

"The NCAA is thus far unmoved by the fact that nearly a third of the field is plagued by such poor performance, which is all the more noteworthy because most of those same 21 schools had a 100 percent graduation rate for their white players. . . ."

Jackson concluded, "The NCAA must crack down on the schools that try to get away with chronic disparities. Anything less means that, for all of the progress that has been made, the NCAA still is willing to live with exploitation and tokenism."

Romona Robinson, Fox Win in Cleveland Musical Chairs

Romona Robinson and Russ Mitchell

In Cleveland, "Nobody realized it at the time, but when Robin Swoboda jumped from WJW Channel 8 to WKYC Channel 3 in early 2011, it sparked a year of unprecedented volatility in the Cleveland television market," Mark Dawidziak wrote Monday for the Plain Dealer.

"Since that move, changes have kept coming at a dizzying pace. Indeed, there were more major anchor changes during that one-year span than during the previous 15 years. Perhaps the biggest was when Romona Robinson ended her 15-year association with Channel 3 in late 2011, moving over to Channel 19 as the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. co-anchor."

Dawidziak quoted Dan Salamone, Channel 19's news director: "The biggest change, obviously, was the addition of Romona Robinson, and that gave us an immediate bump. And not only has that growth been sustained over the last year, it has spread to other time periods. We're obviously very pleased with those noon numbers. There's positive momentum across the board."

In January 2012, Russ Mitchell left New York and CBS-TV, where he was anchor of the "CBS Evening News" weekend editions and "The Early Show" on Saturday, and national correspondent for "CBS News Sunday Morning," the "CBS Evening News" and "The Early Show." He joined WKYC-TV, where he is managing editor of the "Evening News" and lead anchor of the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.

Brooke Spectorsky, WKYC's president and general manager, told Dawidziak, "Our anchors are real reporters, and I think we shine on the big stories. And even though Russ and Kris [Pickel, former Sacramento newscaster] have done a great job introducing themselves to viewers, they're still very new to the market. In a market that doesn't like change, we knew it wasn't going to be easy, and we've had a tough time getting out of the gate."

Dawidziak concluded, "So with this year's February sweeps in the rearview mirror, who benefited from this ongoing game of musical anchor chairs? Data provided by the Nielsen Co. suggest traditional Cleveland news champ Channel 8," a Fox affiliate, "remains strong in most of the time periods in which it schedules news, and hard-charging WOIO Channel 19 is winning the noon and 11 p.m. news races with the demographic most prized by advertisers, viewers 25 to 54. . . . "

Ebony, Slate Among Outlets Examining Gun Violence

"For a city that has long cultivated Black icons and Black excellence — including John H. Johnson and Johnson Publishing Company — Black death and Black pain are far too familiar in Chicago," Jamilah Lemieux, news and lifestyle editor, digital, wrote Thursday for Ebony magazine.

"The recent murder of 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins is but one tragic example. Despite the national headlines and increased interest due to the city's connection to our current POTUS, Chicagoans know that the recent violence is not a new phenomenon.

" recognizes the need for people across the country to understand the challenges facing Chicago. Our response? ENOUGH: Chicago and the Tragedy of Urban Violence, a year-long series dedicated to examining the causes, effects, and possible solutions to the crisis in our community.

"The series, which launched Wednesday March 13, examines the factors contributing to the situation in Chicago — educational disparities, unemployment, the ever-shifting gang culture, mental health issues, and more. The 17 published stories to date include conversations with current and former illegal gun owners, an interview with St. Sabina's Father Michael Pfleger and a look at how the 'gang violence' that once gripped the city has changed. . . ."

Meanwhile, Barb Palser, new-media columnist for the American Journalism Review, wrote Friday that, "In the wake of the mass shootings in Colorado and Connecticut last year, and the escalation of America's debate over gun control, reporters and interactive designers across the country are challenging themselves to shed light and perspective on a highly complex subject."

The most innovative, Paiser said, was "Gun Deaths in America Since Newtown," "an interactive presentation on that tracks daily reported gun deaths since the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, that left 28 dead. The information comes from news reports gathered by @GunDeaths and followers around the country. . . . "

Asian Americans' Numbers, Languages Make Polling Difficult

"Periodically our readers ask us why we don't provide individual data for Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders as part of the standard demographic comparisons in our reports," Aaron Smith, senior researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, wrote Friday.

Smith specializes in politics, government, race and ethnicity. He continued, "Several years ago we asked our lead pollster, Evans Witt (principal and CEO of Princeton Survey Research Associates International) to provide a survey methodologist's take on this question. His response hopefully sheds some light on the challenges associated with polling the Asian population in the U.S.:

" 'The short answer is that Asian Americans make up a very small slice of the population, 3.7 percent in the 2000 Census (Editor's note: In the more recent 2010 Census, Asian Americans make up around 5.6 percent of the national population). In addition, for a good portion of that population, there are complex language barriers…and language barriers reduce the number of completes with the non-English speaking minorities (Editor's note: A recent Pew Research survey found that 64% of all Asian Americans — and 53% of those not originally born in the United States — speak English 'very well'). The diversity of the Asian American population and the languages they speak makes offering interviews in those native languages very difficult and very, very expensive.' . . . "

The Chicago Defender was among the black newspapers covering the 1955 trial of t

Long-Sought News Archives a Treasure Trove on Till Killing

"New details about one of Mississippi's most infamous murders are coming to light — more than a half-century later," Russell Lewis reported Saturday for NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday." "The death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy who allegedly whistled at a white woman, helped spark the civil rights movement."

Lewis continued, "Researchers have long studied the court proceedings. Among them, Davis Houck, a professor at Florida State University and co-author of a book about the media's coverage of the trial.

"It wasn't until a few years ago, however, that Houck learned another black paper — the St. Louis Argus — also had journalists there. But the paper's archive from that time had gone missing.

"So he began working with his students to track down the Argus. It was one frustrating dead end after another, as microfilms from that time didn't contain the trial coverage. Then, just a few days ago, they caught a break. Houck and his students figured out the missing issues were in a state historical archive in Missouri.

He went on, "The discovery is already a treasure trove, however, with never-before-seen pictures of the NAACP's Medgar Evers as well as articles written during the trial and long forgotten. Houck says he's savoring the find and taking his time to read through the new discovery. His search, though, is not done yet. . . . "

Short Takes

Follow Richard Prince on Twitter @princeeditor

Facebook users: "Like" "Richard Prince's Journal-isms" on Facebook.

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.

Send tips, comments and concerns to Richard Prince.

To be notified of new columns, contact and tell us who you are.

About Richard Prince

View previous columns.



Re: Coates Says His Blog Is Not Meant to Be Perfect

I love Ta-Nehisi Coates, but don't believe that he and The Atlantic should be left off the hook. I would argue that what we need now more than ever is bloggers and publications who do in fact mean to be perfect. Check facts to make sure they are facts; have the integrity to label guesses as guesses. Use good English. Yes, it's old school, but we're seeing how today's unfiltered publish-first-check-later mentality -- the world that yes, I'm now a part of -- is working for our democracy.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Cut me some slack on the blog

No, you don't get a pass. Especially when "senior editor" follows your name at an elite magazine such as The Atlantic.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, you're a lucid, powerful writer with a lot to say. You're going to make mistakes of grammar and fact; we all do. Just strive to be the best you can be, whether it is an essay in The Atlantic, New York Times op-ed or a personal blog.

A good start is make sure someone else reads your blog posts before you launch 'em.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.