Casey Anthony! Michael Jackson! Diversity!
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
"The idea of diversity driving innovation is really, really important," said Scot Safon, executive vice president of CNN Worldwide, in conversation with Mei-Mei Chan, publisher of the News-Press Media Group in Fort Myers, Fla., at the "Leadership in Diversity" conference on Tuesday in New York. (Credit: Photos by Kenneth F. Irby/Poynter Institute)
The trials of Casey Anthony and Dr. Conrad Murray, physician to Michael Jackson, were tangential to a two-day discussion about jump-starting diversity efforts in American newsrooms, but somehow they found a place.
The trials were introduced during a conversation with Scot Safon, executive vice president of CNN Worldwide, whose HLN Network became the go-to venue for news about Anthony, dubbed the most hated woman in America. She was acquitted in July in the killing of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.
Coverage of the Anthony case became emblematic of what some considered the tabloid approach of much of cable news and of the elevation of white victims over those of color when coverage decisions are made.
And that's what Dana Canedy, senior editor at the New York Times and a black journalist, asked Safon at the "Leadership in Diversity" conference of industry diversity leaders held Monday and Tuesday in the boldly designed, four-year-old New York Times building in midtown Manhattan.
What about this case warranted all the coverage by HLN, which Safon explained is "working to be the water cooler network for women?"
"It was the bizarreness of that story," Safon replied, "There is so much bizarre behavior in it. You clearly felt there was a whole bunch of people holding a whole lot of secrets. I never saw a story like that before."
To which Canedy replied, "I think all stories involving a child being killed are shocking and weird."
In March, HLN's Nancy Grace hosted "America's Missing," a special spotlighting 50 such cases, Safon explained. Twenty-five percent were in the black community, and 15 percent involved Latinos. Grace has "a very diverse" staff, "and everyone's pitching a story." Selections can depend on such practical factors as whether their subjects are willing to go on camera.
"At the end of the day, it's do you have the right people in the room," interjected Mei-Mei Chan, publisher of the News-Press Media Group in Fort Myers, Fla., who moderated the segment with Safon.
Having diverse people in the room was an article of faith at this second half of a diversity "summit" sponsored by the American Society of News Editors. The first was held in June.
Washington Post senior editor Milton Coleman said in introducing the conference that without content that reflects diverse audiences, there won't be an audience.
"The idea of diversity driving innovation is really, really important," Safon agreed. "Diversity in all of its facets, particularly what part of the country" produces those participating.
A photograph that captured a diverse group of CNN employees hangs in conference rooms throughout the company, and the CNN Diversity Council is an active one, Safon said.
The "Leadership in Diversity" conference began with a presentation from Frans Johansson, author of "The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation." Johansson's very DNA is diverse: His mother is African American and Cherokee, his father Swedish. He lives in New York and grew up in Sweden.
Johansson led attendees in an exercise in which they were to take two seemingly unrelated words and come up with concepts that included both. It was the explosion of ideas that counted, not whether they initally made sense. Later, the participants created business models.
"Diversity drives innovation" was Johansson's mantra, and Safon agreed. Johansson had spoken at Turner Broadcasting three years ago, Safon said.
The diversity conference was not only about business models, but also about mobile platforms, targeting niche audiences and finding diverse talent on the business side. Coleman, the conference organizer and ASNE's immediate past president, said this was something new: Newspapers have functioned as the index of news media diversity since 1968, when the Kerner Commission outlined the segregated news media's role in creating the conditions that led to the race riots of the 1960s.
"We're in the process of writing new blueprints for diversity," he said. "We've begun to define it so it can be applied to this new age and through different kinds of diversity."
As with the Anthony exchange, there were moments that raised an eyebrow or an unexpected thought en route to the main topic.
In a discussion of Our Chinatown, a hyperlocal New York site directed by Paul Cheung, interactive and graphics editor at the Associated Press, Doris Truong, national president of the Asian American Journalists Association, asked Cheung, "What do you do when people give you money to cover certain news?" That's a practice in some Asian countries.
Cheung explained that "you make it clear that there is no pay to play."
Coleman said the same issue arose after the Washington Post bought the Spanish-language El Tiempo Latino in 2004.
He said the Post translated the Post stylebook, which includes an ethics guide, and distributed it to the El Tiempo Latino staff. "It's a question of how you define yourself," Coleman said. "We are not a Latino newspaper. We are a U.S. newspaper. We are a newspaper that [delivers] news in Spanish."
Glenn Burkins, editor, publisher and founder of QCityMetro.com, a website targeting African Americans in Charlotte, N.C., was revealed to be the model upon which the new theRootDC.com section of the Post's website was based.
"Our numbers in the black community were horrible," said Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the Post's editor for strategic projects. A committee of Post journalists looking for a way to boost them found Burkins' site.
Burkins, who left the Charlotte Observer in 2008 as deputy managing editor for local news, said that his site now draws a larger audience than the black newspaper in town and that he had offered to partner with the Observer.
However, he said, the Observer would do so only if it assumed complete ownership. The daily offered to keep Burkins as the site's publisher, a proposal Burkins rejected. Now Burkins said he is in talks with "an African American who has spent time in the alternative press" whom he hopes can "make the site a little edgier."
That would be Carlton Hargro, who left as editor-in-chief of Creative Loafing Charlotte on Aug. 31 and is one of the few African Americans to have edited an "alternative" weekly. Hargro acknowledged that he and Burkins have been "talking a bit."
Safon said that based on the "extraordinary" numbers of African American women who followed coverage of the 2009 overdose death of Jackson, HLN expects black women to follow its coverage of the trial of Murray, accused of manslaughter in the death.
"There will be issues of race in this story that I don't think everybody's really grappled with," Safon said. He explained to Journal-isms that some have questioned whether a white doctor would have been treated as Murray has in the death of a white celebrity and said much depends on whether Murray's lawyer raises race as an issue.
Ryan Smith, an African American lawyer who often discusses questions of racial equity in the judicial system, will be part of the coverage, Safon said.
After an exchange called "ESPN: Blueprint for Success," Leon Carter, vice president/executive editor of ESPNNewYork.com and former sports editor of the New York Daily News, was caught off guard by a question from Michele Salcedo, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, about the number of Latino journalists on his staff.
Carter, a veteran diversity advocate in sports journalism, had used African American reference points in his presentation, describing, for example, a 1986 incident at Newsday that he said made him determined to work for "diverse voices at the table."
A headline referring to Houston Astros pitcher Mike Scott bannered, "DREAD SCOTT." It was an allusion to Dred Scott, the slave whose bid for freedom led to the 1857 Supreme Court decision that declared that all blacks, slave and free, were not and could never become United States citizens. Carter complained to Newsday's top editors, who agreed that the headline was offensive.
But this question was about Latinos. "My last six or seven openings, I don't recall having any Latino applicants," Carter replied. "We have 60 or 70 applicants at the Sports Journalism Institute," a nine-week training and internship program for college students interested in sports journalism of which Carter is a co-founder. "Five or six are Hispanic. Some of them have gone on" to bigger things.
That struck some as a weak response, and Carter later added for Journal-isms by email: "At ESPN one of our priorities for 2011-2012 is to intensify our efforts to serve the US Hispanic sports fans on all platforms. That includes ESPN New York. Writers from ESPN Deportes have written for ESPN NY on topics that are important to New Yorkers. We continue to work with the Sports Journalism Institute to develop a pipeline of writers. Additionally we have developed a relationship with NAHJ (National Association of Hispanic Journalists) and other leading national Hispanic Professional Associations, in an effort to strengthen our overall access to Hispanic employee talent. We are always interested in connecting with interested candidates at our employment job site www.espncareer.com."
At the end, the participants, who ranged from more than 70 at their peak to 25 or so at the conclusion, said they felt energized.
"I will take these messages out to the 4,000 messengers in Gannett," said Kate Marymount, vice president news for U.S. Community Publishing at Gannett Co., Inc. "During the past four years, we haven't had the conversations that we need to."
Kenneth F. Irby, senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, who photographed the conference, said, "Most important to me is the refuting and debunking of the 'diversity fatigue' argument. The steering committee has done an incredible job in reaching new voices and focusing on the urgency of now."
"To hear Frans talk about diversity in a broader sense is a message that I have to get out there," said Desiree Dancy, chief diversity officer of the New York Times Co.
"It was interesting to hear how everyone we talked to (mentioned) social media," said Paula Bouknight, assistant managing editor for hiring and development at the Boston Globe.
"Cross-pollinate ideas," said Keith Reed of ESPN The Magazine, treasurer of the National Association of Black Journalists. "I tend to think in a very linear manner."
"Get out of cubicle mode," agreed Garcia-Ruiz. "It stifles creativity."
"I don't feel like we have that buy-in from the business side," said Shirley Carswell, deputy managing editor at the Washington Post.
Coleman remarked that he was able to raise $105,000 from foundations "at a time when people said there was no money available for diversity. We sent a message that diversity is still alive and well."
He especially thanked diversity consultant Walt Swanston, his deputy in organizing the conference, and suggested that webinars might follow. Aly Colon, an ASNE consultant formerly at the Poynter Institute, is to produce a public report, Coleman said.
- American Society of News Editors: Sulzberger encourages news industry to 'embrace diversity'
- American Society of News Editors: Author encourages leaders to leverage existing diversity
- American Society of News Editors: ESPN executive tells leaders: 'Leave your comfort zone'
- American Society of News Editors: TV, online executives share innovative business ideas
- Milton Coleman, Nieman Reports: Diversity in Newsrooms: Fresh Strategies, New Goals
Troy Davis said before his death, "I did not personally kill your son, father and brother." (Credit: NAACP)
"Just after 10:30 Wednesday night two words stopped the conversation among reporters instantly," Rhonda Cook wrote Wednesday for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
" 'Y'all ready?' a correctional officer asked.
"We were moments away from witnessing an execution. Media witnesses are as much a part of the execution process as the officers who escort the inmate to the death chamber or the officers who strap the condemned to a gurney.
"Wednesday, we were there as unbiased witnesses, sitting on the back row. Our seats were behind those there on behalf of the condemned and those who prosecuted or arrested Troy Davis for the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail. The dead officer’s son and namesake, Mark MacPhail Jr., and his brother, William MacPhail, were there for the family.
"We spoke little from that moment on, the five reporters selected to witness the execution.
"As the officer called our names, we lined up and left the room where we had waited for so long, oblivious to the last-ditch effort to spare Davis and the police presence and protests beyond the prison's walls.
"In the death chamber, we took our seats on the last of three pews.
"Warden Carl Humphrey began the process by reading the execution order signed by Chatham County Judge Penny Haas Freesmann. 'The court having sentenced defendant Troy Anthony Davis on the third day of September, 1991, to be executed….'
"Then he asked Davis if he has any final words.
"Yes, the condemned man said and he raised his head so he could look at Mark MacPhail Jr., who was an infant when his father was murdered, and William MacPhail, the dead officer’s brother.
“ 'I’m sorry for your loss,' Davis said.
"Mark MacPhail, who was leaning forward, and his uncle did not move. They stared at the man who killed their loved one.
" 'I did not personally kill your son, father and brother,' Davis said. 'I am innocent. . . . ' “
- Helena Andrews, theRoot.com: When the Death Penalty Hits Home
- Brandon L. Garrett, Slate.com: Eyes on an Execution: The Troy Davis case shows how wrong eyewitness evidence can be.
- Ben Jealous, NAACP: World Will Remember Troy’s Name
- Roland Martin: Vigil at Supreme Court (video)
- Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: The Roman arena of the death penalty
- Kevin Powell blog: Why Are We Killing Troy Davis?
- Goldie Taylor, theGrio.com: Troy Davis: A death row case of too much doubt
"After several months of regular weekday screening, I can confirm that mainstream online media are caught in the same loop that ensnared legacy outlets," Jean Marie Brown wrote in the fall issue of Nieman Reports.
"Their view of minorities is limited, and that in turn hinders their ability to broaden their coverage. The parallels between the legacies and online media are as stark as they are disheartening. Rather than fostering understanding that might help us find common ground, mainstream online media maintain the divisive 'us vs. them' mentality that is evident in many of our contemporary conversations about race."
Brown wrote that she had "embarked on a yearlong project for the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. My assignment was to examine the content of the homepages of eight websites once a day, Monday through Friday, with an eye toward diversity. Four sites — The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, Slate and Salon — were selected to represent mainstream online media. (The word 'mainstream' might seem a bit misplaced given its more common reference to legacy media, but for this comparison it makes sense.) Four others — The Root, theGrio, Loop21, and MarioWire — were chosen as minority online media."
Brown continued, "The Huffington Post's homepage, by far, features the greatest diversity of stories, followed by The Daily Beast, where too often the Beast's representation is little more than a link to a celebrity slideshow that includes minorities. Salon and Slate are hit and miss, but mostly miss. Although Slate links to its sister site, The Root, this tangential connection to diversity is stilted, and does little to promote understanding. African Americans are the minority most often covered on the homepage of these websites. When Hispanics appear, it is primarily in episodic stories about immigration. On most days it's a total miss for every other minority group.
"Most of the stories focused on African Americans fall into one of three categories: A-list celebrity, person of influence, or athlete. Coverage of the crimes and misdemeanors of sports figures so dominates this space that it's clichéd. Even when a story might seem headed in a positive direction, the slide toward the negative seems almost inevitable. Tracking this was easy when the topic was Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick."
"Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab news network financed by Qatar, named a member of the Qatari royal family on Tuesday to replace its top news director after disclosures from the group WikiLeaks indicating that the [director general] had modified the network’s coverage of the Iraq war in response to pressure from the United States," David D. Kirkpatrick reported Tuesday for the New York Times.
"Al Jazeera is under intense scrutiny in the Middle East over its varying coverage of the Arab Spring revolts. Although the network is nominally independent — and its degree of autonomy was itself a revolution in the context of the region’s state-controlled news media when it began in 1996 — many people contend that its coverage of the region still reflects the views of its Qatari owners.
". . . United States diplomatic cables disclosed recently by WikiLeaks appear to open a new window into the network’s interactions with Qatar and other governments.
"A cable sent by the American ambassador, Chase Untermeyer, and dated October 2005, describes an embassy official’s meeting with Al Jazeera’s [director general], Wadah Khanfar. According to the cable, the official handed Mr. Khanfar copies of critical reports by the United States Defense Intelligence Agency on three months of Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Iraq war; Mr. Khanfar said that the Qatari Foreign Ministry had already provided him with two months of the American reports, according to the cable, suggesting a close three-way consultation involving the two governments and the network.
"He also urged American officials to keep his behind-the-scenes collaboration a secret."
Wadah contends he had been asking to leave the network for months.
"A local Tulsa television journalist woke up Tuesday morning and realized she had interviewed an accused killer essentially at the scene of the crime," Nicole Burgin reported Tuesday for KRMG radio in Tulsa, Okla.
"The interview was done while they watched police investigate the deaths of Ethan Nichols and Carissa Horton at an east Tulsa park.
"Latoya Silmon with Tulsa's Channel 8 [KTUL] says she was covering the story on Monday and looking for people who were in Hicks Park to interview about the gruesome discovery and their thoughts of their own safety in the park.
"She says there was a man and a woman near a picnic table and she says the man agreed to be interviewed. His name was Darren Price — the same Darren Price that Tulsa Police arrested in connection with the double murder.
" 'He was the concerned father and he was shocked,' says Silmon. She says the interview was done sometime between 1pm and 2pm. Police got the call about the bodies being found in the park just before 11am.
"Silmon says she only talked to Price for about a minute. 'Yeah I think it is real crazy. I bring my kids out here to play — it raises the question is it even safe to walk around this town with people dying and stuff like this,' says Price.
" 'He was excited to be on television — is how I took it. I mean, he was very easy to talk to. He had no qualms about going on camera at all. He immediately was like, "sure I’ll talk,” ' says Silmon. She adds he even asked where he should stand."
"NBCUniversal's surprise pick to run its Spanish-language television operation Telemundo must pull off a particularly difficult task: clawing deep into a market dominated by entrenched powerhouse Univision Communications," Meg James wrote for Thursday's editions of the Los Angeles Times.
" 'This is going to be a lot of work but a lot of fun,' Emilio Romano said in an interview Wednesday, after the media veteran and former top airline executive was named president of Telemundo.
"Romano starts his new job in October. He replaces former President Don Browne, a longtime NBC executive who retired in June. Under Browne's tenure, Telemundo struggled to become a force in original programming but during the past season made dramatic gains in ratings.
"Still, NBCUniversal's new bosses want to see additional growth. Comcast Corp., which acquired controlling interest in NBCUniversal in January, quickly identified the Spanish-language operation as a business that needs to achieve substantial growth to become a more viable competitor."
Paul S. Mason, who left ABC News in 2009 as senior vice president and subsequently worked with Ed Gordon on the talk show that marked his return to BET News, has been named president and CEO of Link TV, a U.S.-based global affairs independent broadcaster, the company announced Wednesday.
"Link TV is trying to shape a new global TV news model," Mason said in a news release.
"We are aggregating and curating news content and documentary films from independent and unfiltered voices around the world, and in the process providing a completely fresh and innovative take on global events without the intrusion of editors who don't speak the language or understand the culture where the actual events take place. At Link TV, global news is an extension of the cultural fluency of our very diverse and eclectic staff."
The release continued, "For more than a decade, Link TV — and its parent organization, Link Media — has provided an independent source of global news and programming to U.S. audiences through DIRECTV and DISH satellite networks, and online through LinkTV.org.
". . . Link Media is one of the only U.S. media organizations currently broadcasting Al Jazeera English. During the 'Arab Spring,' Link provided 14 hours of daily coverage from Al Jazeera’s breaking news on the ground in the Middle East.
". . . Under the direction of Mason, Link Media plans to launch a comprehensive global news iPad and smartphone app that curates and translates the best global news, using Web 3.0 semantic technology to link users to related articles, videos and direct ways to get involved in global events. The app will launch in 2012.
Mason said, "The future of global news will be about curation, it will be social, and it will be semantic — and what we’re creating at Link is all of those things. If you look at the success of the Huffington Post, you can see some of the same forces at work – curated news combined with original reporting and content. We plan to be a leader in global programming and news in the digital age."
Spokeswomen for BET have not responded to inquiries about whether "Weekly With Ed Gordon," which debuted last year, will return this fall.
African American media organizations are sponsoring events in conjunction with the annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference this week, one of the highlights of the Washington social calendar now in its 41st year.
Here are some:
- National Newspaper Publishers Association/Black Press of America: Leadership Award Reception featuring a performance by the singer-songwriter Kem. The reception honors filmmaker Robert Townsend and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., chair of the caucus. Thursday evening, invitation only.
- National Association of Black Journalists: Forum, "The Deciders...Who Calls the Shots in Broadcast News", hosted by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill. Panelists: Carole Simpson, former anchor, ABC News; Gregory Lee, NABJ president; David Honig, president and executive director, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council; Camille Edwards, vice president of news, WRC-TV, Washington. Moderator: Bob Butler, NABJ vice president/broadcast and KCBS Radio reporter, San Francisco. 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Thursday, Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
- National Association of Black Journalists: Screening, "Double Victory: The Tuskegee Airmen's Story in Their Own Words," Friday. Doors open at 1 p.m., screening starts at 2 p.m. Walter E. Washington Convention Center, room 206. Contact email@example.com
- Essence magazine Evening of Excellence: Honoring syndicated radio host Tom Joyner and Donna Richardson Joyner; hosted by Fredricka Whitfield, CNN anchor. Special tribute to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Project. Friday. Invitation.
- TheRoot.com: Invitation-only reception at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Confirmed guests: actor Lamman Rucker of TBS' Tyler Perry's "Meet the Browns", Gwen Ifill of PBS; Roland Martin, CNN contributor. Date undisclosed, writes Betsy Rothstein of FishbowlDC. Other celebrities invited.
C-SPAN plans live coverage of President Obama's speech to the caucus on Saturday night.
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- Richard Prince with Charlayne Hunter-Gault, "PBS NewsHour," "What stagnant diversity means for America’s newsrooms" (Dec. 15, 2015)
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