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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Black CBS Colleagues Give Rather Thumbs Up

Raylena Fields, a producer at CBS News for 13 years, filed a complaint against the network in April, charging it with institutional discrimination and painting an unflattering portrait of anchor Bob Schieffer before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But when asked today about Dan Rather, the longtime face of the network who is leaving after 44 years, Fields had nothing but praise.

"Dan's a cool guy," she told Journal-isms. "He is someone I respect greatly. He is a gentleman and a committed journalist."

It was like that with other journalists of color who had worked with Rather, 74, whether they had labored closely with him or just saw him in the hallway at CBS headquarters on Manhattan's West 57th Street.

Los Angeles correspondent Bill Whitaker remembered Rather being honored about 10 years ago in L.A. by a minority broadcasters' association — most likely the Minorities in Broadcasting Training Program.

"He gave a long and heartfelt speech about the lack of diversity in newsrooms," Whitaker said.

Sixteen years ago, when Whitaker's wife gave birth. Rather "sent a huge bouquet of flowers to the hospital. That was uncalled for, unnecessary, and just a very nice gesture on his part."

"Medgar Evers' brother tells a great story of a young Dan Rather," correspondent Byron Pitts told Journal-isms. "When he returned to Mississippi after his brother's murder, he couldn't get a ride home from the airport. Blacks weren't allowed and whites were afraid. Then a young white man from Texas stepped forward: 'I'll give you a ride.'

"Not only did Dan get an exclusive with the family, he gained the Evers family's respect and unending appreciation." Rather "has been one my biggest supporters since I arrived at CBS News," Pitts said.

"60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley recalled covering the 1976 Democratic National Convention, and getting an exclusive about the Jimmy Carter family. But by the time anchor Walter Cronkite was ready give Bradley airtime, Bradley's battery was dead and his microphone didn't work.

Rather, who had heard the conversation, told Bradley he would stand beside him and hand Bradley Rather's microphone. "He could have said, 'tough break, kid.' I never forgot that," Bradley said.

For Russ Mitchell, who now anchors the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News," working with Rather meant learning a lot about being on the air live. "There is a tendency on live TV when there's breaking news to work by the seat of your pants," Mitchell told Journal-isms. "I learned from him to take a step back and consider things from a thoughtful kind of way."

As announced Tuesday, "Dan Rather is leaving CBS after 44 years with the Tiffany Network. . . . Rather's contract with the network was scheduled to expire in November, but he was unable to reach agreement with CBS on a new pact. He had worked as a correspondent for '60 Minutes' since stepping down as anchor of the 'CBS Evening News' last year," the network said.

Rather issued his own statement (PDF) critical of CBS' handling of the contract talks, and colleagues who talked with Journal-isms uniformly regretted that Rather could not have left on his own terms.

Rather's troubles intensified after his September 2004 "60 Minutes Wednesday" report on President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service had to be retracted amid accusations that it was based on forged documents. Four CBS News employees lost their jobs. Rather remained at CBS, but left the evening news in March 2005. It was said that Rather hadn't even seen the report before presenting it.

His colleagues were asked if there were lessons for others from Rather's experience.

"It's a lesson for everybody," Marquita Pool-Eckert, a producer at CBS News for 31 years who described herself as "a Dan fan." "There are certain procedures that we follow" in verifying information, "and those guidelines are there for a reason," she said.

"You have to know the buck stops with you," said Bradley. "If you want the credit, you have to take the blame. It is a collaborative effort. We have to all be very careful about what we say and do."

"It's a business," said Whitaker. "It is a big business. The corporate gods have spoken and the winds are changing and we're heading in a new direction," one yet to be determined, he said.

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Native Journalists Fire Vice President

The Native American Journalists Association last week removed its vice president, Marley Shebala, a reporter for the Navajo Times, saying she had missed too many meetings.

"I had always informed them it was because I was covering news," Shebala, who is Navajo and Zuni, told Journal-isms. "I was senior reporter for the Navajo Times. We don't have the staff. . . . If you look across Indian Country at tribal newspapers," there are not enough Native reporters, she said.

Mike Kellogg, president of the association, said he could not recall any similar action taken against a board member. "It was a tough situation," he told Journal-isms. "Marley's a heck of a journalist. It's that her job was keeping her away," said Kellogg, a Navajo. Minnie Two Shoes, a Nakoda who sympathized with Shebala during the split board vote on Friday, was named interim vice president.

A spokeswoman in the NAJA office said Shebala had missed five meetings — conducted monthly by conference call — from August 2004 to August 2005 and was absent or joined in late for six others since then. In March, "the board directed its president to write a letter to Marley, saying that if she was absent from or significantly late to another meeting, she would be asked to resign," secretary Dan Lewerenz told Journal-isms.

Shebala, who was recently named "Community Journalist of the Year" by the Arizona Press Club, said some board members had "personal issues" with a group that included herself and her editor, Tom Arviso Jr.

Arviso led the weekly Window Rock, Ariz., paper to independence from the Navajo tribal government in 2003, fulfilling a dream of many in the Native press.

NAJA had 554 members as of June 15. Its charter reads, "Any member of the Board of Directors for NAJA may be removed from office for failure to attend three (3) duly called meetings."

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Asian Journalists Expecting 1,000 in Hawaii

The Asian American Journalists Association opened its convention in Hawaii today, expecting about 1,000 people and preparing to elect a new president. Jeanne Mariani-Belding, editorial and opinion editor at the Honolulu Advertiser, is running unopposed.

"With its great weather, beaches and island locale, Honolulu is a nice location for an annual convention. But for attendants on a tight budget, getting there can be a headache," Yangkyoung Lee wrote today in the AAJALink, the student convention newspaper.

"At least 1,000 people are expected to attend the convention — either footing the bill on their own or being among the lucky ones who have someone to pick up their tab.

"Cost and an earlier convention date are among some of the factors that are keeping attendance numbers lower than last year's Aug. 17- 20 event in Minneapolis, AAJA Executive Director Rene Astudillo said."

Other board candidates, also running unopposed, are Jam Sardar, reporter for CN8 News, the Comcast network in Philadelphia, for national vice president for broadcast, and Cynthia Wang, associate Los Angeles bureau chief for People magazine, as national treasurer.

Mariani-Belding became editorial and opinion editor at the Honolulu Advertiser in 2004. She had been deputy editorial page editor of California's San Jose Mercury News. With her Honolulu appointment, she became one of the first Asian American journalists to oversee a big-city newspaper's editorial page.

She was previously the Mercury News' senior editor for recruiting and special projects and its race relations and demographics editor.

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Fight Resumes Over Media Consolidation

"Veteran media policy watchers could be forgiven a cry of 'here we go again' as the FCC Wednesday officially launched its review of media ownership rules with some of the same fireworks and contentious talk that characterized its first attempt to deregulate media ownership in 2003," John Eggerton wrote today for Broadcasting & Cable.

That year, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, followed by Unity: Journalists of Color and the National Association of Black Journalists, urged the Federal Communications Commission to delay action on media ownership rules. The commission passed them anyway, only to have a court block changes in the rules.

Today, NAHJ was again involved in the issue, arranging a conference call between NAHJ members and dissenting Commissioner Michael Copps. Copps said the FCC needs "good, independent studies" on "the whole question of minorities and diversity" as affected by the proposed rules, as well as studies on the impact on other groups, such as religious broadcasters.

"It's a national scandal that you had so important a part of our country and only maybe 4 percent of radio assets and 2 percent of the television" assets in minority hands. "A media that is supposed to reflect the diversity of America can't do that under those circumstances."

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NAHJ Backs "Free and Open Internet"

"The U.S. Congress is currently re-writing and debating our nation's telecommunications laws that will determine the future of the internet, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists said today.

The organization "supports the principle of 'network neutrality,' which preserves a free and open Internet and will ensure that all Internet users can access content or run applications and devices of their choosing without manipulation or discrimination. NAHJ takes this position because it is critical that all communities, including the Latino community, have unfettered access to information from a diversity of viewpoints without artificial and unnecessary obstacles."

It listed resources for reporters covering the issue.

A Senate Commerce Committee vote is expected Thursday, Ira Teinowitz reported Monday for AdAge.com.

"Democrat Sen. Daniel K. Inouye lashed out at the current bill, saying it lacks sufficient net-neutrality measures and would 'utterly fail to protect consumers and preserve an open internet,' " Teinowitz wrote.

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"Talk of the Nation" Not Doing NABJ This Year

National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" broadcast last week from the convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Andi Sporkin, NPR's vice president for communications, asked the show's executive producer, Sue Goodwin, about the reasons behind the broadcast on Journal-isms' behalf.

Q. How did idea arise?

Goodwin: The idea to do a remote from NAHJ was suggested internally and the idea seemed obvious. The conference offered an excellent opportunity for TOTN to cover issues about Hispanic Americans with an audience that is part of the story. We also incorporated a workshop, "How to Produce a News Talk Show," into our trip. This allowed us the chance to do some training in the news/talk format and to meet Hispanic journalists interested in this kind of work.

Q. Has the show done likewise at other journalists' conferences and will it do more down the road?

Goodwin: Absolutely. TOTN has done the UNITY conference several times. We plan to do more, including NABJ, in the future, though not this year since the cost of doing a remote broadcast is significant and we can only do a few each year.

Q. Anything particularly interesting come out of the show?

Goodwin: An interview with Rafael "El Pistolero" Pulido stood out for its insight into the role of the Spanish-language radio host in the Hispanic community. Pulido is host of a morning talk show for WOJO's "La Que Buena" in Chicago and it is the main vehicle for informing Chicago's Hispanic community about developments in immigration legislation and for mobilizing protests. He offered a view into another kind of talk radio and a frank discussion about why he feels so strongly about using his job to be an advocate.

Q. Anything interesting happen behind the scenes?

Goodwin: Last-minute booking is an essential art to any talk show. The day before we left to go to Fort Lauderdale, a guest dropped out. We needed a replacement immediately, specifically someone who could give us a unique view on the culture of Southern Florida. We called the Broward County Public Library and asked who knew about local authors. They sent us to the Florida Center for the Book where we found out about Carolina Garcia Aguilera, who writes detective novels set in Miami's Cuban American community. A call to her publisher and Miami directory information and we had her home and work numbers. In less than an hour we had her booked for the show.

Q. What's the value of doing such a show at a journalists' gathering?

Goodwin: In news/talk radio, the audience is as much of a guest as the people who are formally booked for the program. The better shows are those which attract contributions from listeners who are part of the story we are covering. One of the stories we wanted to cover as part of the larger immigration story was about how the mainstream media covers Hispanic Americans. We were specifically interested in why some mainstream media were caught off guard when hundreds of thousands of people turned out to protest in late March. By covering this story at the NAHJ conference, we had a room full of people who were experts on this topic.

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3 Win Board Seats at IRE Pledging Diversity

Renee Ferguson of WMAQ-TV in Chicago, Manny Garcia of the Miami Herald and incumbent Stephen Miller of the New York Times were among seven people elected to the 13-member board of Investigative Reporters and Editors at its convention in Fort Worth, Texas, the organization announced Tuesday. The three all made increased diversity a part of their platforms.

Ferguson, who won a Nieman Fellowship for the coming school year, said, "I would work hard to help IRE include and support more journalists of color. Our organization must dedicate itself to an unrelenting push to grow and empower journalists of different cultures. They need to be empowered by our organization, and in turn, by their news organizations, to tell the stories that, in many cases, only they, have access to. Inclusive thinking is imperative."

Garcia said his vision included "diversity, fundraising and growing the membership — especially outside the United States. I want to help recruit more minority journalists via universities, colleges, newsrooms around the world and the different national journalism organizations."

Miller said, "I've secured funding for IRE programs at the Unity Conference and last year's NABJ convention in Atlanta. The two events trained nearly 250 minority journalist[s] in CAR skills," referring to computer-assisted reporting. "I helped secure a two year grant from The New York Times Foundation.

"I've continued my pledge to personally participate in our core mission. I've volunteered as a trainer at Better Watchdog Workshops, the aforementioned Unity and NABJ conferences, a program for 30 student journalists from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in New Orleans and seminars for Chinese journalists both in the U.S. and in China."

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Short Takes:

  • Vasin Omer Douglas, graphics director of the Austin American-Statesman, is joining the Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, Wash., as senior producer for MSN.com, he told Journal-isms on Tuesday. He said he would be in charge of 12 of the sites, redesigning them and creating graphics, starting July 5. His wife, Cassandra Scott, director of information services, is joining the company as managing editor of an MSN site for baby boomers, he said. Microsoft spokesman Austin Stewart told Journal-isms he could not elaborate. "Unfortunately, we are not able to participate in this opportunity," he said.
  • Since Sewell Chan, 28, debuted in the New York Times in November 2004, he has recorded more than 600 credits, Gabriel Sherman reported today in the New York Observer. "Mr. Chan collects reporting credits the way Pete Rose collected base hits: obsessively, with doggedness and hustle, scratching them out where others might bide their time and swing for the fences," Sherman wrote.
  • Paul Anger, editor of the Detroit Free Press, explained the concept of maintaining a "rainbow rolodex" on public radio's "On the Media," which aired over the weekend.
  • Stephannia Cleaton, business editor of the Staten Island (N.Y.) Advance, will be sworn in as the first female African American president of the New York Press Club at the organization's annual awards and installation dinner on June 26, Chris Roush reported Friday on a blog at the University of North Carolina.
  • Across all of its platforms, CNN planned to air features on the global refugee crisis throughout the entire day Tuesday — "on every CNN/U.S. and CNN International program — as part of its special coverage titled, '15 Million Without a Home,'" CNN announced on Monday. "Given the sheer number of refugees throughout the world, we decided to take a full day to probe more deeply into the problem and potential solutions," said Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S, in a news release. "Who better than CNN — with our correspondents throughout the world — to shed a light on this alarming crisis."
  • "The auction of Univision, the nation's largest Spanish-language media company, was sent into disarray last night as a consortium of investors led by the Mexican television giant Grupo Televisa, the group tipped to win the contest, missed the deadline to submit an offer, executives involved in the process said," Andrew Ross Sorkin reported today in the New York Times.
  • "A. Jerrold Perenchio has made billions with great instincts, an iron will and a very low profile. Now he's selling Univision — his way," read the headline over a story by Meg James Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times.
  • "Over the last dozen years, changes in Mexican politics and society, combined with the imposition of new systems for monitoring media coverage, have significantly altered the way political candidates are treated by the country's press, television and radio networks," Reed Johnson reported Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times. "Compared with previous presidential races, the major media's coverage of this year's campaign is more open, balanced and impartial, say a number of media analysts and electoral and party officials here.
  • In the Philippines, "Two unidentified gunmen shot and killed part-time radio broadcaster George Vigo and his wife Mazel on the island of Mindanao on June 19. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating the motives behind the attack," the committee reported on Tuesday.
  • "The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled by a recent string of attacks on journalists in Liberia, some of which were carried out by government security forces," the committee wrote last week to Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
  • Gbenga Mike Aruleba, the "presenter" on the "Focus Nigeria" program on privately owned Africa Independent Television, has been released after his arrest on June 14 by operatives of Nigeria's intelligence agency. But the agency is deciding whether to charge him with sedition, according to the Toronto-based International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House.
  • Nigeria`s President Olusegun Obasanjo has reaffirmed plans to return to his sprawling farm in Ota, near Lagos, and to devote the rest of his life to community service when his tenure runs out next year. He denied any clampdown on the media, the Angola Press reported on Tuesday.

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 BugMeNot.com 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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