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Dean Baquet Named Top Editor at N.Y. Times

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Veteran Journalist Is First African American in Role

Calling "BS" on Excuses for Failing on Newsroom Diversity

Cooper's Interview With Donald Sterling Boosts CNN Ratings Plans Site Targeting Asian Pacific Islanders

Williams Drops Request for Waiver to Buy Pa. Station

Cal State Long Beach Regains Accreditation After 17 Years

Short Takes

Dean Baquet and Jill Abramson last year.  (Credit: New York Times)'

Veteran Journalist Is First African American in Role

Dean Baquet, managing editor of the New York Times and former top editor at the Los Angeles Times, was named executive editor on Wednesday after Jill Abramson stepped down from the New York newspaper's top editorial job.

"Baquet, 57, becomes the first African American in the job.

“It is an honor to be asked to lead the only newsroom in the country that is actually better than it was a generation ago," he said in a New York Times account of the development, "one that approaches the world with wonder and ambition every day."

Baquet told the newsroom, "I will listen hard, I will be hands on, I will be engaged. I’ll walk the room. That's the only way I know how to edit."

The story of Baquet's ascension, however, competed with the story of Abramson's ouster, even in the Times. David Carr and Ravi Somaiya reported for the Times, "Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the paper and the chairman of The New York Times Company, told a stunned newsroom that had been quickly assembled that he had made the decision because of 'an issue with management in the newsroom.'

"Ms. Abramson, 60, had been in the job only since September 2011. But people in the company briefed on the situation described serious tension in her relationship with Mr. Sulzberger, who was concerned about complaints from employees that she was polarizing and mercurial. She had also had clashes with Mr. Baquet.

"In recent weeks, these people said, Mr. Baquet had become angered over a decision by Ms. Abramson to make a job offer to a senior editor from The Guardian, Janine Gibson, and install her alongside him in a co-managing editor position without consulting him. It escalated the conflict between them and rose to the attention of Mr. Sulzberger.

"Ms. Abramson had recently engaged a consultant to help her with her management style. Mr. Sulzberger nevertheless made the decision earlier this month to dismiss her, and last Thursday he informed Mr. Baquet of his promotion, according to the people briefed on the situation, who declined to speak for attribution because of the sensitivity of the matter.

"Ms. Abramson did not return messages seeking comment. As part of a settlement agreement between her and the paper, neither side would go into detail about her firing. . . ."

Sulzberger "informed senior editors of the change in a gathering in a conference room Wednesday afternoon, and shortly afterward addressed hundreds of staff members gathered on the newsroom floor and the staircases surrounding it," Somaiya reported in an earlier version of the Times story. "He began by praising Mr. Baquet, but declined to elaborate on the question he said was 'on all of your minds' — the reason for the sudden switch. He said it was not about the journalism, the direction of the newsroom or the relationship between the newsroom and business sides of the paper.

" 'I chose to appoint a new leader for our newsroom because I believe that new leadership will improve some aspects of the management of the newsroom,' he said. 'You will understand that there is nothing more that I want to say about this. We had an issue with management in the newsroom. And that's what’s at the heart of this issue.'

In a New Yorker blog, Ken Auletta speculated that Abramson's ouster could be traced to clashes with Mark Thompson, the New York Times Co. president and CEO, and to Abramson's unhappiness with her compensation.

Regardless of the reasons, Baquet's ascension was big news for black journalists, whose ranks have been buffeted by newspaper staff contractions and indifference to diversity concerns.

"He has reached a height many can only dream about," messaged Don Hudson, the executive editor of the Decatur (Ala.) Daily who tracks the number of black top editors for the National Association of Black Journalists. "He's an inspiration to all of us editor types out here in the trenches. I know I'm proud of him."

Hudson added, "It's a good day. God is good. First a president and now the top journalist."

Errin Whack, vice president/print of the National Association of Black Journalists, tweeted, "@baquetnyt's appointment as editor of @nytimes is huge. Rare air even rarer for talented journalists of color."

However, she followed up with, "Baquet's appointment is cause to celebrate but also to ask, where is the pipeline? Where will next Baquet come from? Too few places to look."

Somaiya's initial story Wednesday also noted that  "Ms. Abramson, 60, a former investigative correspondent and Washington editor who was appointed to lead the newsroom in 2011, was the first woman to serve in the top job.

" 'I've loved my run at The Times,' she said in a statement. 'I got to work with the best journalists in the world doing so much stand-up journalism,' she said, noting her appointment of many senior female editors as one of her achievements."

Sulzberger wrote this note to the staff:

"I am writing to announce a leadership change in the newsroom. Effective today, Dean Baquet will become our new executive editor, succeeding Jill Abramson.

"This appointment comes at a time when the newsroom is about to embark on a significant effort to transition more fully to a digital-first reality and where, across the organization, we are all learning to adapt to the rapid pace of change in our business.

"We owe Jill an enormous debt of gratitude for positioning the newsroom to succeed on both of these critical counts and of course, for preserving and extending the level of our journalistic excellence and innovation. She’s laid a great foundation on which I fully expect Dean and his colleagues will build.

"As those of you who know Dean will understand, he is uniquely suited to this role. He is a proven manager, both here at The Times and elsewhere. He is also a consummate journalist whose reputation as a fierce advocate for his reporters and editors is well-deserved. And importantly, he is an enthusiastic supporter of our push toward further creativity in how we approach the digital expression of our journalism.

"I know you will join me, Mark and the rest of the senior leadership team in wishing Jill the best and congratulating Dean on his appointment.


Questions on social media immediately centered on Abramson's surprise departure. Her own statement was circumspect about the reasons: "I’ve loved my run at The Times," she said. "I got to work with the best journalists in the world doing so much stand-up journalism. Holding powerful institutions accountable is the mission of The Times and the hallmark of my time as executive editor, whether stories about China, government secrecy, or powerful figures and corporations."

A New York magazine article last August spoke of tension between Abramson's role and Thompson's.

"The role of 'visionary' at the paper, traditionally held by the news chief, was now being ceded to Thompson," Joe Hagan wrote. "And in recent months, say several Times sources, Abramson has chafed at some of Thompson's moves as he redirects company resources to projects of ambiguous design, including an aggressive video unit run by a former AOL/Huffington Post executive who sits among news editors but reports to the corporate side of the Times. . . ."

But in a blog late Wednesday headlined, "Why Jill Abramson Was Fired," Auletta added, "there’s a history behind it. Several weeks ago, I'm told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs.

" 'She confronted the top brass,' one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management's narrative that she was 'pushy,' a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. . . ."

The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association applauded both Baquet and Abramson, saying, "At NLGJA's urging, Abramson had The Times adopt new style guidance on gender identity amid coverage of the Chelsea Manning case. Abramson announced the new policy at NLGJA's convention last year. She has been a friend to our organization and the LGBT community, and we wish her well."

Baquet was ousted as editor of the Los Angeles Times in 2006 after he publicly opposed staff cuts at the paper. He had been national editor at the New York Times and returned as chief of the Washington bureau. In Los Angeles, staff members applauded his commitment to them, but journalists of color disagreed over whether Baquet had made diversity a priority

Baquet's rise comes poignantly as PBS is airing "A Fragile Trust," a documentary recapping the story of plagiarist Jayson Blair, the Times reporter whose fabrications prompted a racially tinged scandal that cost Executive Editor Howell Raines and the late Gerald Boyd, the Times' first African American managing editor, their jobs in 2003.

"The burden of being in that role," Bill Keller, then the Times' executive editor, acknowledged to Journal-isms after a memorial service for Boyd in 2006, "is something a few of us are beginning to comprehend."

Boyd said when he was named managing editor, "I'm not about to dwell on the firstness of all of this, but if somewhere a kid of color who reads about this can smile tomorrow or dream a little bigger dream, then that makes me very happy."

Calling "B.S." on Excuses for Failing on Newsroom Diversity

"In less than three years, the way Matt DeRienzo has improved both the diversity and the journalism of Digital First Media's Connecticut newsrooms is an outstanding story that calls bullshit on all the excuses too many newsrooms give for how difficult it is to improve newsroom diversity," according to Steve Buttry, who until July 1 is digital transformation editor of Digital First Media.

"Matt took over as Connecticut editor in the summer (as I recall) of 2011. I visited the Connecticut newsrooms in June of 2011, shortly before that, and I think Angi Carter, a reporter, was the only journalist of color that I saw in any of the three newsrooms in Connecticut, other than the New Haven librarian, Angel Diggs," Buttry said via email.

Digital First Media owns more than 800 multiplatform products across 18 states. In Connecticut, they include the New Haven Register, Middletown Press, the Register Citizen of Torrington and non-daily publications including Connecticut Magazine, the Litchfield County Times and West Hartford News.

Asked about Buttry's recollection, DeRienzo messaged, "We had three minority journalists when I took over two and a half years ago — a reporter, a librarian and a copy editor. [Buttry] is correct that Angi, as a reporter at the time, was the only person on our staff visible to the community and not in a 'behind the scenes' role. Out of a total staff in Connecticut of about 120.

"Today, out of a staff of about 110, our minority newsroom staff includes:

  • "8 reporters

  •  "2 leadership team-level editors (metro editor and community engagement editor)

  •  "1 senior web producer

  •  "3 copy editor/paginators.

  •  "1 librarian

"This includes 10 black employees, 2 bilingual Latino employees, 2 Asian employees, one of whom is bilingual, and 1 transgender employee. The latter is not a person of color, but I include her on this list because of how valuable her presence is as we really try to learn how to cover that community better, especially after the media's fumbling of the Chelsea Manning story and the Grantland debacle.

"Oh, one other point. While we have gone from 3 minority journalists to 15 in the past two and a half years, we've actually recruited more than that! We had another four reporters who came to work for us, stayed for a while, and then left for various reasons — to work in TV, to go to grad school, to go to a pure digital news outlet and for personal reasons.

"As we talk about the challenge of diversifying newsrooms and maintaining that, I think that's an important point — it's a constant process, because others are going to hire away some of your people, and you're going to have turnover for other reasons, too."

Asked whether he had advice for others leading newsrooms, DeRienzo said:

"We started by deciding it would be one of our top priorities.

"It was really slow going and frustrating at first. We couldn't find candidates. We had tried advertising with the right organizations, reaching out to some colleges. I think what we learned after it started becoming a lot easier is that our networks were limited by our lack of diversity. A more diverse newsroom (and importantly, leadership team) helps expand those networks, which makes hiring a diverse newsroom easier. But there's a chicken and egg problem at first.

"To overcome that, we held positions open longer, sometimes so long to get more minority applicants that it caused grumbling because we were short on positions that really needed to be filled.

"We recruited from nontraditional sources — for example, hiring local people who hadn't gone to journalism school but had dabbled in alternative or community media.

"When the president of the Connecticut chapter of the NAACP was meeting with us about a story and complained about the continued lack of diversity in our organization, we asked for his help in spreading the word about openings.

"We moved money around and went out and recruited some top-notch journalists from other places, including Brian Charles, who we hired away from a sister paper in California shortly after he was named our company's 'Journalist of the Year' for mid-sized daily newspapers. We created a new position for him — covering the issue of poverty full-time.

"We participated in Chips Quinn [the Freedom Forum's Chips Quinn Scholars program], not just from an intern placement perspective, but sending four of our early-career minority journalists there over two years to their development program. That paid off not only with professional development and retention, but was a recruiting tool. One of our editors who went through the Chips Quinn program recruited a member of his class to come to Connecticut and join our reporting staff."

Cooper's Interview With Donald Sterling Boosts CNN Ratings

"Anderson Cooper's exclusive interview with Clippers owner Donald Sterling provided a ratings boost for CNN Monday night, according to numbers from Nielsen," Ryan Faughnder reported for the Los Angeles Times.

" 'AC 360' averaged 720,000 total viewers Monday, up 42% from the 508,000 average for the show over the last four weeks. The surge was even bigger among 25- to 54-year- olds, the key age demographic for cable news. Cooper drew 294,000 viewers in the key demo, which is 73% higher than the prior four-week average of 170,000.

"The interview was a big get for the cable news network, which has struggled in the ratings at times when there's not a big breaking story to cover, such as the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Coverage of the airliner mystery earlier this year significantly increased CNN's numbers. . . ." Plans Site Targeting Asian Pacific Islanders, which earlier this year folded into its website, is preparing to launch an Asian Pacific Islander "vertical," and announced Wednesday that Amna Nawaz will take on a new role leading the coverage.

A vertical is defined by as a "specialized website that serves as an entry point to a specific market or industry niche, subject area, or interest."

In a note to staffers from Greg Gittrich, executive editor of and vice president of news and product for NBC News Digital, and Hillary Frey, editorial director of, the executives said:

"We’re preparing to launch a new Asian Pacific Islander vertical. We're happy to announce that the coverage will be led by Amna Nawaz, who most recently served as the network's Bureau Chief/Correspondent in Islamabad, reporting for all NBC News platforms from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the region.

"In her new role, based in New York, Amna will assign and edit coverage of news and issues that matter to Asian Pacific Americans. She will help us tell unique stories from both here in the United States and abroad, often contributing reporting herself to the vertical and all our platforms. The coverage will address issues of culture, identity, and experience. We also will delve into political and economic issues. In all cases, we will use NBC News' original reporting resources across the region, the CNBC network in Asia, and our partnerships with Global Post, Al Jazeera English, and others.

"Under Amna's direction, we plan to grow the Asian Pacific Islander vertical into a robust destination, featuring great storytelling, unique videos, breaking news, original photography and personal essays.

"Amna is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has been with NBC for nearly a decade, producing and reporting for the network shows, MSNBC, the Investigative Unit in DC, and In 2013 she became the first foreign journalist to gain access to North Waziristan, the global hub of Al Qaida and Taliban activity. . . ."

Williams Drops Request for Waiver to Buy Pa. Station

Conservative commentator and entrepreneur Armstrong Williams dropped his request for permission to buy WLYH-TV in Lancaster, Pa., on Monday in the first indication that the Federal Communications Commission's vote in March prohibiting "joint service agreements" could adversely affect minority ownership.

Advocates of minority broadcast ownership and jobs for journalists of color each took comfort from the vote "to bar companies from controlling two or more TV stations in the same local market by using a single advertising sales staff," in the words of Gautham Nagesh, writing then for the Wall Street Journal.

Williams' company, Howard Stirk Holdings, had planned to acquire the station from Nexstar as part of a multistation deal with Sinclair that is conditioned on obtaining an FCC waiver for the deal.

The FCC proposal passed after the addition of language designed to encourage waivers for joint sales agreements that encourage diversity in media ownership. "Three of the four full-power TV stations in the U.S. owned by African-Americans are party to such agreements, and would be likely to secure waivers. . . ," Nagesh wrote. Williams told Journal-isms then that he was encouraged by the language.

In a letter to the FCC, lawyer Colby M. May said Williams would still like waivers to purchase WMMP-TV in Charleston, S.C., and WABM-TV in Birmingham, Ala. Sinclair Broadcasting is acquiring Allbritton stations in those markets and would presumably operate them under joint service agreements.

Cal State, Long Beach Regains Accreditation After 17 Years

The journalism program at California State University, Long Beach has regained accreditation after a 17-year hiatus, Jason Ruiz reported Monday for the Long Beach Post.

"The main concerns the team had were with the student and staff demographics," Ruiz wrote, referring to the American Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.

"Diversity is one of the standards that the association judges programs by and CSULB's journalism department's diversity both student-wise (38% Hispanic, 12% Asian-American, 6% African-American, 3% international) and faculty-wise (four full-time international professors) came into question.

"However, students' praise for the school's emphasis on a diverse curriculum eventually won over the committee as they weighed their experiences heavily during the review process. The students were so involved that site team president Christopher Callahan, founding dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, told [Chris] Burnett [chairman of the department since 2011], he'd never seen a student body want the accreditation as badly as the ones at Long Beach. . . ."

Short Takes

  • The Washington Post might have hired 50 staffers in 2014, but the newspaper isn't saying how diverse they are. "We don't release that type of information about our employees, but I am sure you know how deeply we believe in diversity in the newsroom," spokeswoman Kris Coratti told Journal-isms by email on Wednesday. "We have been diligent in hiring qualified candidates across a wide spectrum of experiences and backgrounds."

  • "Dollars spent on advertising in LGBT media for 2013 reached a record high of $381.4 million, according to a recently released report on gay media," Chuck Colbert reported May 1 for Press Pass Q. "And that record high represents an 18.2 percent increase from the previous year. At the same time, circulation and readership of LGBT media is also up a healthy 15.1 percent. . . ."

  • "Video surfaced this week from the Boko Haram group showing the schoolgirls they captured in Nigeria," Tom Kent, deputy managing editor and standards editor for the Associated Press, wrote on his blog Tuesday. "The video included close-ups of the girls reciting from the Quran and answering questions from their captors, and wider shots of the group (some with an armed man in front of the girls). While some other news organizations used the close-ups of the girls' faces, we chose the wider shots. . . . The images we selected convey the idea of the girls being held, without showing them in such detail that would identify specific children in this abusive situation. . . ."

  • "The words 'you're fired' didn't mean much to Summer Reese," Doug Oakley reported Tuesday for the Oakland Tribune. "On Monday an Alameda County judge said it again, and Reese, the fired head of the nonprofit that runs Berkeley radio station KPFA, ended a two-month occupation of her office and went home. . . ."

  • The New York Times on Tuesday published an obituary of Judith Cummings, the first black woman to head a national news bureau for the newspaper, serving as chief correspondent in Los Angeles from 1985 to 1988. Writer Paul Vitello included biographical information not then available for the Journal-isms report of May 2.

  • Vickie Walton-James was named National Desk supervising senior editor for NPR News on Monday. Madhulika Sikka, executive editor, said in a staff memo, "These past few months Vickie has been performing this role in an acting capacity for which I am grateful. Vickie has been with us for six years and has been responsible for overseeing our coverage on some of the biggest domestic stories of the past few years including the Gulf oil spill, Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombing. She has also been our Olympics editor in London and Sochi where her enthusiasm for sports and her exceptional organizational skills and astute editing served our audience so well. She joined NPR after holding a number of editing roles at the Chicago Tribune. She moved to the paper's Washington Bureau in 1995 and became the Tribune Washington Bureau Chief in September 2001 leading their coverage of the September 11th attacks. . . ."

  • Wil Haygood, the Washington Post writer whose story of White House butler Eugene Allen was the basis for the movie "Lee Daniels' The Butler," says the movie was not nominated for an Academy Award because the academy has a "cultural blind spot." In an interview that aired May 6, Haygood told Allan Wolper of WBGO-FM in Newark, N.J., that the disproportionately few academy members of color make his point. "Of course, I'm biased," Haygood said, "but no doubt about it, I think the movie will stand the test of time. (audio)

  • "Danielle Allen, a versatile scholar whose intellectual interests span the classics, philosophy and political theory, has been elected chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board," Columbia University announced on May 1. "Allen, the UPS Foundation Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., replaces Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of the Times Publishing Company, which publishes the Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s largest newspaper. Board members serve a maximum of nine years while a chair serves for only one year. . . ."

  • A Nielsen survey of television viewing found that, "In 2013, viewing among persons in African-American homes continues to be the highest with 47 hours and 38 minutes per week. Persons in Asian American homes viewed the least with 20 hours and 15 minutes, while viewing from persons [PDF] in Hispanic homes fell in between with 28 hours and 38 minutes. . . ." Nielsen reported on Wednesday.

  • "NBCUniversal has added a key member to its Spanish-language media team, announcing that Luis Silberwasser, a former Discovery Communications executive, will become president of the Telemundo network later this summer," Meg James reported for the Los Angeles Times. "Silberwasser will be responsible for the Miami-based broadcast network and its Telemundo production studios, the company said in a statement Tuesday. . . ."

  • "On Tuesday, Univision Communications and Telemundo took turns trying to wow hundreds of advertisers in separate venues in New York City to kick off the annual TV advertising sales auction known as the upfront," Meg James and Yvonne Villarreal reported for the Los Angeles Times. "For years, the two networks have worked to secure a larger percentage of advertisers' budgets — pressing their case that the more than 50 million Latino consumers wield more than $1.3 trillion in spending power and are hugely relevant." They also wrote, "The landscape has shifted dramatically in the last two years. Established players such as Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox and Discovery Communications Inc. have crowded into the space to try to grab a share. . . ."

  • Emil Guillermo, who blogs for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, testified May 6 before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the killing of his cousin, Steven Guillermo, who was shot to death when he got off on the wrong floor of his apartment building and entered the wrong apartment, KNTV-TV reported. "Why does a reasonable man in San Francisco even have a need for a gun?" he asked. "If Stephen Guillermo’s killer is set free by the D.A., then the police and the D.A. have not just failed Stephen Guillermo, and his family and friends. [They] have failed the city and county of San Francisco." Guillermo raised more questions in his May 9 blog post.

  • "Two journalists in Jordan having a televised debate about the civil war in neighboring Syria literally turned — and overturned — the table on each other during an on-air brawl," the Associated Press reported Saturday. The program aired the previous Tuesday on the "Seven Stars" satellite television channel. "It featured journalists Shaker al-Johari and Mohammad al-Jayousi talking about the 3-year-old war pitting rebels against President Bashar Assad's government, a conflict that activists say has killed more than 150,000 people. However, the debate fell apart as al-Jayousi accused al-Johari of supporting the Syrian rebels. Al-Johari then accused al-Jayousi of taking money for supporting Assad. . . ."

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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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