Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Detroit's "Freep" Trims 22 from Newsroom

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Columnist, Editorial Writer Among Latest Out the Door;
Guild Says Its Members Feel "Betrayed" by Company

The Detroit Free Press completed another round of layoffs on Tuesday, with columnist Desiree Cooper and editorial writer Nichole Christian, both black journalists, among the casualties.

By one count, the Free Press eliminated 22 people in its newsroom, 18 of them journalists. Fifteen of them are women, six African American, two Hispanic and two are Asian American.

The Newspaper Guild of Detroit said nine of the 20 laid off in its jurisdiction were part-timers.

Lou Mleczko, president of the Guild, told Journal-isms on Wednesday that "Guild members are angry, disillusioned and feel betrayed" because management rejected proposals that would have saved some jobs and appeared to target certain employees, including at least one of color.

For example, he said the Guild proposed that money in the company's pension plan be used on a one-time basis to enable those close to retirement age to leave with a full pension, saving $1 million in active payroll costs, severance pay and benefits.

In addition, "several full-time reporters said, 'I will leave'" to save others' jobs, "but the company said no."

Moreover, he said, the company used a contract provision designed to protect "star" employees to save favored ones who were not "stars" and instead laid off two graphic artists, Fred Fluker and Martin Westman. Fluker is African American, and Mleczko said the Guild pointed out that the cuts involved "a disproportionate number of women and minorities."

Paul Anger, the Free Press' editor and publisher, was out of the office on Wednesday and his office did not respond to an inquiry. On Tuesday, he did not respond to a question about whether newsroom diversity had increased or decreased. Instead, he told Journal-isms, "We have not published our layoff list out of respect for the privacy of individuals involved, but we have had and will continue to have one of the most diverse staffs of professional journalists in the country."

In the 2009 diversity survey of the American Society of News Editors, the Free Press reported 29.5 percent journalists of color, including 5.0 percent Asian American, 20.9 percent black, 3.6 percent Hispanic and none Native American.

Cooper, a part-time employee, told readers her fate last week.

"For a decade now, I've been writing about the lives of ordinary Detroiters," she began her June 17 column.

"During that time, I've learned that there are mostly two kinds of people: those who have faith, and those who have yet to find it. . . .

"Each person I have met these past 10 years has reminded me that faith is the bedrock of change and miracles are the currency of hope. The chance to tell their stories has never been a job, but always an honor and a blessing."

Cooper wrote Journal-isms Wednesday that she had "long felt like a fish out of water. Good news is hard to sell in a newsroom. I have been consulting for a few months now, and hope to turn my attention to helping non-profits while cultivating my career as a creative writer. I have a short story that was selected by Nikki Giovanni to appear in 'Best African American Fiction 2010.' A sure sign that it's time to focus my energies in a new and exciting direction!!!"

The Free Press said on May 13 that the Detroit Media Partnership, which operates the Free Press and the News, would lay off up to 150 employees "in the face of continuing severe economic conditions," and that the layoffs would include about 25 positions to be removed from the Free Press newsroom.

Desiree CooperSoon afterward, Sharon Wilmore, an assistant managing editor at the Detroit Free Press and a black journalist, and Nate Trela, an assistant metro editor who is Asian American, became two of five nonunion newsroom employees laid off at the Free Press. The paper also appeared to eliminate its news research staff.

Anger listed the positions to be eliminated and wrote, "Bargaining unit members in the affected classifications above will have 30 days to volunteer for severance, effective today. That period ends with the close of business on Friday, June 19. We expect to notify all staff members who are affected by the reductions by Monday, June 22, with departures effective Tuesday, June 23."

Ultimately, the toll among journalists also included Laura Varon Brown, Audience editor and columnist, who responded to readers' questions about the paper; Javan Kienzle, part-time copy editor; Christy Arboscello, a reporter who is Asian American, who resigned in May; Emilia Askari, an Asian American reporter who was part time; Dan Cortez, a part-time reporter who is Hispanic; part-time reporter Kim North Shine; part-time copy editor Amy Butters; Janice Monarrez and Julie Armstrong, part-time Web editors; Paul Barrett and Bernie Czarniecki, sports agate editors; and Rodney Curtis, assistant photo editor, according to a list obtained by Journal-isms and confirmed by Mleczko.

Three other employees - Morgan Phillips, a full-time designer; Robin Payne, a part-time editorial research assistant who is black, and Robert Ellis, a full-time copy editor, voluntarily resigned to save a position, Mleczko said.

"In my case, it's not bad news," Askari, 49, told Journal-isms. She said she had been at the Free Press since 1989 or 1990.

"I've been working three days a week since I had kids. The paper is eliminating all part-time reporting positions. Under our union contract, I had the right to 'bump' back into the full-time reporting job I had pre-kids. I turned that down because I have just won a Spectrum Scholarship to study at the University of Michigan's School of Information. I begin a two-year master's program there in September. The School used to train librarians, and it still does. But now the School is much more computer-focused than in the past, and ranked third in the country by US News & World Report. I will probably concentrate in social computing or human-computer interactions. With all that's going on in the industry, it seemed like the right time to get some new skills."

She said she hoped to return to journalism "in some fashion in a couple of years. Of course, I am sad for my colleagues who also lost their jobs this week. I'm sure some of them, like me, already have plans for the future. I think some were taken by surprise. They're a talented bunch and will be sorely missed by their colleagues and by anyone who follows Michigan news."

. . . For Nichole Christian, It's "Fear Less, Hope More"

Nichole M. Christian"I've worked at being a newspaper journalist since I was 16 years old," Nichole M. Christian wrote Journal-isms, answering with a "rant" a question about what she planned to do next.

"I believed an English teacher when she told me journalism could be my passport out of a rough childhood (both parents dead by the time I was 14 — drugs).

"My teacher was right," said Christian, 38, laid off this week as an editorial writer at the Detroit Free Press. "I became the first person in my family to go to college on a journalism scholarship @Wayne State University's Journalism Institute for Minorities. My blood bled newspaper ink, boxes and boxes of dog-eared articles by writers I patterned myself after.

"Every summer of my college life was spent in a newsroom (Detroit Free Press, Chicago Tribune, St. Pete Times, Cincinnati Enquirer) studying the tricks of the trade, searching for mentors, longing for the day I'd have a full-time, recognizable byline. After college, I got a dream ticket: full-time positions at the St. Pete Times, the Wall Street Journal, two trips to the New York Times and a stint as Time magazine's Detroit bureau chief. After 9/11 in NYC, I figured I'd come home one last time, maybe help chronicle the city's climb back to respectability, as I'd helped to chronicle the victims of 9/11 in 'Portraits of Grief' at the New York Times.

"I say all this to say: after knowing exactly what I wanted for half of my life, I'm sadly ready to see what else the world has to offer beyond newspapers.

. . . and T-shirt she designed"My passion for storytelling still rages on, but newsrooms' way of engaging with the world around us is sadly too disconnected. So for now, I'm gonna take some deep breaths, pray I can hold on financially, long enough to finalize a Plan B that excites me as much as newspapers once did.

("For now, I'm trying my hand at T-shirt design and Web consulting. Designed a sort of protest shirt shortly before I left the Freep. Shirt is now in two retail shops and on the backs of many of my similarly fed-up colleagues at the Freep and elsewhere across the country. The message: Fear less, hope more.)

"Stay tuned."



The Huffington Post's Nico Pitney got a prime location in the White House Briefing Room on Tuesday and was the second reporter chosen for a question. (Credit: Politico)

"Planted" Obama Questioners Stir Hornet's Nest

The White House stirred up a hornet's nest by "planting" questioners at President Obama's first daytime news conference on Tuesday, as reporters raised the issue at Wednesday's White House briefing and debated it on the air, in print and in the blogosphere.

Dana Milbank wrote Tuesday in his "Washington Sketch" column in the Washington Post: "During the eight years of the Bush administration, liberal outlets such as the Huffington Post often accused the White House of planting questioners in news conferences to ask preplanned questions. But here was Obama fielding a preplanned question asked by a planted questioner — from the Huffington Post."

Nico Pitney, Huffington Post's national editor, "said the White House, though not aware of the question's wording, asked him to come up with a question about Iran proposed by an Iranian. And, as it turned out, he was not the only prearranged questioner at yesterday's show. Later, Obama passed over the usual suspects to call on Macarena Vidal of the Spanish-language EFE news agency. The White House called Vidal in advance to see whether she was coming and arranged for her to sit in a seat usually assigned to a financial trade publication. She asked about Chile and Colombia."

It was the Huffington connection that disturbed bloggers and some journalists. Others complained about the appearance of "stagecraft."

On, Ben Smith wrote, "The high-profile the administration is giving the left-leaning outlet is a nice case of symbiosis, not entirely unlike the Bush Administration's close ties to Fox, though the president's signal that he'd been briefed on the question in advance was particularly unusual."

Retorted Arianna Huffington on her Huffington Post, "Was it an example of 'the new partisan media' when I laid out chapter and verse on Larry Summer's toxic ideas?

"Was it 'good for the White House' when I disparaged Obama's desire to put the Bush administration's use of torture in his rear view mirror?"

Pitney asked Obama what he described as a question from one of the people "still courageous enough to be communicating online" about whether Obama would recognize Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election, or if such a move would be a betrayal of protesters," as Philip Elliott explained for the Associated Press.

Bill Burton, deputy White House press secretary, responded to Politico's Michael Calderone by saying Pitney "ended up asking the toughest question that the President took on Iran. In the absence of an Iranian press corps in Washington, it was an innovative way to get a question directly from an Iranian."

Vidal, of EFE, was one of three reporters of color who asked questions on Tuesday. April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks raised the black unemployment rate and Suzanne Malveaux of CNN asked Obama's reaction to the "shocking video of this woman, Neda, who had been shot in the chest and bled to death" in Iran.

Ryan said, "Mr. President, people are criticizing this Road to Recovery plan. Specifically, there are reports in the Washington Post that say that the African American unemployment rate will go to 20 percent by the end of this year. And then you had your chairman of Economic Advisers say the target intervention may come next year if nothing changes. Why not target intervention now to stop the bloodletting in the black unemployment rate?"

Obama replied, in part, that "the best thing that I can do for the African American community or the Latino community or the Asian community, whatever community, is to get the economy as a whole moving," and that he wanted to duplicate successful programs that make youth of color more employable.

Ryan told Journal-isms on Wednesday, "The president has been consistent in his universality on employment vs. targeted approach. We'll see if the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers will target next year if the problem persists."

Obama used the question about Chile to speak broadly about Latin America. He said the United States' relationship with Chile and Brazil "points the way for other countries that may be where the democratic tradition is not as deeply embedded as we'd like it to be. And we can make common cause in showing those countries that, in fact, democracy, respect for property rights, respect for market-based economies, rule of law — that all those things can in fact lead to greater prosperity, that that's not just a U.S. agenda, but that's a smart way to increase the prosperity of your own people."

Iran's Crackdown on Journalists Could Be Long-Lasting

Television grappled with how much to show of the death of Iranian protester Neda Agha-Soltan. (Credit: New York Observer)"The media crackdown in Iran may be just beginning. The totalitarian regime's banishment on foreign reporters covering the massive post-election unrest in Tehran and elsewhere will reverberate long after the green-clad protesters finally disappear from the streets, journalists predict," Marisa Guthrie reported Wednesday for Broadcasting & Cable.

"'I think it's going to be very difficult to get back into Iran,' says Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News. 'We're openly being called the instigators of a revolt.'

"The theocratic government has been vocal in its criticism of the foreign media. State television is now running 'confessions' from demonstrators who say they have been influenced to act immorally because of news reports.

"'That's the message they are trying to put out; that foreign media are fanning the flames and leading people astray,' Engel says."

An Associated Press dispatch on protests in Iran Wednesday carried this editor's note: "Iranian authorities have barred journalists for international news organizations from reporting on the streets and ordered them to stay in their offices. This report is based on the accounts of witnesses reached in Iran and official statements."

Meanwhile, Felix Gillette wrote Tuesday in the New York Observer that "On the morning of Monday, June 22, television producers across the city grappled with a difficult question — how much of Neda’s death do we show on TV?"

"Over the weekend, Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old Iranian woman, was shot and killed in the streets of Tehran, nearby clashes between pro-government militias and demonstrators. Her tragic final moments were captured on a cell phone video and soon disseminated rapidly across the Internet, transforming the young woman into an icon of the protests.

"By Monday morning, the footage of Neda’s death had become an important international story. But how much of the graphic video could news producers use on TV? In the end, such decisions varied from network to network."

Army Dislikes Stories, Refuses Request to Embed

"Asserting that Stars and Stripes 'refused to highlight' good news in Iraq that the U.S. military wanted to emphasize, Army officials have barred a [Stars and] Stripes reporter from embedding with a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division that is attempting to secure the violent city of Mosul," Stars and Stripes, a newspaper that receives government subsidies to cover the military, reported on Wednesday.

"Officials said Stripes reporter Heath Druzin, who covered operations of the division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in February and March, would not be permitted to rejoin the unit for another reporting tour because, among other things, he wrote in a March 8 story that many Iraqi residents of Mosul would like the American soldiers to leave and hand over security tasks to Iraqi forces.

"'Despite the opportunity to visit areas of the city where Iraqi Army leaders, soldiers, national police and Iraqi police displayed commitment to partnership, Mr. Druzin refused to highlight any of this news,' Major Ramona Bellard, a public affairs officer, wrote in denying Druzin's embed request.

"Bellard also alleged that Druzin used quotes out of context, 'behaved unprofessionally' and persisted in asking Army officials for permission to use a computer to file a story during a communications-blackout period.

"Additionally, Col. Gary Volesky, the 3rd Brigade's commander, asserted that Druzin 'would not answer questions about stories he was writing.'"

Sources Say N.Y. Times Approved Ransom for Reporter

The story that has emerged over the past few days about the secret confinement of New York Times reporter David S. Rohde and his dramatic escape from the Taliban in a lawless region of northwest Pakistan early Saturday is remarkable, Matthew Cole wrote Monday for New York magazine.

"Because the Times isn’t providing much in the way of detail, the paper leaves it to others to try to fill in the gaps. The story of those who worked to get Rohde out, and what led to his escape, is only beginning to become known. This account is pieced together from multiple sources either directly involved in the negotiations or apprised of the Times’ negotiating efforts as they were going on; it suggests a patchwork of attempts to get the reporter out alive, involving the FBI, the Pentagon, the State Department, and multiple private intelligence contractors. . . .

"In announcing the news of Rohde’s escape, one thing the Times was careful to point out is that it paid no ransom for his release. That is apparently true, but two sources involved in the rescue efforts say the paper had authorized as much as $2 million in ransom funds, which would have been one of the highest known amounts ever paid to secure the release of a journalist. According to these sources, a $1 million offer was on the table even as Rohde was scrambling to safety. One American contractor involved says that although no ransom was ultimately paid, money did play a part in Rohde’s escape. He adds a crucial detail to the Times’ published account of the escape: That guards had been bribed to look the other way as Rohde and [Luddin] made their way out of the compound."

The reference is to Tahir Luddin, 34, an Afghan journalist who has worked for the Times for several years. He escaped with Rohde.

NAHJ board members and staff prepare convention bags Tuesday at the Puerto Rico Convention Center. (Credit: Daniel Belis/Latino Reporter)

700 Register for NAHJ, Half as Many as in 2006

"This year’s National Association of Hispanic Journalists Convention is facing far fewer attendees and recruiters than ever in the wake of a recession and subsequent cutbacks and layoffs," Jessica Conner wrote Wednesday for the Latino Reporter, student publication for the NAHJ convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

"A little more than 700 people were registered to attend the three-day convention in Puerto Rico as of noon Tuesday, almost half the number that attended the 2006 conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"In past years, at least 90 recruiters have been on hand. This year, less than 60 plan to be at the conference’s Career Expo, NAHJ executive assistant Yaneth Guillen said.

“'The economy is a big issue,' NAHJ officer Brandon Benavides said. 'A lot of members have been laid off.'

"This year, NAHJ paid the registration, airfare and hotel costs or for more than 70 journalists who recently lost their jobs."

Senate's Apology for Slavery Fails to Impress

"Last week, the U.S. Senate apologized for slavery and the Jim Crow century that followed. But like the House of Representatives, which passed a similar resolution last July, it failed to give a detailed confession of its complicity in this great crime," DeWayne Wickham, columnist for USA Today and Gannett News Service, wrote Tuesday on his blog.

"Instead, the Senate followed the House's lead and simply bemoaned the mistreatment of millions of blacks who were forced into slavery from 1619 through 1865. It didn't say anything about what Congress did — or didn't do — to aid and abet that 'peculiar institution.'

"That's not good enough. For the sake of history and closure, Congress needs to describe the full nature of its offenses in support of slavery and the century-long period of legal disenfranchisement of blacks that followed. Too many people in this country have little knowledge of the legal cover Congress gave slavery. Too few people understand how Congress perpetuated the suffering of blacks long after the 13th Amendment ended slavery."

Others were similarly underwhelmed.

Short Takes

  • "The smiling, ethnically diverse family featured on the cover of Toronto's The father of the family changes in the transition from the original photo, left, to its multicultural version.latest edition of its summer Fun Guide was digitally altered to make the photo more 'inclusive,' which city officials say is in keeping with a policy to reflect diversity," Allison Hanes reported June 10 in Canada's National Post, in a story that made it to Web sites south of the border on Wednesday. An employee "superimposed the African-Canadian person onto the family cluster in the original photo. It was two photographs and one head was superimposed over the original family photo," said John Gosgnach, communications director for the social development division.
  • "This actually just happened to be a tip from someone who had been Leroy Chapmanpaying attention to the news and who had been on an airplane flight. So, this was an anonymous tip from just an air passenger," Leroy Chapman, politics and government editor at the State in Columbia, S.C., said on CNN Wednesday. He was discussing Gov. Mark Sanford's admission that he was having an affair with a woman in Argentina. "My folks have been excellent in covering this difficult story," Chapman told Journal-isms. "It has been a whirlwind. I covered Mark Sanford as a candidate for governor, and I was a member of an editorial page that endorsed him. I would have never thought he would have been involved in a sex scandal. The lesson here, again, is that we really never know some of the people in public life we cover."

  • The Ford Foundation has awarded the National Association of Black Journalists $150,000 to increase educational and training opportunities for journalists of color, NABJ announced on Tuesday. "The grant will be employed by NABJ in three core areas: to increase multimedia workshops and educational programs in 2009 and 2010; to create a professional scholarship program for recently laid-off members desiring professional training and networking opportunities at the NABJ Annual Convention & Career Fair; and to help facilitate NABJ's move to a new state-of-the-art facility at the Philip Merrill School of Journalism on the campus of the University of Maryland."
  • The Radio-Television News Directors Association has named the winners of the 10th Annual RTNDA/UNITY Awards, RTNDA announced on Wednesday. They are: in television, MSNBC, for ‚ÄúMeeting David Wilson‚Äù (network); KMOV-TV, St. Louis, for ‚ÄúA Shared St. Louis‚Äù (large market); in radio, National Public Radio, for ‚ÄúThe Evolution of Native American Boarding Schools‚Äù (network); and WERN-FM, Madison, Wis., for ‚ÄúBridging the Shores: The Hmong-American Experience‚Äù (large market).
  • In Dayton, Ohio, "WHIO-TV news anchor Natasha Williams is facing a wrongful death civil lawsuit filed by the mother of a Moraine man who was killed in March 2007 in Harrison Twp. after his car collided with Williams‚Äô SUV," Tom Beyerlein reported Wednesday in the Dayton Daily News.
  • With five more members of Congress now on board, the Local Radio Freedom Act, which states that there should be no "performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge" on radio for playing music, has the support of 237 members of the House ‚Äî 10 more backers than the resolution picked up last time it was introduced, in 2008, RadioInk reported on Wednesday.
  • Gabriel Voiles of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting notes that "Steven T. Jones and Sarah Phelan are reporting (San Francisco Bay Guardian online, 6/19/09) on San Francisco Chronicle immigration reporter Jaxon Van Derbeken's acceptance of an award and cash prize (he refuses to say how much) from the Center for Immigration Studies ‚Äî which a Southern Poverty Law Center report in February 2009 criticized for its overtly racist roots and extreme anti-immigrant agenda'."
  • "I became irritated when the news broke" of the June 16 disappearance of two-year-old Jada Justice from a gas station in Gary, Ind., Kathy Jada JusticeChaney of the Chicago Defender wrote Wednesday, and "there was no mention of the case on the national news. I immediately sent an e-mail blast to my media friends who work at national outlets alerting them of the news, if they hadn‚Äôt already heard, and asked if the case was already in their lineups. Sadly it wasn‚Äôt. My efforts did pay off. Huge thanks to M.S. and B.C. of HLN‚Äôs 'Nancy Grace' show for putting Jada‚Äôs case on the show last week and this week. Thanks to M.S. of 'American‚Äôs Most Wanted' for putting Jada‚Äôs case on their Web site and for talking about it on HLN Prime News."
  • "The fact is that for Latino job candidates trying to deal with the day-to-day realities of the advertising and marketing industries (including the multicultural and U.S. Hispanic advertising agencies), there are subtle and not so subtle forms of discrimination that often go undetected or are rarely acknowledged or discussed," Rochelle Newman-Carrasco wrote Tuesday for Advertising Age. She listed discrimination involving skin color, social status and accents.
  • In New York, WPIX-TV correspondent Cathy Hobbs is leaving the station's news team to concentrate on hosting her weekly series "NY Residential," to be renamed "Metro Residential," focusing on real estate and design, Richard Huff reported in the New York Daily News. "The motivation for her departure is to focus more on her interior design firm."
  • Six of the eight Gambian Press Union officials and journalists arrested last week in the Gambia, West Africa, have now been freed on bail. The journalists still face serious charges including "conspiracy to publish with seditious intention," Ebrima Sillah and Zahira Kharsany reported for the Inter-Press Service.

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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Ebony Magazine Woes

Judging from the way the website looks, it seems like Johnson Publishing is "WAY" behind the learning curve. With all newspapers heading to the web with their content, I would have though Ebony and Jet Magazines would have had their archived editions on the web by now. The sad part is, it might be too late!

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