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Diversity Protests Get Startups' Attention

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Alarm Sounded at Expansion of Young White Male Network

After "a Couple" of Layoffs, Essence Adds Editors

Lemon One of Four to Try Out Piers Morgan's CNN Slot

Ex-Politico Writer Finds Working Retail Nasty, Brutish

Harassment of Journalists Continues in Crimea

NAHJ Appeals for Aid to Member Widowed by Blast

Clyburn Seeks Compromise on Joint Service Agreements

Bert Medley, Online Journalism Pioneer, Dies at 69

Short Takes

Alarm Sounded at Expansion of Young White Male Network

The issue of diversity at Internet journalism startups blew up this week after critical pieces called out the startups on — of course — the Internet, and leaders of two of the leading targets pleaded their commitment to inclusion.

"What people may not understand is that we’ve barely begun our hiring process; we’ll be adding many more staff members in the months ahead," Eric Bates, executive editor of First Look Media, told Journal-isms by email on Friday. First Look Media is the creation of Pierre Omidyar, the eBay founder, along with Glenn Greenwald, best known as a publisher of WikiLeaks material, and others. "We’re busy vetting a large and diverse pool of candidates we've assembled, and we’re always looking to expand it," Bates continued.

Bates added in a follow-up message, "We'll be hiring for all kinds of jobs, from research and design to human resources and IT. But what positions we plan to create, and how many, is something we're still exploring. That's part of what's exciting about building an entire media organization from the ground up — we've been able to take some time to think about what we do as journalists, and to imagine ways we might be able to do it better."

Ezra Klein, the former stalwart of the Washington Post's Wonkblog whose new Vox.com has drawn as much if not more attention as First Look Media, was quoted by Gabriel Arana in the American Prospect Thursday as saying "he is struggling to find racial minorities for the venture." But Klein told Journal-isms in a message Friday, "The question was phrased in the past tense — it was more of a struggle. Our pipeline is much better now, though I wouldn't say we've been flooded with applicants or anything. More names are always welcome!"

Vox Media, formerly known as Project X, is a digital venture in explanatory journalism. Klein previously told Journal-isms, "I'd love to know your suggestions for the top few young candidates of color we should be talking to. We're particularly looking right now for science, health, foreign policy, and data journalists, though I'm interested in names beyond these topics, too."

[He added via message on Saturday, "we're in touch with NABJ and will be at the conference. As for quoting, I'd mostly refer you to what Melissa (Bell) said on twitter yesterday: We're committed to diversity and we're working hard to find diverse candidates, and we strongly, strongly encourage interested folks to apply! If folks are sending you names send them to me!"] 

The concern among journalists who are not white or male reached such a crescendo that the board of the National Association of Black Journalists issued "An Open Letter to News Media Startups" on Friday.

"Our excitement has turned to concern as the parade of recent hires hardly reflects a commitment to ensuring that these new newsrooms reflect all the communities they will cover," the letter said. "While we recognize that the process is still young, NABJ raises the flag now to ensure that diversity is a priority." It also said, 'journalists of color are frustrated at feeling shut out of this hiring wave."

NABJ named Vox Media, First Look Media, The Marshall Project and FiveThirtyEight and said, "We would like to meet with your organizations, both individually and perhaps at a summit, to discuss how we can help each other.

"We invite you to attend our next Board of Directors meeting, scheduled for next month. We also welcome your participation at the NABJ Convention & Career Fair this summer in Boston. Our convention features the largest job fair in the industry, as well as an unmatched scale of networking and professional training."

While Klein said on Saturday he would attend NABJ's conference, Bates said on Friday, "I saw NABJ's letter about 15 minutes before I emailed you, so I haven't had a chance yet to discuss it with anyone (other than you)."

Criticism by Emily Bell in Britain's Guardian newspaper Wednesday was widely circulated in social media. Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, emphasized the lack of women leaders at the startups.

"Of the many others who have eloped from the portals of the industrial presses to big, shiny and new things (as in, not Yahoo or The Information), the sole female top editor or founder is Kara Swisher at Re/code," Bell wrote. "And she is running that technology site collaboratively with a man, Walt Mossberg. At First Look, behind-the-scenes Laura Poitras is one of two main female names on a virtual masthead that just added John Cook from Gawker (to run Greenwald's magazine) to join Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone (to lead his own).

"At Vox, the female hire making early headlines with Klein's departure was Melissa Bell, a back-end publishing expert whose work for Klein's Wonkblog was 'unglamorous but considered vital.' [Bell tweeted Friday, "I am not 's hire. I am his partner and co-founder . I am an editor, and a leader on the technology side at ."]

"It is not just the four new (and still exciting) breakout projects of the year: Vice, Quartz, [BuzzFeed], Politico, Grantland — these, too, are led by white men, and filled with more of them.

"It is as if Arianna Huffington never happened. Or as if diversity of leadership and ownership did not really matter, as long as the data-driven, responsively designed new news becomes a radical and successful enough departure from the drab anecdote laden guff put out by those other men. . . ."

On Thursday, Joe Coscarelli of New York magazine asked Nate Silver, the heralded former New York Times sports-and-politics blogger who on Monday begins his new FiveThirtyEight at ESPN, "Do you think about problems of representation in the team you've built?" Again, the emphasis was on gender rather than race.

"About 85 percent of our applications come in from men," Silver replied. "That worries us. At the same time, we're hiring the best candidate for the position. But that's one of the reasons why we take a long time and put a lot of effort into our hiring process, to make sure that we're looking widely for the best possible candidates.

"I’ll be honest — that piece, the grander point I don’t have any opinion about," Silver said, referring to Bell's article. "I thought the notion about FiveThirtyEight … it upset me. We think a lot about the hiring process. The phrase 'clubhouse chemistry' is an allusion to baseball, but the idea that we're bro-y people just couldn't be more off. We're a bunch of weird nerds. We're outsiders, basically. And so we have people who are gay, people of different backgrounds. I don't know. I found the piece reaaaally, really frustrating. And that's as much as I’ll say. . . ."

Shani O. Hilton, deputy editor-in-chief at BuzzFeed, brought the issue back to journalists of color Friday for medium.com in an essay headlined, "Building A Diverse Newsroom Is Work. Here's what I’ve learned."

"The network—on both ends of the equation—is the problem," Hilton wrote. "The journos of color and women aren't networking with white dudes doing the hiring because it isn't in their DNA. Call it the Twice as Hard Half as Good Paradox: Many of us are so busy working twice as hard and hoping to get noticed that we don't do the networking that seems like bullshit but is actually a key part of career advancement.

"Meanwhile, the white guys doing the hiring who, at least in my experience, are more self-aware than many people seem to think, are asking their non-white or female journalist friends for names of people to hire. But if we know those people, we're often trying to hire them ourselves — and besides that, we don't have some secret diverse pipeline of reporters we've been hiding. As one journalist of color put it to me, 'Why don't you get out there and find some of your own?' . . ."

Hilton went on to list key points about achieving newsroom diversity.

Coincidentally, Unity: Journalists for Diversity had scheduled a "Diversity Caucus" in Washington Friday with journalism industry leaders. Fifty-five people attended, according to Interim Executive Director Eloiza Altoro. Attendees tweeted and Doris Truong of the Asian American Journalists Association packaged the tweets via Storify.

Hoai-Tran Bui wrote on the Unity website:

David Cay Johnston, president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, "made suggestion that newsrooms 'motivate/punish hiring with money' so competent people aren’t overlooked by more senior people."

Jen Christensen, president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, "noted that there was a lack of LGBT discussion in diversity hiring."

David Boardman, president of the American Society of News Editors, "noted the changing nature of journalism, and how to incorporate diversity into that — a lot of alternative news don't pay attention to it."

Tiffany Shackelford, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, "suggested more collaboration between news organizations — 'not as painful as before.' "

Bui also wrote, "The discussion turned to diversity committees, which many agreed should be done away with. However, some journalists were concerned that the news organizations aren't ready to do this yet. . . ."

This columnist is scheduled to discuss the controversy on NPR's "Tell Me More" with Michel Martin on Monday. [Updated March 15]

After "a Couple" of Layoffs, Essence Adds Editors

A day after Essence magazine confirmed the departure of Emil Wilbekin, the former editor of Vibe magazine who had been a major figure at Essence since 2009, the publication announced staff changes Tuesday.

  • Charreah K. Jackson was named relationships editor. She had been associate editor, relationships.

  • Pamela Edwards Christiani was named beauty and style director. She had been style and beauty editor at People.

  • Lauren N. Williams was appointed news editor. She had been associate editor at More.

  • Deena Campbell was named hair and beauty editor at Essence.com. She had been beauty editor at VibeVixen.com.

A massive restructuring took place at Time Inc., owner of Essence, in early February, as executives prepared to spin off that part of Time Warner. Despite rumors that as many as five people lost their jobs, spokeswoman Dana Baxter maintained by email that "Essence had some staff switches and fortunately we are only down a couple of headcount."

Baxter did not respond to a question about why the magazine would reduce the staff only to add to it.

Lemon One of Four to Try Out Piers Morgan's CNN Slot

"Piers Morgan’s last day hosting Piers Morgan Live will be March 28, after which CNN Worldwide chief Jeff Zucker is going to try out Michael Smerconish as well as Jake Tapper, Bill Weir, and Don Lemon in the time slot for a few weeks, a source with knowledge of the situation tells Deadline," Lisa de Moraes reported Thursday for Deadline Hollywood.

"We will actually see Weir fill in for Morgan in the time slot first, next week, but it will be just that — he's filling in on Morgan's show while Morgan takes a previously scheduled vacation, and he will return for one final week after that. Morgan and Zucker continue to talk about a future role for him at the network, the source said. . . ."

De Moraes also wrote, "Lemon's been at CNN the longest, having joined in ’06. Just days ago CNN announced it was giving Lemon a five-week primetime trial run at 10 PM with a weekly half-hour program, The Don Lemon Show. . . ."

Ex-Politico Writer Finds Working Retail Nasty, Brutish

"My plunge into poverty happened in an instant. I never saw it coming," Joseph Williams wrote Tuesday for the Atlantic.

"Then again, there was no reason to feel particularly vulnerable. Two years ago, I was a political reporter at Politico, and I spent my days covering the back-and-forth of presidential politics. I had access to the White House because of my reporting beat, and I was a regular commentator on MSNBC. My career had been on an upward trajectory for 30 years, and at age 50 I still anticipated a long career.

"On June 21, 2012, I was invited to discuss race, Republican candidate Mitt Romney, and the 2012 presidential election on MSNBC. I said this:

'Romney is very, very comfortable, it seems, with people who are like him. That's one of the reasons why he seems so stiff and awkward in town hall settings … But when he comes on ‘Fox and Friends,’ they’re like him. They're white folks who are very much relaxed in their own company.'

"The political Internet exploded. Because I'm an African American, enraged conservative bloggers branded me an anti-white racist. Others on the right, like Andrew Breitbart's Big Media, mined my personal Twitter account and unearthed a crude Romney joke I'd carelessly retweeted a month before. The Romney campaign cried foul. In less than two weeks I was out of a job.

"Five months earlier my ex-wife and I had a fight. I pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree assault, and signed a court order to stay away from her and her residence. Upon completion of six months of probation, the incident would be wiped from my record. But in the wake of the Politico scandal, [FishbowlDC] obtained the court documents and published a piece, 'Ex-Politico WH Correspondent Joe Williams Pleaded Guilty to Assaulting Ex-Wife.' Finding a new job went from hard to impossible: Some news outlets that had initially wanted my resume told me they'd changed their plans. Others simply dropped me without saying anything.

"Of course, I had no idea what a modern retail job demanded. I didn't realize the stamina that would be necessary, the extra, unpaid duties that would be tacked on, or the required disregard for one's own self-esteem."

Williams added, "That's how I found myself working a retail job at a sporting goods store—the only steady job I could find after six months of unemployment in a down economy and a news industry in upheaval. In a matter of months, I was broke, depressed, and living on food stamps. I had lost my apartment, and ended up living out of a suitcase in a guest bedroom of an extraordinarily generous family I barely knew . . ."

At the end of the essay, Williams writes that he "got the opportunity to leave Sporting Goods Inc. for a temporary job as a communications director for a Capitol Hill nonprofit, a gig that paid twice as much per week as I'd earn in a month at the store. That salary still didn't come close to my Politico paycheck, though it was a step in the right direction."

He told Facebook followers on Friday, "Unbelievable — my story went viral: 240K views, thousands of shares on FB and Twitter, three days on The Atlantic's most-read list. I'm grateful to incredible FB friends who helped make it happen. #overwhelmed."

The nonprofit job did not last, however. Williams blogged on March 7, "On paper I'm roughly where I was over the summer —- unemployed, living out of a suitcase in a guest room of the Mensches, peace and blessings upon their names — having worked four or five menial jobs at once before settling into a job at Metro Sports. . . ."

President Obama holds a news conference Wednesday with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk. Russia says its journalists were excluded. (video)

Harassment of Journalists Continues in Crimea

Journalists covering the ongoing crisis in the southern Ukrainian autonomous republic of Crimea continue to be detained, harassed, and obstructed, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on all sides of the crisis to allow journalists to report freely on the events in Crimea and Ukraine," the Committee to Protect Journalists reported on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Ellen Barry reported Thursday for the New York Times, "The Russian authorities on Thursday blocked three websites and a blog, including platforms used by the opposition figures Aleksei A. Navalny and Garry K. Kasparov, saying that Russia’s general prosecutor had ordered the sites closed because they had encouraged 'illegal activities and participation in public events held in violation of the established order.' . . .”

Katya Golubkova reported for Reuters Friday, "Russia accused the United States on Friday of unacceptable discrimination against Russian journalists by barring them from a news conference given by President Barack Obama and Ukraine's prime minister."

However, "The Obama administration said Friday there is 'no truth' to the Russian government’s claim," Michael Calderone reported Friday for the Huffington Post.


NAHJ Appeals for Aid to Member Widowed by Blast

"The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) is asking for help in support of a member who lost her husband and all of her belongings in the Harlem explosion Wednesday," Catherine Taibi reported Friday for the Huffington Post.

"Liseth Perez, editor of Life and Style for El Diario, lost her husband Andreas Panagopoulos and 'all her worldly possessions' in the explosion and collapse of two buildings in East Harlem, according to NAHJ NYC. The tragedy appeared to be the result of a gas leak and has taken at least nine lives and injured dozens more.

"The NAHJ took to Twitter Friday to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Perez' behalf. . . ."

Clyburn Seeks Compromise on Joint Service Agreements

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is looking for a compromise on the issue of shared service or joint service agreements, one that would promote diversity but still crack down on companies that use the deals to circumvent ownership restrictions, according to John Eggerton, writing Friday in Broadcasting & Cable.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing restrictions that would make it harder for broadcast companies to control two stations operating in the same market.

"Clyburn's office would not comment, but according to sources familiar with conversations between Clyburn and National Association of Broadcasters executives this week, she is looking for a way to balance cracking down on bad actors who use the rules to skirt ownership limits and fostering sharing agreements that can boost diversity, particularly in rural markets where joint ownership of stations is disallowed but the need for some financial help is often greatest," Eggerton wrote.

"Wheeler will definitely need her vote, since the two Republican commissioners have raised major objections to the plan. . . ."

Eggerton also wrote, "One middle-ground proposal that could appeal to Clyburn was offered up a couple of weeks ago by the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters. which suggested the FCC could [use] joint sales agreements (JSAs) and shared services agreements (SSAs) to promote ownership diversity or 'other important commission policies.'

"NABOB has historically been opposed to JSAs and SSAs, which they also saw as a way to circumvent the FCC's local ownership caps.

"But in a meeting with Clyburn, NABOB executive director James Winston, said the sorry state of minority ownership has caused it to rethink its position if those sharing arrangements can be used to incubate minority ownership. . . ."

Bert Medley, Online Journalism Pioneer, Dies at 69

Bert Medley, a former NBC producer and online journalism pioneer, died Tuesday after battling cancer, his former NBC colleague Allison Davis told Journal-isms. He was 69.

"Ever the producer, Bert Medley has planned his funeral and his obit has been pretty much written. I’ve excerpted parts below," Davis wrote by email.

"Bert had a long and impressive career in broadcast journalism. It was cut shorter than he would've liked by cancer. You never saw his face or heard his voice. Producers don't do that. They work behind the scenes coordinating the work of on-air reporters, photographers, video editors and program writers. The stories he produced were creative, informative and memorable. He had an extraordinary eye and was an amazing story teller. And it all began in the basement of a high school friend in suburban Philadelphia. It was the late 50s-early 60s. He attended an integrated school. He told a fellow student, a white boy who was also a Seventh-day Adventist, of his interest in radio. The classmate invited him to his home and showed Bert the low power radio station in his basement.  'He had some pretty good equipment,' Bert recalled. 'There were two nice turntables and a high quality control board.'

"From there, through college days at Temple University he would end up working for NBC in Washington, DC, Cleveland, Atlanta, Tel Aviv, and eventually New York City. There were many turning points in his career as a news producer at NBC. But it was his teaming up with correspondent Bob Dotson from 1975 to 1984 that had the most impact. Their pieces were for the Today Show segment '...in Pursuit of the American Dream.'

"….. He was also a futurist. He saw early on that the future distribution tool for news was not on the television screen or in print, but would live in a much more personal space that would engage the viewer in new and innovative ways. Bert invested in a computer long before it was a household staple. He realized that this device sitting on top of a desk could engage the 'viewer' with words, pictures and sound. He recognized that this rich multi-media experience controlled and guided by the user could have a much greater impact on presenting news content than the passivity of the television screen.

"And he was an integral part of a pioneering team at NBC News bringing original news content to the internet. Even before MSNBC.com, there was NBC [SuperNet] and it was Bert and his vision that helped to lead a small band of digital news pioneers to this new age of journalism.

" 'Bert was also instrumental in bringing his television broadcast colleagues to this new frontier,' said Allison Davis, who led the SuperNet team. 'Few understood this digital realm but Bert led the network correspondents by the hand, teaching those who wanted to come aboard to 'think differently.'

"In 1995, there was no book or script. There was no model to follow. NBC was the first broadcaster to go online and arguably the first news organization to produce original journalism on the internet.

" 'We made it up as we went along. Bert created content and sweet talked his way into using the servers of the parent company, General Electric, that provided the hosting, storage and distribution of our original NBC News content,' Davis said. Every Friday, Bert worked late to build an online page that chronicled the week's news. There was even a news quiz with a T-shirt prize for the user who was first to answer the questions correctly. It wasn't long before NBC [SuperNet] was absorbed by the partnership between NBC News and Microsoft. Bert was tapped to help direct news coverage at MSNBC.com; his last position at NBC News but certainly not his last job in the digital world.

"His work at NBC was recognized with awards from The Associated Press, Women in Communications, the Catholic Academy and the Epilepsy Foundation of America."

Short Takes

  • "The Census Bureau has embarked on a years-long research project intended to improve the accuracy and reliability of its race and ethnicity data," Jens Manuel Krogstad and D'Vera Cohn reported Friday for the Pew Research Center. "A problem is that a growing percentage of Americans don't select a race category provided on the form: As many as 6.2% of census respondents selected only 'some other race' in the 2010 census, the vast majority of whom were Hispanic. . . ."

  • "The board of directors of the Pacifica Foundation terminated Executive Director Summer Reese Thursday, according to an email sent early Friday by outgoing board treasurer Tracy Rosenberg," Mike Janssen reported Friday for Current.org. He also wrote, "Reese's termination comes five months after the Pacifica board gave her the job, which she had held on an interim basis since August 2012." Reese presided over financial and management crises at Pacifica stations WPFW-FM in Washington and WBAI-FM in New York.

  • Michael Grabell of ProPublica won the American Society of News Editors' Award for Distinguished Writing on Diversity, which recognizes writing that helps a community understand and better appreciate its racial, ethnic and religious diversity, ASNE announced Thursday. The judges said, "ProPublica's 'Temp Land'' series used shoe-leather reporting and exhaustive statistical analysis to point out a little-noticed trend in industrial America: an increasing number of major companies are turning to temporary workers to fill their least-attractive jobs. They analyzed labor data and accident reports to show that temp jobs are also among the most dangerous. The stories prompted action, including the U.S. Labor Department opening investigations into three agencies and OSHA tightening temp-agency rules."

  • Reporting on two cases of two local papers accepting money from City Hall this year, Corey Hutchins wrote Tuesday for Columbia Journalism Review, "It was the growth of mass readership and commercial advertising that laid the foundation for professional norms of objectivity and independence from [political] parties, and eventually for 'accountability journalism' that scrutinized government. . . . For awhile now, the money hasn't been coming in at the same rate, and many of the other sources newsrooms have turned to — corporate sponsors, nonprofit foundations — bring with them their own set of questions. If underwriting from city hall does turn out to be a thing, too — no matter how well-intentioned the government officials putting up the funds — it may be time for yet another discussion of journalism’s emerging ethics."

  • ESPN Anchor Stuart Scott "has had 58 infusions of chemotherapy," Richard Sandomir wrote Tuesday for the New York Times. "He recently switched to a pill. But the drugs have not fully arrested the cancer that struck first in 2007, when his appendix was removed. It returned four years later. And it came back again last year. Each recurrence seems more dire, and yet after each, Scott has returned to his high-profile work at ESPN, ensuring that his private fight has become a public one. . . ."

  • "Miami Herald staff photojournalist Al Diaz has been presented with NPPA's Humanitarian Award," Mark Dolan, president of the National Press Photographers Association, announced on Monday. "Diaz is being recognized by NPPA for his quick response and selfless actions in summoning help when a five-month-old infant stopped breathing while riding in his aunt's car on a busy Miami expressway on February 20th. Diaz put the welfare of the child first, making sure plenty of qualified responders were on hand, and that CPR was in progress, before he picked up his cameras and started to shoot a series of iconic images of the rescue effort. . . ."

  • "Erica González, who resigned as Executive Editor of New York's El Diario/La Prensa last week, has a new job," Veronica Villafañe reported Tuesday for her Media Moves column. "She's joining the New York City Council as a Senior Advisor. According to a release, in her new role, she’ll 'work to find new and innovative ways for the Council to interact with the public and to enhance overall engagement with New Yorkers.' . . ."

  • "Hilda García has resigned from her position as Digital Content Director at impreMedia," Veronica Villafañe reported Friday for her Media Moves column. "She has accepted a new job as VP of Multimedia Content & Community Development for Entravision. . . ."

  • "Orlando Ramírez has been promoted to Publisher of the yet to launch Unidos en el Sur de California Spanish-language weekly," Veronica Villafañe reported Friday for Media Moves. "For the past 10 years, he has been the editor of the Riverside [Press-Enterprise's] Spanish-language weekly La Prensa, which, along the Excélsior of Orange County, will be consolidated into the new Unidos on March 21. . . ."

  • "Last week, South Sudanese Information Minister Michael Makuei warned reporters in the capital, Juba, not to interview the opposition or face possible arrest or expulsion from the country. According to the minister, a lawyer by profession, broadcast interviews with rebels by local media are considered 'hostile propaganda' and 'in conflict with the law,' . . . " Tom Rhodes reported Friday for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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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 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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