Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Is Diversity Served in Blagojevich Coverage?

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Monday, December 8, 2008
Gov. Rod Blagojevich targeted the Chicago Tribune editorial board.  Seated in this file photo, from left: Cornelia Grumman, John McCormick, Bruce Dold, Clarence Page. Standing, from left: Marie Dillon, Paul Weingarten, Dodie Hofstetter, Patricia Widder, Tim McNulty, Avani Patel, Editorial coordinator Kristin Samuelson, Marcia Lythcott, Steve Chapman. Grumman and McNulty have since left the board. (Credit: Bill Hogan/ Chicago Tribune)

Ranks of Prominent Chicago Journalists of Color Shrink

So Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is accused of selling President-elect Barack Obama's seat in the U.S. Senate to the highest bidder, according to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney's office. The office had wired Blagojevich, and he was arrested at dawn.

What are the implications for some of the African American candidates for the Senate seat - Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., for example, or Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, Obama's "godfather"? Are their voices, too on the recording devices installed by the feds? What about Valerie Jarrett, once considered an Obama choice for the seat but since picked as a White House adviser?

And what does it mean that, according to the complaint, Blagojevich was willing to have a seat that had been filled by Carol Moseley-Braun and then Obama - two African Americans - sold off to whoever would benefit Blagojevich the most, even if that meant Blagojevich would nominate himself?

Tim Jackson

Those are some of the questions black journalists could be asking in light of the astonishing charges leveled against the governor on Tuesday, according to one veteran Chicago broadcaster, investigative reporter Renee Ferguson of WMAQ-TV.

But the ranks of prominent black journalists in Chicago have been thinning.

"Without question, it's shrinkage and all kinds of things" taking place, N. Don Wycliff, formerly the Chicago Tribune public editor and before that its editorial page editor, told Journal-isms.

They may be thinning even more, speculates Lou Ransom, editor of the Chicago Defender, the African American newspaper. He points to the decision by the Tribune Co. on Monday to file for protection from bankruptcy, which would free it from honoring certain contracts. "That never bodes well for diversity," he said.

The whole Blagojevich episode is mind-boggling, said Wycliff, who now teaches at Loyola University. Among the most startling accusations is that Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, threatened to withhold financial assistance from the Tribune Co. unless the company fired certain editorial board members who had been critical of Blagojevich and had called for the governor's impeachment, as CNN put it.

Most of the corruption editorials were written by John McCormick, his deputy, Editorial Page Editor Bruce Dold told Journal-isms. "It's pretty stunning to find out that the governor was going after you," Dold said.

According to CNN, "The money was related to the sale or financing of Wrigley Field, home stadium of the Chicago Cubs, a team owned by the Tribune Co.

"The governor instructed Harris to tell the Tribune's financial adviser that the assistance, which Blagojevich estimated to be worth at least $100 million, was contingent on the ouster of several board members.

"In a November 4 phone call, Blagojevich told Harris to tell the Tribune adviser, 'Our recommendation is fire all those f---ing people, get 'em the f--- out of there and get us some editorial support.' The affidavit gives only one name, Deputy Editorial Page Editor John McCormick."

On the e-mail list of the National Conference of Editorial Writers on Tuesday, some took heart that editorial writers were still considered important. David Mastio, editor of BlogNetNews.com,  proposed naming an award after McCormick. "The prize will go to the editorial writer whose stellar work drives a public official to go the farthest off the deep end," said Mastio, who has worked on the editorial pages of USA Today, the Virginian-Pilot  in Norfolk and the Washington Examiner.

But some journalists of color noted that the Sun-Times recently laid off all of its editorial writers of color, and that at the Tribune, a photo of 13 editorial board members shows three of color: Clarence Page, who is based in Washington, op-ed editor Marcia Lythcott and Avani Patel, who writes about international affairs. None focuses especially on corruption or Illinois politics.

The Tribune is where Dean Baquet, now Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 1988 as one of a team of three reporters documenting corruption in the Chicago City Council, Wycliff noted. "There was a time when city hall bureau chiefs included some journalists of color." Betty Washington was legendary on the federal beat at the old Chicago Daily News, he recalled. One can imagine the thundering voice of the late Vernon Jarrett, who wrote for the Chicago Defender as well as the Sun-Times, commenting on the Blagojevich scandal.

Not that their successors have been silent.

On the Sun-Times Web site, columnist Mary Mitchell asked, "How can anyone be that dumb?

"More importantly, why didn't the voters in Illinois not know the man they elected twice as governor could have this big of a personality flaw?"

"Blagojevich is accused of behavior so brazen that it makes the state look like it's being run by the mob," she said.

At WBBM-AM, Craig Dellimore, the political editor, had a busy day covering not just the scandal in the governor's office. He was the pool reporter on Obama and reported live from City Hall on Mayor Richard Daley's reaction, according to news director Ron Gleason.

On the Tribune's Washington bureau blog, the Swamp, Frank James wrote, "What is it about Illinois governors or former governors? Talk about your culture of corruption. In the modern era, former governors Otto Kerner and Dan Walker both went to federal prison, the former for taking bribes, the latter for financial improprieties at a savings and loan he ran. Jim Ryan was forced from the governorship and is now serving prison time after being convicted on corruption. And now Blagojevich has been arrested. Does any other statehouse have anything approaching this rogues gallery, at least since the 1950s?" 

The Chicago Defender posted the text of the federal complaint on its Web site, as did other news media, and plans a full story on Wednesday, Ransom said. He maintained that for African Americans, the story is the fate of the Senate seat. The newspaper has come out strongly for an African American to be appointed. An election would change the contest into one where campaign cash is a factor, and could delay the filling of the seat past Obama's inauguration. 

Even if somebody is named, he said, there will be a cloud over the appointee's head, and an asterisk underneath: appointed by a "corrupt governor."

December 8, 2008

"News & Notes" Wonders if Ax Will Drop

Rumors Swirl About NPR's Black-Oriented Show

Tony Cox and Farai Chideya host NPR's 'News & Notes'The staff of "News & Notes," the show that started life on National Public Radio as "The Tavis Smiley Show,"a vehicle for the network to reach out to African American audiences, is wondering whether it is about to go on the chopping block.

Kevin Roderick wrote late Friday on his laobserved blog:

"I'm told that the mood at today's holiday lunch at the NPR West studios in Culver City turned dark as a rumor swept the place that 'Day to Day' and 'News and Notes' would be shut down. No official word from National Public Radio, but a source in Culver City says VP for News Ellen Weiss is coming out next week to swing the hatchet. If true, and apparently most there believe it's true, the move would eliminate the two NPR shows produced locally and pretty much make the spiffy new Jefferson Blvd. studios unnecessary. Stay tuned."

In fact, Tony Cox, alternate host for the newsmagazine-style show, told Journal-isms, budget-cutting had already begun. The holiday lunch was a substitute for the usual holiday dinner and party.

Another staffer said employees at NPR's West Coast offices received a memo about three weeks ago saying times were tough, the NPR endowment had been hit hard by the tanking market and the board and management were looking at all areas where savings could be made. According to the Washington Post, about 6 percent of NPR's annual revenue comes from interest on a $200 million bequest made in 2003 by Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald's mogul Ray Kroc.

NPR isn't saying much publicly. "I can't respond directly to your question because I don't have any information to share," spokeswoman Anna Christopher told Journal-isms "I can tell you that, just like every organization inthe country, NPR is not immune to the economic downturn. NPR management is looking carefully at what kind of impact this may have at NPR."

Christopher said "Day to Day" currently airs on 186 stations, and "News & Notes" on 64.

In 2000, the African American Consortium and NPR "together conceived of a public affairs show for public radio that would build diverse audiences and reflect the interests and perspective of the African American community," NPR and the coalition of African American-oriented public radio stations recalled when Smiley, the activist broadcaster who launched the first fruits of that partnership, departed in 2004. Smiley left after complaining about a lack of promotion and questioned NPR's commitment to a multicultural audience. His show ran on 87 stations.

NPR quickly recovered from the Smiley exit by hiring Ed Gordon, like Smiley an alumnus of Black Entertainment Television, but instead a traditional journalist. The show, now named "News & Notes With Ed Gordon," debuted on 86 stations in 2005.

Gordon lasted a year and a half, replaced in 2006 after he publicly questioned NPR's ability to connect with African Americans. It had been reported that the show had lost 17 percent of its original audience, as NPR affiliates canceled or moved the show. Gordon did the show from the NewYork area while the staff was in California, and some staffers were relieved when Gordon left and looked forward to the show's consolidation on the West Coast.

Gordon was succeeded by his substitute host, Farai Chideya, and NPR promised an expanded Web presence. Still, Chideya told Journal-isms in September that the show "has not been able to access the resources available to us. . . . We as black hosts at NPR are aware that we have to fight for every penny we get."

Meanwhile, in May 2007 NPR and the African American Consortium introduced a second show, "Tell Me More," hosted by veteran journalist Michel Martin, former correspondent for ABC-TV's "Nightline." Perhaps more important, the economy went south.

"People are concerned and they're hoping for the best," Cox, who worked with the show in each of its incarnations, told Journal-isms. "If our show goes down, it will be a tragic loss, because we provide a unique voice in the NPR universe, and if we go down, that voice will be lost."

Martin's program, while also featuring an African American host, "is more multicultural," Cox said, "and our show is more Afrocentric and Afro-American-centric. We really focus on the black experience in America and in Africa."

Philly's Daily News, Inquirer Plan to Cut 35 More Jobs

The management of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News informed the leadership of the Newspaper Guild Monday afternoon that it intends to eliminate 35 bargaining-unit jobs at the two papers effective Dec. 31, the Guild told members late Monday.

Meanwhile, Jim Hopkins' Gannett Blog, which is keeping track of layoffs at the Gannett Co., said Sunday its tally had risen to 1,904 newspaper jobs.

He also noted a column in the Shreveport (La.) Times by Alan English, executive editor, that began:

"What did we do wrong to lay off good people from their jobs before Christmas?"

In Philadelphia, "The layoffs as planned would come primarily from the newsrooms, specifically from the photo and graphic arts departments and the copy desk. The company also plans to cut six positions in advertising.

"Layoffs among management are also planned. The company would not sayhow many. Tomorrow, it will send letters to all 320-plus independent employees across the company asking for volunteers. If it does not get enough volunteers, the company said it will resort to forced layoffs ofindependents. Management cuts are assured in all departments.

The projected Guild layoffs are as follows:

At the Inquirer: seven photographers; two photo lab technicians; three photo editors; seven copy editors; three graphic artists.

At the Daily News: one photographer; four part-time copy editors; one full-time copy editor; one graphic artist.

"The company has indicated it will accept volunteers in any job category but is most interested in achieving the numbers in the categories outlined above. Volunteers in those targeted categories will be accepted and will save a fellow member . . ."

Tim Jackson

Tribune Co. Files for Protection from Bankruptcy

The Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, seven other daily newspapers and commuter tabloids, 23 television stations, WGN America, WGN-AM and the Chicago Cubs baseball team, filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday. But owner Sam Zell and others assured employees that day-to-day operations would continue.

"Seeing your employer and 'bankruptcy' in the same headline does get your attention," Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman wrote on Monday. "But I'm no more worried today than I was before this development. Tribune Co. and the Chicago Tribune are profitable enterprises with lots of valuable assets. Chapter 11 isn't my idea of agood time, but it's not as dire as it sounds, and it won't stop us from putting out the paper every day."

James Rainey and Michael A. Hiltzik wrote for the Los Angeles Times, "Zell attempted to reassure employees that payroll, benefits and retirement accounts should not be affected by theaction. 'The 401(k) is unaffected by the filing, and in general, the existing benefits in the pension and cash balance plans are also unaffected by the filing,' Zell said."

The filing seeks relief from $12 billion in debt that largely stems from last year's leveraged buyout of the media firm.

"'A precipitous decline in revenue and a tough economy have coupled with a credit crisis, making it extremely difficult to support our debt,' Zell said in a statement to employees . . . 'All of our major advertising categories have been dramatically impacted.'"

"The Chicago-based company had roughly $300 million cash on hand, morethan enough to make a $70-million payment due today. But executivesreportedly were unable to persuade lenders to undertake a broaderrestructuring of the debt."

Detroit Reporters Risking Burnout Covering Auto Crisis

"Despite cutbacks in news staff and a sharp decline in revenue, Detroit news leaders told a National Press Club forum they are rallying staffs to cover the automobile industry crisis with all they have. Changes in technology are providing new ways to reach people, they said, but the demands the technology is putting on reporters are burning them out. And, the panelists said, they worry about which news organizations can survive a long-term economic downturn," according to the press club.

"'Does it cause a strain? You know it does,' said Jonathan Wolman, editor and publisher of the Detroit News, said of covering the automobile industry crisis with a smaller staff. 'The dominance this story has for our community can hardly be exaggerated. So we just keep throwing our folks into the fray.'"

 

Tech-friendly President-elect Obama famously is seeking a way to keep his BlackBerry.

President-Elect Promises Increase in Internet Access

"Technology blogs and commentators are applauding a part of President-elect Obama's plan for economic recovery laid out in his most recent weekly address: the promise to make broadband internet access available in every corner of the country, and to push hospitals and doctors' offices to improve care and cut costs by adopting electronic medical records," according to a posting Monday by Dave Rochelson on the Obama team's own Web site, change.gov.

One of those organizations was Free Press, a nonprofit group that has fought media consolidation and seeks more public access to media. Separately, the organization applauded Obama's communications plan, and in a report, suggested specific next steps, including seeking more funding for "public media."

"President-elect Obama should encourage the next Congress to significantly increase funding for public media at all levels — from the national networks of NPR and PBS to community outlets that provide much-needed local perspectives on issues. At the same time, the administration must make public media governance and funding less vulnerable to undue political influence and implement long-term funding solutions," it said.

"The next Congress should hold hearings to search for ways to use public media to solve the growing national problem of insufficient critical journalism. The Obama administration should strive to reinvigorate and modernize public media by using new funding to supplement traditional broadcasting with interactive. Congress should be encouraged to protect and expand existing community media outlets. . . . And Congress should pass the bipartisan Local Community Radio Act, which would allow new, noncommercial Low Power FM radio stations incities, towns and suburbs across the country, enabling new local voicesto be heard on the public airwaves."

Obama's platform had said, "An Obama administration will encourage thecreation of Public Media 2.0, the next generation of public media that will create the 'Sesame Street' of the Digital Age and other video and interactive programming that educates and informs. Obama will support the transition of existing public broadcasting entities and help renew their founding vision in the digital world."

Married to Boss, Columnist Has "No Sweetheart Deal"

Rhonda Chriss Lokeman and husband Mark ZiemanBeing married to the boss usually presents a quandary for the couple involved, and at the Kansas City Star, now-publisher Mark Zieman and columnist Rhonda Chriss Lokeman are no exception.

When they married eight years ago, Zieman was editor and Lokeman, who had been at the paper since 1980, was an editorial-page columnist with other opinion-page jobs, such as op-ed editor, on her r?©sum?©. The editorial page reported to the publisher, not the editor.

But Zieman was promoted to publisher in March, and Lokeman said she decided to leave the paper. The Star would run her columns, however, because she would write them for Creators Syndicate.

Some in the local alternative press and in the blogosphere didn't buy the arrangement, however.

Last week, Kevin Gregory, a former Sacramento Bee employee who writes a blog called "cancelthebee" or alternatively, "McClatchy Watch," asked, "Isn't it time for publisherMark Zieman to end the 'sweetheart deal' the Kansas City Star has with his wife, Rhonda Chriss Lokeman?" He said at first that he couldn't find any other paper that was carrying Lokeman's column. Later, he was told of seven.

Asked to respond on Monday, Lokeman told Journal-isms, "I have always had a strong sense of ethics, that's the very basis of my journalism."

She continued, for the record:

"After 28 years with The Star, I resigned in April after my husband was promoted from editor to publisher. I did so as a matter of ethics. The announcement of my resignation was posted on the board in the Star newsroom which I left without fanfare.

"I had been a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators and had been writing two columns weekly (locally for The Star and nationally for Creators).

"Leaving The Star left me to write exclusively for Creators, which picked me up in 2006 for syndication and released my column in 2007 shortly after Molly Ivins died.

"When I left The Star, the editorial page editor moved my national column to the broadsheet. I still have a loyal following in Kansas City and many were pleased to be able to keep reading me after I left the newspaper staff.

"There are still some readers and critics of mine who believe I am still on The Star payroll. I correct them, of course. Some of these people are also likely to believe that Obama is a Muslim and non-citizen. Reality and truth escape them. The Star is no different from any of the other papers across the country that purchase my column from Creators for their newspapers. As a nationally syndicated columnist, I am no different than others whose columns are sold through syndicates which then are paid.

"I am not paid by The Star.

"Unlike the Chicago-based Tribune Media, which has a relationship with The Star's parent company, McClatchy, the Los Angeles-based Creators Syndicate has no relationship whatsoever with the parent company that owns The Star.

"There is no sweetheart deal.

"I left behind a good salary at The Star in order to remain ethical, avoid any conflicts which might arise from my provocative writing style and subjects, and to be free to write what I want for a national audience without concern about localizing my political topics."

N.Y. Times' Canedy Finishes Book, Wins Promotion

Dana Canedy,who had been an assistant national editor at the New York Times, has returned from book leave, where she wrote about her slain military fianc?©, Dana Canedyand has become a senior editor at the paper, working on career development, staff training and diversity initiatives, she told Journal-isms.

Canedy is now a senior editor, succeeding Sheila Rule, who took a buyout from the paper in the spring.

"My book, a memoir entitled 'A Journal for Jordan,' will be on bookshelves on Dec. 30. The book has also been sold to publishers in Australia, Italy, Brazil and the Netherlands, with more countries expected to be added soon. We have a draft of the script for the movie and I am working with Denzel [Washington] and the screenwriter to develop it," she said.

The book, which grew out of a front-page piece Canedy wrote for the Times, is summarized this way by the publisher:

"In 2005, First Sergeant Charles Monroe King began to write what would become a two-hundred-page journal for his son in case he did not make it home from the war in Iraq. Charles King,forty-eight, was killed on October 14, 2006, when an improvised explosive device detonated under his Humvee on an isolated road near Baghdad. His son, Jordan, was seven months old.

"'A Journal for Jordan' is a mother's letter to her son — fierce in its honesty " about the father he lost before he could even speak. It is also a father's advice and prayers for the son he will never know."

 

Short Takes

  • "Government investigators digging into the grim hidden history of mass political executions in South Korea have confirmed that dozens of children were among many thousands shot by their own government early in the Korean War," Charles J. Hanley reported Saturday for the Associated Press. "The investigative Truth and Reconciliation Commission has thus far verified more than two dozen mass killings of leftists and supposed sympathizers, among at least 100,000 people estimated to have been hastily shot and dumped into makeshift trenches, abandoned mines or the sea after communist North Korea invaded the south in June 1950." Details of the killings were buried in classified U.S. files for a half-century, the story said.
  • Justice B. Hill, a writer for MLB.com, owned by Major League Baseball, said he was one of several employees laid off on Friday. "I always wanted to cover baseball, the sport I grew up following like none of the others," Hill told Journal-isms. "Not only did I get to cover baseball, I got to cover the team I grew up following ‚Äî the Indians. I thank MLB.com for that. Its editors plucked me from the management ranks at The Seattle Times and gave me this opportunity. So for me, the job was a dream come true, and I'm saddened that I'll go into 2009 with no baseball to write about." Editor in chief Dinn Mann did not respond to a request to comment on the impact of the departures on staff diversity.
  • Monica MoralesIn New York, "The talent exodus at WNBC/Ch. 4 is continuing with four familiar faces leaving by year's end," Richard Huff wrote Saturday in the New York Daily News. "Long Island bureau chief Carolyn Gusoff, correspondent Monica Morales, sportscaster Otis Livingston and weathercaster SallyAnn Mosey found out late this week they would be leaving, though some still have time left on their deals."
  • "A week and a half ago, ESPN The Magazine published a cover feature ‚Äî"Living Scared"‚Äî on NFL security," Dylan Stableford wrote Friday for Folio magazine. "Following the news that Plaxico Burress, the New York Giants wide receiver, accidentally shot himself at a Manhattan nightclub with a gun he allegedly didn't have a license to carry, the magazine's story is now prescient, Keith Clinkscales, ESPN's SVP of content development, told executives during a panel at the WWD Media + Style Summit Thursday. Of the story, he said, the magazine's editors 'weren't lucky ‚Äî they were good.'"
  • Derricke Dennis, formerly of WDIV-TV in Detroit, was hired last week by Warren, Mich., Mayor Jim Fouts, the Detroit Free Press reported on Sunday. He had been a general assignment reporter with the station since 2002. "He is the second African-American appointee in my administration," Fouts said. "He is not only well-qualified, but I'm hoping this will help change Warren's image."
  • Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post is taking a poll about the 1970 "Dennis the Menace" panel with a black character, written about here on Friday. A sample: "My friend David Mills, a screenwriter (this is his Web site), suggested that a good way to confront the modern-day absurdity of this strip would be to rewrite the caption to make it funnier. David and I came up with these new ones. Which is the funniest?"
  • Rupert Murdoch "has not ruined the Journal, as many had feared he would," Tunku Varadarajan, a former deputy editorial features editor of the Wall Street Journal, wrote Monday for Forbes. "In fact, in the estimation of not a few, he has already made it a better newspaper. Page One of the Journal used to be, arguably, the most smug front page of any newspaper in the world, in that it exercised a pompous right to ignore the news, and to inflict on its readers a species of 'long-form journalism' rooted in the belief that size was everything."

  • In San Diego, local NBC outlet KNSD (Cable 7) has cut three local-news programs ‚Äî including "Noticias Mi San Diego," its early-morning Spanish-language newscast ‚Äî and is laying off about 12 employees, Karla Peterson wrote Saturday in the San Diego Union-Tribune. "A drop in advertising led to yesterday's program cuts and layoffs, which will not affect KNSD's on-air talent," she wrote.
  • Referring to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Reporters Without Borders said Sunday it was "shocked to learn that Nsimba Embete Ponte, the editor of the Kinshasa-based biweekly L'Interpr?®te, has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for 'insulting the head of state' and his assistant, David Tondo Nzovuanga, has been given a nine-month sentence on the same charge. Both have been detained since March."

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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