Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Ed Gordon's NPR Frustration

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"I Want People to Be Honest About What's Going On"

Ed Gordon, host of National Public Radio's "News and Notes" show, the network's 18-month-old attempt at programming to an African American audience, said today the network had communicated with him more frequently since Monday, when an article by television critic Eric Deggans in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times noted that the show had lost 17 percent of its original audience and questioned NPR's ability to connect with African Americans.



But Gordon nevertheless voiced a number of frustrations with the network, ranging from a decision that led to George E. Curry, the editor of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, leaving the show, to what he called a failure by NPR to own up to its own responsibilities for "News and Notes'" failures.

"There are a lot of smoke-and-mirror things that are being said," Gordon told Journal-isms. "You know it's never just about talent. Let's say I'm a fourth" of the problem. "Where are the other three-fourths? I've never heard anybody" step up and take that responsibility, Gordon said. "I want people to be honest about what's going on."

Gordon said he was never given a reason for the Washington-based Curry's departure. Curry, who edited the defunct Emerge magazine, brought an insider's perspective to the news discussion, Gordon said.

Curry told Journal-isms tonight:

"I had a contract for a year to do three shows a week. At the end of the year, they asked me to cut back to once a week and accept a pay cut for each show. I declined. I would have accepted doing two shows a week, but not going from three to one."

Gordon's show was rushed on the air in January 2005 after activist and media personality Tavis Smiley suddenly left "The Tavis Smiley Show," criticizing NPR for its lack of promotion and questioning its commitment to a multicultural audience.

NPR did not want to lose the 90 affiliates carrying Smiley, and nearly all of them put Gordon's show in the slot.

However, Gordon said, he inherited Smiley's staff, and has had to work with co-workers based in Los Angeles, with its time difference and "certain mentality. I don't want to sound like the biggest issue is the staff, but it is a big hindrance," said Gordon, who remains based in New York. "Communication is not easy," he said. "There are "people on the staff who are frustrated and felt duped, too."

The host, who was best known for news shows on Black Entertainment Television before joining NPR, said "NPR has to be truthful" about its commitment to making a program for African Americans. "If you want black folks to listen" and to respond to the show, "they have to know it's there," he said, echoing Smiley's complaint about promotion.

Asked what he wanted to take place, Gordon said, "I don't know. I don't feel a real connection" to the show. What's needed, he said, is for all involved to sit down and discuss the situation honestly.

"I think it's terribly important to keep African American voices out there," Gordon continued. "That's one reason I've not allowed my frustrations to let me walk away."

Said Curry in an e-mail note to Journal-isms: "More than a year before News & Notes went on the air, Ed had asked to me to be directly involved in the development of the program, including suggesting topics for discussion and recommending journalists for the roundtable segment. I did just that. My frustration was that the show was slow to react to news. Sometimes it felt like we were working for World Book encyclopedia, not a daily program. Ed also had some complaints. The longer the show went on, Ed grew more frustrated and, consequently, became less engaged.

"I've known Ed for a long time and what most people don't realize about him is how deeply he cares about the quality of any project that he's associated with. Once he senses that others aren't giving their best, he becomes disengaged. He's still a pro, but they aren't getting his best work."

Gordon and Curry spoke too late today to seek comment from NPR officials, but spokeswoman Andi Sporkin told Journal-isms on Monday:

"It's no secret that N&N has been experiencing a significant loss of audience for quite a while and several stations dropped it or downgraded its time period over the past year. While it's very hard to launch a new daily show in public radio, once it's on the air, it rarely sees such fall-off. So this audience rejection has been troubling to everyone. We've made a number of changes over the past months to try and stem the audience tide, and we continue to explore what else should be done," she said.

On the listserve of the National Association of Black Journalists, Adam Powell III, vice president for news at NPR from 1987 to 1990, recalled some of NPR's difficult history on racial matters.

"The reason public radio exists in the US is that in the 1960s, as a direct result of the urban unrest, the Carnegie Commission called for and Congress funded a new broadcast service 'to serve the underserved.' Guess who that was. Now NPR marketing materials (promotions sent to advertisers) boast of the high average income and high education of NPR listeners. Guess who that isn't," Powell said.

"When I arrived at NPR at the start of 1987, the network was under a federal court order due to what a court had found to be a pattern of racial discrimination in hiring and promotion. As far as I know, NPR is the only national broadcast network ever to have been so cited. And with reason: NPR News had no minority executive producers, managers, hosts or even correspondents (!!!) - in 1987, not 1937 or 1957."

But, Powell said, "in the 1980s NPR produced such programming as 'Horizons,' a weekly documentary series hosted by Vertamae Grosvenor, which won every award that existed ('No Bed of Roses' was one memorable program). We also made certain those documentaries received an additional airing in All Things Considered (at that time a showcase for documentary production).

"We also commissioned and broadcast 'Wade in the Water,' Judi Moore Latta's extraordinary weekly hour-long documentaries of African American sacred music, which attracted a large audience of new listeners (helped by what would now be called viral promotion in churches across the country) as well as establishing itself as a crossover hit with the existing public radio audience, right behind - well, Car Talk. We also inaugurated a series of multi-hour special broadcasts, exec produced first by Judi Moore Latta and then by Benjamin Davis, on urgent social issues. Those broadcasts won Columbia-duPont, Peabody and Ohio State awards.

"And that doesn't include the stories and features done day in and day out, such as the Young Black Men series by Noluthando Crockett-Ntonga (then Phyllis Crockett, newly promoted to correspondent; she won an RFK award for the story) and riveting reporting around the US by such veteran NPR journalists as Scott Simon, David Molpus and John Burnett."

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NABJ Members to Discuss Conflict-of-Interest Claim

"A former NABJ Journal editor has launched an effort to oust the magazine's current editor" as long as he also remains on the board of the National Association of Black Journalists, Levertes Ragland wrote today in the NABJ Monitor, student newspaper for the NABJ convention in Indianapolis. The former editor is this columnist, and the NABJ Journal is the organization's magazine.

"Richard Prince, editor of Black College Wire, said Ernie Suggs should choose whether to continue to edit the Journal or stay on the board. Suggs says he doesn't plan to give up either role," Ragland wrote.

"In a Tuesday meeting, board members did not conclude that Suggs has a conflict of interest but said the discussion will continue with NABJ members at a business meeting that begins at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Prince has enlisted other NABJ members in the effort.

"There are no NABJ bylaws indicating a board member cannot be editor of the Journal. However, in past years nonboard members typically filled the position. Bryan Monroe, NABJ president, said he initially appointed Roland S. Martin, executive editor and general manager of the Chicago Defender, to the position. Martin said he wanted to commit to publishing the Journal but couldn't because he needed to develop his new radio show."

In a letter to the NABJ board on Sunday, this columnist noted that since the 1980s, the NABJ Journal has had a tradition of reporting on the organization under a rank-and-file editor. He argued that having a board member edit the publication, which has evolved from a newspaper to a glossy, four-color, 30-page magazine, presents a conflict of interest. He called for codifying the tradition of a member-edited publication.

The letter was followed by supporting statements from former NABJ Journal editors Yvette Walker, Gregory Lee and Betty Anne Williams.

[Updated Aug. 17: The membership voted to refer the matter to a committee.]

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2,200 Registered for NABJ Convention

About 2,200 people registered for the National Association of Black Journalists convention, including 300 to 350 who registered on-site in Indianapolis, communications director Kristin Wilson told Journal-isms tonight.

"The convention—one of journalism's largest—will focus national media attention on Indianapolis with events such as the W.E.B. DuBois Lecture on 'Leading Black America,' featuring former Democratic presidential candidate and civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton, and a discussion of Hurricane Katrina with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin," Tammy Webber reported today in the Indianapolis Star.

"The conference also includes professional development seminars and a career fair, which attracts many of the country's largest media companies.

"Indianapolis political and business leaders said they hope attendees find plenty of positive things about the city to share with millions of readers and viewers across America— perhaps even more important than the estimated $3 million the conference will generate for the city.

"'This isn't a huge convention, but it is a very influential group,' said Chris Gahl, media relations manager for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association. 'We hope they will have positive feelings about the city and spread the word about Indianapolis as a leisure destination, a place for conventions and meetings and a place to come with family and friends.'"

The subscription-only NewsBlues Web site sounded a discordant note, writing, "We also envision roundtable discussions on 'Choosing the Right Attorney To Represent Your Racial Bias Lawsuit' and 'How To Leverage Skin Color Into Rapid Career Advancement.' The association has long encouraged racial separatism and entitlement in the nation's newsrooms."

"The NABJ, which began the year facing a $200,000 budget deficit, withheld news of ongoing financial and management issues from its 4,000 dues-paying members, before revealing the sudden resignation in March of Tangie Newborn, one of NABJ's longest-serving executive directors."

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Elizabeth Vargas Gives Birth to Healthy Baby Boy

ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas today delivered the healthy baby boy whose predicted arrival altered his mother's career.

Vargas and her husband, "Grammy Award winning singer Marc Cohn, are the proud parents of a new baby boy, Samuel Wyatt Cohn, who weighs 7 pounds 9 ounces," ABC announced.

"Cohn said both mom and baby are doing 'incredible,' and that Samuel looks very much like his adorable big brother, 3-year-old Zachary."

ABC announced in May that Vargas, who was raised by a Puerto Rican father and Irish-American mother, would step down as co-anchor of "World News Tonight," and Charles Gibson subsequently became solo anchor.

ABC News President David Westin "and I have been talking for some time about what would happen as my maternity leave approaches," Vargas said in a statement then. "My doctors have asked that I cut back my schedule considerably. What works best for me and my family is to return in the fall to '20/20' as I raise my new baby and young son."

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3 Black Journalists Added to CNN Anchor Lineup

"CNN has tapped four of its anchors—Heidi Collins, Tony Harris, Kyra Phillips and Don Lemon—as the main anchors for the morning and afternoon editions of its rebranded daytime news program CNN Newsroom, it was announced today by Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S. All four of the journalists will be based in the network's world headquarters in Atlanta," CNN announced on Tuesday.

"To replace Harris for weekend anchor duties, CNN has hired T.J. Holmes, an anchor and reporter with NBC11 in San Francisco. For NBC11, Holmes served as a go-to correspondent for live reports across the Bay Area and California and traveled to Greece to cover last year's summer Olympics," the announcement said.

The move gives CNN one of the most diverse anchor lineups among the networks. Harris, Lemon and Holmes are black journalists.

"CNN is lopping an hour off 'American Morning' in mid-October to lighten the load on co-anchors Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien," Michele Greppi added Tuesday in Television Week.

"'I just don't want to burn the guys out. The O'Briens are only human,' CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein told Television Week Tuesday when asked why CNN was cutting its signature morning show from four hours to three. The anchors are not related."

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Nearly Every State Showing Increased Diversity

"America's growing diversity has reached nearly every state," the Associated Press reported yesterday.

"From South Carolina's budding immigrant population to the fast-rising number of Hispanics in Arkansas, minority groups make up an increasing share of the population in every state but one—West Virginia—according to figures released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

"The 2005 figures are from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS), an annually updated survey which is replacing the "long form" on the 10-year census.

"Immigrants—legal and illegal—make up a growing portion of the population in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Nationally, they went from 11.1 percent of the population in 2000 to 12.4 percent last year.

"Hispanics increased their hold as the country's largest minority group, at 14.5 percent of the population, compared with 12.8 percent for blacks. Hispanic is defined per the Census Bureau as people with ethnic backgrounds in Spanish-speaking countries. Hispanics can be of any race, and most in the U.S. are white, according to the Census Bureau."

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Reporters Must Testify in Barry Bonds Case

"A federal judge in San Francisco ruled Tuesday that two reporters must reveal who provided them with secret grand jury testimony of Barry Bonds and other star athletes on steroid use," Joe Mozingo reported today in the Los Angeles Times.

"Attorneys for the San Francisco Chronicle reporters had tried to quash a subpoena to appear before a grand jury investigating the leak. They argued that forcing journalists to disclose their sources would undermine the 1st Amendment and the ability of the news media to gather news.

"U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White acknowledged the importance of the news media in 'bringing issues to the forefront of public attention' and how confidential sources 'are often essential in that task.'

"But he ultimately agreed with federal prosecutors that journalists have no special protection from grand jury inquiries, citing the 1972 Supreme Court decision in Branzburg vs. Hayes, as well as subsequent rulings from appellate courts."

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More Newspapers Turning to Webcasts

"As interest in online video surges, newspapers are taking the fight to TV stations on the Web. Across the country, newspapers, suffering from declining readerships, are ratcheting up their online offerings, launching video pages and Webcasts," Allison Romano reported Monday in Broadcasting & Cable.

"In Wilmington, Del., part of the Philadelphia market, The News Journal Webcasts daily morning and evening local news. Midsize and larger papers, including The New York Times and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, are training reporters to shoot video and hiring videographers and 'multimedia' journalists. . . . The Associated Press provides video clips for more than 1,100 newspapers' Websites.

"Indeed, 39 of the top 40 daily newspapers in the U.S. use video on their sites, according to a recent study by online-clip distributor The News Market and Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. Of 150 print publications surveyed, 79% are capable of producing video."

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"Pacific Time" Host Leaving After 300+ Broadcasts

"For decades, Nguyen Qui Duc, founding host of KQED-FM's 'Pacific Time,' has searched for home. After fleeing Vietnam as a teenager in the aftermath of war, he lived in Ohio, Virginia, Morocco and London—and traveled to many other places as well," Vanessa Hua wrote Tuesday in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Now, he is moving to Hanoi with his ailing 82-year-old mother. There, he believes, his mother will receive better, more affordable care. And there, Nguyen, an accomplished poet and fiction writer, will join the flourishing literary scene, and report from Asia, covering arts, culture and social issues.

"'Vietnam is home, and it's part of the most exciting continent,' said Nguyen, 48. 'I had a lot of opportunity in this country, which has given us a lot. But here, I'm on the computer 24 hours a day. Over there, I feel warmer in Vietnam. I have time for friends.'

"His last show is Sept. 14, and in the next few weeks, he's embarking on a series about Asian Americans in small towns across the country.

"'Pacific Time,' the only nationally distributed radio show about Asia and Asian Americans, reaches 165,000 each week on 20 stations nationwide and in Hong Kong—its biggest audience since its inception in November 2000, but down from a peak of 43 stations. Where the show is carried depends on the interests of the individual station manager, producers say, and the radio magazine's half-hour format makes 'Pacific Time' harder to schedule than if it were an hourlong show. KQED declined to release the budget of the show, which is distributed for free.

"Having aired its 300th show Thursday, 'Pacific Time' has survived even as other English language, Asian American media have struggled in the past decade."

Short Takes

  • "Main anchor Lauren Rowe will switch to the 5-to-7 a.m. shift, WKMG-Channel 6 announced Monday. On Oct. 2, Rowe replaces Mark McEwen, who has been off the air since suffering a massive stroke in mid-November," Hal Boedeker wrote Monday in the Orlando Sentinel. "But McEwen will remain a WKMG presence. He will lead a yearlong community-service campaign on which the station will partner with Orlando Regional Healthcare System. To draw attention to strokes, McEwen will do news stories, make public-service announcements and appear in quarterly specials."


  • "WVON-AM/1450, the city's only Black-owned radio station that bills itself 'the talk of Chicago,' has entered a historic agreement with the nation's largest owner of radio stations, Clear Channel," Demetrius Patterson wrote today in the Chicago Defender. "Under the deal announced Tuesday by WVON's owner, Melody Spann-Cooper, and Earl Jones, regional vice president of Clear Channel Radio, the Black talk station has signed a five-year, multi-million dollar deal to lease the 10,000-watt daytime signal—1,000-watt nighttime—that currently broadcasts oldies station, WRLL-AM/1690."


  • "With Cuban President Fidel Castro apparently on the mend but still ceding power to his brother Raul, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) says now is the time for newspapers around the hemisphere to urge the immediate release of some two dozen imprisoned journalists, and an end to government harassment of the tiny independent press on the island," Mark Fitzgerald wrote today in Editor & Publisher. "IAPA is suggesting newspapers publish the commentary simultaneously on Friday Aug. 18."


  • Copy Desk Chief Harvey Remer of the Hartford Courant has instructed his staff to "restrict the phrase `independent Democrat'" to a description of what Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., "says he's running as," reader representative Karen Hunter wrote on Sunday.


  • Keith Reed, business reporter for the Boston Globe, started a blog this month, "Black People's Money," described as "a forum for discussing the financial dreams, means and schemes of the black and aspiring." Reed is also a freelance writer for Black Enterprise and Essence magazines and a contributing editor for Heart & Soul magazine.


  • "A kidnapped television reporter from Brazil's dominant television network was released Monday morning by a gang that has spread urban terror throughout South America's largest city," Alan Clendenning reported on Monday for the Associated Press. "After being held for about 40 hours by the First Capital Command gang, Guilherme Portanova was driven in the trunk of a car and set free in a neighborhood several miles from the offices of Globo TV, Brazil's most watched television channel."

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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