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Fallout Over a Dismissal at Poynter

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Mentors, Mentees Follow Kenny Irby to New Program

NABJ Founders See "Back to the Future" on Diversity

Climate Agreement Falls Short of Goals of Native People

5 Ways to Avoid Islamophobia in Your Coverage

News Outlets Differ on Whether Scalia's Words Were Racist

CNN Producer Files Discrimination Lawsuit

Serena Williams Is S.I. Sportsperson of the Year

Max Cacas, Veteran Broadcaster, Dies in D.C. at 61

U. of Detroit Honors Late Sports Producer Reggie Hall

Short Takes

Mentors, Mentees Follow Kenny Irby to New Program

The Poynter Institute is facing a backlash after forcing out Kenny Irby, its only African American faculty member, last month amid financial challenges.

Some black community members have objected so much to Poynter's change in a mentorship program started and run by Irby that by Irby's count, all but two of the mentors refused to work without him.

On Friday, the school for journalists appointed another African American to lead The Write Field program, which uses writing to connect with middle-school African American youth in St. Petersburg, Fla., the Poynter Institute's hometown. Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times.

Irby, with the allegiance of most of the mentors and students, is planning a new program apart from Poynter, to be called Men in the Making and expanding beyond middle schoolers simply to "children that have needs."

"It's not the name that makes the program," Luke Williams, St. Petersburg's assistant police chief for uniform services, told Journal-isms by telephone regarding Poynter's plans.

"It's the relationship between the mentors and the mentees. That's the part they don't understand." Williams, who like Irby is African American, helped to start the program in 2011 in reaction to the murders of three police officers, one of them by a 16-year-old boy.

"They made a business decision, and they didn't think through the impact," Williams said of Poynter's decision to let Irby go.

Irby told Journal-isms, "Poynter made its decision and we're moving forward."

Kelly McBride, Poynter's vice president for academic programs, said by telephone that Poynter "has always been committed to the program" and that unlike Irby, who was a full-time faculty member, Christopher Warren, the mentorship program's new director, is a contract worker. She said she was confident that Poynter would find new mentors.

Of those mentors who departed, Warren said in a conference call with Journal-isms and McBride, "They have chosen allegiance to a man. I have allegiance to a community." He warned, "This isn't just a hot, juicy diversity morsel of the moment. There are children involved. This back and forth only serves to scar them."

Williams said, however, "The kids are going to be well taken care of. We will continue to be committed to these boys. Don't believe the hype." The assistant chief and others told of children reacting emotionally at a Dec. 5 meeting when they were told that Irby was leaving Poynter.

Warren said he, too, heard from a parent and child who were "broken over this" and wanted to stay with Poynter. Warren is a mentor in the program.

For the year ended in December, Poynter reported losses of $2.26 million compared with nearly $3.5 million in the previous year.

Irby had been a fixture at Poynter since 1995. Since April 2012, he had been senior faculty, director of diversity programs and community relations, and since 2010, senior faculty for visual journalism and diversity programs. In 2013, Karen Dunlap, Poynter's first African American president, announced her retirement. Keith Woods, dean of faculty, also African American, left for NPR in 2010.

Dunlap and Irby were enthusiastic about the mentoring program, Williams said, but once Dunlap was replaced by Tim Franklin, a former editor of the Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel and Indianapolis Star, and who is white, enthusiasm waned. He and McBride were rarely seen at mentorship functions. Franklin "made it clear he didn't want this if Poynter had to fund it," said another founder, the Rev. Clarence Williams, like Irby an AME minister. "And all they were doing was providing the space."

Clarence Williams said the mentors were fighting not only disinterest by the new Poynter leadership but also a perception by outsiders "that they were just hopeless," referring to the students.

McBride denied any change in enthusiasm for the program. "One of the things that changed was we brought a different level of fiscal accountability to our grants programs," she said. Irby was not alone in raising funds for The Write Field. "It was absolutely a concerted effort."

The idea behind the program, forged after discussion with fellow police officers, Luke Williams told Journal-isms, was that "we never really had something on making academics cool."

Irby wrote about the origins of The Write Field in a piece for Poynter in 2014:

"The graduates are the latest class to complete The Write Field, a program that has its beginnings in 2011. In that year, the nation turned its attention to St. Petersburg and the murders of three police officers, one of them by a 16-year-old boy. At about the same time, a report found Pinellas County, Florida, had one of the nation’s highest dropout rates among black male students.

"Poynter and several community partners, including the Tampa Bay Rays Foundation, Wells Fargo and Blue Cross Blue Shield, responded with an innovative new program focusing on minority boys. Poynter launched the pilot program, bringing 27 African-American and Hispanic middle school boys to the institute on Saturdays to work on their writing, their character development and, in the end, their confidence and prospects for success.

"For 10 Saturdays starting in September, the 33 boys, 7 junior mentors (graduates of the program) and 12 community mentors (police officers, teachers, local journalists, professionals and businessmen) gathered at Poynter for breakfast. It's an integral start to the day since 90 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch at school. After the meal, I, as the senior mentor, and up to two Poynter faculty members launch a rigorous day of learning.

"The writing lessons focus on research, language, writing and reading. Typically, Poynter prompts the students to write in this way: see something, hear something, do something, write about it. One week, the group listened to three National Public Radio stories. The boys then deconstructed the interviews, with a visitor from NPR explaining the interviewing process: who the characters were, the context and the conclusions. Then the students wrote about similar challenges they faced in their lives, and they interviewed each other. . . ."

NABJ Founders See "Back to the Future" on Diversity

The National Association of Black Journalists commemorated its 40th anniversary on Saturday in Washington, the city of its birth, with 11 of its 44 founders present and the uncomfortable but unchallenged sentiment that the push for newsroom diversity is going backward.

Joe Davidson, a columnist at the Washington Post, said he saw the shift at the Post, where Kevin Merida, the first African American managing editor, just left for ESPN. Milton Coleman, a retired senior editor at the Post, said last month, "I don't think anyone else who's black will ever rise to [that] level at the Washington Post."

Davidson said the founding of NABJ is a testament to "the need to organize" at all levels, including within newsrooms, to confront current conditions.

Paul Delaney, a retired senior editor at the New York Times, said that he had just attended a holiday party of Times staffers and that "it's really back to the future" on diversity. "We're back to pre-1960s," he said. "Why do we need NABJ? That's why we need NABJ."

In 1968, the Kerner Commission report on the causes of urban rioting the previous year estimated, "Fewer than 5 percent of the people employed by the news business in editorial jobs in the United States today are Negroes."

William Dilday, who was general manager of WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss., at NABJ's founding, told the nearly 100 attendees at the AFL-CIO building reception to continue their vigilance. "If we take our feet off the pedal and stop kicking butt, it's going to our butts that get kicked," he said.

Les Payne, a former editor and columnist at Newsday, told of serving in Vietnam in 1967 on the staff of Gen. William C. Westmoreland and encountering Washington Post reporter Jesse W. Lewis Jr., who is black. Lewis wrote two stories that caught Payne's attention. One noted that Westmoreland had only one black person on his staff of 500 and the other that a division in Saigon was flying the Confederate flag.

When President Lyndon B. Johnson read those stories, he called Westmoreland at 3 a.m. "and chewed his ass out.

"That's when I learned the influence of journalism," Payne said.

Mekahlo Medina, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, called the founders' statements "an amazing testament not only to journalism but to people of color. When NABJ speaks up, people listen."

NAHJ and NABJ are planning a joint convention in Washington Aug. 3-7.

Climate Agreement Falls Short of Goals of Native People

On CBS-TV's "Face the Nation," meteorologist Dr. Marshall Shepherd explains how the historic climate agreement will have positive cascading effects for decades. (Credit: Media Matters for America) (video)

"The global Paris agreement struck by nearly 200 countries on December 12 is heralded as the first climate agreement to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions," Terri Hansen reported Monday for Indian Country Today Media Network.

"But when it comes to key points that the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) came to Paris to negotiate, it falls far short of their goals.

"Indigenous Peoples who participated in the process had pressed for inclusion of indigenous rights in the legally binding operative section of the agreement. Although the phrase 'rights of Indigenous Peoples' is included in the non-binding preamble in response to consistent pressure that Indigenous Peoples had placed on state [country] negotiators during the conference, the wording agreed to 'was far weaker than what we had called for,' Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council told Indian Country Today Media Network.

" 'The final agreement says in the preamble that states "should" respect, promote and consider these rights among others in carrying out climate related ' Carmen said. 'We recognize that even including this wording was a struggle that required strong advocacy by a group of supportive states, although other states resisted this inclusion until the end.'

"On the upside, this is the first time that the rights of Indigenous Peoples have ever been included unqualified in a legally binding U.N. treaty, Carmen said. . . ."

5 Ways to Avoid Islamophobia in Your Coverage

"It is the duty of journalists to inform and educate," Gabriel Arana wrote Monday for the Huffington Post. "But when it comes to Islam and the Muslim community — in the U.S. and across the world — news outlets have far too often served to spread misinformation and perpetuate prejudice.

"Whether it's networks running segments asking if Islam is a violent religion or anchors demanding Muslim guests account for the acts of religious extremists, Islamophobia crops up in coverage whenever terrorism or the Middle East are in the news.

"Some of the bad coverage is the result of willful prejudice and ignorance; it's hard to imagine any amount of information getting the Sean Hannitys and Bill O’Reillys of the world to stop spreading hate.

"But a good portion of the problem simply stems from journalists not knowing enough, which leaves them ill-equipped to report on everything from the Syrian refugee crisis to the Paris attacks. While no sector of the profession is immune from Islamophobia, the problem tends to be particularly pronounced on television, where presenters are often tasked with filling in airtime in an information vacuum.

"Here are five ways journalists — particularly those who report on issues that touch on the Muslim community — can make sure they're accurately representing a community made up of 1.6 billion people worldwide.

"1. Visit A Mosque . . .

"2. Be Careful Whose Views You Give A Platform To . . .

"3. Challenge Prejudice And Debunk Outright Lies . . .

"4. Choose Your Words Carefully . . .

"5. Provide Context . . ."

News Outlets Differ on Whether Scalia's Words Were Racist

"The perils of analyzing Supreme Court arguments, especially if you're not in the chamber and don't know your stuff, are ample," James Warren wrote Thursday for the Poynter Institute.

"They were underscored Wednesday with suggestions that Justice Antonin Scalia was being racist in questions he asked in a big affirmative action case. Mother Jones and The Hill jumped to that de facto conclusion. (Mediaite) 'Justice Scalia Suggests Blacks Belong at "Slower" Colleges,' declared Mother Jones. The New York Daily News said the same, even tagging Scalia a 'Supreme Dope' on this morning's front page. (Daily News)

"In fact, Scalia was citing serious academic work on affirmative action, even if his hands weren't totally clean. Fortunately, there are terrific Supreme Court analysts, such as Lyle Denniston, who actually was there and offered the proper context without letting Scalia totally off the hook for questioning that 'became quite clumsy.' (SCOTUSblog)

"Scalia alluded to a theory called 'mismatch' as he declared, 'There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to — to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less — a slower-track school where they do well.' (The Washington Post) The New York Times duly noted that one Scalia remark 'drew muted gasps in the courtroom.' (The New York Times)

"But 'far from being racist, that proposition is an acknowledgment of racial inequality — and it's central to the argument for racial preferences. Those preferences wouldn't be necessary if applicants from all racial and ethnic groups possessed exactly the same paper credentials.' (The Los Angeles Times) Unfortunately, the digital age brings a few too many reporters sitting at desks and doing facile, Twitter-friendly rewrites of stuff they know little about.' "

CNN Producer Files Discrimination Lawsuit

"A black CNN writer/producer Ricky L. Blalock filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against CNN" in federal court Thursday, Rodney Ho reported Friday for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"Blalock, 51, who has worked at CNN since 2010, claimed he and other black employees were passed over for promotions.

"He said he is the only black male writer producer in Atlanta out of more than 75 writer producers at CNN Center (though there are black females).

"Blalock filed a similar complaint in August with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and said he was subsequently passed over for a higher level job, which he believes was given to an under-qualified white woman instead."

Ho also wrote, "In Blalock's lawsuit, he said he asked a question directly to CNN president Jeff Zucker in an open employee meeting about the 'disappearance' of blacks in key management roles at the company, reflecting those concerns.

"He said in December, 2014, after his direct supervisor (also black) filed a racial discrimination charge against CNN and was soon pushed out. He said the supervisor was the only black executive producer within CNN's primary U.S. locations at the time. The lawsuit claims other instances of other blacks being denied 'on the job' training as well. 

"Blalock is asking for compensatory damages of at least $500,000."

Serena Williams Is S.I. Sportsperson of the Year

"We will look back on 2015 as a transitional year in sports," Jay Busbee wrote Monday for Yahoo Sports.

"Remarkable young talents like golf's Jordan Spieth and basketball's Stephen Curry surged to the top of their respective sports. The U.S. Women's National Team captured the World Cup. American Pharaoh won the fabled Triple Crown, the first horse to do so in a generation.

"But one athlete rose above them all with a combination of skill, will, grit and tenacity. Serena Williams posted a season for the ages, and Sports Illustrated has named her its Sportsperson of the Year for 2015.

"In 2015 Williams hit this rare sweet spot, a pinch-me patch where the exotic became the norm,' Sports Illustrated's S.L. Price wrote in announcing Williams' honor. . . ."

Max Cacas, Veteran Broadcaster, Dies in D.C. at 61

"Max Cacas, a veteran broadcaster in public and commercial radio in Washington, D.C., died suddenly of a possible heart attack Tuesday, according to his wife, Lisa Myers, in a Facebook post," Tyler Falk reported Friday for "He was 61.

"Cacas worked at NPR as a news producer and operations manager for 10 years, from 1985–95. He went on to work in various capacities in radio and journalism throughout the Washington area, most recently as a host and producer for a radio program produced by AFCEA International.

"He also worked for Public Radio International, Federal News Radio, WTOP and The Freedom Forum, and taught audio production classes at the University of Maryland.

"Jay Kernis, former s.v.p. of programming at NPR and a colleague of Cacas', said in a tribute on Facebook that Cacas 'was one of those staff members who would and could do everything. He loved radio, loved producing, loved the machinery and the techniques, loved being in the studio and in the field. He seemed to know everyone in the business and what was going on in public and commercial radio.' . . ."

U. of Detroit Honors Late Sports Producer Reggie Hall

"In almost all instances, when a team decides add a patch to its jersey, it's to honor a former playing great, or legendary coach, or even the franchise owner," Joey Yashinsky reported Friday for Deadline Detroit.

"In the case of the University of Detroit men's and women's hoops teams the rest of the year, they'll be adding a patch honoring Reggie Hall, one of the school's most passionate supporters.

"It was announced this afternoon via the @DetroitTitans Twitter feed that the teams' uniforms will be adorned with the initials TR, for 'Titan Reggie,' a man described often as the 'heart and soul of the U of D basketball program.'

"The Titan alum and well-known Detroit TV sports producer passed away early Wednesday. There was a video tribute in Hall's honor at that night's game against Toledo, which the Titans won in dramatic fashion. Coach Ray McCallum said after the game that the team broke the huddle that night with, '1-2-3...Titan Reggie!' . . ."

Short Takes

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News Outlets Differ on Whether Scalia's Words Were Racist

I disagree with James Warren of the Poynter Institute. Filing an amicus brief is supposed to mean an “impartial advisor” offers advice as a friend of the court. UCLA law professor, Richard Sander, was co-author of that "serious(mismatch) academic" work. I think the word"dogged" is more appropriate.

In 2008, Sander requested confidential and private data from the state bar exam takers’--undergrad & law school GPA, LSAT and bar scores to shore up his long-running research on affirmative action.

Eventually the California State Bar caved. He got the info. The professor's fieldwork was backed by the Searle Freedom Foundation, which funds Americans for Prosperity, the American Enterprise Institute, ALEC. All are conservative, right wing groups.

That said, how could Antonin Scalia base his question on an amicus brief,  before hearing the main arguments? Scalia ambushed the attorney by posing a micro-aggressive question that asked, in essence, “prove that blacks are not stupid and ill-prepared when they get into PWI (predominantly white institutions) under affirmative action?”

Here are my questions for Nino Scalia:  If some black students underperform does it mean all will forever and ever? Exclude all? But approve legacies first? Favor the kids of big time donors? Accept elite athletes who’ll bring home the bacon?

It's all about Scalia's racial animus. And, more than likely, he will be joined by his other conservative brethren. Chief Justic John Roberts is on the same page as well. He asked, "What unique perspective does a minority student bring to a physhics class." 

I rest my case!

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