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Gulf Oil Spill Voted Year's Top Story

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Haiti Makes AP Editors' Top 10, but Immigration Doesn't

Was Obama's Year "Terrible, Horrible, No Good"?

Top "Underreported Story": Designs on the U.S. Dollar

Do the Electric Slide With Columnist and His Readers

Gay, Lesbian Journalists Group to End 2010 With a Surplus

Reginald Stuart Follows Kemba Smith, 10 Years Later

FCC Chairman Signals Approval of Comcast-NBC Merger

Short Takes


President Obama checks for tar balls washed ashore at Port Fourchon Beach in Louisiana in May. The deep-sea spill ultimately spewed at least 170 million gallons of crude into the Gulf. (Credit: David Grunfeld/Times-Picayune)

Haiti Makes AP Editors' Top 10, but  Immigration Doesn't

"The massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, triggered by a deadly blast at a rig used by BP, was the top news story of 2010, followed by the divisive health care overhaul, according to The Associated Press' annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors," David Crary reported for the AP this week.

"The oil spill received 54 first-place votes out of 180 ballots cast for the top 10 stories. The health care bill was next, with 30 first-place votes. The U.S. election was third.

"In fourth place was the U.S. economy, which had been voted the top story of 2009."

About the Haiti earthquake, which ranked fifth, Crary explained, "Already the Western Hemisphere's most destitute nation, Haiti was shattered by an earthquake on Jan. 12 that killed at least 230,000 and left millions homeless. Crucial reconstruction projects were slow to get started; disease and political instability added to the woes.

". . . The April 20 explosion at a BP-leased rig killed 11 workers and unleashed a deep-sea spill that ultimately spewed at least 170 million gallons of crude into the Gulf. Consequences included devastation for fishing and tourism industries, a huge and costly cleanup effort, a management change at BP, and creation of a $20 billion fund to pay for damages."

The top 10 stories were, in order:

  • 1. Gulf of Mexico oil spill

  • 2. Health care overhaul

  • 3. U.S. elections

  • 4. U.S. economy

  • 5. Haiti earthquake

  • 6. Tea Party movement

  • 7. Chile mine rescue

  • 8. Iraq

  • 9. WikiLeaks

  • 10. Afghanistan

"It was a year of dramatic and diverse news events. Among the stories which didn't make the top 10 were Arizona's enactment of a tough law against illegal immigration, the European fiscal crisis, a Supreme Court ruling freeing corporations and unions to fund election ads targeting candidates, floods in Pakistan that affected 20 million people, and the volcanic eruption in Iceland that caused trans-Atlantic air travel chaos," Crary wrote.

Was Obama's Year "Terrible, Horrible, No Good"?

"The AP yesterday posted an op-ed titled 'Obama's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.' And from the headline you might think that it would show why [President] Obama's year has been terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad," Tim Heffernan wrote Wednesday for Esquire.

"It doesn't. What it shows is that the president has been yelled at a few times by the opposition, that he nonetheless remains vastly more popular than legislators of both parties and Congress as a whole, and that he managed to win virtually every major policy change he sought. Actually, you wouldn't know that last point, because the column mentions only a single policy victory: health care reform. Missing are, among others, a major bill regulating the finance sector, the one that just ended discrimination against gays in the military, and (shortly) the one that will enact the new START treaty with Russia.

"Here is how the AP spins this annus horribilis:

"From the start, 2010 delivered a string of setbacks that built up to an electoral shellacking come November, to use the president's own word. . . . "

"By this logic, it does not matter either that on the same day this column was released, Senator Lindsey Graham was stamping his feet in frustration at the Democrats' ability to pass major bills with significant Republican support during the current lame-duck session. Nor does it matter that this morning a new poll shows the president's approval rating with Republicans rising by nine points in the last two weeks.

"If I were a cynic, I'd suggest that the AP column might be just a little bit slanted, perhaps because one of its authors, Calvin Woodward, has demonstrated clear anti-Obama bias repeatedly in columns past, which itself might be a consequence of his tutelage by an AP bureau chief who was considerably too chummy with the Republicans he was supposed to be reporting on, including Karl Rove. . . ."

Eric Boehlert of Media Matters agreed, saying the op-ed read "like it was pulled out of Rep. John Boehner's top desk drawer."

An AP spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Top "Underreported Story": Designs on the U.S. Dollar

"Global Plans to Replace the Dollar" is the No. 1 underreported story for 2011, according to Project Censored, which has been compiling a list of such stories for more than 30 years.

"Nations have reached their limit in subsidizing the United States’ military adventures," it said.

"During meetings in June 2009 in Yekaterinburg, Russia, world leaders such as China’s President Hu Jintao, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev, and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation took the first formal step to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The United States was denied admission to the meetings. If the world leaders succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value; the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket; and interest rates will climb."

As Rebecca Bowe noted in the Colorado Springs Independent, "In 1976, Project Censored first distributed its list nationwide to shed light on the top stories not brought to you by the mainstream press. These days, stories are submitted, researched by students, filtered through LexisNexis to determine which outlets have covered them, and then voted on by a team of judges.

"An international network of 30 colleges and universities contributes to the project, and volunteers from around the world submit stories for consideration. At the end of each project cycle, the work is released in a compendium."

The rest of the Project Censored list:

  • 2. U.S. Department of Defense is the Worst Polluter on the Planet

  • 3. Internet Privacy and Personal Access at Risk

  • 4. ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Operates Secret Detention and Courts

  • 5. Blackwater (Xe): The Secret U.S. War in Pakistan

  • 6. Health Care Restrictions Cost Thousands of Lives in U.S.

  • 7. External Capitalist Forces Wreak Havoc in Africa

  • 8. Massacre in Peruvian Amazon over U.S. Free Trade Agreement

  • 9. Human Rights Abuses Continue in Palestine

  • 10. U.S. Funds and Supports the Taliban

Barry Saunders, columnist with the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., dances the electric slide after readers gave more than $43,000 to charity. He greeted his audience to the strains of "Rocky."  (Click on the video and join the dancers if you like), (Credit: News & Observer)

Do the Electric Slide With Columnist and His Readers

Barry Saunders, columnist for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., "danced the Electric Slide while wearing a Duke basketball jersey today in front of The News & Observer. He'll also be getting a new column photo that doesn't have a cigar," the newspaper reported on Friday, posting a video of the midday event.

"When we announced our N&O Holiday Giving Guide last month, readers were challenged to donate at least $10,000 to the 130 local charities registered in the guide, and Barry would dance. Those charities received a grand total of $43,614 from readers.

"Disc jockey Mark Speed, owner of Speed of Sound, donated his record-spinning services to play the Electric Slide for the occasion."

"It's all right to make a fool of yourself for a good cause," Saunders told Journal-isms. He explained that "It's been my goal in life never to do the electric slide" but said he was challenged to do so for charity. Saunders said that line dances such as the slide "make men obsolete" because women don't need a partner. Thus, that was the first and last time he would do it, Saunders said.

Other columnists commemorated the holiday season with stories, some involving themselves.

Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution told how she adopted her daughter, Carly Robbins Tucker, declaring, "Today is my daughter’s second birthday, but I’m the one who received the awesome gift."

In the Washington Post, Courtland Milloy Jr. wrote about overwhelming reader response to his column last week about Cheyenne Browne, who passed up the toy fire truck she wanted in order to buy gifts for her grandmother and friends. Her father, Michael Browne, was a volunteer fire fighter who was killed saving Cheyenne from a tornado.

"To say the response was tremendous would be an understatement," said Diane Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Charles County (Md.) Sheriff's Office, in the follow-up column.

Gay, Lesbian Journalists Group to End 2010 With a Surplus

David A. Steinberg"It's definitely been a tough few years for all of the minority journalism organizations," David A. Steinberg, national president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, wrote Journal-isms Wednesday after reading about the financial plight of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

"I'm happy to say that NLGJA is projected to end this year with a small but significant surplus. I've had discussions with many people in NLGJA and in our sister groups, and I think NLGJA got hit harder and earlier than some of the other groups — but that forced us to deal with the situation earlier, too. As a result, we spent time restructuring our operations and now don't find ourselves scrambling to make ends meet as we did just a couple years ago. We're actually in the rebuilding stage now and are restoring programs that had been cut back. (For example, we have relaunched our newsletter to members, at the same time transforming it from a printed quarterly publication to a more timely bimonthly electronic communication.)

"Hope you're having a good holiday season — and that 2011 brings good news to all of us!"

The NLGJA was founded in 1990 by the late Leroy F. Aarons, a co-founder of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. It now has 650 to 700 members, said Steinberg, copy desk chief and stylebook editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. "That's down from a few years ago (and from our high earlier in the decade), but has held relatively steady this year.

"I can't definitively answer why we got hit harder/earlier, though I have a few theories. For one, we're a smaller group with a smaller budget, so big shifts really impact us. The frustrating thing to me, in many ways, is that we had taken a lot of the steps that one would think would have helped to insulate us from the huge shifts in the media. For one, we had diversified our funding base substantially, so that we didn't rely entirely on media companies. Unfortunately, many of the companies that had started to support us were also caught up in the deep recession (Fannie Mae and GM, for example).

"Also, unlike some of the other groups, we have never had a big endowment/reserve. (It's been my goal for a while, but as of now we're just not there.) For that reason, when revenue fell, we had to make cuts immediately and didn't have the option of putting that off by tapping a reserve.

"Another way in which we were hit earlier and have subsequently been able to rebound: Like the other groups, we had to pay penalties for failing to meet our convention room block commitment (in our case starting in 2007). Because of our size, our penalties were probably smaller than those incurred by, say, NABJ or NAHJ," referring to the national associations of black and Hispanic journalists. "As soon as we saw the big drop-off in convention attendance, we started very early and worked very hard to renegotiate those hotel contracts, and as a result, we paid no penalties to our convention hotels in either 2009 or 2010.

". . . NLGJA has downsized for several years. Our staffing was at seven full-time employees just a few years ago. Through attrition, that dropped to two staffers by 2008. In 2009, we hired Michael Tune, our executive director, and he along with Bach Polakowski now staff our office.

"Many of the actions being taken by our fellow minority journalism groups are actions NLGJA took two or three years ago. We made a big push to encourage lifetime membership; we updated members on the specifics and depths of the organization's financial challenges; and we made pleas for donations and monthly giving.

"So, yes, NLGJA is a smaller organization than it was three, five or seven years ago. But we're much leaner and we are trying to focus on the things that will be of the most benefit to our members, specifically professional development and networking."

Reginald Stuart Follows Kemba Smith, 10 Years Later

Reginald Stuart, who wrote the 10,000-word "Kemba's Emerge magazine stories on Kemba Smith mobilized blacks nationwide.Nightmare" cover piece about federal prisoner Kemba Smith for the old Emerge Magazine in 1996, has an update on Kemba Smith Pradia, as she is now known, in Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

"Smith’s 'nightmare' was a case of a promising college student who became a poster child for the failures of a hastily written federal mandatory minimum drug sentencing law. In December 2000, during his final days in office, President Bill Clinton commuted Smith’s prison sentence to the 6½ she had served," Stuart wrote in the piece, posted online Friday.

"With her new lease on life, Kemba Smith Pradia has worked to get her life on track, advocate for drug sentencing law reform and help students learn from her misfortune. Today, Pradia is a college graduate and married mother of two who tours college campuses telling her tale and warning students about the consequences of their life choices."

Wayne Dawkins wrote in Black Issues Book Review that "Stuart's reporting in 1996 and 1998 mobilized blacks nationwide and probably influenced President Clinton's decision to commute Smith's sentence."

Stuart's Diverse piece continued, " 'There are few days that go by when I am not thinking about the past and how far God has brought me, the lessons I’ve learned from it and the struggles that continue over sentencing and the women I left behind,' says Pradia, 39. 'I just take it a day at a time.'

”Smith, now married and living in Indianapolis, had become the poster child in the mid-1990's for all that was wrong with the tough mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws enacted by Congress after the death of University of Maryland basketball sensation Len Bias.

". . . Women are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population, and 56 percent of them are in prison for drug or property crimes, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Like Pradia, many of these women were victims of violence before incarceration. Nearly six in 10 women in state prison have experienced physical or sexual abuse in the past."

Stuart, a recruiter for the McClatchy Co., told Journal-isms, "I'm proud of this journalistic journey — one starfish at a time." He also wrote a brief update on Pradia for the December-January issue of Heart and Soul.

FCC Chairman Signals Approval of Comcast-NBC Merger

"The Federal Communications Commission chairman, Julius Genachowski, signaled his approval of Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal on Thursday, but that approval will come with conditions," Brian Stelter wrote for the New York Times.

"Among the anticipated stipulations is that Comcast not withhold NBC programming from its competitors in the online video market and that it allow rival distributors to have reasonable access to NBC Universal programming.

"Details about the proposed conditions started to trickle out Thursday after the F.C.C. started to share its order for the deal internally. Essentially, the order is a draft of the rules that Comcast and NBC will have to operate under."

The merger has divided organizations of color. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists opposed it in April, saying that "this massive media consolidation will lead to fewer journalism jobs, less coverage of the Latino community, less diversity of voices, and excessive control for one company over the country's media."

Short Takes

Merry Christmas!

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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 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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