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Houston Paper Sheds 40 in Newsroom

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Monday, October 29, 2007

At Least 5 of Color Said to Be Gone or Going

The Houston Chronicle is losing 40 people from its newsroom as a result of buyouts and layoffs, publisher Jack Sweeney told Journal-isms on Tuesday, meeting its goal of trimming its overall workforce by about 5 percent. About 80 employees in all are leaving, he said.



A Chronicle staffer told Journal-isms at least three journalists of color had already left and two more were taking the buyout.

Sweeney would not name any of the journalists of color who are leaving, or say how many there are, but he asserted, "diversity here is very important to us. Our diversity issue, I can assure you as the publisher, is the bottom-line issue." The 40 leaving the newsroom are split evenly between layoffs and buyouts, he said.

Sweeney also said the paper was negotiating to hire an African American journalist for the editor's ranks.

In the most recent census of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Hearst-owned paper reported 23.8 percent journalists of color: 3.4 percent Asian American; 8.3 percent black or African American; 11.7 percent Hispanic and .3 percent Native American.

A 2005 survey by Bill Dedman and Stephen K. Doig for the Knight Foundation found that the Chronicle was operating with 21.3 percent journalists of color in a circulation area that was 51.2 percent nonwhite. The authors assigned the paper a "diversity index" of 6 among 10 newspapers reporting in the category of more than 500,000 in daily sales.

The Chronicle's circulation of about 692,000 makes it the nation's 10th largest daily newspaper.

James Campbell, the reader representative and onetime board member of the National Association of Black Journalists, wrote his final column on Sept. 29 and left for a public relations job. He told Journal-isms then, "We've lost three black staffers in [the] last three weeks, Zharmer Hardimon (left without a job), Kristen Mack (left to join the Washington Post to cover politics in its Manassas, Virginia, bureau), and me. We recently hired Leslie Casimir from the Daily News to cover a diversity beat. But we still do not have a regular Metro front or editorial page columnist who is black or Hispanic in a city that is majority-minority."

Sweeney wrote employees on Oct. 22 that, "A staff reduction in the five percent range, through layoffs and the elimination of open positions, is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, October 29 and 30, 2007.

"In this complex and competitive media environment, with consumer choices multiplying daily, our new strategic plan calls for more resources to be dedicated to new technology and product development. We need to operate differently, and at less cost, as we continue to build our lineup of products to capture more audience and ad revenue market share," his note said.

The publisher added that there would be consolidations of functions. "We're trying to do this the best way we can and keep people motivated," he told Journal-isms then.

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Mal Johnson Dies, Key Figure in NABJ's Early Years

Mal Johnson, a key figure in the birth of the National Association of Black Journalists and the first female reporter at Cox Radio and Television News, died on Saturday at a hospital in Fairfax County, Va., after suffering from diabetes, her sister, Norma Simpson, said. Simpson said she was 85.


"There is a large question of whether there would even be an NABJ were it not for Mal," her good friend and co-founder of the 32-year-old association, Paul Brock, told Journal-isms on Tuesday.

People— including the organization's presidents— had all kinds of ways they wanted to spend NABJ's money, Brock recalled, but "Mal wouldn't give it up," he said, speaking of NABJ's meager treasury, then so small its contents could be carried around by hand. "Everybody hated her."

Johnson was treasurer of the association for eight years, "a curmudgeon who guarded NABJ's meager funds like a hen, often to the point of insulting members who became upset if their registration payment was misplaced or membership was not recorded," Wayne Dawkins wrote in his 1997 book, "Black Journalists" The NABJ Story."

"Sarah-Ann Shaw called Mal 'tart-tongued,' but for good reasons," Dawkins wrote.

"'As treasurer she felt personally responsible,' explained Shaw. 'She wouldn't let anyone handle the money. She felt her integrity was at stake.'

"Mal Johnson made no apologies. She said that 'everyone in the organization was on an ego trip.

"'None of them wanted to participate as leaders and do the work.

"'I had most of the burden of the organization.

"'I didn't care about being appreciated. I did care about their dedication. Some of them only wanted to chase the girls.'"

A short biography for the National Council of Women's Organizations, where Johnson was chair of the Global Women's Task Force, reads:

"Ms. Johnson is a founding member of Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, and was a television reporter at the former WKBS in Philadelphia. Ms. Johnson became the first female reporter employed at Cox Radio and Television News, where she worked for 27 years. As their first female White House correspondent, Ms. Johnson covered five presidents, as well as Capitol Hill, the State Department, and various Federal agencies. In 1980, Ms. Johnson was promoted to Senior Washington Correspondent and assigned additional duties as National Director of Community Affairs. Ms. Johnson consults and serves on many boards, including the International Association of Women in Radio & Television, and is a world traveler. She is a Founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Broadcast Association for Community Affairs. She was inducted in the Journalists Hall of Fame in 2000. A TV documentary of her life is in the Archives of the History Makers of America."

The former Mal Hooser told Dawkins she entered journalism after teaching and living with her husband, Frank B. Johnson, a career Air Force officer, overseas. After he died, "I was running the civil rights movement for the North City Congress (Broad Street and Columbia Avenue in North Philadelphia), an umbrella organization for 450 nonprofit organizations.

"In 1965 I got a call from Channel 48 . . .

"'I didn't know the station. They wanted someone to run the public/community affairs department.

"'The person who interviewed me (John Gilmore) didn't realize I was a black person until I got there. You could see he was startled. But I wasn't going to let him off the hook. The person who called me was his boss.

"'After about an hour he said he'd get back to me. I wasn't home 30 minutes before my phone was ringing and Gilmore was begging me to take the job. he said his job was at stake. We later became friends.

". . . Johnson worked at [WKBS-TV] until March 1969.

"At that time I was giving a speech to women broadcasters in Houston. I was giving them a hard time because they turned down a $150,000 grant from HEW (U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare) to train minority women for broadcasting jobs.

"'Their reason was, if we train them, they'll take our jobs.

"'The president and CEO of Cox Broadcasting, J. Leonard Reinsch, was the next speaker. I didn't know.

"'In order to shut me up, the group named me to the board of American Women in Television and Broadcasting.

"'At the next meeting, Reinsch was the only male there. He hired me.

"'He became my guiding mentor. I went to Cox as a Capitol Hill correspondent.

"'A few months later, I became White House correspondent. I worked for 21 years (1969-90) in radio and television, broadcasting to 22 stations."

"'Reinsch was the man who brought us the (FDR) fireside chats. He taught Eleanor Roosevelt how to speak (on the air) and taught Truman to speak.' Reinsch died in 1991."

Simpson said her sister wanted a private funeral with only family members, and she is honoring her wishes. The service is planned for Philadelphia next week.

Brock quoted Johnson's last words, spoken to Simpson, of Philadelphia, who survives along with Simpson's four sons:

"If anyone cries or starts to feel sorry for me, I'll come back and kick their ass."

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Stebbins Jefferson, Columnist and "Race Warrior"

"Stebbins Jefferson, a trail-blazing former editorial board member of The Palm Beach Post and a columnist known for her outspoken views on race relations, died Saturday afternoon after complications from heart surgery," Thomas Collins reported Sunday in the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.


"She was 71.

Jefferson's real name was Freddie; she used her maiden name of Stebbins as her first name only for her column, Collins wrote.

Sonya Ross, news editor - regionals for the Associated Press in Washington, told Journal-isms, "Mrs. Jefferson was both elegant and eloquent, a wonderful lady, a race warrior to the end. She was tireless in championing the voiceless and understanding the misunderstood in much the same spirit of Ida B. Wells Barnett. We owe it to our profession to add Stebbins Jefferson to the pantheon of America's greatest black journalists, and strive in all that we do to be provocative thinkers just like her."

Collins' obituary said, "Ms. Jefferson approached columns as a solemn duty.

"Randy Schultz, editor of The Post editorial page, said those who viewed Ms. Jefferson as racist were 'not only wrong but missed the point.'

"'She wanted a completely integrated society, just like (Dr. Martin Luther) King,' he said. 'She always pointed out in her columns that it wasn't just white people who have prejudices— we, we as Americans have prejudices.'

"As a writer who was 'instinctively old-school,' Ms. Jefferson wrote in a formal style and detested the 'rap booty culture' of MTV and BET, he said."

A viewing is to take place at Grace Episcopal Church in West Palm Beach starting at 4 p.m. on Nov. 2, followed by a program where friends, family and organizations can share their memories. Ending the program will be the Links of West Palm Beach with a home going ceremony followed by the "Omega Omega" (a farewell to a beloved sorority sister) service by the West Palm Beach Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. The funeral service follows at 11 a.m. the next day at the church.

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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