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Indy Paper Ousts Black Editorial Writer

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Blog Compared Officials to Minstrel Performers



An African American editorial writer for the Indianapolis Star was ousted late Wednesday, five days after he wrote a racially charged blog posting blasting the city and county council president, who is also African American.

The newspaper's editor, Dennis Ryerson, removed the posting by RiShawn Biddle Wednesday and apologized to readers.

Then, at 5:30 p.m., Tim Swarens, editor of Opinion and Community Conversations, sent this one-sentence note to the staff of the Gannett newspaper:

"Effective immediately, editorial writer RiShawn Biddle is no longer employed by The Indianapolis Star."

Riddle's blog entry was titled, "The Indianapolis Black Democrat minstrel show."

It was originally called "Coons for Power," judging from the Web address for the blog entry, which uses those words, and according to the Indianapolis blogosphere.

One blogger wrote that the piece originally compared the council president to "Zip Coon, a derogatory, racial slur on black men dating to the days of slavery."

In the version that remains elsewhere on the site, one that Biddle writes "was revised by yours truly to better reflect the overall point," he says:

"Then there's the embarrassing spectacle that is Monroe Gray, whose tenure as city-county council president is being marked by a lack of decorum during council sessions, the videos of himself on YouTube and responses to allegations of corruption that wouldn't be acceptable to a child who claimed his dog ate the homework. His act epitomizes the lack of seriousness some Black politicians show in their work; it's just inexcusable.

"If I hadn't seen this with my own eyes over the past three years, I would have thought they came straight out of 'Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat.' I don't know any powerful Black people like that. Do I? Sadly, we do. Before our eyes stand men and women charged with serving the citizens of this city behaving badly, awfully, arrogantly, as if they didn't receive any home-training."

The Web site note from Ryerson read, "Recently comments on this blog were posted by a Star staff member, which included offensive, insensitive and wholly inappropriate words in reference to Indianapolis/Marion County City-County Council President Monroe Gray. Those comments have been removed. These comments absolutely did not meet the Standards of The Star. I apologize to Council President Gray, and to all communities who with good reason were highly offended by the remarks."

Ryerson sent word to Journal-isms that he was unavailable for comment Wednesday night. Biddle could not be reached.

Biddle, 33, was a Los Angeles-based reporter for Forbes magazine, covering real estate, hospitality and legal affairs before he arrived at the Star, where his bylines began appearing in 2004.

On the editorial pages, he helped produce a series on chronic truancy, showing that "the state of Indiana, along with Indianapolis, its capital and the nation's 12th-largest city, is the shining example of what isn't being done about the problem."

In April, he won first place in the annual Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists' Best in Indiana Journalism contest for a piece on a juvenile detention center.

In May, he won first place in the Indiana Associated Press Managing Editors' awards contest.

A lengthy piece on Biddle while he was still in California said he started his journalism career in 1997.

Blogger Ruth Holladay, a former Star columnist, wrote Wednesday night:

"A larger issue is the Star's horrendous history with hiring and retaining black journalists under Gannett: Michael Dabney, an editor, resigned or was fired over a problem with his license not being renewed — Dabney landed at NUVO," the alternative weekly, "and is the president of the Indianapolis Association of Black Journalists; Michael Rochon, extremely talented, a young cop reporter and a personal favorite, was fired rather than helped for a substance abuse problem — he later died at home in Philadelphia; Kim Hooper and Courteney Edelhart left to take better jobs; James Patterson, an editorial writer whom Biddle replaced, was fired — he and Lisa Coffey have a lawsuit against Gannett.

"Marion County is estimated at 25 percent black. That representation sure is not showing up at the state's largest newspaper." [Dabney actually freelances for NUVO and is no longer president of the Indianapolis Association of Black Journalists.]

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Black Sports Editor Emerges Amid Houston Tumult

The layoffs and buyouts at the Houston Chronicle this week left an opening for Carlton Thompson, a 37-year-old assistant sports editor who started at the Chronicle 12 years ago, to be promoted to sports editor. His ascension restores to seven the number of African American top sports editors at mainstream daily newspapers.



Meanwhile, four journalists of color were confirmed as among the 40 in the newsroom who are leaving or have left the paper:

Andrew Guy Jr., a features writer; Salatheia Bryant, a general assignment reporter; John Vallas, a graphic artist; and Carlos Antonio Rios, a photographer. Journal-isms confirmed that all but Vallas took a buyout; Vallas, a Texan who had been graphics editor at the Honolulu Advertiser before joining the Chronicle last year, was laid off.

As reported on Tuesday, publisher Jack Sweeney said the Chronicle is losing 40 people in its newsroom to meet its goal of trimming its overall workforce by about 5 percent. About 80 employees in all are leaving. The 40 from the newsroom are split evenly between layoffs and buyouts, he said.

One of those who took the buyout was Fred Faour, the sports editor, who said on the online forum, "I hope you haven't seen the last of me in this business. (No, I have no idea what I am going to do yet)."


Salatheia Bryant

Faour's departure allowed for the promotion of Thompson, who came to the Chronicle in 1995 from the old Houston Post and had covered the Houston Oilers and the Houston Texans of the NFL, and the Houston Astros baseball team. At the Post, he had covered boxing and the Oilers and was a backup writer on the NBA's Houston Rockets.

"I just want to keep us moving forward," he told Journal-isms, with a "very clear vision" now that there were new people in place.

In his last year at the Post, the Houston Press used Thompson's situation to illustrate the low numbers of black journalists covering sports at daily newspapers. At age 24, he was of just 11 blacks among the 251 print reporters who regularly covered an NFL team, and the only one in Texas. Sixty-eight percent of the NFL's players during that season were black.

"Eventually I'd love to get into the management side," he said then. "And that doesn't mean just sports. I feel like a pioneer. I'm usually the first or the youngest. In some ways it feels good and in some ways it feels bad. And that's sad."

As reported on Saturday, Larry Starks, assistant managing editor for sports at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is resigning to become the NBA news editor at ESPN. His departure reduced to five the number of African American top sports editors at daily mainstream newspapers.

Guy had been a feature writer at the Chronicle since 2001, arriving from the Denver Post, where he was on the reporting team that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news on the Columbine shooting. He told Journal-isms he had taken the buyout but was not sure what he would do next.

Rios, 56, said he would be working on rental property he owned, and that he had been working with houses since he was a boy. He had been with the newspaper for 29 years, he said, and also took a buyout.

Bryant said she planned to finish a master of divinity degree at the Southern Methodist University School of Theology. "I was already planning on leaving at the end of the year," she said, so the buyout offer was "a wonderful opportunity." She had been at the paper for 12 years. Bryant and her husband, Reginald Honors, are the pastors of Reedy Chapel AME Church in Galveston, the oldest AME church in Texas.

In a note to the staff on Tuesday, Editor Jeff Cohen said that despite the leaner staff, "our strategy remains the same:

"Focus on scoops and enterprise in the master narratives that drive our community;

"Think Web first every day with 24/7 breaking news;

"Expand our multimedia content with video and online database initiatives;

"Develop topical Web channels that extend the reach of our Web site beyond news;

"Aggressively engage our readers with interactive journalism and community Web sites;

"Improve community coverage in our Spanish language publications in paper and online;

"Develop niche publications, as we have done with Gloss and Health, in areas with potential for building new audiences."

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FCC Gets an Earful on Media Consolidation


"The Federal Communications Commission got an earful on the effects of media consolidation on broadcast localism at a public hearing Wednesday, including from its two Democratic commissioners," John Eggerton reported on Wednesday for Broadcasting & Cable.

The media activist group Free Press reported that more than 150 citizens crowded the sidewalks outside FCC headquarters in a Halloween-morning rally against media consolidation:

"The public event, held before the FCC's Oct. 31 hearing on localism, was joined by elected officials, civil rights and labor leaders, consumer and media reform advocates, activists and even cheerleaders, who all came to urge the federal agency to vote against any rule changes that could result in more consolidation of ownership," it said.

"'Thank you for coming to the hearing that the FCC doesn't want you to attend,' Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) told a crowd that spilled over the sidewalks in front of FCC headquarters. 'The FCC is in the wrong region to be talking about more media concentration. We're going to stop this rush to consolidate right here in Washington where it began.'

"'We have a media diversity crisis— too few, own too much, at the expense of too many,' said Rev. Jesse Jackson, president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. 'Stopping media consolidation is the most important way to help minority ownership. But the FCC is trying to fast-track media consolidation instead of creating policies that expand ownership opportunities. The FCC should be serving people, not profit.'"

Carolyn Byerly, a member of the communications faculty at Howard University, testified that "Our failed federal communications policy has enabled those with great wealth and power to buy and control more than 90% of our public airwaves. These powerful owners have a narrow demographic: They are nearly all male and all white."

"In research we conducted in Washington DC neighborhoods last year, we found that:

"Residents believe local television news ignores things they need most to know about —these things include neighborhood redevelopment, lack of jobs, lack of healthcare, and public safety. They said reporters only come into their neighborhoods when there's a crisis, and the reporters don't understand their issues or know their leaders.

"We also found that Black radio listeners prefer African-American owned stations —they said these stations 'know what's going on,' and 'tell me the truth.'"

Others who testified included Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and Carol Jenkins, president of the Women's Media Center.

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Grambling Editor Wins Press Freedom Award

"A college newspaper editor who successfully fought the efforts of administrators to impose prior review on the paper has received the 2007 College Press Freedom Award," the Student Press Law Center reported on Tuesday.




"Darryl D. Smith, former editor of The Gramblinite at Grambling State University in Louisiana, was named the winner Saturday at the Associated Collegiate Press/College Media Advisers National Convention in Washington, D.C., although he was unable to attend the ceremony. The award, sponsored by the Student Press Law Center and the Associated Collegiate Press, is given each year to a college journalist or college news medium that has demonstrated outstanding support for the free press rights of students.

"In January, Grambling State Provost Robert Dixon suspended The Gramblinite's operation until better 'quality assurance' could be put in place, according to a memorandum Dixon sent to the school's publication director. Smith, then the paper's editor, said the move came after Dixon had complained about negative articles that had run in the paper.

"Smith spread word of the shutdown by distributing fliers around campus and contacting free-press advocacy organizations and local media. The school lifted the suspension after about a week, but only after requiring the faculty adviser to review each issue before publication in the future. After continued pressure from students and organizations such as College Media Advisers and the SPLC, Grambling revoked its prior review policy.

"Clashes between administrators and The Gramblinite have continued, however. In late September, University President Horace Judson ordered the paper to take down all coverage on its Web site of an anti-racism lesson at Grambling's Alma J. Brown Elementary lab school. The lesson focused on the Jena Six case in Louisiana. One image posted on The Gramblinite's Web site — which the paper's editors had removed before Judson's order — showed an elementary student being held up with her head through a noose. The paper since has reposted almost all of the material."

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Story Weighs Racial Impact of CEO O'Neal's Ouster

"Merrill Lynch's ouster of Stanley O'Neal will be seen as a setback in the steps made by African-American CEOs over the last eight years, but it will only be temporary, say those who follow such progress," Del Jones wrote Tuesday in USA Today.

"Black Enterprise magazine tracks rising talent, and editor Alfred Edmond says that while dismissals might seem like 'watershed events' because there are so few black CEOs, over time this will be seen as part of the 'ebb and flow.'

"Merrill said Tuesday that O'Neal will retire, effective immediately.

"In addition to O'Neal, Edmond says Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons is widely expected to step down in the months ahead, leaving just five African-American CEOs in the Fortune 500."

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Luther Brown, Ex-NBC News Producer, Dies at 59




Luther Brown, a longtime NBC News Washington producer, died Sunday in Chicago after suffering an apparent massive stroke on Thursday, friends and colleagues told Journal-isms. He was 59.

"What can you say about a talented black man who won custody of his two children and wrote a book called, 'Raising My Best Friends'?" Carole Simpson, the retired ABC News anchor, told Journal-isms. She said they had been close friends for 30 years.

"He was a wonderful father, a gifted television producer, and a true friend," Simpson said. "Luther and I met while we both were covering the Black Panther shooting trial in Chicago where the district attorney was being tried in the death of Fred Hampton," who was killed in 1969.

Cook County State's Attorney Edward Hanrahan, his top aide and 12 policemen were accused of trying to obstruct justice in investigating the facts of the police raid, in which the 4:30 a.m. killings of Hampton and Mark Clark were presented as self-defense. The 18-month trial ended in 1977 with a deadlocked jury.

"Luther was working at CBS, and I, at NBC. We were the only black reporters covering the trial and we just clicked," Simpson said. "Later, he worked as my producer when he joined NBC. Then he left to go to law school and his career went in another direction. But we remained friends and were joined by our interest in journalism and its neglect of the black community.

"Anyone who ever met Luther would be struck by his most outstanding characteristic: his basso profundo voice. The deepest voice, I'm sure, anyone had ever heard. When he laughed, the rafters shook. He leaves a wonderful legacy, as one of the pioneering black broadcasting producers in network television news, and two accomplished young African American adults, his daughter and his son."

Brown was born in Williamston, N.C. He earned a B.S. degree in English from North Carolina A&T State University in 1969 and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1988. After graduate school at Rutgers University, in 1972 Brown joined CBS News. He moved to NBC News, where he was an editor, reporter and producer for 14 years. Brown was vice president of programs at the Internet Multicasting Service, a pioneering Internet research firm in the early 1990s. In 1999, he moved to San Francisco to join Internet start-up Invisible Worlds Inc., where he was director of marketing communications.

He wrote for several publications and in 2005, published "Raising My Best Friends: Meeting the Challenge of Being a Single Parent," about the challenges of raising his two small children after he and their mother divorced in the 1980s. He had recently completed his first work of fiction.

Services are planned for 5 p.m. Saturday at the rear of EJ's Landing restaurant at the Clarion Inn in College Park, Md., 301-474-2800.

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Aplin-Brownlee, a "Courageous Whistleblower"

Vivian Aplin-Brownlee, the former Washington Post editor who died Oct. 20, will forever be remembered as the woman who doubted reporter Janet Cooke, whose fabricated story about a child heroin addict won a Pulitzer Prize that the embarrassed newspaper had to return. Michel Martin remembered Aplin-Brownlee on Wednesday on her "Tell Me More" show on National Public Radio:


"Every now and again when I have something on my mind I like to talk about it in a commentary, and today I want to pay tribute to a former colleague of mine who recently lost her fight with leukemia. Her name was Vivian Aplin-Brownlee and the reason I put it that way—"lost her fight" is not that I'm wedded to euphemisms. But rather that's how I think of her: as a scrappy, tough-as-nails editor with this little-girl voice who could pull things out of you you never knew you had.

"Vivian was one of my first editors when I got into the news business. I had been a summer intern at the Washington Post, just out of college, and at the end of the summer I got an entry-level job there, barely one step up from an intern, really, working for what was then a relatively new thing —a zoned edition of the Metro section. It was supposed to be hyper-local: births of quintuplets, standout high school scholars, zoning disputes—that kind of thing in tabloid form, an insert to the rest of the paper.

"I got the impression from my colleagues that we were supposed to think of ourselves as stepchildren of the rest of the paper, but Vivian was having none of that. No, her attitude was that she was running her own newspaper, and we had better snap to it. Every day, she said, was a chance to get on the front page—never mind that there were only two of us fighting for that weekly slot—we were expected to go out, beat the bushes, get a story and make it sing. Oh, and sit there and rewrite it and report it until it did (sing).

"I appreciated Vivian because she was tough—she made it clear excellence was to be expected every day. But she was also supportive. Once, when a highly respected married senior newsman made a crude come-on to me and I had no idea what to do, she never doubted me for a minute and never made me feel bad for being upset.

"Vivian became semi-famous because of her role in what had to be one of the most painful episodes of both of our careers —the Janet Cooke scandal. Cooke was a young African American female reporter who made up a story about an eight-year-old heroin addict in the District—she stuck to the lie all the way through her selection for a Pulitzer Prize—one of the industry's highest awards.

"Vivian smelled trouble right away. She knew that Janet was a fabulous writer, but a streetwise reporter she was not. She was afraid to go into parts of the city, so the idea that Janet could actually persuade a drug dealer so hard-bitten he would shoot his kid up with drugs to let her write about him was laughable to Vivian. Vivian tried to raise an alarm about the piece—but her superiors did not believe her. I am not really sure why, but I think there was some suggestion that the glamorous young Cooke was the target of professional jealousy.



"Well, the rest, as they say, is history. Vivian was right—Janet Cooke was a total fake—her story, her resume, even her weave.

"Can I just tell you? I learned some of the most powerful lessons of my career. First—that racial solidarity cannot substitute for core values. Vivian could have kept her mouth shut so as not to embarrass another black woman—but she refused — the truth was more important. And then, when the truth finally did come out, Vivian told her story to the paper's ombudsman and then she stopped talking about it. I never saw her give another interview about the whole mess and I never heard her gloat. If anything, she thought the whole thing was tragic. Vivian was a class act.

"At a time when people get confused about what journalism is supposed to be about, Vivian was very clear. It's about calling it as you see it, no more, no less. Vivian Aplin-Brownlee taught me that. She died last week at the age of 61. I hope to be like her when I grow up."

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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