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Inquirer Ends Stephen A. Smith Column

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Guild Protests After Offer of Reporter's Position

An angry Stephen A. Smith, the outspoken Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist who parlayed his column into a radio and cable television presence, has told colleagues that the Inquirer has stripped him of his column and offered him a job as a general assignment reporter in the Inquirer's sports department, Journal-isms was told Tuesday night.

"Things reportedly came to a head during a meeting last Friday, when Smith was told of his re-assignment. Smith reportedly told his bosses he would give them an answer when he gets back from vacation in two weeks," the Phawker Web site reported Tuesday night.

Henry Holcomb, an Inquirer business reporter who is president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, told Journal-isms on Wednesday, "The Guild has filed a formal protest with the company and has assigned [a] staff member to represent Mr. Smith in this matter.

"This is the first step in the process. We first have to see if we can resolve the issue informally, which is often possible. If not, we have to develop an understanding of why management is taking the action and develop a response based on what the contract provides."

The contract allows management to change assignments, Holcomb said, and there are no provisions allowing for reductions in pay.

Smith, 40, was not speaking publicly.

Inquirer Editor William K. Marimow said in a story Wednesday on the Inquirer Web site:

"Stephen A. Smith is an excellent reporter. He's got a huge reservoir of sources in the sports world, and we want him to return to reporting." The story said Marimow declined further comment.

The development comes on the heels of an Inquirer report Tuesday announcing that "Brian Tierney, chief executive officer of Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C., said today that the company would sell the Inquirer Building, which also houses the Philadelphia Daily News and, and downtown property to reduce debt and reinvest in the company's media businesses." In January, the Inquirer laid off 71 members of the Newspaper Guild in an action criticized by journalists of color as disproportionately targeting them.

"In the wake of painful lay-offs and general belt-tightening, Marimow has been taking a hard look at columnists," Phawker wrote. "Gail Shister's TV News column was the first casualty of this re-think. . . .

"Sources believe Smith's column has been in the cross-hairs for some time. 'There was a time when the powers that be were just happy to have somebody that's on ESPN on the masthead,' says a source who spoke on condition of anonymity. 'But I think the new leadership has been asking itself for a while now whether or not the columns [he] was turning in were justifying his [reportedly generous] salary. And I think they decided he wasn't bringing his A-game.'

"As per his commitments to ESPN, Smith spends two hours a day in a New York studio [doing] a live call-in show for ESPN Radio, and he is concurrently on-assignment for ESPN TV which often requires him to be in the sports network's Connecticut studios."

"As a result, he rarely has boots on the ground in Philadelphia and some say that leads to embarrassing gaffes like an April 4 2007 column accusing Phils Manager Pat Gillick of trying to run the Phils from his home in Toronto, even though Gillick — who used to manage the Toronto Bluejays— had long since sold off his Toronto digs."

Smith, a New York native, attended Winston-Salem State University and interned at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after graduation. He began his career covering high school sports for the New York Daily News, a beneficiary of the famous "black list" of African American sportswriting prospects shared by Larry Whiteside of the Boston Globe, who died in June.

In 1994, Smith joined the Inquirer, where he has covered the Philadelphia 76ers, Temple University basketball and football and college sports.

When his ESPN show, "Quite Frankly," was canceled in January, Newsday sportswriter Neil Best wrote, "Stephen A. Smith's volume dial was turned down to 1, his trademark bombast on mute."

Yet he continued his appearances on ESPN and elsewhere. On Tuesday night, Smith was on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" discussing whether Michael Vick should be forever banned from the NFL in light of Vick's guilty plea to dogfighting charges. "This is the land of second chances," Smith said. "People go and watch people they despise all the time."

An ESPN bio lists Smith as "one of ESPN's most visible studio analysts, making regular appearances on 'SportsCenter,' NBA studio programming and on ESPNEWS, as well as host of several television specials surrounding big events. . . . he also hosts the weekday 'Stephen A. Smith Show' on ESPN Radio 1050 in New York."

Phawker wrote on Tuesday night, "All calls to the Inquirer sports desk about the matter are being referred to Inquirer Editor-in-Chief Bill Marimow. When reached by Phawker moments ago, Marimow declined to comment. Asked to confirm or deny that Smith had been stripped of his column, Marimow simply said, 'I have nothing to say about that.'"

Smith gave an inspirational speech two weeks ago at the Sports Task Force mentors' breakfast at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Las Vegas. "He is a role model," the Boston Globe's Gregory Lee, Sports Task Force chairman, told Journal-isms. "We regard him as a great journalist. He's compassionate, committed and very highly respected in NABJ circles. Whenever Stephen A. reports something, it is going to be accurate, it's going to be fair."

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Tucker, Suarez, Williams to Quiz GOP Hopefuls

Columnist Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Ray Suarez of PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" and Juan Williams, senior correspondent of National Public Radio and Fox News commentator, will be the questioners for Tavis Smiley's second "All-American Presidential Forum," this one featuring the Republican presidential candidates, PBS announced on Wednesday.



The forum takes place Sept. 27 at 9 p.m. at Morgan State University in Baltimore. A debate among the Democratic candidates was held July 28 at Howard University in Washington, with DeWayne Wickham of USA Today and Gannett News Service, Michel Martin of National Public Radio and Ruben Navarrette of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The upcoming event will mark "the first time that a panel exclusively [comprising] journalists of color will be questioning the Republican candidates." They "will pose questions on issues ranging from healthcare and housing to Katrina relief, the economy and the environment, among others, as outlined in the #1 The New York Times best-seller, 'The Covenant With Black America.' This forum will provide the first major opportunity for the Republican candidates to present a detailed discourse and dialogue on their social agendas," according to PBS.


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Swift Reaction to Michael Vick Plea Announcement

Michael Vick's agreement to plead guilty to federal dogfighting charges led to a number of front-page newspaper displays, provided the opportunity for at least two newspapers to roll out lengthy coverage of the developments and prompted columnists to weigh in as fast as they could.

The star quarterback will likely be sentenced to 12 to 18 months in prison. He also faces further possible Virginia state charges and an NFL suspension.

"Vick Takes Deal. Prison Likely," read the large headlines in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Vick's hometown paper, next to a side-view shot of Vick's face. "Vick Agrees to Plead Guilty" was the lead story in USA Today. "CON VICK," wrote the New York Post. "Vick Will Lose Millions," the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch headlined Wednesday in a follow-up. The front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in the city where Vick plays for the NFL's Falcons, was dominated by, "The Rise and Fall of Michael Vick."

That package had nine components, covering elements from legal issues to a list of his co-defendants.

"So deep is the disappointment in how this once charmed tale turned ugly that the Falcons general manager at the time of Vick's drafting, Harold Richardson, won't discuss any facet of the rise and fall," Steve Hummer wrote in one of the stories, "QB's arc from projects to star ends in disgrace." "Not even the best part of the story, because Richardson knows how it ends. In the road-building business now, he steers clear of human potholes."

The Washington Post ran a 2,888-word piece by Mark Maske, "Playing to Wrong Crowd: Longtime Loyalties Are Seen as Culprits In Vick's Undoing."

"There are multiple explanations for Vick's downfall, according to interviews conducted the past few weeks with family members and Vick's former teammates, and a review of court documents related to the case," Maske wrote.

"The most prominent theory . . . blames much of Vick's troubles on his continued association with childhood friends who have questionable pasts. . . . Court papers, however, portray Vick as someone whose legal troubles are his own doing. They show Vick as the unquestioned leader of a vicious dogfighting operation. Not only did he finance it, but he also carried out some of its most heinous crimes, including the killings of dogs."

And columnists had their say:

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Latino Groups Withholding Judgment on Ken Burns

"The Latino 'war' against Ken Burns' upcoming documentary, 'The War,' to be aired on PBS is not over," a coalition of Latino groups announced on Monday, referring to the World War II documentary.

"Despite recent press statements, key Latino organizations and leaders across the country today publicly announced that the issue is far from resolved and that they will continue pressing for a respectful resolution.

"Latino organizations and leaders called on Ken Burns and Florentine Pictures to meet with a representative cross-section of the national Latino leadership to explain in detail the changes they have made to the film, how they plan to include the Latino experience in their future projects and how they plan to include Latinos on the Florentine team. They also call on PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger, as well as WETA-TV's CEO and president, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, to explain the measures that will be taken to assure that such a gross exclusion of the Latino community does not occur again in their current and future programming, and how they will supplement 'The War' with other programming and activities to include the Latino experience, in particular with the educational programming.

"Some progress had been made on the issue over the past several months in that Burns has added interviews with two Mexican American veterans and one Native American to the 14 hour-28 minute documentary. 'But make no mistake,' said Iván Román, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, 'we will withhold judgment on how meaningful that additional material is— whether it truly speaks to the Latino experience and whether it is reflected in the companion book and educational material.'"

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Sharpton Urges Imus to Choose an NABJ Member

Radio host Don Imus, should he return to the airwaves, "should publicly release a contract clause making clear that he will not be permitted to engage in any racist, sexist or homophobic comments (unlike a contrary clause in his last contract)," the Rev. Al Sharpton, who called for Imus to be punished last April for his "nappy-headed ho's" statement, wrote Sunday in the New York Daily News.

As part of "5 Musts for Imus," Sharpton said, "to show that he is truly committed to turning the page in whatever new show he launches, Imus should set aside some regular weekly broadcast time to sit with an ombudsman — preferably a member of the National Association of Black Journalists or someone else of color — who will mix it up with him and critique issues of the day. No, I'm not volunteering for the job."

The Associated Press reported last week that Imus had reached a settlement with CBS over his multimillion-dollar contract and is negotiating with WABC radio to resume his broadcasting career there.

NABJ has taken the position that Imus should not be allowed back on the air.

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Johnson Favors Quotas for Black Ownership



Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson says he favors not only affirmative action, but quotas, and that many black reporters who criticized BET "wanted to prove they could be tough to their white editors."

Johnson is interviewed in the new paperback version of the Washington Post's series, "Being a Black Man," (PublicAffairs) which includes some additional material, including an interview of Johnson by Post editor Joe Davidson.

"I definitely favor affirmative action," Johnson said. "I favor affirmative action to the point that I think there should be some way of measuring affirmative action with quotas and other forms of accountability, that says if you benefit from the government you have an affirmative obligation to meet certain goals in the way this money is being allocated or being spent or the way you're providing job opportunities. I'm saying you have an obligation to go out and find people, and they're out there. I know because I go out and I find them. So you can't say you can't find them."

At another point, Johnson said he prefers "mandated goals to say if you use the public airways, if the public airways belong to the public, we're going to mandate 30 percent of the radio stations be owned by black people. If you're getting money from the government — I'm buying X billion dollars with minority suppliers. If you're getting oil mining rights, I'm going to mandate that there be X number of black-owned gas stations. That's the only way you'll get there," he said, referring to economic parity.

Johnson became the first African American billionaire when the parent company of Black Entertainment Television was sold to Viacom for nearly $3 billion in 2000.

"Over the years, Bob Johnson, the founder of BET, has given hundreds of interviews. But none has been more revealing," veteran journalist George E. Curry wrote Wednesday on

On criticism of BET as "booty-shaking entertainment television," Johnson said, "most white people who are journalists do not believe in black wealth creation . . . so when they see a black wealthy person, they say: 'I don't understand how you can be accumulating all this wealth when you should be putting all this money back out to black people. Because that's what you're supposed to do, you're not supposed to be rich. . . .

"And then the black reporters, many of them, who wanted to prove that they could be tough to their white editors, would say, 'Let me go out and beat up on Bob Johnson because then I'll make my bones by beating up on this black man who's running this business."

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New NABJ President Scales Back Her Day Job . . .

Barbara Ciara

"WTKR-TV News Anchor Barbara Ciara will cut back her on-air duties to allow more time for her new role as president of the National Association of Black Journalists. Ciara was elected to the two-year position at the organization's annual meeting earlier this month," David Nicholson reported Tuesday in the Daily Press of Newport News, Va.

"Beginning Monday, Ciara will anchor WTKR's noon newscast and co-anchor the 5 p.m. newscast with Pat McReynolds. Since joining the CBS affiliate seven years ago, she has been anchoring the evening and 11 p.m. newscasts.

"'Serving as president of the National Association of Black Journalists is a huge undertaking,' Ciara said. 'My new schedule will allow me to meet the needs of NewsChannel 3 and provide the kind of leadership to take the NABJ, an organization of nearly four thousand members, to the next level.'"

. . . and a Reinforcing View from the Bahamas

Meanwhile, the Nassau Guardian in the Bahamas ran an opinion piece Tuesday by Erica Wells, a white Bahamian who is the paper's news editor, who attended her first NABJ convention this month.

"The NABJ . . . enforced the important point that despite the fierce competition between the media houses, we all face particular challenges and have similar goals — we are owned by private companies but we provide a very important public service," she wrote. "Journalists should be able to put aside the competition periodically and come together on certain issues of national importance, such as the need for a Freedom of Information Act, censorship, and a need for greater diversity in reporting, to name just a few.

"In the end, my experience at the NABJ conference had nothing to do with race or nationality and everything to do with a shared desire to improve one's craft, and a refreshing reminder of why anyone would decide to get into this thankless profession in the first place — to make a difference."

Managing editor of the Guardian is Alison Bethel, formerly of the Detroit News and Legal Times.

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Time Partners with Essence on Digital Venture

"Essence Communications Inc. and Time Inc. studios on Monday announced a joint initiative to create multimedia programming content," Kira Bindrim wrote on Monday for Crain's New York Business.

"The new division — called Essence Studios — will focus on developing content for online, mobile, video-on-demand and television distribution.

"Essence Studios' first project is an interactive, online reality dating show, dubbed '30 Dates in 30 Days', that will debut in September on Based on Essence's recent success with online offerings that include 'Will You Marry Me?,' featuring surprise wedding proposals and 'Essence Do Right Men,' profiling eligible bachelors, the company hopes to boost the popularity of its Web site, which boasted 10 million page views last month."

"A few things to note here," Neal Ungerleider added on MediaBistro's FishbowlNY site. "This follows right on the heels of Hearst deciding to create video shorts for Essence, one of the lower-profile properties in the Time Inc. stable, essentially just beat Cosmo at the internet video game. If these new shows can be turned into a profit- and click-generating venture, EIC Angela Burt-Murray will have significantly increased pull at Time Inc. In addition, the company will have a template for creating upgraded internet tv content at, among others, Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and People."

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Survey Finds Racial Differences in Book Reading

"There it sits on your night stand, that book you've meant to read for who knows how long but haven't yet cracked open. Tonight, as you feel its stare from beneath that teetering pile of magazines, know one thing — you are not alone." Alan Fram wrote Tuesday for the Associated Press.

"One in four adults read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday. Of those who did read, women and older people were most avid, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices."

Seventy-three percent of whites said they had read a book in the last year, according to figures AP provided to Journal-isms, compared with 80 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Hispanics.

Those who said they had read a book in the past year were then asked how many they had read.

Thirty-nine percent of whites said they had read one to five books; as did 51 percent of blacks and 46 percent of Hispanics.

Thirty-three percent of whites said they had read six to 15 books, as did 19 percent of blacks and 43 percent of Hispanics.

Twenty-seven percent of whites said they had read more than 15 books, as did 28 percent of blacks and 6 percent of Hispanics.

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Short Takes

  • "In response to an article that appeared in Automotive News earlier this month detailing how General Motors has supplied nationally syndicated radio talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Laura Schlessinger and Whoopi Goldberg with test vehicles, private meetings and VIP tours of GM facilities, consumer advocate Ralph Nader has sent a letter to the FCC requesting an investigation into the car manufacturer's ad practices," Mike Boyle reported Tuesday for Radio and Records. Michael Baisden, Keith Sweat and Big Tigger were among those GM had enlisted to talk up its vehicles, Boyle wrote.
  • "ImpreMedia, the leading Spanish-language newspaper publisher in the US, has joined forces with the BBC's Latin American service, BBC Mundo, to support the use of Spanish in Hispanic communities across the US," the BBC announced on Tuesday. "The BBC's award-winning Latin American website,, and ImpreMedia, whose publications include the Los Angeles-based La Opinión and El Diario La Prensa in New York, will develop a series of joint initiatives to inform America's key Hispanic communities and offer them a platform for debate."
  • "A lot of our frustration is that the country seems to think we are a charity case," Lolis Eric Elie, metro columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, told National Public Radio's "On the Media" last weekend. "And our point is, well, wait —the United States Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for this devastation. If they drove a Mack truck through your living room, they wouldn't say, well, we're going to be nice and pay for it. You know, that ain't the way it works."
  • "It baffles me to hear pundits talk about returning democracy to Venezuela— as if the Venezuelan people are kept under armed guard in their homes during elections," Tonyaa Weathersbee wrote Tuesday for after visiting the country. "It seems to me that what this administration and some pundits really fear from Chávez is that there will be too much democracy in Venezuela," she wrote, referring to President Hugo Chávez. "They fear that Chávez . . . will continue to push for reforms that will help the country's most impoverished citizens, but won't sit well with U.S.-backed corporations and the wealthier, mostly-white Venezuelans who have run the show for centuries. Many of those impoverished citizens are black and mixed-race Venezuelans."
  • Betty Anne Williams on Monday joined the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies as director of communications. The veteran journalist had been managing editor/director of editorial development, Post-Newsweek Media/Community Newspapers in Washington's Maryland suburbs.
  • Chloé A. Hilliard is a full-time staff member at the Village Voice after completing a four-month Mary Wright Minority Writing Fellowship. She left the Source magazine, where she was news editor, in March and created the Web site, "on online community for journalists of color."
  • The Asian American Journalists Association on Friday joined in mourning the Aug. 2 shooting death of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey. "It is tragic that a journalist's pursuit of truth ends up in such a senseless killing, especially in America where we all hold the tenets of press freedom and the public's right to know so dearly," the organization said.

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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