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John Hope Franklin: No Soft Spot for Media

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Paul Mason, Senior VP at ABC News, Steps Down

Renowned Historian, 94, Called the Press to Account

Thursday's Raleigh News & Observer"John Hope Franklin, the revered historian who chronicled the South and gave definition to the African-American experience, died this morning at the age of 94," read the lead paragraph Wednesday on the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer Web site.

At the Herald-Sun in neighboring Durham, Mark Donovan's story began, "John Hope Franklin, the nation's most respected historian of the African-American experience and an icon in the Duke University and Durham communities, died today at the age of 94."

Both stories were prominent on their respective home pages. The Washington Post featured a front-page story by Wil Haygood on Thursday, but the three major broadcast networks - ABC, CBS and NBC - appear to have ignored him on their nightly newscasts, judging from their Web sites and a database search.

"Dr. Franklin was very well regarded nationally, but also locally," News & Observer Editor John Drescher told Journal-isms. "It's a big story for us." His paper planned what he called an "aggressive package" of a front-page story, a lengthy obituary and a timeline. Eleven years ago, the paper honored Franklin as "Tar Heel of the Year."

Herald-Sun Editor Bob Ashley said he expected Franklin's death to be the off-lead of the newspaper. [It ended up in the lead position.] "John Hope has been a longtime resident here and a distinguished member of the faculty" at Duke, as well as "one of the greatest historians of his generation," Ashley said. Franklin's was one of those advance obituaries the paper never got around to writing, even though the subject came up three or four times in the last few months. The historian spoke at the newspaper's Front Page Awards ceremony a few years ago, honoring students at area high schools, and Franklin had contributed op-ed pieces.

Were he alive to see the tributes, he might say it was about time the news media showed him - and the history he cared about - some love.

"I didn't know how many ways people could lie until I heard the lying about me," Franklin told the Trotter Group of African American columnists when he met members for breakfast in Nashville in 2005.

He was speaking about newspaper editors, reporters and columnists, expanding on comments in his just-published memoir, "Mirror to America," in which he assailed the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe for their reporting on his tenure as advisory chair of President Bill Clinton's Initiative on Race in 1997 and 1998. He also expressed disgust with the Fourth Estate as represented by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, describing the sparse turnout for his presentation on the race commission when he attended the ASNE convention in Washington in April 1998.

"They stayed away in droves," he told the Trotter Group over breakfast at Fisk University, though the editors were at the convention "in enormous numbers."

On the e-mail list of the National Association of Black Journalists, veteran journalist Joel Dreyfuss shared this anecdote:

"I had the good fortune to take a history class with John Hope Franklin when on fellowship at the University of Chicago many years ago. He was a wonderful teacher: meticulous with data but also a great story-teller. His special achievement was to put black history fully in context; it didn't happen separately but as part of the broader forces sweeping the U.S. and the world.

"Once he found out I was a reporter he used me as a foil. A lot of his research drew from newspaper accounts, and he didn't pass an opportunity to highlight the role the media played in denigrating African-Americans, urging repression and provoking and justifying violence." [Updated March 26.]

Paul Mason, Senior VP at ABC News, Steps Down

Paul S. Mason, who when named senior vice president at ABC News became the highest ranking black journalist in broadcast television news, officially stepped down on Feb. 28, Mason told Journal-isms on Wednesday.

Ex-VPs: Lyne Pitts, left, and Paul S. MasonHe and his wife, Evelyn Adelsohn, have formed Mezclado, a content provider that is working on a documentary about "race and class and a cohort of black men" that Mason said he had been working on sporadically for 10 years.

The departure of Mason, 53, leaves only Mark Whitaker, a senior vice president at NBC News and its Washington bureau chief, among black journalists at the top levels of the network news divisions.

Lyne Pitts, who was also a vice president at NBC News, resigned in January to write a book and to move "to the next phase" of her career. Paula Madison is executive vice president for diversity at NBC's parent company, NBC Universal, and Josie Thomas was named in 2000 to a similar role as senior vice president for diversity at CBS Television, a post with no line authority in the news division.

Last summer, the National Association of Black Journalists released a study  that "showed little diversity among an elite group of managers (executive producers) who oversee news from sunrise until prime-time. Twenty-one out of 24 executive producers included in the study are white. That's nearly 88 percent. Two are Asian, and one is Hispanic. Not one is African American." Mason rose from the producer ranks.

Asked who of color was coming behind him, Mason said, "I worked in network television for 28 years, and for the first time in 28 years, that's somebody else's problem." But then he said he would put on his ABC News hat. "ABC News has a lot of very, very talented employees, and a number of very, very talented minorities as well, and I'm sure they'll see fit to figure it out," he said.

At the National Association of Hispanic Journalists annual awards dinner in September, Jim Avila, senior law and justice correspondent for ABC News, disclosed that ABC executives had agreed to set up a mentor program that would bring promising producers of color into the ranks of those who green-light news segments.

That program, which sprang from the network's Growth, Development and Diversity Committee, is now in existence, Jeffrey W. Schneider, senior vice president for ABC News, told Journal-isms. He said there were 15 to 20 mentors and an equal number of mentees and that they include "many minorities" who rotate among the various ABC News programs. The committee is also developing a program for "management and digital training of our high-potential employees," he said.

Mason worked at ABC News since 1981. He was previously the executive in charge of “Nightline,” “This Week with George Stephanopoulos’’ and “America This Morning.”

"Mr. Mason is an award-winning executive producer whose credits include primetime news documentaries, investigations, and assignments that have ranged from proxy wars in Latin America, elections in South Africa, natural disasters, poverty, and racial conflict at home and abroad," according to a bio issued when Mason was named senior vice president in 2004.

Being a manager held its own share of challenges.

"During most of my 40 years as a broadcast journalist, I was absolutely convinced that if more women and minorities held executive and decision-making positions, there would naturally be more minorities in the corporate suites, in the newsrooms, on the air, and behind the bylines of the big stories. WRONG!!!," retired ABC News anchor Carole Simpson wrote in a 2006 essay for Journal-isms.

"So one of the great disappointments of my career is that the two people who did more to damage my career and try to get me off the air were . . . ta-dah . . l. a white woman and a black man. Two people I had fought to get into the positions they held.

"Did I waste my time? No, I learned an important lesson. It’s not enough to have a female or a black in important positions. They have to be the right woman and the right African American: those who want to, and are willing to take the risk, to make a difference. Are there any of those still around?"

Mason remains on the board of the Washington-based News Literacy Project and of the Overseas Press Club Foundation, which awards 12 scholarships annually for young reporters overseas. As a recipient of one 28 years ago, he said he would like to see more people of color as recipients.

Schneider said Mason's senior v.p. slot "doesn't exist any more."

Downsizing Continues in Houston, Atlanta, Boston

The downsizing of the newspaper business continued Tuesday and Wednesday with the Houston Chronicle trimming 90 people from its newsroom, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution announcing it will cut its full-time news staff by about 90, and Boston Globe management still trying to reach its goal of 50 fewer newsroom positions.

Six black men were said to be among those laid off at the Houston Chronicle, including Freddie Willis, 39, who arrived in the Chronicle sports department three years ago after leaving New Orleans for Houston after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. He was a writer/copy editor at the Times-Picayune.

"I would like to stay in the journalism profession and I would like a position in management particularly in sports," Willis told Journal-isms.

Terrance Harris, 39, also in the Chronicle sports department, was another who was laid off. "Those who know me already know that I've been working on a couple things for a while now," he told sports colleagues in the National Association of Black Journalists. "I am both prayerful and hopeful that at least one of those opportunities work out in the next few months." Harris worked on the copy desk and covered area colleges.

Others of color said to have been laid off at the Hearst-owned paper were David Ellison, consumer columnist who is immediate past president of the Houston Association of Black Journalists; Pete McConnell, suburban editor; sportswriter M.K. Bower; feature writer Olaya Robles; and Lee Warren, copy editor/online reader comments. A local blog by Richard Connelly listed others.

An editor who did not want to be identified contended that though the layoff of six black men sounds dramatic, among 90 layoffs that percentage is not as large as it might be otherwise. The Chronicle maintained its pre-layoff percentage of about 24.5 percent journalists of color, this editor said, adding that diversity was taken into account when the layoff decisions were made.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the Journal-Constitution said Wednesday "it will cut its full-time news staff by about 90 people, or nearly 30 percent, to lower costs as it tries to regain profitability amid a severe revenue slump," the paper reported.

"The company also announced it will eliminate distribution to seven more outlying counties, reducing its circulation area to 20 metro Atlanta counties, effective April 26. The cutback will pare daily and Sunday circulation by 2 percent."

In Boston, "According to multiple sources, when the buyout deadline arrived this past Friday, somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 employees had thrown their names into the mix," Adam Reilly wrote Wednesday in the Boston Phoenix, referring to the Boston Globe.

"That won't be enough to reach management's goal of 50 fewer positions and stave off the paper's first-ever round of newsroom layoffs. But it will be enough to keep those layoffs from being quite as ugly as they might have been."

Bill Would Allow Papers to Operate Like Public Radio

"Struggling newspapers should be allowed to operate as nonprofits similar to public broadcasting stations, Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., proposed Tuesday," Larry Margasak reported for the Associated Press.

"Cardin introduced a bill that would allow newspapers to choose tax-exempt status. They would no longer be able to make political endorsements, but could report on all issues including political campaigns.

"Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax-exempt, and contributions to support coverage could be tax deductible.

"Cardin said in a statement that the bill is aimed at preserving local newspapers, not large newspaper conglomerates."

Record Listenership for NPR, but Funding Gap Remains

"At a time when newspapers, magazines and TV news continue to lose readers and viewers, at least one part of the traditional media has continued to grow robustly: National Public Radio," Paul Farhi reported Tuesday in the Washington Post.

"The audience for NPR's daily news programs, including 'Morning Edition' and 'All Things Considered,' reached a record last year, driven by widespread interest in the presidential election, and the general decline of radio news elsewhere. Washington-based NPR will release new figures to its stations today showing that the cumulative audience for its daily news programs hit 20.9 million a week, a 9 percent increase over the previous year.

"The favorable audience data, however, hasn't spared NPR from the budget woes that are affecting almost every news organization in the nation.

". . . cuts still leave NPR with a projected budget gap of $8 million this year, based on expenditures of about $160 million, according to Dana Davis Rehm, senior vice president of marketing. Rehm said more cuts are imminent but declined to specify where they will be made, pending an announcement later this spring."

NPR said that "Tell Me More" with Michel Martin, its newest show, was added to more stations in major markets over the past year, boosting its audience totals by 45 percent. As of the end of March, "Tell Me More" will be carried on 61 stations, including those in six of the top 10 markets, a spokeswoman said.

Chicago Tribune's Frank James Joining Wife at NPR

Reuniting at NPR: Vickie Walton-James and Frank JamesFrank James, a national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune who created the popular Washington bureau blog "The Swamp," is leaving the financially distressed Tribune Co. to join his wife, Vickie Walton-James, at National Public Radio.

The couple worked together in the Tribune Washington bureau. At one time, she was the newspaper's bureau chief while he was a correspondent. She later went to work for the corporate side of Tribune Co. in Washington. She left last May for NPR to become supervising editor for the Midwest and South.

James told Journal-isms Wednesday he will be "one of two bloggers whose goal will be to build a blogging presence for the network’s two main 'tentpole' shows, 'Morning Edition' and 'All Things Considered.'

"I was at the Tribune for 20 years and had many exciting opportunities there, as a feature writer, metro reporter, then Washington-based national correspondent. . . . I started my journalism career at The Wall Street Journal, continued it at the Chicago Tribune and later Tribune Publishing, and am now moving on to NPR. I’ve been blessed to be associated with some of the most-honored brands and some of the best people in the media industry. My good fortune only continues," James said.

Short Takes

  • "President Barack Obama should specifically address disparities in black unemployment, foreclosures, education and health care, the National Urban League says in its annual 'State of Black America' report," Jesse Washington wrote Wednesday for the Associated Press. "Despite the progress represented by the election of the first black president, blacks are twice as likely to be unemployed, three times as likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be incarcerated, says the report, which was being released Wednesday."
  • "Tom Joyner wants his Chicago fans to know that, even though Clear Channel has pulled 'The Tom Joyner Morning Show' from WVAZ-FM 102.7, his program still will be available online 'so this isn‚Äôt the end, it‚Äôs just a change,'" Phil Rosenthal reported Tuesday in the Chicago Tribune. "Clear Channel on Monday announced it was moving 'The Steve Harvey Morning Show' into Joyner's V103 slot from sister station WGCI-FM 107.5."  Joyner wrote Wednesday on his blog, "We face a system that has never worked in the favor of black media."
  • Miguel AlmaguerMiguel Almaguer, a general assignment reporter specializing in breaking news at WRC-TV in Washington, has been named NBC News correspondent, effective April 2, NBC announced on Tuesday. "Almaguer will be based in Burbank and will contribute to all NBC News properties, including 'NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,' 'Today' and MSNBC."
  • "Last week, the media narrative for a complex economic crisis got much simpler. The coverage focused on one corporate villain and one angry public," Mark Jurkowitz wrote for the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "With news of the AIG bonuses driving that narrative, the economic crisis generated its highest level of weekly coverage to date."
  • A few weeks have gone by since D.L. Hughley and CNN announced the end of his weekly show, "D.L. Hughley Breaks the News," but Hughley admits he's not over the disappointment, Richard Huff wrote Wednesday in the New York Daily News. "Hughley will remain with CNN as a contributor. He says he'll cover the White House correspondents' dinner in May, and fill in for Larry King. He's also expecting to do some man-on-the-street pieces for Anderson Cooper or Campbell Brown's shows."
  • The American Society of Newspapers canceled its April convention, but Wednesday announced a series of hour-long, online seminars, funded in part by the McCormick Foundation. "Starting later this month, the ASNE webinars will help you build and monetize your digital audience and run your print paper. You will get practical tips about creating digital content, sharing with other papers, managing user comments, running the continuous digital newsroom, live blogging, mobile delivery, and, of course, using Twitter," an announcement said. Sessions are free to ASNE members. Nonmembers will be billed $50 on registration. Those interested may register here.
  • Former Time Warner Inc. chairman and chief executive Richard Parsons will step down from the board by its next annual general meeting, according to a regulatory filing on Monday, Reuters reported. "Parsons, who has been on the Time Warner board since 1991, helped the company negotiate the difficult aftermath of its widely derided merger with AOL in 2000." Parsons is also board chair of Citicorp, whose executives have been accused of making risky investments in the housing market.

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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