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Journalism's Next Big Thing?

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Historic Black Comic Book Sold to Minnesota Doctor

Updated March 16

Reporters Try Working for Investigative Web Sites

When Regina Holmes launched an investigative reporting Web site in Baltimore two weeks ago, she joined the ranks of those being hailed in some quarters as harbingers of journalism's future. Moreover, she became one of the first journalists of color, if not the first, to lead such a site.

"Given the increase in newspaper layoffs, including those just announced at McClatchy, and the closure of the Rocky Mountain News, troubles at the Seattle P-I, and Time's just-released list of the 10 newspapers in danger of closing or going online, it is important for print journalists to know that they DO have other options. Six months ago, I had no interest in working at a Web site and now I love it," Holmes wrote to Journal-isms.

Holmes was most recently an assistant managing editor at the Baltimore Examiner, a free tabloid that folded last month, and had been an assistant city editor at Newsday's New York edition before taking a buyout in 2004.

Regina HolmesHer site,, features stories with such headlines as "FINE FRENZY - City parking fines outpace other cities," "GOUGED - Hopkins nearly doubles tuition at business school" and "SHOCKED - Customers aren't buying BGE's excuse for soaring bills."

Around the country, such sites usually have reporting staffs of 10 or less and relatively few journalists of color. Their business models vary, along with the amount of funding they've obtained and the salaries and working conditions they offer. Nearly all are nonprofit. At some, the writers work from home. For a few, community-written stories share space with those written by professionals.

Yet they offer a chance for journalists to return to the reason many entered the field.

Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig"From the moment I heard about The Public Press I knew I needed to be a part of it," Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig said last month in a notice announcing her appointment as news editor, just one of the journalism hats she wears. "During these uncertain times in journalism, it is crucial that we get back to why we are all here: to produce solid, unbiased and well-researched stories that make a difference in people's lives."

Not counting Holmes, Fitzhugh-Craig, who was laid off last June from the Oakland Tribune, appears to be the highest-ranking journalist of color in this new playground.

Other such operations include MinnPost and Twin Cities Daily Planet in Minneapolis; the Gotham Gazette and ProPublica in New York; the Voice of San Diego in California; Chicago's Chi-Town Daily News; Crosscut in Seattle; the New Haven Independent in Connecticut; the St. Louis Beacon; and in the Bay Area, the Public Press.

ProPublica, "an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest," is led by Paul Steiger, former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. It has 28 working journalists and includes two blacks - reporter Mosi Secret and Mike Webb, director of communications - among its staff; two Asian Americans - reporter Chisun Lee and Web producer Dan Nguyen - and a mixed-race reporter, A.C. Thompson.

MinnPost, headed by Joel Kramer, former publisher of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, claims African American reporters Delma Francis, formerly of the Star Tribune, and Roxanne Battle, a former Minneapolis anchor and reporter.

The St. Louis Beacon's staff of 16 includes analyst Linda Lockhart and former opinion writer Bob Joiner, both veterans of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and both black journalists, said Nicole Hollway, its general manager who is herself African American. "We also have two regular columnists of color, one of whom exclusively writes on race issues," Hollway said.

Fernando Diaz, who joined the Chi-Town Daily News in February from the Chicago Reporter, says such sites represent the future. "I came here to see how it works," said Diaz, a board member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Particularly in the Spanish-language community, he said, Web sites present an opportunity to report on local news that is not being seized sufficiently in print. Diaz, 29, and Associate Editor David McClendon, a black journalist who came from the Lansing (Mich.) Journal, are the journalists of color on the staff of eight or nine.

At Voice of San Diego, reporter Rani Gupta, whose parents are Filipino and Indian, appears to be the sole editorial staffer of color, arriving three months ago from the nearby North Country Times.

"It's definitely an exciting model. It seems to be working," Gupta told Journal-isms. "People aren't worried that they're going to lose their jobs." The North County Times, by contrast, was implementing layoffs.

"It's really different when you're the paper of record and you're short-staffed and so much [effort is expended] just putting out the paper," she said. "Here the philosophy is, 'don't cover it unless you can do it better.'"

Examinations of these new models point out that the foundation grants that fund many of them have the expectation that the project will find other revenue sources after not too long. Some sites want to try supporting themselves with membership fees, similar to public broadcasting, and there are other ideas. Another consideration: whose money to take - whose will come with a quid pro quo?

The concept is still in the experimental stage, and that's all right, as Michael Stoll, project director of the Public Press, told Journal-isms. "What's needed is to support the very best journalism, and to nurture the propagation of ideas for potential new business models that could take hold," said Stoll, who teaches journalism at San Jose State University and hired Fitzhugh-Craig as Public Press' only full-time employee.

Battle, in Minneapolis, is pleased as well. "I love it," she said. "I have the freedom to determine what stories I want to write about and my editors are very supportive. In other words, I write what I want to write about when I want to write it. And if you've seen some of my posts, many of them focus on communities of color."

"So far, our site has been well-received by readers and initiated changes at City Hall a mere one day after the launch," Holmes, in Baltimore, wrote Journal-isms. "(Feb. 26: Responding to an Investigative Voice story recounting several taxpayer-funded foreign trips approved by the Baltimore Employee Retirement Systems pension board, Mayor Sheila Dixon said she is ordering an internal review of the approval process that allowed trustees to visit exotic locales and swank resorts while the city faces an estimated $60 million budget shortfall.) We are hopeful that the site will become profitable."

Apparently, that's still iffy. For several days afterward, Holmes' office phone rang with only a voice mail machine responding.

School Seeks to Put Laid-Off Journalists to Work

Keith HerbertNew York's Stony Brook University is putting together a proposal to hire 50 laid-off journalists to teach "news literacy" around the country, and has received a commitment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for money to plan the idea, Howard Schneider, dean of the Long Island university's journalism school, told Journal-isms on Friday.

However, "it's premature to say this is a done deal," Schneider, formerly editor of Newsday, said. He spoke at the end of a three-day conference on news literacy and after a blog post by Bill Densmore of the Media Giraffe Project that was circulated on journalism Web sites.

Implementing the idea would require "a consortium of funders," he said, correcting the blog statement that the school had the money to begin the program.

Among those teaching news literacy would be retired or working journalists, lecturers and graduate news fellows in nonjournalism fields such as literature or philosophy. They would be trained at Stony Brook but teach around the nation.

In 2007, Stony Brook announced one of the nation’s first courses in news literacy and said the university expected to teach to 10,000 students over the next four years. It received a $1.7 million grant for that purpose from the Knight Foundation.

"The mission is to educate the next generation of news consumers," Schneider said.

Black journalists Zachary Dowdy and Keith Herbert of Newsday have taught the subject as adjunct instructors at Stony Brook, Schneider said. David Lopez, deputy Long Island editor at Newsday, also teaches journalism there.

"Leading students through exercises on how to think critically about the media forced me to think critically about how I do my job as a reporter at Newsday," Herbert told Journal-isms. "Questions of fairness, balance, self-interested sources and the watch-dog role of the media are all rigorously studied in the course."

He said there were about 30 students in the class, and about a third were of color. "It was an interesting time, too, with the presidential campaign making up a great deal of the current-event focus of the class. The kids realized that Barack Obama was the first African-American to be nominated and elected president. But they also seemed to have an attitude of, 'What's the big deal. Of course an African-American can be president.'"

The journalism school is encouraging high school teachers to attend a two-week summer training in news literacy skills that they can take back to their schools. The teachers pay only for transportation, thanks to a Ford Foundation grant. Those interested may e-mail howard.schneider (at)

Historic Black Comic Book Sold to Minnesota Doctor

A comic book produced in 1947 by Philadelphia black journalist Orrin Evans - billed as the first ever created by African Americans for a black audience — sold for $10,600 in New York on Friday night, according to ComicConnect, which conducted the Internet auction.

Winning bid was $10,600. The buyer of "All-Negro Comics No. 1" was Dr. Joseph Shaffer of St. Paul, Minn., a white dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer and who says he has about 600 comic books, including "Miss Fury," a 1940s-era strip that was the first drawn by a woman.

"I feel sort of a responsibility to take care of these books and look after them. I think they're important," said Shaffer, a British native who began collecting comics as a teenager.

"I like history," said Shaffer, who is now an American citizen. Though he is 39, he told Journal-isms he can relate to the postwar environment depicted in "All-Negro Comics No. 1." Authorities were still finding unexploded bombs from World War II as Shaffer grew up in 1970s England and attended medical school there.

Comic books such as Evans' reflect a time when African Americans displayed their patriotism even as they fought racism at home, Shaffer told Journal-isms. The role models that Evans created — such as a black policeman fighting crime — are "inspiring."

The Internet auction drew 31 bids, said a spokesman for ComicConnect. Shaffer said he submitted an early bid of $11,000, but only $10,600 was needed to win the book, which was in top condition. Evans, a reporter for several Philadelphia newspapers who died in 1971, produced only one edition of "All Negro Comics No. 1."

 "The second issue was planned and even drawn and ready to publish, but the editor found that his newsprint source would no longer sell to him, nor would any of the other newsprint vendors he called," according to one account.

"He was not a man given to conspiratorial thinking, but his family remembers that his belief was that there was pressure being placed on the newsprint wholesalers by bigger publishers and distributors who didn’t welcome any intrusions on their established territories," Tom Christopher wrote in the Comic Buyer's Guide. [Added March 14.]

Sportscaster Is Now His News Director's Hero

Bruce CooperNews director Mark Casey of KPNX-TV in Phoenix is back home after accompanying his sportscaster Bruce Cooper to Florida on an unsuccessful quest to find Cooper's son, NFL linebacker Marcus Cooper, who, with two other players, are presumed drowned after a deep-sea fishing excursion.

"Bruce is coming back this coming weekend," Casey wrote Journal-isms this week. "He's stayed in Florida to attend to Marquis[ affairs. As you know, last Friday the family ended its private search and has accepted that Marquis lost his life on the fishing trip.

"Bruce continues to be amazingly positive. We are looking forward to his return to work at the end of this month. We continue to get e-mails and letters from well-wishers, affirming what we knew, that Bruce is much loved by the City of Phoenix."

Casey began a blog, where he wrote: "That anyone should have to deal with this level of tragedy is not fair. That Bruce Cooper and his family have had this thrust at them is beyond rational explanation. It is very difficult to witness all of this happening to such an outstanding and positive group of people and not shake your head in disgust and anger. Doing so would be easy.

"I haven't because Bruce is now my hero - my role model. If there's [ever] a 'What Would Bruce Do' bracelet, get me one fast. The man is a wonder, and we are beyond lucky to know him. He has found strength in his faith. We have found inspiration in him."

62 Percent of Iraqis Say They Admire Shoe-Thrower

"An advance look at a new ABC News/BBC/NHK poll in Iraq shows broad public support for shoe-thrower Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi journalist who chucked his footwear at then-President Bush during his visit to Baghdad in December," Gary Langer reported Thursday for ABC News.

"Twenty-four percent of Iraqis see al-Zeidi as a criminal for assaulting a visiting foreign head of state. But 62 percent instead call him a hero, for expressing the views held by many Iraqi people. Al-Zeidi was sentenced to three years in prison in a Baghdad court today."

Shiite clerics on Friday called for al-Zeidi's release, the Associated Press reported.

Writer Says Michelle Can't Be Like Hillary or Laura

The first lady's official photoWriting Wednesday on the Huffington Post, commentator Keli Goff asked to be the millionth to weigh in on Michelle Obama's arms.

"I ask you to consider for a moment, how well do you think Michelle Obama would have fared on the campaign trail had she been rocking an au-natural hairstyle, a la the infamous New Yorker cover (and I don't mean the latest one)," she wrote.

"See there is something about blackness that remains inherently intimidating for some. This is why for so much of the campaign the Obama team was bending over backwards to convince heartland voters that Michelle Obama was really a Brady-bunch-watching-all-American mom, just like them. For many voters that image just didn't compute with the tall, chiseled, brown-skinned woman with all those fancy degrees. In their eyes if you looked up intimidating in the dictionary you would see Michelle Obama's face with a capital 'I.'

"Which brings me back to the arms. For all of those obsessed with sleevegate I ask you to consider the First Lady's fashion options. Aside from the fact that she really does have great arms, consider this: How warmly do you really think the president's 5 foot 11 inch, brown-skinned, Ivy-league, power-lawyer wife would have been received had she spent most of the last two years on the campaign trail, and now in the White House, wearing Hillary Clinton power pants suits? Or even Laura Bush suits, for that matter, on a regular basis?

"The fact is that dressed up as her alter ego 'Michelle Obama: Legal Eagle/Corporate Wonder Woman' she probably would have scared a lot more voters — and media critics — than she ever has with her arms (ahem, David Brooks). And I doubt that she would be receiving the media equivalent of a valentine from the likes of CNN's Jack Cafferty."

One of Those Times It's Best Not to Try to Explain

No sooner did we report that the TV Newser Web operation, produced by Media Bistro, held a "summit" in multicultural New York on Tuesday with 18 speakers and hosts — and no people of color among them — than Sara Catania filed this report on the Huffington Post:

"Sometime after lunch on day one of a Columbia University confab on the future of watchdog journalism, I came to an unsettling realization: every U.S. panelist was white and over 40. Nearly all were male.

"Could this be part of the problem?

"When I put the question to Charles Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity, president of the Fund for Independence in Journalism and an organizer of the conference, he said 'I see your point.'

"Panelists for the conference, entitled 'Enlarging the Space for Watchdog Journalism: Countering Threats, Supporting Investigations,' were selected by a 'very diverse' group at Columbia, Lewis told me.

". . . Lewis told me — apologetically — that there were no U.S. journalists of color whose investigative chops were sufficient to merit inclusion."

While journalists of color have long complained they lack access to many of the choice investigative assignments, those active in Investigative Reporters and Editors or the Chauncey Bailey Project, among others, might have a different point of view.


IT'S SUNSHINE WEEK: "For the first time in four years, public opinion about government secrecy has leveled off, although more than seven in 10 adults still consider the federal government to be secretive, according to the 2009 Sunshine Week survey by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University," the Sunshine Week initiative reported on Friday. Led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Sunshine Week, held March 15 to 21, is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. This year's theme is that citizens can be heroes.

Short Takes

  • In Philadelphia, "Joseph James Donovan, an award-winning journalist who once worked for the Daily News, KYW news radio and WCAU-TV and later entered public relations, died Feb. 26 of cancer. He was 72 and was living in Atlanta," John F. Morrison reported Thursday in the Philadelphia Daily News. He was only the second African American reporter on the staff. He co-hosted "Black Edition" with longtime KYW reporter Malcolm Poindexter, and appeared with Reggie Bryant on the TV show "Black Perspectives on the News."
  • Marisa PealozaIn the Scripps Howard Foundation's National Journalism Awards, "the Los Angeles Times receives $10,000 and a trophy for 'Mexico Under Siege,' (, continuously updated multimedia coverage of the Mexican government‚Äôs war against ruthless drug cartels," the foundation announced¬†on Friday. The paper's Michael Robinson Ch?°vez¬†receives $10,000 and a trophy "for his ability to work intimately and analytically in unfamiliar cultures and situations, from Georgia, Mumbai, Nepal, Mexico and rural areas of the United States." National Public Radio receives $10,000 and the Jack R. Howard award for ‚ÄúDirty Money,‚Äù a series by Tanya Ballard Brown, John Burnett, Quinn O‚ÄôToole and Marisa Pe?±aloza that exposed abuse of search-and-seizure laws under the guise of drug enforcement.
  • "Montel Williams, the long-time TV host, has signed on for a three-hour daily radio show on the progressive radio network Air America," David Hinckley reported¬†Wednesday in the New York Daily News. "Williams will start April 6, and run from 9 a.m. to noon."
  • Locksmiths who hand a customer a much larger bill than expected should not be called "gypsy" locksmiths, Aly Colon of the Poynter Institute wrote¬†on Wednesday. He agreed with Al Tompkins, Poynter's broadcast/online group leader, who said, "Yes, the word gypsy is off limits unless they are gypsies as in Roma gypsies (which I doubt.) You would be promoting a stereotype that I suspect most people are unaware of. The word jip is also a reference to gypsies. Do these stereotypes hurt? Yes. An estimated 600,000 gypsies were killed in the Holocaust along with Jews and gays."
  • In Phoenix, ‚ÄúGood Morning Arizona‚Äù personalities Brad Perry and Dan Davis were let go Wednesday by KTVK-TV Channel 3, according to local media sources and individuals close to the station, Chris Casacchia reported¬†Wednesday for the Phoenix Business Journal.
  • The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a friend of the court brief March 5 in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal's claim of racial discrimination in the selection of the jury for his 1981 death penalty trial. "LDF's brief supports Mr. Abu-Jamal's request for United States Supreme Court review of his appeal urging enforcement of the laws that require courts to promptly investigate evidence of discrimination against African American prospective jurors," the organization said, discussing the onetime president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.
  • "I don‚Äôt want to hear nothing from a reporter from BET who wasn‚Äôt even in the White House three months ago and just because you‚Äôre black and all of a sudden, because we have a black president, he should call on you. You are a freshman. There are other folks that are African American that are seniors. Sit down and wait your turn," Roland Martin said¬†in a profile by Martin anchored for Campbell Brown Friday on CNN, in a program focusing on a town hall meeting in Homer, La., discussing the deadly police shooting of Bernard Monroe Sr. there last month.
  • Nia-Malika Henderson, the Politico reporter covering the White House, focusing on first lady Michelle Obama, was asked by FishBowl DC, "What single person has played the biggest role or has had the biggest influence on your career?" Her answer: Norm Gomlak, my bureau chief at the Baltimore Sun and Craig Gordon, my editor at Newsday and now Politico. Both great editors, conceptually and organizationally and both understand how a story should sound in terms of rhythm and pacing. And my mom, was a rock and roll broadcast journalist and had her own show on public television back in the 1970s."

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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One of those times it's best not to explain.....

". . . Lewis told me — apologetically — that there were no U.S. journalists of color whose investigative chops were sufficient to merit inclusion." What year is Lewis living in? 1959? 1969? He needs to tell the truth: he didn't even notice the monochromatic make-up of the panels until it was brought to his attention.

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