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Journalists of Color Hit in Tribune Layoffs

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ray Quintanilla of the Chicago Tribune, left, interviews a migrant farm laborer in Southern Illinois, 2006. Paper "Is Where Minority Reporters Can Go to Die"

The Chicago Tribune laid off more than 40 newsroom employees on Friday, including a disproportionate number of journalists of color, according to newsroom employees there.

"Coupled with last week's voluntary exit of more than 30 journalists," the additional cutback "means the paper has cut 80 people from its editorial staff as part of cost-cutting campaign at all of parent Tribune Co.'s newspapers," Phil Rosenthal wrote on the Tribune's Web site.

Among those called in Friday and told their jobs were eliminated was Ray Quintanilla, a 14-year Tribune veteran. "It's sad because if you look at the list, it's heavily minority. It looks bad," he told Journal-isms. He said his marching orders came a day after he challenged a powerful white Tribune columnist who for the fifth time had hired a white assistant, asking the columnist if he had considered any people of color. He recalled that owner Sam Zell had told employees to question authority.

Quintanilla said the columnist publicly challenged him to a fight, and said he has filed a complaint with the Tribune's human relations department.

The reporter said he could not prove his layoff was related to the Thursday incident, but said, "It just smells bad to me."

Neither the columnist nor Tribune editor Gerould W. Kern responded to requests for comment.

Other departing journalists of color included Norman O. Unger, an assistant editor; Mark Hinojosa, associate managing editor for multimedia; Paul Iwanaga, a photo editor; Michael Martinez, Los Angeles correspondent; Gentry Sleets, graphic artist; and editors Donna Pierce, Emeri B. O'Brien and Jeffrey Williams, among others, according to a list compiled by religion writer Manya Brachear and other newsroom sources.

Hinojosa's exit follows the departure earlier this year of another high-ranking Latino at the newspaper, George de Lama, the Tribune's managing editor for news.

"I was looking forward to earning my 20-year pin in about 6 months, but alas: POOOOOFFFFFF. . . and he's gone with lots of great memories," Unger said in a note to colleagues.

"To all my friends," read the subject line in an e-mail from Williams. "Who have been family for nearly 20 years," his message began, "especially those on the copy desk and in the DuPage bureau, take care. And remember who you are: the world's greatest journalists and the finest human beings I've ever known."

"'Endings are never easy,' Tribune editor Gerould W. Kern said in a note to staff, adding that 'with the departure of 80 individuals through today, the editorial staff of the Chicago Tribune stands at 480, the largest news organization in Chicago by a wide margin and one of the largest and most accomplished in the United States,'" Rosenthal's story continued. "'While painful, these staff reductions are necessary to establish the foundation for a sustainable future.'

"The latest round of cutbacks is the paper's fourth since late 2005, when the newsroom was said to have had 670 positions. Other departments at the paper have been making cuts, as well.'

Quintanilla, 46, said he expected more from the paper after he returned from covering Iraq in the early days of the war, which began in 2003. "The Tribune is where minority reporters can go to die. They get lost in the bureaucracy and they're ignored," he told Journal-isms.

"When God Closes a Door, He Opens a Window"

Emeri B. O'Brien, among those laid off at the Chicago Tribune on Friday, wrote this essay about the experience and made it available to Journal-isms.

By Emeri B. O'Brien

Emeri O'Brien at her desk at the Chicago Tribune. 'In one quick flash, my whole journalistic life passed before my eyes. ' For weeks, I have dreaded Fridays at the Chicago Tribune. Friday was the day that folks got tapped on the shoulder or called at home to tell them that they had been laid off. The company is going through a 'reduction in force' to help keep the lights on. To pay the bills, employees have been used as collateral. So far, nearly 80 in the newsroom have been put on the block.

The fear of working with an ax over one's head is enough to drive anyone mad. I tried my best to be a reassuring voice in the midst of it all.

We each had our own logic about how it would go down. There were talks of employees being taken to off-site locations to hear that it was curtains. Others feared that they would take an elevator ride to the 22nd floor balcony, be given the news and then forced to jump.

Then it happened. I got tapped. It was Friday. Aug. 15. One of the managing editors caught me while I was in the middle of editing a story for the Web. He said, 'Emeri, do you have a minute?'

I knew. In one quick flash, my whole journalistic life passed before my eyes.

I thought about my days as a cub reporter at a small paper in Louisiana. I thought about how I spent my first day as a copy editor editing stories on 9/11 at Newsday. My mind drifted to the five years I spent at the Baltimore Sun. Then, I thought about how proud I was every time I walked into the Gothic Tribune Tower and how finally I was happy with my job. I loved my co-workers and the paper. I wasn't stressed. Now, 11 months after reaching euphoria, it would all be gone.

I walked slowly to his office and took a seat. With no compassion or a hint of emotion, he looked at me and said, 'Your position has been eliminated.' Just like that. I felt like I was just a faceless person on the 'Older Worker Benefit Protection Act List.'

He didn't care that I came to work nearly an hour early each day to get ahead. He didn't know that I was the person who made that big catch in a story about a little girl's death that made him so proud. Nor was he concerned that I worked my way up the chain to get to the mothership.

At the end of the day, I was just 'Editor, Subject Asst. Age 30.' I was handed an envelope with my name on it. And, after a brief talk, I placed my badge on his desk and walked out of his office. I could take being fired. At least when you are fired, you know that you have done something wrong. However, when you are laid off without any rhyme or reason, it is much harder to swallow.

Maybe he thought I would finish my shift. I didn't. I said goodbye quickly to the metro editor, logged off my computer, placed my nameplate in my bag and left. Mama always taught me to never let them see you cry. I chatted briefly with a co-worker outside the building and hailed a cab. Once inside, I became human again and cried.

I informed my mother that the nightmare I had the night before about losing my job was now a reality. She reassured me that God didn't bring me this far to leave me and that everything happens for a reason.

I got home at 10:50.

I slowly pulled out the blue folder and arranged each bundle neatly on the floor.

There was a ton of mind-numbing paperwork to sort through, and I couldn't even wrap my mind around it. I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and realized that while my position had been eliminated, I wasn't. I had two degrees and was an adjunct professor at Columbia College. My ultimate goal was to make the transition from newspapers to academia.

I just didn't know my path would shift so abruptly.

A simple e-mail to my supervisor at the college turned into a blessing in the storm on that dark Friday. I wrote not asking for a job, but to just inform her of my situation. She gave me more classes to teach. I guess it's true that when God closes a door, he opens a window. At 10:15 Friday morning, 'my position was eliminated.' By 5:30 Friday evening, my other position had expanded.

God was putting me back on track to making my goal a reality. I cried again. This time not because I was broken, but because I was made anew.

Emeri B. O'Brien was born and raised in Lake Charles, La. She is a graduate of Grambling State University and the University of Maryland. She has worked as a reporter and a copy editor at various publications, including Newsday, the Baltimore Sun and the Chicago Tribune. She is an adjunct professor at Columbia College Chicago and is now a freelance journalist. O'Brien is 30 and lives in Chicago.

Gannett to Eliminate 1,000 Jobs Across Company

Gannett Co., the newspaper company judged to have the best overall record on diversity, is eliminating 1,000 jobs, including 600 layoffs, across its newspaper operations, a company spokeswoman said Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

"USA Today, the largest-circulation newspaper in the country, wasn't affected by the latest round of cutbacks, but had 45 job cuts of its own last November.

"The latest cuts will affect Gannett's other newspapers, which include 84 dailies such as The Arizona Republic and the Detroit Free Press as well as nearly 900 non-daily publications."

"In addition to the 600 layoffs, Gannett will also eliminate 400 jobs through attrition and leaving vacant posts unfilled, said company spokeswoman Tara Connell. The cutbacks represent about 3 percent of the work force at Gannett's local newspaper division."

Springfield, Ill., Paper Apologizes for Role in Riot

Thursday's edition contained an apology. The Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register apologized on Thursday for the role of its predecessor newspapers in fanning the flames of a white riot 100 years ago. "Goaded by two alleged attacks by black men on whites, a mob of white residents killed two black men, destroyed dozens of black-owned businesses and ran most of the city's black population out of town on Aug. 14, 1908," as National Public Radio recalled the riot last weekend.

Most of Thursday's front page was taken up with commemorative material, and "at the outset of the summer the newspaper published a special section that will be used this year in classrooms to tell the story of the riot," Executive Editor Jon K. Broadbooks told Journal-isms.

The editorial noted that others in Abraham Lincoln's hometown had apologized for the events. "As an institution, this newspaper is hardly exempt from the collective soul-searching the race riot anniversary has inspired. As mobs ran rampant through the streets of Springfield on Aug. 14 and 15, 1908, The State Journal-Register's predecessors — The Illinois State Journal and Illinois State Register — provided coverage that only stoked the hysteria of the rioters.

"The newspapers did not create all of the tensions that existed that fateful summer, but clearly they share culpability in not doing more to call for reason and restraint. For that failure, we add our apology to what we hope is a growing list of institutions who live in the present but still must reckon with the past.

"Without action, words are worthless. For an apology to be truly meaningful, there needs to be a consistent commitment to do whatever possible to help bridge the racial gaps that persist in Springfield a century later.

"This paper resolves to work toward that end.

"We urge others who face a similar challenge of dealing with the ugliness of the past to make the same effort."

Hispanic Magazines Rise While Others Fall

Sales of People en Espa?±ol rose 7.6 percentSiempre Mujer (Always a Woman), Latina and People en Espa?±ol magazines bucked a trend of declining newsstand sales attributed to consumer cutbacks on nonessential spending, according to a report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations released this week.

"People are shopping very cautiously and less frequently, avoiding impulse buys, which are what magazine purchases are," John Harrington, an industry analyst with Harrington Associates, told the Associated Press.

But Siempre Mujer recorded a 10 percent inrease¬† for the year ending in June, Latina recorded an increase of 7.9 percent, and People en Espa?±ol logged a rise of 7.6 percent.

Other winners included Ebony, up 3.4 percent; Jet, 2.2 percent; Black Enterprise, 1.6 percent; and Vibe, 1.5 percent. Among those losing circulation were Essence, which shrunk by 3.5 percent, XXL, down by 8.9 percent and King magazine, down 12.5 percent.

Overall, newsstand sales of magazines fell 6.3 percent in the first half of 2008.

Jose Perez, vice president, consumer marketing for People en Espa?±ol, told Journal-isms, "Our readers are connecting with the magazine on a monthly basis and it shows in our increased newsstand sales as well as our growth in circulation."

King sales dropped by 12.5 percent. Cindy Lewis, publisher of Latina, said the increase coincided with a new editor in chief, Mimi Valdes Ryan, a redesign and the use of better circulation lists of acculturated Latinas. The content became much more aspirational, Lewis told Journal-isms, attracting new subscribers as it held on to existing ones and continued strong beauty and lifestyle features.

But what might also be at play is the right pricing, according to Samir Husni, chair of the Journalism Department at the University of Mississippi who is known as "Mr. Magazine."

"The cover prices are not inflated like the rest of the magazines," he said. Siempre Mujer is $2.99 on the newsstands, Latina is $1.99 and People en Espa?±ol is $2.99. Husni wrote on his blog that he had looked at Newsweek on the stands. "I picked up the magazine and a card screaming at me, 'you stupid Samir, you are going to pay almost six dollars for a magazine instead of sending four more dollars and getting the entire year for ten dollars!"

At King, a men's magazine targeting African Americans that sells for $4.99, publisher Dennis Page told Journal-isms, "I think all the magazines are going through really tough times."

Unity to Protest Choice of Debate Moderators

Karen Lincoln MichelUnity: Journalists of Color "plans to raise the issue about the message that is implied when three, older white males are deemed the most qualified to question the presidential candidates, and a woman of color is relegated to moderate the lesser high-profile vice-presidential debate," Karen Lincoln Michel, president of the alliance of black, Hispanic, Asian American and Native American journalists, told Journal-isms on Friday.

"The UNITY Board of Directors plans to address this issue at its fall board meeting, which will be held Sept. 12-14. We have not yet finalized plans on releasing a formal statement, but one is forthcoming," she said.

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced last week that the moderators for the presidential debates would be Jim Lehrer of PBS' "The NewsHour" on Sept. 28, NBC News' Tom Brokaw on Oct. 7 and CBS News' Bob Schieffer on Oct. 15. All are white men 68 years old and older.

Gwen Ifill, 52, a black journalist of PBS' "NewsHour" and "Washington Week," will moderate the vice presidential debate Oct. 6.

"The lack of diversity among the elite group of journalists who cover national politics and this historic 2008 presidential race is made strikingly clear in the recently-released UNITY study on the makeup of the Washington press corps," Michel said via e-mail. "The study –- which was a joint project between UNITY and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University –- found that journalists of color account for 13.1 percent of the Washington press corps in a nation that is populated by more than one-third people of color. That's just not acceptable."

In 2004, Unity set as a "strategic objective" sponsoring one of the 2008 debates. In an interview with TV Week published Sunday, Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates. said he had received "absolutely nothing but positive remarks . . . from the general political realm" about the choice of moderators.

Democratic Platform Favors Ownership Diversity

"A final draft of the 2008 Democratic Party Platform signals that its candidates will follow Barack Obama's push for increased diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, as well as more educational content on the Web and television," Ira Teinowitz wrote Thursday for TV Week.

"The plank also calls for the appointment of a 'chief technology officer' and seems to put Democrats on record as supporting legislation or Federal Communications Commission action to ensure that Internet service providers don't discriminate between content providers by offering some a faster path to consumer desks—so called 'net neutrality.'

"Called 'A Connected America,' the plank promises Democrats will work to boost the amount of minority-owned media, increase children's programming, 'clarify' broadcasters' public-interest obligations and work to improve the controls parents have to monitor what their kids see on TV.

"It suggests Democrats will work to impose some new privacy protections and take a harsher view of privacy violations."

Meanwhile, "Nearly half of Americans (47%) believe the government should require all radio and television stations to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal political commentary, but they draw the line at imposing that same requirement on the Internet. Thirty-nine percent (39%) say leave radio and TV alone, too," according to Rasmussen Reports.

"At the same time, 71% say it is already possible for just about any political view to be heard in today's media, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Twenty percent (20%) do not agree."

In Atlanta, Andre Jackson Gets Back to Business

Andre Jackson, the assistant managing editor for business at the St. Louis Post Dispatch who left earlier this year to write for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial page, is a top business editor again.

"In an e-mail . . . distributed to staffers on Friday, editor Julia Wallace stated that Jackson would become senior editor for business, federal and state," the Web site Talking Biz News reported on Friday. "'Andre joined the editorial page in May and has already made a mark, writing about federal oversight of banking, workplace issues and the impact of oil pricing on the economic downturn,' said Wallace.

"The changes are necessitated by the recent buyouts at the paper. Among the participants in the buyout were longtime business columnist Maria Saporta and editor Kathy Brister, who oversaw business coverage."

Western Reporters Air Frustrations With Chinese

"Frustrations are escalating between the Western media and Chinese officials over the government's handling of the Olympic Games," Jason Dean and Shai Oster reported Friday in the Wall Street Journal. "At a daily press conference Thursday, reporters confronted Olympic officials over the rough handling of a British television journalist by Chinese security forces, and the government's failure to approve bids to demonstrate in designated protest zones."

Short Takes

  • Percy Miller, formerly the hip-hop entrepreneur Master P, announced Friday the launch of Better Black Television (BBTV), "a family friendly network that will provide positive content for a black and brown culture that will appeal to all races with a goal to bring people of color a choice when turning on their television." Advisory board members include actors Denzel Washington and Will Smith, but the announcement did not include mention of carriage deals or say who was financing it. The release did say production had begun.
  • "El Nuevo Dia Orlando -- the mainland edition of Puerto Rico's biggest paper that was central Florida's only Spanish-language daily -- is folding Aug. 29 after five years of publication," Editor & Publisher reported on Thursday. "A spokesman said Thursday that the paper had consistently lost money, a victim of the poor newspaper market in the United States."
  • Ebony magazine's recent issue on the "coolest" black men could have done without Snoop Dogg, Walt Frazier, Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Jay-Z, Marvin Gaye and Tupac Shakur, according to Gregory Kane, writing on He has others he would add.
  • The "CBS Evening News" this weekend is presenting a two-part report by Randall Pinkston on HIV/AIDS among African Americans in the South. Pinkston traveled to Charlotte, N.C., to look at why blacks are 56 percent of new cases in the South, and he reports on how black churches in the Bible Belt are slowly addressing the issue. The segments air on Saturday and Sunday.
  • The St. Louis American was a second-place winner in the Suburban Newspapers of America's annual contest for general excellence. "The only paper in our class that beat us is Canadian and owned by a media org that owns more than 130 papers. Third place paper is owned by a company that runs 14 papers in New York. We are owned by one black man who lives in St. Louis and publishes one paper," Editorial Director Chris King told Journal-isms in an e-mail.

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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