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Its Members Under Siege, Unity Draws 5,600

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

3 Associations to Select New Leaders This Week

Co-founders Will Sutton, left, Mark Trahant, Juan Gonzalez and Lloyd LaCuesta recall the 1988 meeting creating  the Unity: Journalists of Color alliance. (Unity News photo By Marie DeJesus)

Feeling under siege by an industry ever more punctuated by layoffs and cutbacks, more than 5,600 journalists gathered in Chicago Wednesday for the fourth Unity: Journalists of Color convention, their leaders stating their determination to help train their members to survive in a new Internet-driven climate and to convince the news industry that diversity is crucial to their bottom line.

Three of the four coalition partners -- the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association -- are electing new leaders this week.

Ricardo Pimentel

Ricardo Pimentel, editorial page editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is running unopposed for NAHJ president. Sharon Chan, City Hall reporter at the Seattle Times, faces no opposition in her bid to become AAJA president. The NAJA board plans to select its own officers on Friday, with the current president, Cristina Azocar, not seeking reelection. The National Association of Black Journalists holds its elections next year.

NAHJ's Pimentel, 55, told Journal-isms his task will be "to make the organization as healthy and as strong as it can be under the circumstances."

Chan, 33, was more optimistic. "The future of the industry is bright," she said. "The demand for news and information is greater than ever, but the business model is broken." Chan said that when she looks at the "early adapters" to the new platforms -- who started blogs, who updated Facebook pages -- "these are people of color."

Among her priorities, Chan said, will be to "get laid-off and bought-out" members of AAJA new jobs in journalism, and to help train members not just for multimedia jobs, but for "multimedia leadership."

Sharon Chan

Toward that end, Unity President Karen Lincoln Michel announced "Ten by 2010," a Unity partnership with the New York Times and the Gannett Co., along with the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, the Poynter Institute, the Radio-Television News Directors Association and other groups, to train more people of color to become senior managers by 2010.

A video presenting the pilot project, featuring New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger and Maribel Wadsworth, a general manager at Gannett's Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press, was shown at Unity's opening ceremonies Wednesday at the McCormick Place convention center.

There, the twin themes of retraining and pressing the need for diversity were repeated by the presidents of the black, Hispanic, Asian American and Native American journalists associations. That followed a taped welcoming greeting from Chicago-based media mogul Oprah Winfrey (who told the group, "Your life's work is bigger than you realize"), an in-person greeting from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, apparently irked by heavy media coverage of homicides in the city  ("It is up to your profession to balance the evil things in a community" with the good as it does its reporting) and rousing fire-themed performances by dancers representing Africa, the Lakota Nation, the Aztecs and Southeast Asians.

At media companies, what's unfortunate "is there are no plans in place to replenish the pipeline" after the downsizings, Barbara Ciara, president of NABJ, told attendees. "Diversity and coverage are about business and both are about the bottom line," yet, "We all know that when times get tough, diversity training and programs are the first things to go. . . . We are fighting for our very survival, our livelihoods," she said, "and we need all the help we can get."

Ciara said NABJ planned to release its own study on Friday on the racial composition of top network news management. The networks have traditionally declined to release their own diversity figures.

Also addressing the cutbacks, Rafael Olmeda, president of NAHJ, said he could not understand the willingness of newspapers to "devalue the product. I hope somebody stands up and challenges them. I think I see 5,000 of the people now," he said, peering out at the crowd.

Olmeda said that attendees could go to the parties at the convention -- and that he expected to join them -- but "if that's the only thing you're doing, then you're in the wrong place. This is the time to reengage yourself and pick up new skills."

NAJA's Azocar traced the decline of affirmative action but countered, "We are on the cusp of the communications revolution, and people of color should be leading the way."

At a joint meeting of the boards of directors of the four associations, Will Sutton of NABJ, Lloyd LaCuesta of AAJA, Mark Trahant of NAJA and Juan Gonzalez of NAHJ, four of the co-founders, recalled that the four groups met to agree on the concept of a Unity convention at a Baltimore session 20 years ago that included a crab dinner. NABJ and NAHJ had discussed the concept two years earlier, in 1986.

The groups worked mightily to overcome cultural and historical differences. Wayne Dawkins, an NABJ historian, told the board members that Unity was founded as the nation prepared to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World. Native Americans felt there was nothing about 1492 to commemorate; some Latinos felt pride because of Columbus' ties to Spain; African Americans related Columbus' achievement to slavery and the Middle Passage. For Asian Americans, the debate "was like watching a tennis match," he said, as the others lobbed the question back and forth.

Still, the conveners saw their commonality. "I remember talking to a native Hawaiian, and thinking that could easily be a NAJA member," NAJA's Trahant, who is also board chairman of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, said. Sidmel Estes-Sumpter, a former Atlanta broadcast producer and onetime president of NABJ, said she still has the founding document and remembers those founders -- all male and all with a similar brown complexion, despite racial differences.

But Estes-Sumpter said Unity had not fulfilled its mission. "We said in '88 and '94 we would come together and have strength in numbers and we would demand that the industry change -- or else. We failed," she said. Today, the organization is "dissed" by presidential candidates who failed this year to accept Unity's invitation to its presidential forum, and dissed by "all these different companies. There is a great deal of angst about having a fifth wheel here draining resources away from the other four" associations, she said of Unity

Olmeda and Chan rose to Unity's defense, with the NAHJ president saying his view of the alliance had changed over the years.

"I can't see Unity as the fifth wheel. I see it as the car and we're all pushing it," he said.

Survey Finds Young Still Attracted to Journalism

"Journalism and media-related jobs are still an attractive field choice, according to a recent survey of multicultural teens and young adults. But the unstable industry and low pay are top concerns for those who once considered journalism as their career choice," the Asian American Journalists Association said on Tuesday.

"Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the survey was conducted this spring of 293 alumni of J Camp, a multicultural journalism training program for high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors to encourage them toward journalism careers."

Top reason for choosing journalism as their career (from open-ended answers):

32% public service and their interest in people ("to positively change the world")

18% indicated a passion for journalism

18% indicated the experiences of journalists ("something new all the time")

14% indicated writing.

Their top reason for not choosing journalism (from open-ended answers):

43% low pay and insecure job market ("I want to financially support my parents as soon as I graduate")

21% interests in other fields (law, biochemistry, economics among those named)

14% journalism is not a match for their interests ("desire to have more creative freedom")

11% difficulty in breaking into the market

11% college conditions (such as their college not offering a journalism major).


McCain Video Portrays Media-Obama Love Affair

"Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain released a Web video today that mocks MSNBC's Chris Matthews and others in the news media for what the campaign sees as sweetheart coverage of his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama," Broadcasting & Cable reported on Tuesday.

"'The media is in LOVE with Barack,' claims a headline on, where visitors can watch a montage of clips from broadcast and cable news programs that includes some of Matthews' more effusive, tingly-leg moments.

"Viewers are encouraged to vote on which song provides the best soundtrack. So far, Frankie Valli's 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You' is in the lead."

CNN's "Black in America" Debuts to Varied Reviews

CNN's long-awaited "Black in America" special debuted Wednesday night to varied advance reviews.

"Overall, the series does a bang-up job of demonstrating so much that is troubling about the 'state of blacks in America,' Amy Alexander wrote on

"But it does little to provide underlying context behind the high incarceration rates, high infant-mortality rates, high rates of HIV infection. And for its dearth of information on possible solutions, Black in America fails to dig viewers out from under its huge mass of mostly disheartening information, something it might have done by airing, at the end of each two-hour segment, what news people call 'The Solutions Installment.' This is a time-honored part of any long-form, multi-part news report, and its absence from Black in America is an unfortunate oversight."

But in the Washington Post, television critic Tom Shales, referencing anchor and chief reporter Soledad O'Brien, wrote, "The words and the pictures of these four remarkable hours complement and supplement each other. There's little if any waste; the report has been edited to a tight, bright pace that makes it seem considerably shorter than it is. 'Black in America' looms as a tremendous accomplishment for O'Brien and for the many producers, editors and crew members who poured themselves into it. And if no good comes of it, it won't be their fault."

2 Photographers Shot Covering Fire

Kevin Hankins ( "A man who police said was talking to two photographers at the scene of a vacant house fire Friday morning has now been arrested in connection with their shootings, police said," WRTV-TV in Indianapolis reported on Friday.

"Derek L. Matthews, 30, was taken in for questioning Friday afternoon and later confessed to shooting the two men with a pellet gun, police said.

"Kevin Hankins, 23, a WISH-TV photographer, and freelance photographer, Tod Parker, were each shot while covering the fire early Friday.

". . . Police said Matthews -- who lives on the same block where the fire happened -- had spoken to the photographers before they were shot, asking why they weren't around when he had been shot earlier this month."

Vanity Fair Spoofs New Yorker Cover

Illustration by Tim Bower/Vanity Fair "We here at Vanity Fair maintain a kind of affectionate rivalry with our downstairs neighbors at The New Yorker. We play softball every year, compete for some of the same stories, and share an elevator bank. (You can tell the ones who are headed to the 20th floor by their Brooklyn pallor and dog-eared paperbacks)," the editors wrote on Tuesday.

"And heaven knows we've published our share of scandalous images, on the cover and otherwise. So we've been watching the kerfuffle over last week's New Yorker cover with a mixture of empathy and better-you-than-us relief.

"We had our own presidential campaign cover in the works, which explored a different facet of the Politics of Fear, but we shelved it when The New Yorker's became the 'It Girl' of the blogosphere. Now, however, in a selfless act of solidarity with our downstairs neighbors here at the Cond?© Nast building, we'd like to share it with you. Confidentially, of course."

Short Takes

  • "Katie Couric says she and Sen. Hillary Clinton are victims of sexism which, she contends, is tolerated more than racism," Richard Huff reported Tuesday in the New York Daily News. "'I find myself in the last bastion of male dominance, and realizing what Hillary Clinton might have realized not long ago: Sexism in the American society is more common than racism, and certainly more acceptable or forgivable," the 'CBS Evening News' anchor was quoted in an interview on the Web site of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. 'In any case, I think my post and Hillary's race are important steps in the right direction.'"
  • "Hip-hop artist Nas joined members of the activist groups and to deliver more than 600,000 petitions Wednesday to the network's New York City headquarters protesting Fox News's coverage of Barack Obama, the Associated Press reported. The network responded by saying, "Fox News believes in all protesters exercising their right to free speech including Nas who has an album to promote."
  • "Speaking for the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), former Federal Communications Commission chairman William Kennard said Tuesday that he hoped the Third Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to throw out the FCC fine against CBS stations' broadcast of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime show would spur a broader debate about the need to put content-control technologies in the hands of parents," John Eggerton reported Tuesday in Broadcasting & Cable.
  • "Boondocks" creator Aaron McGruder, who took his newspaper comic strip to television, told Michael Cavna of that satire's role is "still about imparting a message about the lies a society tells itself. We can all live in collective denial. We can lie to ourselves pretty easily. It's a challenge. Satire is the least commercially viable form of comedy. ... There really is a distaste for being preached at. People have a very low tolerance for it -- newspaper audiences have a way higher tolerance for it than others. But it's tough on TV."¬† The interview did not address the recent controversy over the New Yorker caricature of rumors about the Obamas.

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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