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Much of Press Failed by Linking Lott, Reid

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

False Comparisons "Frustrate" Media's Intended Role

Associated Press Lays Off Reporter Megan Scott

Media Organizations Back Medill Innocence Project

Sarah Palin Signs On as Commentator for Fox News

Study Finds Traditional Media Still Driving Local News

Recalling Visit to Yemen: "One Afghanistan Is Enough"

A Year Later, Sri Lankans Still Seeking Justice

Wesley South of WVON, Black Talk Radio Pioneer, Dies

Short Takes

On NBC's "Today" show on Monday, host Matt Lauer, left, asked PBS' Gwen Ifill, right, and former Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., to compare Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's comments with those of former Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. Ifill said it was 'apples and oranges.' (video)

False Comparisons "Frustrate" Media's Intended Role

"When a political dispute breaks out, should reporters simply 'report the controversy,' or instead attempt to referee and resolve it?" Greg Marx asked Monday in the Columbia Journalism Review.

"This is one of journalism's never-ending debates, and it came to the forefront again over the weekend, as news organizations covered the fallout from Senate majority leader Harry Reid's assertion, in 2008, that voters would embrace Barack Obama in part because he was a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.'

"These remarks, made public in the new book Game Change, an account of the 2008 presidential campaign, set off a volley of apologies and accusations. Republicans compared the racially charged remarks with ones made in 2002 by then-Senator Trent Lott, and argued that, like Lott, Reid should be made to resign as Senate majority leader. Democrats pushed back, saying that Reid's remarks were hardly analogous to Lott's fond comments about Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist campaign for the White House. (Lott: 'When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.')

". . . There were real differences in the way different stories attempted (or didn't attempt) to deal with the key question: whether Lott's and Reid's comments were actually equivalent. Those differences, in turn, have consequences for the media's ability to write about race and politics. If you don't draw distinctions between dissimilar events, you can't make sense of those events.

". . . Among mainstream reporters, Politico's John Bresnahan was the only one to directly address the comparison. Bresnahan's Sunday story opens with a lengthy recitation of the Republican line, then delivers this paragraph:

" 'The comments - or at least the interpretations of them - were obviously different: While Lott's words could be interpreted as a call for the continuation of racial segregation, Reid's were not an argument for race-based policies but rather a characterization of racial attitudes among voters today.'

". . . There is no way to explore the complicated way that race and politics interact, and to write intelligently about that intersection, if you are going to seriously entertain the prospect that Reid's and Lott's comments are equally offensive. In an ideal model of the press, journalists are stewards of public discourse, people who set public norms but also help the public talk about knotty subjects like race and racism. A failure to draw important distinctions doesn't just shirk the responsibility implied by that model, it actively frustrates it."

Meanwhile, Richard Prince appeared on CNN's "Kyra Phillips Show" Monday with Roland Martin and Soledad O'Brien of CNN and Joe Feagin, professor of sociology at Texas A&M, discussing the Reid controversy.

After the program, Martin interviewed President Obama for a previously scheduled Martin Luther King Day reflection for TV One.

"Obama described Reid as 'a friend of mine. He has been a stalwart champion of voting rights, civil rights,' " CNN reported.

" 'This is a good man who has always been on the right side of history. For him to have used some inartful language in trying to praise me and for people to try and make hay out of that makes absolutely no sense,' he said in the interview, which will air this month.

" 'I guarantee you the average person, white or black, right now is less concerned about what Harry Reid said in a quote in a book a couple of years ago than they are about how we are going to move the country forward, and that's where we need to direct our attention.' "

Associated Press Lays Off Reporter Megan Scott

Megan ScottMegan Scott, the only African American reporter in the Lifestyles section of the Associated Press, was laid off Friday in the ongoing series of layoffs that in November claimed Victor Vaughan, the national photo editor.

Tom Curley, the president and CEO, told employees in 2008 that AP planned to reduce the size of its global payroll by 10 percent in 2009.

"As far as I know, I was the only one let go in my department," Scott told Journal-isms on Friday. "I'm still in shock and I'm assessing what to do next. I hope to find another job in journalism. It's still my passion."

Scott, 31, who was at the AP for four years, also said, "I was told it was an issue of seniority."

Tony Winton, president of the News Media Guild, which represents employees at the AP, UPI and EFE wire services, said the Guild was looking into Scott's layoff because, "We want to make sure the seniority rules are applied properly."

The rules count seniority in the location — New York City — not the company, he said.

"I started at the AP in Atlanta as an intern and then was hired as a newswoman," Scott said. "I left and went to the St. Petersburg Times where I worked for three years.

"I was at the AP for four years. I was in asap and then went to Lifestyles when the service closed."

AP's asap was a multimedia service that targeted young readers and operated for two years. "Originally conceived as a premium service to help newspapers reach the 18-to-34 age group, asap had evolved into a broader product aimed at readers of all ages," AP reported when it ended the project as a standalone service in 2007. "In addition to news stories, asap produced videos, podcasts and multimedia packages."

Media Organizations Back Medill Innocence Project

Professor David Protess, the head of the Medill Innocence Project, has refused to turn over certain materials to the Cook County state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez. (Credit: Chicago magazine)"Media organizations today urged an Illinois judge to block a criminal prosecutor’s subpoena for the notes and records from students in Medill's Innocence Project at Northwestern University," Cristina Abello reported Monday for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

"Student researchers in an investigative journalism program devoted to examining potential wrongful convictions uncovered new evidence that brought under scrutiny the conviction of Anthony McKinney, who has spent the last 31 years behind bars after being convicted of murder. In the process of reexamining the case for a new hearing, Cook County prosecutors subpoenaed the 'notes, memoranda, reports and summaries' of the then-student journalists.

"Hearst Corp. filed a friend-of-the-court brief joined by organizations including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and CBS News, advising against the forced disclosure of the materials and arguing that journalistic student work should be protected by the Illinois Reporter’s Privilege Act.

"Student press advocates including Student Press Law Center and the Society of Professional Journalists echoed these arguments in a separate filing."

Sarah Palin Signs On as Commentator for Fox News

"One-time Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin may have sent a clear message to the political world, analysts say, by signing a deal to become a TV commentator," Ed Hornick reported Monday for CNN.

"That message: She's unlikely to run in the 2012 presidential race."

" 'I do think maybe it suggests, sadly for Democrats, that she might not be running,' said Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala. 'Democrats ... are pretty confident they can defeat Sarah Palin. She's not going to beat Barack Obama.'

"The former Alaska governor has signed a deal with Fox News to appear as a contributor on the network, a source with knowledge of the agreement confirms to CNN.

"Palin will not have her own program on Fox News (like former Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee), but the plan is for her to host occasional specials," Marisa Guthrie reported for Broadcasting & Cable.

Study Finds Traditional Media Still Driving Local News

"A new study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which takes a close look at the news ecosystem of one city suggests that while the news landscape has rapidly expanded, most of what the public learns is still overwhelmingly driven by traditional media — particularly newspapers," the Pew Center reported on Monday.

"The study, which examined all the outlets that produced local news in Baltimore, Md., for one week, surveyed their output and then did a closer examination of six major narratives during the week, finds that much of the 'news' people receive contains no original reporting. Fully eight out of ten stories studied simply repeated or repackaged previously published information.

"And of the stories that did contain new information nearly all, 95%, came from traditional media — most of them newspapers. These stories then tended to set the narrative agenda for most other media outlets.

"The local papers, however, are also offering less than they once did. For all of 2009, for instance, the Sun produced 32% fewer stories on any subject than it did in 1999, and 73% fewer stories than in 1991, when the company still published an evening and morning paper with competing newsrooms."

Recalling Visit to Yemen: "One Afghanistan Is Enough"

"Having a Yemeni visa stamped in my passport has brought wary questions from border officials over the last few years," columnist Clarence Page wrote last week in the Chicago Tribune. "Nowadays I'll be lucky if I don't get strip-searched. What a difference a botched terrorist attack makes.

". . . One of 23 suspected al-Qaida members who tunneled out of a high-security prison in Sanaa in early 2006 was Nasser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi. He now leads al-Qaida's Yemeni franchise, which claimed responsibility for the underwear bombing.

"I happened to be visiting Sanaa, Yemen's 1,000-plus-year-old capital at the time with two colleagues from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, of which I am a board member. The escapees might well have been digging beneath my feet, I calculate, while my colleagues and I happened to be meeting with government officials upstairs. There's little question that they received help from members of Yemen's security forces.

"Yemen has all the makings of another Afghanistan except that Yemen, Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland, is even more poor, corrupt, repressive, unstable and therefore hospitable to al-Qaida."

President Obama "has stepped up covert operations against al-Qaida in Yemen and plans to send $70 million to Yemen during the next 18 months to equip, train and work with Yemeni security forces to strike al-Qaida bases.

"But Yemen's desperate economic, political and social problems call for a broader strategy. We need to work with our allies and the World Bank to boost Yemen's economic development and push for a settlement of its internal disputes.

"One Afghanistan is enough."

A Year Later, Sri Lankans Still Seeking Justice

"Even by Sri Lanka’s standards, January 2009 was a brutal month for journalists," Bob Dietz, Asia Program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote last week.

"On January 6, on a quiet road on the outskirts of Colombo, the country’s main independently owned TV station, Sirasa TV, was raided at 2:05 a.m. by 15 to 20 masked armed men working with military precision. At 2:35:31 they detonated an explosion, possibly a claymore mine, a military-style antipersonnel mine set off by an electrical charge through wires leading to the device.

"And at around 6:40 a.m. on January 23, according to Upali Tennakoon, editor of the Sinhala-language, pro-government weekly Rivira, four men on two motorcycles forced his car to stop and smashed its window. One attacker used a metal bar with a single sharp point to hit Tennakoon in the face and in his hands when he put them up to defend himself, he said. He and his wife, Dhammika, were driving to his office at the time of the attack.

"But by far the worst assault on a journalist came on January 8, two days after the bombing of Sirasa. At around 10 a.m. on January 8, the editor-in-chief of The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunga, was killed in his car on his way to work on a busy street in a mixed suburban and semi-industrial suburb of Colombo. . . .

"CPJ has already made the case that the government has not brought his killers or the perpetrators of any other acts of violence against any journalists to justice. Ever."

Wesley South of WVON, Black Talk Radio Pioneer, Dies

Wesley W. South"Wesley W. South, 95, a longtime journalist who was a staple at the black-owned WVON radio station, died Saturday, Jan. 9, in his home in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, according to a statement from the station," William Lee reported Monday in the Chicago Tribune.

"Mr. South, who was the chairman emeritus of Midway Broadcasting Corp. and hosted the popular talk program 'Hotline,' was a pioneering voice in African-American talk radio.

"Mr. South, a former columnist for Chicago's American, began his radio career with WVON in 1963. The program's first major coup was when it aired one of the last interviews with civil rights activist Medgar Evers before he was murdered in June 1963.

"Out of WVON's small Brighton Park studio, Mr. South, a veteran of World War II and a former union activist, interviewed such luminaries as Sen. Robert Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., baseball great Jackie Robinson and activist Malcolm X, according to the station. One notable local, however — Mayor Richard J. Daley — refused to come on Mr. South's program," the Tribune reported.

"The program's ability to attract political heavyweights and its willingness to tackle hot-button topics ushered in the station's switch from music to talk."

WVON said "South is credited as one of the pioneers of Black talk radio" and that he was one of the first African Americans to graduate from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Short Takes

  • "Recognizing the importance of digital journalism to the future of the industry, Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism today announced that it had raised $15 million to launch a new center focusing on just that," Amanda Ernst reported Monday for MediaBistro. "The J-school has finally met a requirement to match a $5 million contribution from The Tow Foundation, setting the stage to establish the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Manhattan university."
  • A scholarship has been created in memory of Marcia Slacum Greene, the former Washington Post city editor who died Jan. 4 after a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer, the Washington Association of Black Journalists announced on Monday. "In lieu of flowers the family has requested donations to form a scholarship in her memory," President Lee Ivory said. "Donations can be sent to: ATTN: Marcia Slacum Greene Memoriam Scholarship, c/o: The National Association of Black Journalists, 8701-A Adelphi Road, Adelphi, MD 20783-1716." A memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday at Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ, 4704 13th St. NW, Washington, DC 20011, 202-829-5511.
  • The memorial service for Michael Jackson, watched last July by 31.1 million television viewers, is competing with the BET Awards, a tribute to Bill Cosby at the Kennedy Center, an HBO special by comedian Wanda Sykes and HBO's "We Are One" inaugural celebration of Barack Obama in the "outstanding variety ‚Äî (series or special)" category in the NAACP Image Awards, the NAACP announced last week.
  • Deborah Howell, the Minnesota editor and former Washington Post ombudsman, was the subject of additional tributes from Ted Diadiun, ombudsman of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Funeral services for Howell, who died Jan. 2 in a New Zealand accident, are scheduled for Friday in Washington.
  • Don Rojas has joined Free Speech TV, "an independent, publicly-supported, non-profit TV multi-platform digital media pioneer" based in Denver. The Web site says of Rojas, "his distinguished career spans over 30 years as a newspaper editor, general manager of a major New York City radio station (WBAI-Pacifica), the first communications director of the NAACP, media manager at Oxfam America, Internet publishing pioneer (The Black World Today) and former press secretary to the late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop of Grenada."
  • Ann Moore, chairman and CEO of Time, this week makes her first visit to the house in Detroit that Time purchased for "an extensive, yearlong reporting project that would become 'Assignment Detroit,' involving a stream of blogs and in-depth articles in many of the publishing giant's magazines," Tom Walsh reported Sunday for the Detroit Free Press. His piece was called, "How Time decided to move in to tell Detroit's stories."

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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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Hi, Richard. Do you have any

Hi, Richard. Do you have any contact info for AP's Megan Scott? I'm still consulting for WSJ as a recruiter. There may be something there, if she's interested. Best, Joe Boyce

Can someone just ask Reid to explain "Negro dialect?"

It seems apparent that the quagmire over Reid's remarks were brought about in part due to the manipulations among political foes over the issue of race. Such manipulations take place in the public square, which is the arena in which journalists play a vital role. When I first read about Reid's suggestion that Obama did not have a "Negro dialect" unless he wanted to have one, I brought into question (on this listserv) the definition that Reid has in his mind regarding a "Negro dialect." I wonder what did he mean by his use of such a term? I find it curious that Black journalists would stand up and speak on behalf of the man who made the statement, rather than simply ask the man what he meant when he used the term. It seems to me that knowing the specific understanding Reid has about the term "Negro dialect" is far more important to the story than the apologetic explanations I'm reading from those who seek to make the story a non-issue. There is a bigger story here than whether President Obama was or was not offended, or whether Reid meant to be offensive. But we can't get to that story unless someone, somewhere is willing to push Reid daily until he explain HIS interpretation and understanding of the term "Negro dialect." Behind the scenes, that conversation is already in full swing (well, at least among Black professionals. I'm not privy to the discussions about this issue among White professionals).

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