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NABJ Backs Johnson's Bid for New Network

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Lyne Pitts Steps Down as NBC News Vice President

"Salivating at the Thought of Getting a Journalist"

Robert L. Johnson became a billionaire when he sold BET.

The National Association of Black Journalists, whose members have often been critical of Black Entertainment Television, is backing BET founder Robert L. Johnson's bid to the Federal Communications Commission for approval of a new "urban" television network.

"We're trying to expand the footprint of African American ownership," NABJ President Barbara Ciara told Journal-isms. "Clearly, it's an opportunity to negotiate with him to broaden the news landscape. I would like to think people will learn from their past."

In December 2002, BET canceled just about the only black-oriented news shows on national television: "BET Tonight with Ed Gordon"; "Teen Summit," a public affairs program; and "Lead Story," a Sunday journalist roundtable that originated from Washington.

"The decision to cancel them was made by Bob and myself," Debra Lee, BET president, said then. "These shows were losing money" - an estimated $3 million to $4 million per year - "and we could not find advertisers to support them. There came a day of reckoning." Likewise, Johnson in 2000 pulled the plug on BET's magazines, BET Weekend, a 1.3 million-circulation Sunday feature magazine, and the serious-minded Emerge, which claimed 170,000 subscribers. That left the network with a reputation for being interested only in showing jiggling music videos.  In 2000, Johnson sold BET for $3 billion to the Viacom media conglomerate.

"This is not BET," Karen Wynn Freeman, NABJ's executive director, said of Johnson's plans on Friday. "It's the ownership piece that we feel strongly about."

Johnson's new company is to be called Urban Television LLC. Johnson is seeking permission to share time on 42 stations owned by Ion Media Networks Inc., a successor to Pax TV, a family-oriented broadcast network that operated on several UHF channels. Ion Media owns 49 percent of the venture; Johnson's RLJ Companies, 51 percent.

Sharing time on the Ion stations is possible with the advent of digital channels. The stations share different audio channels on the same frequency, so that a second network could broadcast 24 hours a day.

NABJ joined a coalition of other supporters after a Dec. 23 luncheon meeting with Johnson at a Washington restaurant, Ciara said. The others - not all present at the meeting - were the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association, the International Black Broadcasters Association, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, the NAACP, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, National Bar Association, National Urban League, Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the Video Access Alliance. Johnson made a presentation and anticipated their concerns, David Honig, executive director of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, told Journal-isms.

At the meeting, "the thing that really got people's attention the most was that independent producers can get their stuff on the air and they'll still own it," Honig told Journal-isms. "This was well-received by people who can't kick the doors in because the doors have been locked."

"Urban plans to offer 'entertainment, informational and issue-oriented programming directed at and responsive to the needs, interests and concerns of the African American community and other historically underserved viewers.' When was the last time a television application arrived at the FCC promising anything remotely like this?" Honig wrote in the FCC filing. "Or proposing to triple the number of African American owned local television stations, all at once? And on top of that, to create the first African American over the air national network?

"Never did we dream that in our lifetimes we might have an opportunity to witness this, the birth of the nation's first over-the-air African American television network. But this year, so many things once thought impossible are taking place." He wrote that only eight African American stations remain among the nation's more than 1,700 full-power commercial television stations.

But the venture is opposed by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which represents the cable industry. "The problem for cable operators is that Johnson wants the Federal Communications Commission to force cable to carry Urban's programming," Ted Hearn wrote Tuesday for Multichannel News. Honig told Journal-isms he was hopeful an agreement could be reached with the cable representatives.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which represents broadcast networks, backs the proposal. "This is the type of free, innovative and niche programming that NAB has always believed should flourish in a digital multicast world, but which has been blocked for competitive reasons by the largest cable" systems, said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton, Hearn reported.

The Media Access Project/Common Cause said its support was conditioned on a number of things, John Eggerton reported for Broadcasting & Cable.

"They also want the FCC to establish benchmarks for public affairs programming. Urban has promised at lest seven hours a week, but the groups want the FCC to better spell out the programming requirements, including finding that a lineup devoted primarily to infomercials wouldn't cut it."

Lyne Pitts Steps Down as NBC News Vice President

Lyne PittsLyne Pitts, one of two vice presidents of color at NBC News, has resigned to write a book and to move "to the next phase" of her career, sources told Journal-isms this week.

"Lyne is one of those rare executives that brings a unique mix of editorial expertise and a true knack for news judgment, combined with an excellent management style," NBC News President Steve Capus said when he named Pitts one of five NBC News vice presidents in April 2007.

"At a time when our profession is undergoing such dramatic upheaval, and so many talented journalists are being sidelined, I was fortunate to be able to make a decision about my own future and leave on my own terms," Pitts told Journal-isms on Saturday. "I've had a very gratifying 32 year career in news, covered the kinds of issues and stories that had an impact, and mentored some very promising young talent.

"I've always known I wanted a 'second act' . . . only now at my age, it's more like a 4th quarter!! Want to write and travel and do some volunteering.

"NBC is a tremendous organization and Steve (Capus) gave me great freedom and support in my role there. A few months ago when I told him I wanted to leave, he was very generous in supporting that decision as well. I'm not walking away entirely. I will still be involved with an exciting diversity leadership initiative we started in the News Division, and I'll do some teaching at NBC's journalism school in partnership with the New York Film Academy.

"But it's a change I'm very excited about."

Referring to her husband, CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts, she said, "In October Byron signed a deal with St. Martin's Press to publish a book in the fall of this year. It's his story about overcoming childhood reading difficulties and stuttering. We're doing a lot of the writing together and that will be my primary focus for the next few months."

NBC News spokeswomen did not respond to requests for comment.

When she was named, Pitts' job was described as working the tools and equipment that keep the news division running: editing machines and new ways of using digital technology to make work easier, more productive and of higher quality.

Pitts' departure leaves Mark Whitaker as an African American vice president at NBC News. Whitaker, who formerly edited Newsweek, added Washington bureau chief to his duties last year.  In addition, Paula Madison is executive vice president for diversity for the parent NBC Universal.  [Updated Jan. 3.]


 In addition to the 240,000 ticketed guests, a million or more people are expected to view the inauguration from the National Mall. (Credit: Presidential Inauguration Committee).

USA Today to Publish Inauguration Issue Next Week

USA Today plans to publish an Inauguration edition earlier than most ‚Äî 12 days before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

"USA TODAY will be publishing a special tabloid-sized edition called 'Obama: The Historic Journey' on January 8th, 2009," spokeswoman Alexandra Nicholson told Journal-isms via e-mail. "On January 20th, USA TODAY will have an inaugural bonus section and on January 21st, the newspaper will offer full inauguration coverage. On both these days we will be adding a significant number of copies to our print run to meet expected demand."

Among other publications, Time plans a pre-inauguration issue and a commemorative post-inauguration one, a Time magazine spokeswoman told Journal-isms.  Time Inc. already has Obama books on the market.

Journalists Might Not Get Inaugural Spots

"Inaugural planners warned the public Monday to be prepared for massive crowds, long delays and the closure of bridges and Metro stations on Jan. 20. There's a warning for the press, too: Those credentials you requested might not be available," Sarah Abruzzese reported Monday for

"While every day seems to bring another report of media layoffs and buyouts, the Senate press galleries say they've received an unprecedented number of requests from journalists seeking to cover Barack Obama's inauguration.

"Although the Senate Radio-Television Gallery did not respond to requests for information, the Senate Daily Press Gallery said it has had three times the usual number of applications; the Senate Press Photographers' Gallery has had about four times the usual number; and the Senate Periodical Press Gallery reports receiving approximately 10 times the usual number of requests.

"The demand is particularly remarkable in that it comes as many media companies are laying off reporters, downsizing their newspapers and cutting back on their Washington coverage.

". . . The credential requests have come from all around the world — Italy, Ethiopia and every continent but Antarctica."

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies warned, "Getting to the swearing-in ceremonies that morning will be very difficult because of the large crowds. In addition to the 240,000 ticketed guests, a million or more people are expected to view the inauguration from the National Mall between 4th Street and the Lincoln Memorial, along with hundreds of thousands of others who plan on watching the Inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue."

Columnists debated whether to brave the crowds and possible gridlock:

"Salivating at the Thought of Getting a Journalist"

As reported a month ago, about 50 people were leaving the newsroom of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland: 24 who took buyouts and 27 who were laid off.

Six of those laid off were journalists of color. One was Susan Ruiz Patton, an assistant metro editor and member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. From time to time, this column will follow up on journalists in her situation.

"Quite frankly, getting that phone call in early December was a shock," Patton told Journal-isms via e-mail this week.

"I had been at The Plain Dealer for nearly 9 years. I was recruited to come here from Allentown, Pa. I spent most of my time at Ohio's largest newspaper as a reporter, creating the paper's first philanthropy beat in the post Sept. 11 environment. Most recently, I was editing — something I really loved doing. That included mentoring young reporters; tackling big and complicated projects; and a few days a week, I put the newspaper to bed at night. You gotta love that late night adrenalin rush.

Susan Ruiz Patton"However, I knew the industry was hurting and we knew that layoffs were possible at The Plain Dealer, so I started looking for a job at Unity in Chicago. It gave me a bit of a head start in rewriting my resume and getting acquainted to the job search practices that didn't exist 10 years ago when I was last looking for a job.

Certainly, nobody in journalism is hiring. It's sad, but it's true. Even if I did find a job at a newspaper anywhere else in the country, there's no guarantee there wouldn't be more layoffs.

"So I'm switching fields. I've already started doing some part time work in media consulting and training. I have found that information that journalists take for granted is really valuable to the public and they're willing to pay for it.

"A man who left the journalism field for public relations a few years ago told me that now, more than ever, reporters need good, competent public relations people.

"And I agree.

"I feel really terrible for my former colleagues because the amount of work they're being asked to do is crazy. So, if as a public and media relations professional, I can help make their jobs easier, it'll ease the pain of leaving a field that I loved very much and allow me to still have a hand in it a bit.

"I don't have a full-time job yet, but I've got a lot of part-time bites. Even if I don't find something full time soon, I hope to cobble together enough part-time gigs — including freelance writing — to keep my family afloat.

"It's tough times for everybody, but not everybody can offer what a journalist can.

"I've been doing a lot of networking in Cleveland, talking to people in nonprofits and big companies and I'm finding that they're salivating at the idea of getting a journalist on their staff.

"We jump on a task quickly, we don't need to have our hands held, and we can research and write like lunatics (and I mean that in a good way).

"The dirty little secret in a lot of companies is that very few know how to write.

'Heck, journalists can write in their sleep.

"So I plan to exploit that talent and hopefully make a good living at it too."

Report is subtitled, "Time to Reinvest in Prevention and Crime Control."

Columnists Alarmed by Rising Black Teen Homicides

"Homicide rates across the country have fallen so much over the past decade that a disturbing trend is often unnoticed: a precipitous rise in homicides involving young black men, both as perpetrators and victims," Robert E. Pierre wrote Tuesday in the Washington Post, reporting on a study that attracted significant attention this week from columnists of color and other journalists.

"The percentage of black males ages 14 to 17 who killed someone rose by more than a third between 2000 and 2007, according to a report released yesterday by two researchers at Northeastern University in Boston," Pierre wrote.

"Northeastern criminologist James Alan Fox, the study's co-author, said that lawmakers claimed victory in the fight against crime too soon and enacted budget cuts, trimming federal dollars for local police and programs for disadvantaged youths in favor of domestic anti-terrorism measures, particularly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"'We got a little too complacent,' Fox said in a phone interview. 'This is a disturbing trend. Many more people are murdered in street violence every year than were killed in 9/11.'"

Up to 8 Foreign Journalists to Gain Access to Gaza

"Israel says it will allow up to eight people from the foreign media to enter the Gaza Strip when it next opens its passenger ¬?terminal to the besieged Palestinian territory for humanitarian purposes," Toni O'Loughlin reported  from Jerusalem Friday for London's Guardian newspaper.

"The arrangement, which comes two months after Israel began banning foreign journalists from entering Gaza, could become a permanent restriction on the international media's access.

"'This was the arrangement agreed upon by Israel's high court and this is the arrangement that will take place from now on,' said Major Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military's civil administration in the West Bank and Gaza.

"Asked if foreign journalists would be given unrestricted access in the future, Lerner said: 'It doesn't look like it's going to be possible for the time being.'

"For the past 18 months Israel has imposed an increasingly tough blockade on Gaza with the stated aim of weakening Hamas's control on the territory.

"In early November Israel again tightened the closure, banning the international media for several days at a time. Foreign journalists have been completely locked out since last Saturday, when the invasion began."

For Commemoration, Cuba Urged to Free 21 Journalists

As Cuba marked the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution that propelled Fidel Castro to power, the Committee to Protect Journalists renewed its call "for the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists jailed" in the country.

"With 21 reporters and editors unjustly incarcerated, Cuba is one of the leading jailers of journalists in the world, second only to China," Joel Simon, executive director of the organization, wrote to President Raul Castro.

"On Monday, CPJ sent more than 500 appeals to the Cuban government asking for the release of H?©ctor Maseda Guti?©rrez, recipient of CPJ's 2008 International Press Freedom Award, and the 20 other journalists who are behind bars in Cuba. Maseda Gut??errez, 65, is the oldest imprisoned Cuban journalist. Incarcerated during the government's March 2003 crackdown on political dissidents and the independent press, he was given a 20-year prison sentence," the letter said.

In another case of art imitating life imitating art, singer-songwriters Ashford & Simpson will release a single version of "Solid as Barack," a remake of their 1984 hit "Solid." The tribute to President-Elect Barack Obama will be available by digital download on Jan. 20, according to a news release. The cast of NBC's "Saturday Night Live," with Maya Rudolph as Michelle Obama and Fred Armisen as the candidate, sang "Solid as Barack" Oct. 25 in a bit about the variety show Obama might stage with a half-hour of airtime he purchased.

Short Takes

  • As of Thursday, Univision was scheduled to fade to black on Indianapolis' WIIH-TV for about 275,000 local cable TV subscribers, 66,000 antenna users and tens of thousands more who receive it through a broadband TV service. LIN TV Corp., the owner of WIIH, decided not to renew its contract with Univision, Tania E. Lopez and Erika D. Smith reported¬†for the Indianapolis Star. WIIH provided that programming to the local cable companies. "The loss of Univision in the metro area comes just months after WIIH's sister station, WISH (Channel 8), dropped the only local Spanish-language TV newscast," they wrote.
  • "As 2008 ends, more questions than answers remain about the brazen slaying of journalist Chauncey Bailey 17 months ago, and they raise increasing concerns about this city's beleaguered police force ‚Äî questions that some officers say are now being asked within their own ranks," Thomas Peele, Bob Butler and Mary Fricker reported on New Year's Eve for the Chauncey Bailey Project. "Officers and recently retired officers interviewed for this story describe the department as fractured, lacking confidence in Chief Wayne Tucker and his executive command staff, and neutered in its crime fighting abilities."
  • Production and copy editing at all the Singleton papers in Southern California are to merge into a universal desk to be based at the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, affecting close to 100 people, employees were told on Friday. "This means that news and sports from the Breeze in Torrance and the Long Beach Press-Telegram, as well as the Daily News, will now be vetted and penciled (digitally of course) way over in West Covina. Gary Scott hears ten copy editor slots could be lost," Kevin Roderick reported in LA Observed.
  • "For the 14th time this year, Univision quietly accomplished a feat that attests to its growing power," David Bauder reported¬†Wednesday for the Associated Press. "On Friday it beat all the English-language broadcast networks among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic, the one most eagerly sought by advertisers. Its big shows that night were the telenovelas 'Fuego en la Sangre' ('Burning for Revenge') and 'Cuidado con el Angel' ('Don't Mess With the Angel')."
  • Sarah Glover, one of six members of the photo staff of the Philadelphia Inquirer who were told¬†on Dec. 16 they were being laid off, has landed at the Inquirer's sister paper, the Philadelphia Daily News. Glover told Journal-isms she had requested a transfer to the News before the Inquirer layoff. She also had been recently elected president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.
  • An image of Daisy Bates (1914-1999), the Little Rock civil rights activist who in the 1940s¬†became city editor of the weekly Arkansas State Press, will share space on a stamp with one of¬†Oswald Garrison Villard (1872-1949), a founder of the NAACP, in a series of six stamps¬†that goes on sale in February to coincide with the civil rights organization's 100th anniversary.¬†An image of Mary White Ovington (1865-1951), a social worker and¬† another co-founder, who wrote and helped publish the Crisis, the NAACP magazine,¬†shares space¬†with one of¬†activist Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954). Terrell, too, tirelessly published articles in newspapers, magazines, and journals.
  • Reporter Quita Culpepper and photojournalist Kenneth Null of KVUE-TV in Austin, Texas, suffered minor injuries Tuesday when a tire on their news van blew out on Interstate 35, the station reported. "One witness says the van swerved off the highway, hit a ditch and flipped, flying six or seven feet in the air. The van landed on its side," the report said.¬†
  • "Shyima was 10 when a wealthy Egyptian couple brought her from a poor village in northern Egypt to work in their California home," Rukmini Callimachi wrote this week for the Associated Press. "She awoke before dawn and often worked past midnight to iron their clothes, mop the marble floors and dust the family's crystal. She earned $45 a month working up to 20 hours a day. She had no breaks during the day and no days off. The trafficking of children for domestic labor in the U.S. is an extension of an illegal but common practice in Africa. Families in remote villages send their daughters to work in cities for extra money and the opportunity to escape a dead-end life. Some girls work for free on the understanding that they will at least be better fed in the home of their employer."
  • Lake Superior State University issued¬†its 34th annual List of "Words to Be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness." "Environmental buzzwords are getting the axe this year. 'Green' and 'going green' received the most nominations," it said.
  • "The trial of a journalist who has been hailed as a hero in the Arab world after throwing his shoes at President Bush was postponed on Tuesday pending a review of the case by a higher court, a spokesman for Iraq's Higher Judicial Council said," the Associated Press reported. "The trial of Muntadhar al-Zeidi was to begin Wednesday on charges of assaulting a foreign leader, which his defense team said carried a maximum sentence of 15 years. But court spokesman Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar said that the trial was been postponed pending an appellate court ruling on what charges the journalist should face."
  • "Using what they've learned spreading awareness of how diabetes plagues Appalachia, a team of Kentuckians is helping Zambian journalists broaden their coverage of the continuing HIV/AIDS epidemic in southern Africa," Ryan Alessi wrote¬†Sunday for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. "This unlikely international coupling is the offspring of a burgeoning relationship between the University of Kentucky's School of Journalism and Telecommunications and ZAMCOM, a non-profit training center for journalists in Zambia's capital city, Lusaka."
  • Noluthando Crockett-Ntonga, who as Phyllis Crockett was White House correspondent for National Public Radio in the 1980s and 1990s, spent a year actively searching for a full-time job, only to be told she was overqualified, Vickie Elmer wrote¬†Dec. 21 in the Washington Post. After some retooling, Crockett-Ntonga landed a job last month in the policy communications office of CARE, the humanitarian organization. She is also a board member of networking group 40 Plus of Greater Washington, the story said.
  • The John S. Knight Fellowship Program at Stanford University now asks applicants now propose a project, to be worked on during their fellowship year, that addresses a journalistic challenge with an emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship. The project is to¬†result in a business proposal, a progress report or a public conference, as director Jim Bettinger explained¬†in an interview with Jay Rosen of New York University. But at the Nieman Fellowship program at Harvard, advisory board members¬†"encouraged the Nieman Foundation to stay the course and preserve the original purpose of a year for fellows to learn and reflect, whether they are in transit or anticipate a return to their newsrooms," curator Bob Giles wrote¬†in a Christmas Eve posting.
  • "Zimbabwe's media has suffered much from repression, exile, and worse, and on December 18 it lost one of its most beloved and compassionate voices. Caroline Gombakomba, a reporter and radio host since 2003 for the Voice of America's Studio 7 broadcasts to the Southern African country, died in Silver Spring, Maryland. Gombakomba, 40, had been fighting breast cancer for years," Brendan Murphy wrote¬†for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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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