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NABJ, Guild Protest Layoffs of 19 in Philly

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Black Journalists Chapter Leader Advised to Take Buyout

Chicago Tribune Recruiter Sheila Solomon Laid Off

Publishers Hear of Jailed Youth, Voter Suppression, Obama

"Caught the Bug" Late but Wins Investigative Award

African American-Oriented Websites Post Gains

"Council on Aggregation" to Be Diverse After All

White House Defends Request to Imprison Yemeni Reporter

Short Takes

Black Journalists Chapter Leader Advised to Take Buyout

The parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com is laying off 19 unionized workers, the company announced on Thursday. The National Association of Black Journalists promptly protested the departures of Sarah J. Glover, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, and sportswriter John Mitchell.

"I am not entirely sure of the racial breakdown of the members but at leastSarah J. Glover three of those laid off and one of the volunteers who left only to be spared a layoff are journalists of color," Dan Gross, Philadelphia Daily News reporter and president of the Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America Local 38010, told Journal-isms by email on Thursday.

The Guild likewise protested the cutbacks. "It is our position that between the significant savings of the salaries of the members who volunteered to leave, and the concessionary contract in 2010 that gave the new owners $6 million in cost cuts from our union, that enough is enough," a Guild statement said.

Mike Armstrong reported in Friday's editions of the Inquirer:

"The layoffs of reporters, copy editors, multimedia content producers, and others at The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com would occur March 31.

"Five nonunion employees from the three newsrooms, including three from The Inquirer, also were laid off, bringing the total number of jobs being lost to 45.

"In a statement, [Philadelphia Media Network Inc.] said the layoffs and buyouts were a response to 'the unfortunate economic conditions that continue to impact' the newspaper industry.

" 'We believe that one employee receiving a layoff notification is too many and regret having to make such a difficult decision relative to the future of any PMN employee,' the company's statement reads.

" 'Our hope was that a voluntary buyout offering would have limited the need to implement any employee layoffs, but the reality is that was not achieved and those employees receiving layoff notification will depart at the end of March.'

Glover, a Daily News photographer, told friends and colleagues Thursday via Facebook, "Tuesday afternoon, I was told by my supervisor that I was being laid off and that I should talk to HR. One of the newsroom editors said the same thing to me. I spoke to The Guild on Tuesday after those brief meetings and they told me my position was vulnerable for layoff. On Wednesday afternoon The Guild confirmed that I was going to be laid off. It was suggested to me that I apply for the buyout by the Wednesday deadline so I could receive a better package… with my years of service the difference between a layoff and a buyout was $10,000 and an additional month of healthcare."

Glover added, ". . . I’m concerned that by the end of the staff reduction process at PMN this week that the newsrooms will take another step back to looking like 1962 rather than more like what a newsroom should look like in 2012. Ironically, in 1962, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Acel Moore was the first black hired by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Progress over the decades was all but washed away with the layoffs of 2007, when 30 blacks and Asians were laid off disproportionately out of a total of the 71 laid off. Who would [have] thought a simple catch phrase by the former Knight Ridder company would still resonate and hold true today… 'Diversity. No Excuses.' Prior to this week’s staff reductions, there were already too few ethnic minorities at the papers and website. It’s embarrassing, particularly in a city that is majority minority."

NABJ, of which Glover is a former secretary, agreed.

"The journalism industry as a whole has suffered tremendous losses during this time in transition," NABJ President Gregory H. Lee Jr. said in a statement.

"Newsrooms suffer greatly when they lose individuals who have the journalistic impact of Sarah Glover. We view her departure from the Daily News as another unsettling attack on diversity. She is a leader in the newsroom and the community. She was among the first photojournalists at the Daily News to develop and hone video skills that she also taught others. Her departure sends a disturbing message.

"As I stated in my President's column in January: Diversity is a mindset and a business imperative. It is NABJ's job to change the mentalities of media executives who are not attuned to the economic and moral value of newsrooms that reflect their communities."

He added that "Mitchell's departure leaves the Inquirer's sports department with one full-time black reporter."

Tara Miller, a part-time copy editor who is African American, is also said to be leaving.

Armstrong's story continued:

"In mid-February, the parent company of the two newspapers and their related website said it would cut the number of newsroom positions by 37. It had hoped to do so through voluntary buyouts. Because the proposed layoffs include part-time as well as full-time employees, the number of people affected is greater than the original 37 sought.

". . . The Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com have been preparing to leave their longtime home —- the iconic office tower at 400 N. Broad St. where about 740 PMN employees worked as of mid-November — for 125,000 square feet of space on a single floor in the former Strawbridge & Clothier department store at Eighth and Market Streets. Plans call for about 600 employees to work from the new site.

"The changes are occurring as the hedge funds and other financial entities that own PMN have been trying to sell the company to a group of local investors headed by businessman Lewis Katz and philanthropist H.F. 'Gerry' Lenfest. People close to the process indicated last week that this group, which also includes philanthropist Raymond G. Perelman and Democratic leader George E. Norcross III, has the exclusive right to negotiate a possible purchase.

"PMN management did not want to comment on any individual employees who were leaving. But the papers did announce that the work of Signe Wilkinson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Daily News since 1985, would not only continue in the Daily News every day but also appear in The Inquirer on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Her first cartoon will appear in The Inquirer April 8."

Chicago Tribune Recruiter Sheila Solomon Laid Off

Sheila Solomon, longtime recruiter for the Chicago Tribune, is among 15 people laid off from the paper's editorial ranks on Thursday, Joe Grimm reported Thursday for the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute.

Sheila Solomon"Solomon’s departure from the Tribune means that we have lost a diversity soldier who devoted thousands of hours to helping journalists advance their careers," Grimm wrote. "A great many people joined the Tribune with Solomon’s help, and many more used her advice to get other jobs. Occasionally, my great enemy even helped me hire people," wrote Grimm, a former recruiter for the Detroit Free Press.

"Solomon wrote in an email Thursday that the layoff did not come as a surprise and that she was trying to tie up a few loose ends as she deals with an outpouring of support."

Longtime media writer Robert Feder, now of TimeOut Chicago, wrote that the "highest profile departure was that of Sarah Beardsley, the newsroom events director and socialite wife of politically connected attorney Ted Tetzlaff.

"Others affected included Beth Arthur, Torry Bruno, Zoe Galland, Eric Gwinn, Susan Keaton, John Kerke, Rob Kozloff, Sandra M. Jones, Johnnie Miller-Cleaves, Wendell Smothers and Sheila Solomon. Thursday’s layoffs had been expected since Tribune editor Gerry Kern announced plans last January to reduce costs through voluntary buyouts and 'other actions.' "

Gwinn and Miller-Cleaves are black journalists.

Solomon's position — cross media editor — was eliminated. She had previously been senior editor for recruitment for the Tribune, and from 1997 to 2002, was staff development editor at the Tribune Co.-owned Daily Press in Newport News, Va. From 1984 to 1997, she was a copy editor at the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, a McClatchy paper.

According to Lynne Marek, writing Thursday in Crain's Chicago Business, "The employees dismissed included reporters, editors and managers,  according to sources familiar with the layoffs. They follow an employee buyout last month and a round of staff reductions in July.

"The paper, the biggest in the city and a unit of Chicago-based Tribune Co., is creating a leaner workforce to reduce costs and revive profits as it prepares to exit bankruptcy later this year under its new creditor-owners."

Video explains the Children's Defense Fund's Freedom Schools. CDF founder Marian Wright Edelman told black publishers that they should sound an alarm about functional illiteracy. (Video)

Publishers Hear of Jailed Youth, Voter Suppression, Obama

Functional illiteracy among black children, the high rate of their number born to single-parent families, an unacceptable black youth unemployment rate and the plight of young African Americans in prisons have created "one of the worst crises since slavery," Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, told the annual Black Press Week meeting of black newspaper publishers on Thursday.

"The whole point of slavery was to keep us illiterate," Edelman said, urging the black press to sound an alarm. "If you can't read or compete in this global economy, you are sentenced to death," she said. Edelman received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Newspaper Publishers Association, sponsor of Black Press Week.

President Obama, who greeted the publishers at the White House, and Ben Jealous, the NAACP president who received the group's community service award, also had messages for the publishers.

"Our goal is to get to 250,000 young people that are going to have opportunities, internships, apprenticeships, you name it. And I think we're already at 180,000, so we're making progress," Obama said, ticking off his accomplishments. "This is going to be an example of the kind of thing that all of you can be helpful with. Because one of the things I've realized after three years in this office is, if we wait for Congress to do everything, a lot of stuff won't get done."

Jealous had returned from Geneva, where NAACP leaders pressed a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council for help battling what the organization views as forces attempting to push back voting rights, as Melanie Eversley reported for USA Today.

The real purpose of new voter ID laws is the same as when the formerly incarcerated were banned from voting, Jealous said.

The NAACP leader quoted a delegate to a 1906 convention in Virginia that extended a voting ban on formerly incarcerated people, a ban that he said remains in the state constitution. "The darkey will be eliminated as a factor in the state's politics within five years," Jealous quoted the delegate as saying. Jealous said the NAACP was urging the Justice Department for help in restoring the voting rights of former convicts.

Edelman said she had just visited the Walnut Grove (Miss.) Youth Correctional Facility, which she described as "the largest prison for black youth in the country.

"Most of them are there for possession of pot," Edelman said. The prison is operated by The GEO Group, Inc., the nation's second largest private prison corporation. As of last month, there were 958 inmates up to age 22 at the facility. Eighteen of the inmates were 18 or younger, Jerry Mitchell reported for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.

The prison is the subject of a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center. A proposed settlement was reached two weeks ago

"The complaint describes rampant contraband brought in by guards, sex between female guards and male inmates, inadequate medical care, prisoners held inhumanely in isolation, guards brutalizing inmates and inmate-on-inmate violence that was so brutal it led to brain damage," John Burnett reported for NPR last year.

"Go into those prisons," Edelman told the 125 Black Press Week attendees, meeting at a Capitol Hill hotel. "Many of them never get visitors."

There was more. Black churches need to "open the doors and compete with the drug dealers." Eighty percent of black children cannot read or compete at grade level in the fourth, eighth or 12th grades, Edelman said.

Edelman also promoted the "Freedom Schools" program of the Children's Defense Fund, saying "we can't wait for the public schools to do their jobs."

The program "provides summer and after-school enrichment through a model curriculum that supports children and families around five essential components: high quality academic enrichment; parent and family involvement; social action and civic engagement; intergenerational servant leadership development; and nutrition, health and mental health," according to the organization.

Separately, Danny Bakewell Sr. of Bakewell Media and the Los Angeles Sentinel, past chairman of NNPA, said Comcast had penalized black newspapers by not advertising sufficiently because NNPA would not back Comcast's takeover of NBCUniversal last year, which required government approval.

"We would not sign on with them until they made a series of commitments to the black press," Bakewell told Journal-isms. "They put $7 million into a proposal for minorities. We were asking for $10 million for the black press alone."

Neal Scarbrough, a spokesman for Comcast, told Journal-isms Friday he would have no comment.

At a luncheon Thursday at the National Press Club, National Urban League President Marc Morial said he subscribed to 20 black newspapers and would do so for any paper that gave him a business card that day, according to journalist George Curry, who moderated a luncheon roundtable. "He had a lot of publishers lining up."

Obama's welcome to the publishers was a reminder of his appearance as a candidate at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Las Vegas in 2007. Cheryl Smith, editor of the Dallas Weekly, asked why Obama had reached out to the black press, with whom he had held a conference call earlier in the year, and whether he would continue to reach out if elected.

Naming three Chicago black newspapers — the Defender, the Crusader and the Citizen — Obama said that when he served in the Illinois legislature, those papers would cover issues he was working on that the mainstream press would not.

"My attitude is that if you were covering me when nobody wanted to cover me, then they should cover me when everybody wants to cover me. That attitude will continue when I'm in the White House," the candidate said.

On Thursday, Obama praised those papers, saying, ". . . one of the things that I always love about African American publications is that it's not just gloom and doom. Part of what you guys do is you lift up that kid who's overcome barriers and is now succeeding, or that family that has pulled together and helped to strengthen a community, or that church that is the bedrock of a neighborhood. Those stories of success and hope, that's what sustains us, that's what has driven us, that's what has given people a sense that no matter how tough things get sometimes, there's always a better day ahead. And you're part of telling that story. So I very much appreciate you."

Some of the 30,000 pages of documents reviewed for

"Caught the Bug" Late but Wins Investigative Award

"Reporter Corey G. Johnson was given a simple assignment soon after becoming one of the first reporters to arrive at our offices in Berkeley in August 2009," the Center for Investigative Reporting's California Watch said on Friday. "We asked him to write about seismic safety at schools — pegged to an upcoming quake anniversary. New to California, Johnson saw what scores of reporters had overlooked for decades.

"With his colleagues at California Watch, he went on to detail a staggering regulatory failure. We found that thousands of school buildings were being occupied even though they did not meet seismic safety requirements. Reporter Erica Perez and Johnson found that bad inspectors missed major defects or falsified reports — while being rewarded with more work. And the state made it practically impossible for schools to get much-needed seismic repair money."

California Watch won Scripps Howard's Roy W. Howard Award for Public Service for "On Shaky Ground," a 19-month series detailing a breakdown in the way the state protects children and teachers from the threat of a major earthquake.

The honor is also a tribute to a now-defunct program of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. It trained nontraditional students to work at their local daily newspaper. Most students were making a career transition into journalism. Johnson was one.

"For a young reporter to receive this honor is testament to the Freedom Forum's vision that potential reporters of color were in every locale, that they were educable, and that one day soon they will make hiring editors look very smart," Dwight Cunningham, a program administrator who worked with Johnson at the institute, told Journal-isms.

Johnson, 37, left Florida A&M University in 1997, not earning the three more credits he needed to graduate until 2003. A psychology major, Johnson said he did not discover his passion for news until after he graduated. "If three guys were arguing in the barbershop, I'd be the one to pull out the article," he recalled. He said of his ultimate career choice, "I didn't really know it was called journalism."

Returning to his hometown of Atlanta, Johnson became curious about the role of local police in the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., contacted David J. Garrow, a King biographer who was teaching at Emery University, and conducted what Garrow considered impressive research. Garrow notified the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where Johnson met editors who put him in touch with Investigative Reporters and Editors, which was meeting in Atlanta that year. "I caught the bug," Johnson said. However, he had no clips.

Still, the AJC connection led to a job at another Cox newspaper, the Greenville (N.C.) Daily Reflector, and a recommendation that Johnson enroll in the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute. Johnson was scraping for cash to help support a 3-year-old daughter. Yet he was pursuing investigative work. He went on to two years at the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. When one of his IRE mentors, James V. Grimaldi, urged him to apply for a job at California Watch, Johnson hesitated, but ultimately did.

When you win an award such as Scripps Howard's, you "look back at all the things that have happened where somebody helped you along the way," Johnson told Journal-isms. "Or when you fail, and you were at that crossroads and you didn't get a break.

He's thankful he got the breaks, Johnson said. If he hadn't, "I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you or anybody else."

African American-Oriented Websites Post Gains

December figures that showed newsier African American websites overtaking those offering gossip and celebrity news were no fluke: The pattern held during February, according to the comScore Inc. research company. Most sites showed gains.

The top-ranked African American-oriented website was that of BET Networks, with 2,919,000 unique visitors, down from 3,649,000 in December.

BET was followed by HuffPost BlackVoices, with 2,761,000, up from 2,604,000 in December; MediaTakeOut.com, 2,595,000, up from 2,502,000 in December; theGrio.com, 2,067,000, up from 1,603,000; Bossip.com, 1,700,000, up from 1,433,000; theRoot.com, 1,459,000, up from 1,408,000; Essence.com, 1,372,000, up from 988,000; NewsOne.com, 1,175,000, up from 604,000; MadamNoire.com, 1,151,000, down from 1,383,000; and HelloBeautiful.com, 1,034,000, up from 625,000.

Also, EURWeb.com, 846,000, up from 352,000 in December; YBF.com, 824,000, up from 663,000 in December; BlackPlanet.com, 699,000, up from 480,000 in December; BlackAmericaWeb.com, 467,000, up from 399,000; ConcreteLoop.com, 293,000, down from 314,000; and a redesigned ebony.com, 55,000, up from 41,000.

"Council on Aggregation" to Be Diverse After All

Simon Dumenco, a columnist for Advertising Age, has "decided to pull out the big guns: He has formed a committee aiming to establish standards for aggregation" on the Web, David Carr wrote Monday in the New York Times. "Buckle up, here comes the Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation. . . . An august list of names has signed on to the effort. . . ."

Sheryl Huggins Salomon

None of the names listed in Carr's column was a person of color, however, and Dumenco hadn't responded to an email inquiry by the time an item about the development appeared in this space on Wednesday.

However, Dumenco replied by email on Thursday.

"The reason why you haven't seen a complete list of members of the council is because there isn't one yet," he wrote. "What's been lost in the coverage so far is that this is a group that is 'forming' — not 'formed.'

"So while David Carr of The New York Times chose to highlight the participation of a few specific media properties –– I'm guessing just because name-checking the likes of The Atlantic and Esquire suggests old-school mainstream media support for this project — unfortunately that gave the impression that this group is dominated by white males. In fact, there are probably more women then men who have said yes so far, and right from the start I've been reaching out to people of color, including Sheryl Huggins Salomon, managing editor of The Root (who I'm happy to say said yes), and [name deleted] (who I haven't heard back from yet . . . ) . . . (Another example on the diversity front: Aaron Hicklin, editor-in-chief of Out magazine, has also agreed to participate.)"

White House Defends Request to Imprison Yemeni Reporter

"White House officials Friday defended President Obama’s request that the government of Yemen keep a local journalist behind bars for alleged terrorist ties," Jake Tapper reported Friday for ABC News.

"Abd al-Ilah Haydar Al-Sha'i had investigated a series of airstrikes in December 2009 against what Yemeni officials described as an Al Qaeda training camp in al Majala, finding what he assessed to be remnants of U.S. ordnance — Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs — and reporting that among the victims of the strikes were 21 children and 14 women. The journalist also interviewed terrorist cleric Anwar Awlaki, an American citizen who was in September 2011 killed by a U.S. Predator drone. His December 2009 interview with Awlaki for Al Jazeera publicly established the cleric’s praise of the Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Hasan.

"In January 2011, Al-Sha'i was convicted in a Yemeni court of terrorism-related charges and sentenced to five years in prison — but he was reportedly in line to receive a pardon. In February 2011, however, President Obama spoke on the phone with then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and, according to a White House read-out of the call, 'expressed concern over the release of Abd-Ilah al-Shai, who had been sentenced to five years in prison for his association with AQAP,' al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

"On Thursday, ABC News asked White House press secretary Jay Carney about al-Sha’i, a Yemeni journalist whose case was recently covered by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation. Carney said he didn’t have any information, but would get back to ABC News, a White House official did today.

"In a statement to ABC News, National Security Staff spokesman Tommy Vietor said that 'President Obama expressed concern last February about Sha’i's possible early release from prison on the basis of his involvement with AQAP — a group that had twice launched attacks on the United States. The President’s comments had absolutely nothing to do with Sha’i's reporting or his criticism of the United States or Yemen. A Yemeni court, not a U.S. court, convicted Sha’i. We refer you to the Yemeni government for details on Sha’i's arrest, conviction, and the status of his detention."

Short Takes

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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 BugMeNot.com 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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Comments

Sheila Solomon

Sheila Solomon's termination at the Chicago Tribune marks yet another sad moment in the decline of what once was a great newspaper. As a recruiter she was admired and respected among her peers and the countless aspiring journalists of all races who were fortunate enough to encounter her wisdom and experience. I was the first person of color to be a reporter at the daily Tribune and have watched with dismay as the publication has eroded in quality and content. Shiela was one of the few who retained the attitude toward excellence of the paper's better days. It seems an unfortunate condition of print journalism that, when things get tough, values such as diversity and quality in staffing and coverage are the first to be discarded.

Sheila Solomon

Thank you, Joe, for stating to eloquently exactly what so many of us are thinking. I am still stunned at this news, although things being the way they are in the industry these days makes this kind of announcement far too commonplace. Sheila, you are in my prayers.

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