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NABJ Questions NPR's Diversity Commitment

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Leaders of the National Association of Black Journalists told NPR's chief executive: "Of the 68 members on your corporate team and behind-the-scenes staff, only eight are people of color. . . . The minority population of the United States is approximately 32 percent."

Words, Deeds Compared After Manager's Firing

The National Association of Black Journalists has reacted to the firing of Greg Peppers, one of two black men in National Public Radio's newsroom management, with a strongly worded letter questioning the network's commitment to diversity.

"Who are the managers of color at NPR?" NABJ President Kathy Times and Vice President/Broadcast Bob Butler asked NPR's president, Vivian Schiller.

"What is NPR doing to recruit and groom African Americans for positions in management? Of the 68 members on your corporate team and behind-the-scenes staff, only eight are people of color:

  • "4 African Americans,
  • "2 Hispanic Americans,
  • "1 Iranian American
  • "1 American from South Asia.

"That translates to about 12 percent. Your organization benefits from listener support, corporate donations and tax dollars from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting and should reflect the diversity of the community you serve. The minority population of the United States is approximately 32 percent."

Peppers, a 22-year NPR veteran who supervised NPR's newscast unit, was fired on Oct. 16 and escorted out of its Washington headquarters.

It was less than 24 hours after NPR hosted NABJ at the building for a program featuring CBS correspondent Byron Pitts, and the same day that Walt Swanston turned in her resignation as NPR's director of diversity management, citing health reasons.

Peppers, 52, has not spoken publicly about his dismissal, and NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher told Journal-isms then, "We don't comment on [an] employee's reasons for departure or any other personnel matters."

Christopher said on Wednesday that Schiller, who became NPR's chairman and CEO 10 months ago, had not yet received NABJ's letter but planned to respond. NABJ spokesman Abraham Mahshie said the letter was mailed on Monday.

"Mr. Peppers' firing comes 10 months after NPR dismissed Next Generation Radio creator Doug Mitchell, who has trained scores of young journalists, including many African Americans, for jobs in the broadcasting industry," the letter noted.

It also quoted a statement from the NPR Web site: "Diversity is a fundamental part of everything we do at NPR, and of our ability to offer relevant news, culture, and entertainment programming to an increasingly diverse public. Diversity is a cornerstone of our recruitment, programming, and talent development initiatives.'

The NABJ leaders said, "It is NABJ's belief that actions speak much louder than your words. It is not enough to provide internships for young people or hire them into entry-level positions. Diversity must also be reflected among the managers who decide what news gets covered and who gets to cover it."

The association then offered itself as a resource.

NABJ this year honored Michele Norris, a co-host of NPR's popular newsmagazine "All Things Considered," as its Journalist of the Year at its summer convention. But for the first time in years, NPR did not broadcast any shows from the convention, citing financial restraints.

African American men, particularly, have had a checkered history in the NPR corporate culture. The network once had an African American chief executive, Delano Lewis, who served from 1994 to 1998, and an African American vice president of information and news, Adam Clayton Powell III, who joined in 1987 but left in 1991.

Blair Walker IV of USA Today wrote in 1993 of Powell's moves to create more diversity at NPR: "Among other things, displeasure with Powell's efforts prompted 'racist comments about new (minority) hires before they even arrived,' he says."

A number of African American men on-air, ranging from former hosts Tavis Smiley and Ed Gordon and reaching back to Sunni Khalid, the former Cairo bureau chief who in 1997 filed a $2 million discrimination suit against the network, have also had issues with NPR. Khalid and NPR reached a settlement in 2003.

Schiller told the Washington Business Journal last week that, 'If we don't have diversity in the newsroom, we don't have the right minds working on how to best serve that audience,' Tierney Plumb of the Business Journal reported. 'What do I really know about the African American community as a white woman? So that's a big area of focus.'

Christopher said after Swanston's resignation that Schiller "has selected a diverse group of staff to join her and members of the executive team in developing strategic goals and action plans around diversity in recruitment and retention; our work environment; our programming/content; and our audience."

Peppers' departure left Keith W. Jenkins, supervising senior producer for multimedia, as the sole African American man in NPR newsroom management. Jenkins joined NPR last year after taking a buyout from the Washington Post, where he was multimedia director.

Robert Gibbs, Fox News VP Meet at White House

Robert Gibbs"That's all I can confirm — a meeting took place and it was private. Anything else you're reading is pure speculation," Irena Briganti, spokeswoman for Fox News, told Journal-isms on Wednesday.

She was referring to a meeting between Michael Clemente, Fox News Channel senior vice president, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in Gibbs’ office at the White House. Clemente then met with the Fox News Channel's Washington bureau, according to Steve Krakauer, writing for the Web site mediaite.

Some Web sites speculated the two sides had reached a "truce." On Politico, Mike Allen reported, "A Fox source said that the marching orders are to 'continue doing what we’re doing — reporting the news, asking tough questions and providing analysis/opinion on shows like O’Reilly, Beck and Hannity.'”

The meeting came after the war of words between the White House and Fox News that escalated this month when White House communications director Anita Dunn said of Fox News in the New York Times, "We're going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent." She added on CNN, "Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party."

Michael Clemente Fox News relished the attention and the chance to ratchet up its own rhetoric. On "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace declared Sunday that the show would discuss "what's being called the new White House enemies list."

Kenneth T. Walsh wrote Wednesday for U.S. News & World Report, "White House strategists say they have no second thoughts about taking on Fox News in the biggest media feud of President Obama's administration. A senior Obama adviser says that, even though the West Wing has been roundly criticized by both adversaries and some allies for blasting Fox as an arm of the Republican Party and not a real news organization, administration insiders are pleased with how things stand.

"The fuss has energized core Democrats who have wanted Obama and his advisers to get tough with Fox and other critics of the administration, the adviser says. And it has made the point that Fox is an outlier in the journalistic community, a notion that many liberals embrace."

Obamas "Revised . . . Standards" of Pols' Marriages

Michelle Obama will be honored for her mentoring."The centrality of the Obama marriage to the president’s political brand opens a new chapter in the debate that has run through, even helped define, their union," the New York Times' Jodi Kantor wrote Monday in a "preview" of a Sunday New York Times Magazine piece.

"Since he first began running for office in 1995, Barack and Michelle Obama have never really stopped struggling over how to combine politics and marriage: how to navigate the long absences, lack of privacy, ossified gender roles and generally stultifying rules that result when public opinion comes to bear on private relationships.

"Along the way, they revised some of the standards for how a politician and spouse are supposed to behave. They have spoken more frankly about marriage than most intact couples, especially those running for office, usually do. ('The bumps happen to everybody all the time, and they are continuous,' the first lady told me in a let’s-get-real voice, discussing the lowest point in her marriage.)

"Candidates’ wives are supposed to sit cheerfully through their husbands’ appearances. But after helping run her husband’s first State Senate campaign in 1996, Michelle Obama largely withdrew from politics for years, fully re-engaging only for the presidential campaign. As a result, she has probably logged fewer total sitting-through-my-husband’s-speech hours than most of her recent predecessors. Even the go-for-broke quality of the president’s rise can be read, in some small part, as an attempt to vault over the forces that fray political marriages. People who face too many demands — two careers, two children — often scale back somehow. The Obamas scaled up."

Meanwhile, Samantha Critchell of the Associated Press reports that the first lady "is fashion's star, but that's not why she's one of Glamour's December cover models.

"Mrs. Obama's work in mentoring earned her the spot, which will be rotated with four other covers. She'll receive a special recognition in the annual Women of the Year issue that goes on newsstands Nov. 10.

". . . The outfit was from her own closet, and no designer will be credited in the magazine."

Upon being freed from death row in 1999, Anthony Porter lifts Northwestern Professor David Protess in an embrace as then-students Shawn Armbrust (back turned), Syandene Rhodes-Pitts and Tom McCann watch. (Credit: Medill Innocence Project)

Media Back J-Students in Dispute With Prosecutors

"The major voices and organizations in the industry need to speak out, write briefs and raise holy hell about this witch hunt by Cook County prosecutors." That's from Tim McGuire, the former editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis who now holds a chair at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, writing on a university blog.

Anthony McKinneyMcGuire is speaking of efforts by prosecutors in Cook County, Ill., who are targeting journalism students at Northwestern University who say they have uncovered new evidence that proves the innocence of Anthony McKinney, who has spent 31 years in prison for the 1978 slaying of a security guard. Jeff Long reported the targeting of the students in the Chicago Tribune last week.

According to the students' professor, David Protess, "In the past week, more than a score of news organizations covered the battle over the state's subpoena, including The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, ABC News, Time magazine and USA Today.

"Editorials supporting the Project were published in the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post, the Washington Examiner,, Mother Jones magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, Dissenting Justice, Reason magazine, Outside the Beltway, The Business Insider and The Daily Texan. At this writing, prosecutors' sole editorial support has come from the right-wing National Review."

But McGuire wrote that more voices are needed. "Every advocate for good journalism needs to see this case really matters. Each university clinic program in America from Cronkite News Service, to Cronkite’s four day-a-week Newswatch to the Innocence Project to scores of others need the protection from harassment that is afforded journalists," he said.

"God bless John Lavine, the Medill Dean, for standing strong against the misguided prosecutors, but Lavine and the Medill Innocence Project need editorial support and the voices of the big journalism guns to close down this brazen attempt at usurping a free press."

The students who performed the investigation are part of a nine-member class in investigative journalism at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Protess explained.

They are a self-selected group that includes three Latinos and an African American woman from Chicago's South Side, he said. Four Asian American students had worked on the case of Christopher Abernathy, who has spent 25 years in prison for a killing he says he did not commit.  As journalists, these students cannot advocate, but Protess turns over their findings to his Medill Innocence Project, which does, he said.

Of the 11 people who have been freed as a result of their work, seven were African American. "It's who gets railroaded by our justice system," Protess told Journal-isms. "It has to do with race and social class."

"The Cook County state's attorney subpoenaed the students' grades, notes and recordings of witness interviews, the class syllabus and even e-mails they sent to each other and to professor David Protess," Long reported in the Tribune.

"Northwestern has turned over documents related to on-the-record interviews with witnesses that students conducted, as well as copies of audio and videotapes, Protess said.

"But the school is fighting the effort to get grades and grading criteria, evaluations of student performance, expenses incurred during the inquiry, the syllabus, e-mails, unpublished student memos, and interviews not conducted on the record, or where witnesses weren't willing to be recorded."

Honduras Station, Back on the Air, Censors Itself

In Honduras, "Radio Globo and Canal 36 television, two stations that have been the main media opponents of the 28 June coup d‚Äô?©tat, were allowed to resume broadcasting on 19 October, three and a half weeks after the de facto government used a decree suspending civil liberties to close them down and confiscate their equipment," Reporters Without Borders reported last week.

"Sources at Radio Globo, which had managed to keep operating as a clandestine web radio, nonetheless said the station has had to censor itself since it resumed broadcasting. At the same time, Radio Cadena Voces (RCV), a station owned by a coup supporter, has dropped three programmes hosted by women’s groups that allowed government opponents to speak on the air.

“'Neither the official lifting of the 28 September state of siege nor the resumption of broadcasting by Radio Globo and Canal 36 means that the rule of law has been restored in Honduras,' Reporters Without Borders said.

Afghanistan Coverage "Simplistic" Over the Years

"For almost 30 years — ever since we got a close-in view of it — American press coverage of Afghanistan has been simplistic, misleading, unexamining, accepting and echoing government propaganda, and just plain wrong. There have been exceptions . . . but not many," the husband-and-wife team of Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould wrote Tuesday for Nieman Watchdog.

They are identified as the first American journalists to receive permission to enter behind Soviet lines in 1981.

"Our personal experience with the media was an excellent example of how the Afghanistan story was framed to encourage war and to downplay peaceful settlement. Like the cold war itself, it is a framework that still haunts Afghanistan. Perhaps it has now come to haunt the United States even more," they wrote.

Short Takes

  • Despite suffering a stroke at her home on Friday, having no movement on the right side of her body and being unable to speak, Barbara Johnson "was a veritable chatterbox tonight! Okay, so I exaggerate a bit. I've earned it," Roy S. Johnson, her sports journalist husband, wrote Tuesday on the CaringBridge site devoted to his wife. Barbara Johnson is a corporate headhunter who was a producer throughout the 1990s at WABC-TV and from 2002 to 2004, news director at WNBC-TV, both in New York. "do you remember two days ago when I wrote that the doctor said she'd have to learn [to] speak all over again. Well, I guess you can put B in the AP class! Oh, [and] did I tell you she walked, too?" Roy Johnson added.
  • Jehmu GreeneJehmu Greene, who led Rock the Vote, the largest youth voter registration group, has been named president of the Women's Media Center, a media advocacy and training organization, the center announced on Wednesday. The group was founded in 2005 by Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan, and Helen Zia, who has been active in the Asian American Journalists Association, is board chair. Greene succeeds founding president Carol Jenkins, former journalist and documentary producer who is to continue as senior adviser and founding president emerita.
  • "Earlier this year when the New York Post launched its vicious attack on Congressman Charles Rangel, the Amsterdam News sensed there was more to it than just a random investigation by the Post," Herb Boyd wrote in the New York Amsterdam News. "That some organization and/or individuals were fueling and possibly funding the nefarious pursuit was recently confirmed. Parts of a May 18 letter from the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) discloses its intentions to 'finish off' Rangel."
  • "Published figures from national research sources found that GM spent only $29.9 million on advertising in Black-oriented media in 2008. That represents a meager 2.4 percent of the $1.17 billion of all of GM's advertising expenditures. Market experts are baffled," Hazel Trice Edney wrote for the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Danny Bakewell of the Los Angeles Sentinel, NNPA chairman, said he will lead the federation "in a direct confrontation with the automotive industry," Edney wrote. However, Armando Ojeda, director of supplier diversity development for Ford, one of the auto companies mentioned, "said industry trends may be leaning away from newspapers and more toward the Internet."
  • "ESPN broadcaster Bob Griese has been suspended one week for a remark he made about NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya," ESPN reported on Monday. "During ESPN's broadcast of the Minnesota-Ohio State game Saturday, a graphic was shown listing the top five drivers in NASCAR's points race. Fellow analyst Chris Spielman asked where was Montoya, who is Colombian. Griese replied he was 'out having a taco.'"
  • Pamela Glason ThorntonPamela Glason Thornton, who spent more than 20 years writing and editing for black-themed publications in central Ohio, died Saturday. She was 45 and had been battling lupus, an inflammatory immune-system disease, for the past few years, said her sister-in-law Donna Mattison, Jeb Phillips reported Wednesday in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. "Thornton was a writer, city editor and religion editor with the Post, where her husband of 15 years, Ray Thornton, is the operations manager. She previously had worked at Purpose magazine and American Diversity Magazine, and she had served as the secretary for the Columbus Association of Black Journalists." Guest book.
  • The International Center for Journalists honored three McGraw-Hill Personal Finance Journalism Award recipients in Washington on Tuesday: Adriana G??mez Licon, who won first place for "When Immigration Meets the American Dream" in the Roanoke (Va.) Times, which pinpointed the challenges immigrants face in securing a home loan during a recession; Enrique Flor of El Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., second place, for "Defensa gratuita para foreclosures," a Web story and video on how Latinos can seek free legal support when faced with possible foreclosures; and Ana Carolina Gonz?°lez for "Gu??a para elegir una Consejer??a de Cr?©dito," a step-by-step guide to finding a credit counselor, published on the Real Atlanta Web site. The winners were among 30 participants in an ICFJ course on personal finance reporting for Hispanic media, funded by the McGraw-Hill Companies.
  • "Jayson Blair, who was at the center of a major journalism scandal as a New York Times reporter in 2003, will be the featured speaker at Washington and Lee University‚Äôs 48th Journalism Ethics Institute on Friday, Nov. 6." The title of Blair‚Äôs talk is ‚ÄúLessons Learned,‚Äù the Rockbridge Weekly in Rockbridge County, Va., reported. ‚Äú'Inviting Jayson Blair to keynote this institute was definitely a departure for us,' said Edward Wasserman, the Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at W&L."
  • Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh "sounded off Friday on a supposed report" that Time magazine reporter Joe Klein had unearthed President Obama's college thesis, titled "Aristocracy Reborn," "in which he sounded off on the nation's Founding Fathers and the Constitution and the distribution of wealth," Michael Saul reported Sunday in the New York Daily News. "The only problem ‚Äî the report was pure fiction. The original post with the fabricated details about Obama's college thesis was written as a satire on a humor blog."
  • Tai Takahashi is becoming news director of WAND-TV, an NBC affiliate in Decatur, Ill., TV Spy's Shop Talk reported on Wednesday. Takahashi was fired as news director at WTVQ in Lexington, Ky., when the station changed owners in 2008, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader reported at the time. When Takahashi was named to the Lexington job in 2004,the Asian American Journalists Association said he was one of only a handful of television news directors of Asian American descent.
  • The new Mexican Chamber of Deputies has not renewed the mandate of a special congressional committee on violence against the press that was appointed in 2006, Reporters Without Borders said. "We call on the Congress to show its full commitment to a free press by granting federal authorities jurisdiction over crimes against freedom of expression, a reform still pending in the legislature.‚Äù
  • In the Caribbean country of Grenada, "The Grenada Today weekly is apparently about to disappear as a result of a drawn-out libel suit by one of Grenada‚Äôs former prime ministers, Keith Mitchell. High court judge Claire Henry ordered its liquidation this week after the owners failed to reach an agreement with Mitchell over payment of an exorbitant damages award," Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday.

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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