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A "High-Class Thing" for Nancy Maynard

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Diversity Pioneer Remembered Amid Current Anxieties

Eulogists quoted Byron, Ecclesiastes and Nikki Giovanni at the memorial service for Nancy Hicks Maynard on Friday. As the combo played at the Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Frederick P. Rose Hall, the Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, novelist and poet Ishmael Reed looked at the crowd that came together after a memorial service for Nancy Hicks Maynard.

He described the occasion as "a high-class thing, like Nancy. The setting was reflective of her. It brings jazz and artists and writers and journalists all together. She and Bob always brought all of these communities together."

Sig Gissler, the chairman of the Pulitzer board, remembered that Maynard's partner of the last four years, Jay T. Harris, was a Pulitzer board member, and that she would attend its dinners. "She had a whole lot of sophistication about her, moving very comfortably about the big hitters in journalism. She was a woman for all seasons," he told Journal-isms.

They were among the couple of hundred people gathered in New York on Friday, first to attend a service for Maynard, a co-founder of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and onetime co-publisher of the Oakland Tribune, and then for fellowship at Lincoln Center, where Maynard, the daughter of a jazz bassist, also felt comfortable.

A couple of hundred people gathered at a Gothic-styled church on Central Park West. A former New York Times editor, the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, presided.

The founding chairman of the "Jazz at Lincoln Center" series, Gordon Davis, said Maynard's presence there over the years had "validated what we were trying to do; that jazz was the most important" American musical form.

Davis had tried to get her to join the Lincoln Center board. Instead Maynard, who died Sept. 21 at age 61, secured a surprise $500,000 grant for the jazz program as a board member of the Tribune Co.

Friday's service, in the Gothic-styled church on Central Park West that houses the Fourth Universalist Society, was a tribute to a journalist who came of age professionally during what Times colleague and Maynard co-founder Earl Caldwell called "the black revolution."

"She would say, 'if a couple of hundred people wanted to get together and be sorry, that is their right,'" Harris, the onetime publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, told the group. But she would prefer a celebration, "a recognition of her whole life." The program included one of her favorite tunes, Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky," "straight jazz," and eulogists who quoted Byron, Ecclesiastes and Nikki Giovanni.

And yet there was a somber tone, not just because of the loss of a woman who is, with her late husband, Bob Maynard, viewed as black journalism royalty, but because of the uncertain course of their lifelong cause of newsroom diversity.

They remain the only African Americans to own a mainstream newspaper, and their efforts led to the training of thousands of journalists of color.

Part of what impressed Kevin Merida about the Maynards was "the sense of a small group of pioneering black journalists trying to do something for the future," quickly noting that a multicultural array of journalists was invested in the cause.

There was that "sense of commitment and self-sacrifice," he said. "Think of that. Giving up your careers at the New York Times and Washington Post to start an institute to train journalists that the industry doesn't yet want.

"You can see this gutting of the fruits of those efforts," said Merida, a 1979 graduate of the Summer Program for Minority Journalists who has become an associate editor of the Washington Post.

Diversity is now "treated like a Lexus, that doesn't rate when things are in a crunch."

Before the Institute for Journalism Education, the original name for the Maynard Institute, there were pioneering days at the then-liberal New York Post and the New York Times, where the young Nancy Hicks arranged meetings that led to creation of Black Perspective, a forerunner of the New York Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists.

"Believe me," Charlayne Hunter-Gault told the attendees about those days at the Times, "while the fact that we knew who we were got us there, we were challenged every day in ways that were subtle and sometimes not so subtle to prove that we belonged.

"For example, one evening when the paper had already been put to bed and the newsroom was all but empty, all the black journalists at the Times were standing around talking to each other. An editor from the magazine approached us and said, 'Oh, I came looking for writers for the magazine, but I see everybody's gone.'"

Yet the future Nancy Maynard stood out as one of the first black reporters to become a science writer, one who "prospered and helped to change by just being excellent at what she did," Hunter-Gault said.

Maynard had style and strikingly good looks, she knew how to get a story, and she could be a tough taskmaster. At IJE, she and the others were determined to eliminate the phrase "can't find anybody qualified" from the vocabulary of those who should have been hiring journalists of color.

Evelyn Hsu, who now works for the Institute as director of programs, was another 1979 graduate. She recalled that Maynard told one student, "you need to get more of a personality," and to stand in the mirror and practice expressions. Quoting another program graduate, Hsu described how Maynard would tug at her hair while editing copy, and "the worse the copy, the more she tugged. If her hair was standing on end, I would be in trouble," the graduate said.

Maynard did all this while raising a family, a son, David Maynard, said. While Dad often wrote about the importance of family, it was Mom who made things happen at home. She was also praised as an excellent cook.

Audrey Edwards, a writer who has been an editor at Essence magazine, often discussing black women, took it all in.

"For someone who did not know her, it was great to hear about someone who started her career so young with such a sense of self," she told Journal-isms at the Lincoln Center event. "I was glad to hear about her relationship with her father," Al Hall. "For women, that's where that comes from."

Some of the faces in the audience belonged to Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr., former city editor Arthur Gelb, Times colleagues Alex Jones, Susan E. Tifft, C. Gerald Fraser, Jane Brodie, Stephen C. Miller and Bill Schmidt; Maynard Institute colleagues Dorothy Gilliam, Frank Sotomayor, Steve Montiel, John Dotson, Addie Rimmer, Jacqueline Trescott and Ellis Cose; and fellow journalists Adam Powell III, Elinor Tatum, Les Payne, Jack E. White, Randall Pinkston, Joel Dreyfuss, June Cross, Michael Days, Angela Dodson, Yolanda Woodlee, Joy Elliott, Robin Stone, Marquita Pool-Eckert, Peter Alan Harper; Gil Scott, Mikki Turner, Walterene Swanston, Patrice Gaines, Larry Bivins, Jerelyn Eddings and Betty Anne Williams. They included journalists now in academia, such as Lonnie Isabel, Arlene Morgan and Pamela Newkirk; Karen Howze, now a magistrate judge in the District of Columbia's Family Court; Carol Jenkins, president of the Women's Media Center; Linda Shockley of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund; Charles F. Harris, book publishing executive; Ernest Wilson III, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California; Gerald Sass, former Freedom Forum and Gannett Co. executive, and Everette Dennis, formerly of the old Freedom Forum Media Studies Center. And others not yet named here. A former New York Times Book Review editor, the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, presided.

Maynard finished a draft of an autobiography, "Covenant," but pulled it back to give it "a more personal touch," Harris told Journal-isms.

"Some of us have talked about taking it up. None of us felt we could do justice to what she would have done."

But now, perhaps, "together, we can give it a chance," he said.

The family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, 1211 Preservation Parkway, Oakland, CA 94612.

Ifill: Palin "Blew Me Off," but "I Had Another Job to Do"

Gwen Ifill said on Sunday that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin "blew me off" during the vice presidential Gwen Ifill watches Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and  Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin shake hands as the debate begins. (Credit: CNN)debate on Thursday, and "if she wasn't challenged on the things she said that were not completely correct, or she wasn't challenged on changing the subject and then answering the questions by her competitor, I had another job to do at the table."

The veteran journalist appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" as part of its panel of pundits. She had been criticized by some for not being more aggressive in forcing Palin to answer the questions and not recite talking points, but host Tom Brokaw noted that Palin announced at the outset that she would ignore the moderator's questions.

"She blew me off, I think, is the technical term," Ifill said.

The host of PBS' "Washington Week in Review" was also the subject of a right-wing attack by pundits and Fox News, who charged that because she was writing a book about the evolution of black politics, "Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama," that she was pro-Obama and should be disqualified from moderating.

"I kind of kept my head low, actually," Ifill said, discussing the attack. Her response was largely limited to Associated Press and New York Times interviews.

"I did not respond to it because it didn't take much to figure out what the book was really about. I mean, it didn't take but a couple of mouse clicks to discover that what they were saying about the book wasn't true and that, in fact, I wasn't writing the book they said, and I hadn't -- I hadn't even written the Obama chapter yet because I don't know how it ends. So I - my editors are thinking, 'Really, have you written it? Good, give it to us. We'd like to see it.' So they used that, and it wasn't really much worth fighting about. I figured it would be a 24-hour kerfuffle. But it was instructive about how often you can get in the way of somebody else's plan."

The debate was spoofed on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," with Tina Fey playing Palin, Jason Sudeikis as Sen. Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, and Queen Latifah as Ifill.

"I got to say, being played by Queen Latifah is not a bad thing," Ifill said after Brokaw played a clip from the show.

Brokaw asked Ifill, "Tell us about what happened beforehand about what the rules were and what the understanding you thought you had with the candidates who would be onstage."

She replied, "The understanding was that we were going to have a debate. And one of the interesting things about debates that people forget, especially with this one, there was so much obsession about Sarah Palin, is that there are two people on the stage. And their job - and you - you'll - you know this, you're doing this Tuesday night - are to debate each other. The moderator's job is to control their debate. If they have decided, as Joe Biden decided that he was going to debate John McCain, and she decided she was going to give a stump speech to the American people, there's very little a moderator can do other than say, 'No, no, no, listen, I asked a question. Please, please answer.'

"So, so I just - I knew going in that they all had their goals for that debate.

"I was taken, going in, it could now be said, by how many of the questions that people volunteered to me were all about her. There was 99 percent, I would say, was all about her. Ninety-nine percent of the analyses afterwards were about her. It was if Joe Biden wasn't part of this deal. And if she wasn't challenged on the things she said that were not completely correct, or she wasn't challenged on changing the subject and then answering the questions by her competitor, I had another job to do at the table.

"So, I, I - you know, they both came out there with their jobs to do. Many of the American people who are not as obsessed by the idea of Sarah Palin on the stage by herself, as a lot of us were, looked at that and thought, 'Let's weigh these two,' which is what you do in debates." [Added Oct. 5. Earlier item below.]

Reporter Fired for Wearing Obama T-Shirt to Rally

"Detroit news radio station WWJ-AM (950) has fired radio personality Karen Dinkins after she wore a Barack Obama T-shirt while covering a presidential rally on Sunday," Tammy Staples Battaglia reported Thursday for the Detroit Free Press.

Dinkins told the Free Press she was surprised the news media considered her firing a story after the station let her go on Monday. She said she had worked there for 13 years.

Georgeann Herbert, director of programming, issued this statement:

"WWJ Newsradio 950 Believes that our credibility with our listeners rests on the independence of our newsroom staff.

"WWJ does not favor any candidate, party or issue.

"While we encourage employees to exercise their rights as citizens, we expect them to be on guard against any actual or perceived conflict of interest when covering news stories."

David Cho Honored for Coverage of Credit Crisis

David ChoWashington Post reporter David Cho has won the Best of Knight-Bagehot Business Journalism Award for his stories chronicling the run-up to what has become the biggest story in the country: the Wall Street financial crisis.

Terri Thompson, director of the program, told Journal-isms that the award, given by the Columbia University School of Journalism to a fellowship alumnus, honors Cho's work on the real-world impact of the credit crisis, written from Aug. 22, 2007, to June 22, 2008.

They include such stories as "Retailers Fret That Credit Crunch Will Sap Spending; Stocks Drop on Profit Reports" (Aug. 15, 2007); "Businesses Pinched as Loan Spigot Shuts Off" (Aug. 20, 2007); "Sunbelt City in Grasp of Housing Undertow; Ripple Effect Could Be National Omen" (Sept. 16, 2007); "A Buffer? Or a Bailout?; To some lawmakers, Bush's mortgage relief is too weak a patch to protect against a growing storm. Others say it's too much." (Dec. 7, 2007); "From Foreclosure Signs to Auto Repo Lots; Easy Credit Gives Way to High Consumer Debt and Defaults" (Feb. 18); "Credit Crisis May Make College Loans More Costly; Some Firms Stop Lending to Students" (March 3) and "The Bubble; How homeowners, speculators and Wall Street dealmakers rode a wave of easy money with crippling consequences" (June 15).

Earlier this week, Marcus Brauchli, the new executive editor of the Washington Post and former managing editor and longtime veteran of the Wall Street Journal, told Editor & Publisher that coverage of the economic woes, stemming largely from the mortgage and credit crisis, dates back more than a decade.

"There was a lot of coverage over many years about the underlying problems in the financial system and the economy," said Brauchli. "If you go back and look at the big American newspapers, you will see it, going back to 1996 when Alan Greenspan coined the phrase 'irrational exuberance.'"

Cho, a second-generation Korean American, is a graduate of Yale University, Columbia Business School and Columbia School of Journalism and was a 2005-06 Knight-Bagehot fellow. He was in this space during last year's deadly shootings at Virginia Tech, when Cho, then 33, decided to explore the cultural stigma in the Korean community of going to a mental health professional. The gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, was a Korean American.

Ifill's "Objectivity" a Nonissue; 95% Say She Was Fair

Ifill was the object of a campaign to discredit her before she moderated Thursday's vice presidential debate between Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and  Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. (Credit: CNN)

The vice presidential debate ended Thursday night with hardly a word in the instant commentary about moderator Gwen Ifill's role, and much about Republican Sarah Palin's performance, a sign that the right-wing drumbeat about Ifill's supposed lack of objectivity failed to gain traction.

In a CNN poll of those who watched the debate, "Respondents overwhelmingly said moderator Gwen Ifill was fair . . . repudiating critics who said that Ifill, of PBS, would be biased because she is writing a book that includes Biden's running mate, Sen. Barack Obama," CNN said, referring to Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.

"Ninety-five percent of those polled said Ifill was fair."

There were some, however, who thought Ifill pulled her punches in reaction to the charges and failed to step in when Palin ignored the questions.

"Gwen Ifill went too soft when Sarah Palin refused to stick to the point. The moderator asked a question on education and Sarah Palin brings up energy . . . and Gwen did not stop her and [keep] her in check. It's like tomorrow if I go for an interview and they ask me about my qualifications and I start blabbering about flowers and weather and expect to get the job . . . What an insult," a National Public Radio listener wrote on Friday.

"Because Palin was never challenged to respond to the questions asked and/or reined-in in any way, the event became a venue for her little folksy mini-speeches," a member of the National Association of Black Journalists said on the NABJ e-mail list.

"With Ifill at the helm, both Biden and Palin got off easy," Jessica Heslam wrote in the Boston Herald.

Almost 70 million Americans tuned in to watch the debate, according to Nielsen, making it the third most-viewed debate of either presidential or vice presidential candidates since 1992, as ABC News' Jake Tapper reported on Saturday.

As soon as the debate ended, the NABJ issued a statement commending its longtime member, saying she "served with resilience, grace and tenacity; the traits of an exemplary debate moderator."

"Gwen set a steady hand, a sound voice and balanced tone through what became a civil debate between two history making rivals", said NABJ President Barbara Ciara. "We'd expect nothing less from one of our country's most highly-respected political journalists."

The NABJ statement continued, "Ifill's stellar performance as moderator paves the way for future opportunities for Black journalists and others of color to participate more fully in coverage of Presidential elections. In July, with its annual Thumbs Down Award, NABJ noted how journalists of color were not represented proportionally in this coverage."

In the instant analysis, most pundits contended that Palin did a creditable job after disappointing performances in television interviews over the past week that cast doubt on her fitness for the job.

Time magazine's Mark Halperin, on "The Page," wrote: "No big moments, no news, little to spoof about Palin, no major Biden gaffes,

"Issues include taxes, health care, energy, Iraq, same sex marriage, climate change, education, the bailout bill, differences with their running mates, role as a veep.

"Mark Halperin's grades:

"Palin: B

"Biden: B"

CBS News said a nationally representative poll of 473 uncommitted voters conducted by CBS and the Knowledge Networks found, "Forty-six percent of the uncommitted voters surveyed say Democrat Joe Biden won the debate, compared to 21 percent for Republican Sarah Palin. Thirty-three percent said it was a tie. . . . Both candidates improved their overall image tonight."

CNN said, "The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. said 51 percent of those polled thought Biden did the best job, while 36 percent thought Palin did the best job.

"Both candidates exceeded expectations -- 84 percent of the people polled said Palin did a better job than they expected, while 64 percent said Biden also exceeded expectations."

On MSNBC, host and commentator Chris Matthews professed astonishment that Palin proposed to expand the powers of the vice presidency in light of incumbent Dick Cheney's accumulation of power in the office.

He also said it was extraordinary that the Alaska governor said she did not want to give any more interviews that were "filtered by the mainstream media.

"Not a lot of humanity there," Matthews said.

Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, speaking after a focus group on Fox showed many reacting positively to Palin's just-folks touches, said, "I'm a Midwesterner. I like plain talk," regardless of whether she agreed with what was being said. "She's a plain talker and that's very attractive to people," Van Susteren said.

"She held her own this evening," former Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., now an MSNBC pundit, said of Palin. He also said, "Biden was pretty much on throughout," but Palin's performance drew most of the commentary.

That was mostly because of lowered expectations. "I was expecting her to lose it," one man in the Fox focus group said. "Biden was boring," conservative columnist Pat Buchanan said in his role as MSNBC pundit. "Boring and right versus exciting and wrong," retorted his liberal counterpart, Rachel Maddow.

The format agreed to by the political parties provided the candidates no time to speak to each other directly, and to choose not to answer the question on the table if they did not want to.

"She had a game plan," said David Gregory on MSNBC, speaking of Palin: "Answering those questions she wanted to answer."

"She has a certain charm, but I wonder how viewers are reacting to the way she just declines to answer the question at hand and pivots to more solid ground," Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote in his blog while the debate was in progress.

"I confess, though, I don't know what anybody is making of this. I don't even know what I'm making of it. This is the strangest debate I've ever seen. It seems like an interplanetary exchange, with poor Gwen Ifill trying to keep the Enterprise from falling into the wormhole." [Posted Oct. 2; updated Oct. 4]

Short Takes

  • Both Ebony magazine and the New Yorker have endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president. Ebony's endorsement, the first in its 64-year history, appears in its November issue as a column by CEO Linda Johnson Rice. "During this campaign, Barack Obama‚Äôs brilliant and innovative views on the issues have been more in line with the thinking of Black America," it says. The New Yorker, the object of protests over a "satirical" July cover that showed Obama as a Muslim and his wife, Michelle Obama, as a 1960s radical, wrote in the Oct. 13 issue, "What most distinguishes the candidates . . . is character ‚Äî and here, contrary to conventional wisdom, Obama is clearly the stronger of the two."
  • "A Michigan Republican official has filed a defamation suit against the Michigan Messenger, claiming a reporter for the Web site fabricated quotes from him on alleged GOP plans to stop Macomb County residents from voting," Dexter Hill wrote Thursday for Editor & Publisher. "'We stand by our story. We stand by our reporter. We knew that there was the possibility [of the Michigan GOP suing for defamation],' CEO of the Center for Independent Media, David Bennahum, told E&P."
  • Editorial writer/columnist Joe Brown was among four staffers laid offJoe Brown Monday at the Tampa Tribune, Eric Deggans reported on his St. Petersburg Times blog. "The other three were editors/managers John McCoy, Martha Durrance and Bob Fryer, the last among several rounds of job reductions at the Media General-owned Tribune, which included reporters, photojournalists and a few editors."
  • "Twenty-seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus expressed concern to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin this week over recent FCC proposals that would dictate how broadcasters serve their local communities, placing additional regulatory burdens on radio and television stations," TV Newsday reported on Thursday. "If adopted, these proposals would impose a significant financial hardship on minority broadcasters, with little tangible benefit to the public," the lawmakers wrote.
  • "Liz Walker is leaving WBZ-TV in December for good after nearly three decades at the station, the latest of several high-profile personalities to depart Channel 4, the station confirmed today," Jessica Heslam reported Wednesday for the Boston Herald. "Walker, an ordained minister, anchored Channel 4's news for 25 years before she stepped down in 2005 to focus on her ministry and host 'Sunday With Liz Walker.'"

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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Nancy Hicks Maynard memorial service

Thanks Richard for covering the star-studded memorial service. Yes, even the venue has a journalism connection. The pastor at Fourth Universalist Society is Rosemary Bray McNatt, former journalist, and specifically, editor at Essence and the New York Times Book Review. Her husband Robert was a business journalist and his brother worked in the business too. I went to Sunday school with the McNatts at Community Church of New York, another UU congregation. Nancy Hicks Maynard made quite an impression on the late Joyce Ingram [1955-1998]. Joyce, my former wife, was a 1982 graduate of the editing program, conducted in Tucson, Ariz. Joyce repeated what many MIJE alumni have said in tributes: Nancy Maynard was the mother figure you didn't want to disappoint. She demanded eveeryone's best work and effort so they could fulfill their missions in the news industry. They have, which is a fitting tribute to a visionary leader.

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