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NBC Vet Vickie Burns Leaving L.A., Network

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Friday, March 2, 2012

KNBC's VP for News Was Top Manager in Three Cities

Sherrod's Lawsuit Against Breitbart Could Continue

On Affirmative Action and Jeremy Lin, Some Are Contrarian

NPR's "Firewall" Between Journalists, Funders Debated

Tabloid Touts Sales of Issue Showing Houston in Casket

L.A. Radio Station Falls Short in Response to Demands

GOP's Use of Social Media Going Under the Radar?

Short Takes

KNBC's VP for News Was Top Manager in Three Cities

Vickie Burns, who came to NBC's Los Angeles station as vice president/news after holding vice president positions at NBC stations in New York and Los Angeles, is stepping down at KNBC and leaving NBC, she said Friday.

"Vickie is pursuing other opportunities — in and out of the company; her last day at the station, however, is today," Terri Hernandez Rosales, vice president of communications and community affairs at KNBC, rebranded as "NBC4 Southern California," told Journal-isms.

Vickie Burns

Burns wrote in a message distributed to staffers, "Now, it’s time for Steve to select a News Director to lead the next phase of growth for KNBC and time for me to get back east of the Mississippi," a reference to Steve Carlston, who took over as KNBC president and general manager in October.

Carlston has been making bold changes since he arrived, as Gregory J. Wilcox of the Daily News of Los Angeles and Greg Braxton of the Los Angeles Times wrote in January.

". . . for about the past year KNBC has occupied third place in the viewership ratings behind KCBS and segment leader KABC," Wilcox wrote.

Kevin Roderick wrote Friday on LAObserved, "Burns only got to Channel 4 in [August] 2010, hailed when she arrived from New York as 'a seasoned journalist who has extensive experience running a newsroom.' But then she moved around some anchors and reporters, tried going webby on the newscasts without much success and ticked off local Latino groups. When Valari Dobson Staab took over the NBC local stations she noted that KNBC had become 'sloppy' and also killed off Burns' digital initiatives. Finally, the guy who hired Burns moved upstairs last year, and Steve Carlston took over as station general manager."

James Rainey said in the Los Angeles Times, "Several employees have quietly complained about what they said was Burns' sometimes-confrontational management style."

Burns' note was upbeat. "First, I discovered an amazing newsroom full of whip smart, quirky, creative people who had been tested by circumstances, many beyond control. That may have dampened the spirit for a time, but none of it dampened the will to succeed or the desire to excel.

". . . Now, the cool stuff. We got bought by Comcast. Winning is the mission again, along with serving viewers better through enterprise reporting and distinctive storytelling. Not to mention the gift of unprecedented resources to accomplish competitive goals. I’ll never forget the single most common question from the early days: can we get the chopper back?

"Well, News Chopper 4 is once again flying high, as will your ability to win.

". . . It’s been so rewarding to watch the evolution of telling stories on multi-platforms. Today the newsroom is buzzing with energy and excitement, embracing the competitive mission around newscasts, the web, [Facebook], and Twitter too.

"There was a lot of good stuff along the way, accomplished together. Launching Prime Time News LA, during my first month. . . . Launching our digital channel, California Nonstop.

"A year ago this month, stretching our breaking news muscles again to deliver amazing coverage of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. Then last fall, raising the bar with gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Conrad Murray Trial, plus re-launching a competitive newscast at midday. Just two weekends ago, telling LA and the nation about the death of the incomparable Whitney Houston."

In August, CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California, followed by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, protested what they said was a demotion of five Latino anchors in a year at KNBC. The letter from CCNMA Executive Director Julio Moran was addressed to Craig Robinson, then president and general manager, who shortly afterward was named executive vice president and chief diversity officer of NBCUniversal.

Asked Friday about the results of the protest, Moran told Journal-isms by email, "Nothing yet, but with the change in leadership I am giving them more time. They have hired additional Latino reporters, but as I mentioned to Steve Carlston in a meeting, hiring Latino reporters is good, but the key is having a Latino anchor in a prominent newscast because they are more visible and have a bigger impact in the community."

NBC said when Burns was named to the L.A. job:

"Burns joins KNBC from WNBC, NBC's owned and operated station in New York, where she was Vice President of Content and Audience Development for NBC Local Media New York since 2009. In that capacity, Burns was responsible for developing strategy to build audiences across the station's media platforms, including WNBC, NY Nonstop, nbcnewyork.com, taxicabs and other out-of-home platforms at NBC Local Media New York. . . ."

"Prior to joining WNBC, Burns was the Vice President of News for WRC, the NBC owned and operated station in Washington, D.C., from September 2003 to March 2008, the #1 news station in the market. She joined the NBC family in 1986 when she began working as a Line Producer for WMAQ, NBC's owned and operated station in Chicago."

Shirley Sherrod

Sherrod's Lawsuit Against Breitbart Could Continue

A lawyer for fired Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod told Journal-isms Friday there would be no comment on the matter, but Politico and Legal Times reported that Sherrod's defamation lawsuit against conservative activist and blogger Andrew Breitbart is likely to continue despite Breitbart's death at 43 Wednesday night.

"USDA rural development staffer Shirley Sherrod filed the lawsuit against Breitbart and Breitbart aide Larry O'Connor last February over the pair's role in publicizing a video of a Sherrod speech which appeared to suggest the African-American Agriculture Department official was biased against white people," Josh Gerstein explained Thursday in Politico. "The publicity led to Sherrod's forced resignation, apparently with the White House's approval."

Sherrod's lawyer, Thomas A. Clare, referred Journal-isms to a statement from Sherrod and said, "Her statement is the only comment that we'll be making at this time."

The statement said, "The news of Mr. Breitbart’s death came as a surprise to me when I was informed of it this morning. My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope during this very difficult time. I do not intend to make any further comments.”

Gerstein wrote in Politico, "Courts have a fairly straightforward and unemotional way of dealing with deaths, even one as sudden and headline-grabbing as Breitbart's. Normally, some party or attorney files a 'suggestion of death.' In a civil case, the person's estate is usually substituted for the person who died. So, Breitbart's estate would ordinarily be liable for any damages that would have been awarded against him. Legal Times pointed out Thursday that Breitbart's estate's defense could be weakened by his death, since he would not be available to testify.

"However, the impact of Breitbart's death on the outcome of this particular lawsuit could be limited, since O'Connor presumably was involved in discussions about the video, could testify about them and is also named as a defendant. In other words, the case won't just be going away unless Sherrod agrees to drop it, or the appeals court rules that the anti-SLAPP law might or does apply."

Zoe Tillman of Legal Times quoted Dow Lohnes partner Michael Rothberg, who practices media law but is not involved in the case

Tillman wrote, " 'If the defendant had a very good story to tell, and would be a very good witness, then not being able to tell that story to a jury is going to be harmful,' he said. However, since there is a co-defendant in the case, O’Connor, 'it’s unclear what the impact will be, because that co-defendant might be able to tell that story,' he added."

Meanwhile, Breitbart's death prompted a range of reactions, including a debate among African Americans over whether they should be joyful.

Stephen A. Smith, left, Lynn Hoppes, Jay Crawford and Skip Bayless discuss race and the Jeremy Lin story on ESPN's "First Take." Hoppes decries "political correctness." (Video)

On Affirmative Action and Jeremy Lin, Some Are Contrarian

A Hispanic journalist questions whether she should have been admitted to a graduate program under affirmative action, and an Asian American manager at ESPN protests that too much "political correctness" has surfaced over the racial slurs in the coverage of New York Knicks phenomenon Jeremy Lin. He enjoyed sports columnist Jason Whitlock's Twitter joke belittling Asian men's anatomy.

Coincidentally, perhaps as a warning to those who work against their own interests, Ken Mehlman, who came out as gay in 2010, told Salon.com that he personally apologizes to people who "were harmed by the campaigns in which I was involved." Those campaigns saw George W. BushKen Mehlman, Esther J. Cepeda support a federal anti-gay marriage amendment and anti-gay marriage initiatives on state ballots. Mehlman was chairman of President Bush’s 2004 reelection effort.

In her column for the Washington Post Writers Group, Esther J. Cepeda wrote this week, "My strong undergraduate performance earned me a full-ride scholarship to a prestigious marketing graduate program at Northwestern University.

"I think of it as the year I formally became a 'minority.' In all my classes I was the official Hispanic, routinely called upon to enlighten my white classmates about Latino consumers' struggles in the barrio with English language acquisition, gangs and discrimination — none of which I'd ever had any experience with.

"It was obvious that most of my fellow classmates knew I was there on a full scholarship and assumed that I'd gotten into the school through some official attempt at diversity.

"Here's the thing, though: That may have been exactly why I got in. And guess what? I was not academically equal to my peers and woefully unprepared for the math-heavy statistical analysis needed to complete the basic courses in data mining. My low first-quarter grades put me on academic probation and I later ended up leaving school never having gotten that graduate degree — another statistic showing that minority access to college does not guarantee completion.

"The well-meaning admissions people who thought that I'd find a way to succeed academically were, as it turns out, a little too sunny about my potential, and I left with serious bruises on my psyche and ego. But it was painful preparation for the 'real world' because since then I've not held a job — in teaching, government or journalism — where someone didn't imply, or flat out declare, that I got it just for being Hispanic."

Cepeda notes that the Supreme Court has agreed to take up the affirmative action issue again. She asks, "If the court's ruling makes merit-based admissions the norm, would students of all races begin respecting each other as equals rather than assuming that minorities only got in to 'diversify' the school?"

In addition to wondering about generalizing from a specific case, one has to ask where newsrooms, already lacking sufficient diversity, would be if the same logic applied. Where are the feelings of being "less than" among students admitted in part because they are athletes or the children of alumni?

In a column for ESPN headlined, "Stop the Linsanity insanity," Lynn Hoppes wrote of Lin, "Please don't automatically assume that every Asian-American is rooting for him to become a star and help the Knicks make the playoffs.

"And don't automatically assume that every Asian-American is offended by the jokes and comments about Lin."

Hoppes is senior director for Page 2 and commentary for ESPN.com. For four years, he chaired the Diversity Committee of Associated Press Sports Editors. He is a member of the Asian American Journalists Association and a former member of the Sports Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists, according to a bio.

". . . Gaffes have been made in the media on the subject of Lin, and journalistic organizations from the Poynter Institute to the Asian American Journalists Association to the Associated Press Sports Editors have weighed in," Hoppes continued.

"I applaud them for making their views known, but don't tell me how I should feel on the subject. And don't try to make me feel guilty if I'm not offended by the words.

"We're taking this political correctness to new heights with the Jeremy Lin phenomenon.

"Stop it."

Columnist Michelle Malkin, who has defended the U.S. internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, saw opportunity in the Lin debate. She mocked the Asian American Journalists Association over its guidelines for covering Lin in a nonstereotypical manner in a piece headlined, "Lin-sanity: The chink in AAJA’s armor."

Meanwhile, Mehlman told interviewer Thomas Schaller of Salon that he was now about the politics of regret:

"At a personal level, I wish I had spoken out against the effort. As I’ve been involved in the fight for marriage equality, one of the things I’ve learned is how many people were harmed by the campaigns in which I was involved," he said Friday. "I apologize to them and tell them I am sorry. While there have been recent victories, this could still be a long struggle in which there will be setbacks, and I’ll do my part to be helpful."

NPR's "Firewall" Between Journalists, Funders Debated

The resignation of Jim Asendio as news director of public radio station WAMU-FM in the nation's capital last month and an updating of NPR's ethics manual have raised questions about the "firewall" between journalists and funders at NPR.

NPR insists that it remains, but others are not so sure.Jim Asendio

Asendio resigned on Feb. 21 "because I did not agree with an upper management decision to have working journalists attend a donor-only, station-sponsored event," he said then. A public broadcasting guide published in 2004 by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting said explicitly, "journalists should not be prevailed upon to engage with funders" [PDF].

NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher told Journal-isms by email this week, "The CPB guidelines don't, of course, cover NPR. Our Handbook states that 'no NPR journalist should feel compelled to participate in meetings with prospective donors or foundations. Again, our sponsorship and development departments are there to support us in our service to the public, not vice versa. Part of the job of these departments is making our funders aware that we will be editorially blind to their support — that we'll conduct our journalism with no favor or slight to them or their interests. They also vet potential supporters to make sure their interests don't present an actual or apparent conflict with our mission.' "

Writing Wednesday for NewsLab, an "online resource and training center for journalists in all media" of which she is president and executive director, Deborah Potter cited another part of the new guidelines:

". . . we may be called upon to talk about our work with those who might support it, whether over the air during a pledge drive or in person during a meeting with prospective funders. But in all our interactions with potential funders, we observe this boundary: We’re there to tell our story, not to discuss the agendas of our supporters. . . . NPR journalists interact with funders only to further our editorial goals, not to serve the agendas of those who support us."

Potter continued: "Clear as day? Or does this open a door that had been closed? Consider what the old NPR Ethics Code said about underwriting and grants:

" 'While staff may end up talking to experts and officials who work at foundations that fund us (and their grantees), we may not discuss coverage planning with grant-making officials.'

"The old policy allowed journalists to talk with people who worked for funders; the new policy suggests that it’s now OK for NPR journalists to meet directly with funders. That may sound like a distinction without a difference but to people like Jim Asendio it’s significant, especially in light of recurring threats on Capitol Hill to cut off federal funding for NPR. 'It is a slippery slope,' he says. 'Where do you draw the line?' "

Carolyn Whigham, owner of Whigham Funeral Home in Newark, says she has identified who took the photo of Whitney Houston in her casket. (Credit: Robert Sciarrino/Star-Ledger) (Video)

Tabloid Touts Sales of Issue Showing Houston in Casket

"The owner of the funeral home that handled services for Whitney Houston vigorously defended herself this morning against claims that she or an employee helped the National Enquirer obtain a controversial photo of the late songstress lying in her open casket that the tabloid then published on its front cover," Richard Khavkine reported Thursday for the Star-Ledger in Newark.

The National Enquirer, which published the unauthorized photo, said the issue had estimated sales of 770,000, "the best-selling issue in the past 18 months," Keith J. Kelly reported for the New York Post, quoting American Media CEO David Pecker.

The Star-Ledger said "Carolyn Whigham, who owns and runs the funeral home on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and two local pastors said although they do know who took the photo, they would not identify the person.

" 'It's up to the Houston family to release the name,' said the Rev. Jethro James, pastor of Paradise Baptist Church."

Whigham said, ". . . 'I had people that I had never seen in my life, who were part of her security, sleeping here in my funeral home,' " Chris Witherspoon reported for theGrio.com.

L.A. Radio Station Falls Short in Response to Demands

"Executives at KFI-AM (640) have responded apologetically to a coalition of black leaders angered over derogatory comments made by controversial afternoon hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou about the late singer Whitney Houston but fell short of agreeing to the groups' pleas for more diversity on-air and in the station's newsroom," Greg Braxton reported Thursday for the Los Angeles Times.

"In a two-page ['memorandum] to the Los Angeles community,' program director Robin Bertolucci and fellow executives said, 'We've heard your voice' and appreciate the comments and criticisms regarding the outspoken views of the afternoon team and other hosts. 'We have already improved our policies' and are making additional changes 'that will be long lasting and fruitful for the entire community,' the memo said.

". . . Although representatives of the Los Angeles Urban League and other activists had asked KFI in a meeting at the station on Monday to increase diversity, executives made no specific commitments."

GOP's Use of Social Media Going Under the Radar?

". . . in 2012's roller coaster of an election cycle, there's been no closing of the ranks around a front-runner. Even after presumptive front-runner Romney's wins this week in Arizona and Michigan, the question of who will be the eventual GOP nominee remains very much unanswered," Micah Sifry, a "campaign-technology pundit" wrote Friday for cnn.com, referring to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

"The reasons are complicated, and next week's Super Tuesday primaries could shake things up yet again. But amid the various factors, there's one change that hasn't gotten enough notice: the increasing importance of lateral social networking on the part of grass-roots conservatives.

"And this isn't just a Ron Paul story; much bigger chunks of the Republican base, including tea partiers, anti-abortion activists and evangelicals, are using social media to form self-reinforcing factions within the larger party that are less and less susceptible to what nominal party leaders may want them to do."

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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