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"News & Notes," "Day to Day" Canceled

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Updated December 11

NPR Layoffs Include Trainer of Its "Next Generation,"
Network Says Program Will End but Not Internships

National Public NPR's Doug Mitchell, left,  among those laid off, helps Antonio Mejias of La Opini??n through an exercise during a half-day workshop on learning to become an audio journalist. (Credit: National Association of Hispanic Journalists.)Radio is canceling "News & Notes" and "Day to Day" effective in March, and the network is reducing its work force by 7 percent, NPR announced on Wednesday.

A projected $2 million deficit for fiscal year 2009 has become $23 million with the downturn in the economy, the network said.

"Neither program was attracting sufficient levels of audience or national underwriting necessary to sustain continued production under these tough financial circumstances," Dennis Haarsager, interim president and CEO, said in a message to NPR affiliates.

"The two shows will go off the air on March 20, and 22 journalists working for them will lose their jobs, including hosts Madeleine Brand and Farai Chideya," NPR's David Folkenflik reported on "All Things Considered."

"Beyond the two shows, another 12 journalists will lose their jobs throughout NPR News," he said, naming Jacki Lyden and John McChesney. [On Thursday 's "Morning Edition," he added Kim Masters,  Ketzel Levine and Victoria O'Hara, quoting O'Hara as challenging management at a staff meeting Wednesday to accept responsibility for poor judgment.]

Folkenflik noted that more than 300 would remain, but later in the day, Bob Butler, a board member of the National Association of Black Journalists, disclosed that Doug Mitchell, an NPR employee of more than 20 years who has trained scores of young journalists of color to enter broadcasting, was also among those laid off.

Mitchell is project manager for NPR's Next Generation Radio, which among other charges runs a training project during the summer conventions of the journalist-of-color organizations and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Next Generation Radio promotes itself as "training the future of public radio." Mitchell, who confirmed his layoff on Thursday, said he would continue to work with the journalist organizations, but NPR said Thursday that the Next Generation Radio program, started by Mitchell in 2000, would end.

"The choice to cut the Next Generation program was made with the greatest
regret," spokeswoman Anna Christopher said.  "We are proud the Next Generations' accomplishments and the dedication of the staff and all those associated with it over the years.  If we were not forecasting such a severe downturn in our revenue we would not have made this decision.  Given the limitations on what we could financially sustain, we chose instead to maintain NPR's paid internship program, which over time has brought many young and diverse people into temporary and permanent jobs at NPR."

The Next Generation program is external, unlike NPR's internship program. "The external (next gen) projects were by specific design, geared toward  attracting students who could not get into NPR's intern program," Mitchell told Journal-isms by e-mail, "and yes, these were by and large, people of color. Or, better still, to find them and THEN get them interest[ed] in NPR's intern program by working one-to-one-by-side for a week with some of the best and brightest of public radio and who were also of color. In a way it was a means to prove we existed within public radio."

Mitchell's departure also highlighted persistent grumblings about the fate of  men of color at the network. One employee named two newsroom managers: Greg Peppers, who heads NPR's newscast unit, and Walter Ray Watson, who was a senior producer for "Weekend All Things Considered" until he took a fellowship at Harvard.  He has since returned to the company.

However, the perception is such that another employee complained privately, "Unless I'm missing someone, there are no men of color in any management position in the newsroom."

Mitchell said his last day would be Jan. 12.

Another African American on the layoff list is Audrey Wynn, deputy director for staff development and an NPR employee for 28¬? years. Wynn rose from receptionist on "Morning Edition" to assistant managing editor to her current job, which she described as "trying to make sure that all the trains run on time, when they're supposed to and without too much stress."

She also went to NPR West to help launch "News & Notes With Ed Gordon." "I know this sounds really insane," she told Journal-isms on Thursday, "but I love doing paperwork and making things happen."

"Combined with the elimination of 'Day to Day' and 'News & Notes' the cutbacks constitute a retreat from NPR's efforts to reach new listeners, especially young people and members of minority groups who are not part of NPR's 'core' audience," as Paul Farhi wrote for the Washington Post. "The diversification effort started in 2002 with the opening of NPR West, the organization's first major production facility outside of Washington and New York. The facility will remain open after the cutback, but with about half of its 60 employees."

It will be NPR's first organization-wide layoffs in 25 years, Farhi wrote.

Tony Cox and Farai Chideya host NPR's 'News & Notes'"News & Notes" host Farai Chideya wrote on the program's blog, "We are still dealing with the news, but we are committed to making sure we give you our best, now and as long as we've got."

NPR's public announcement said, "Staff and expense reductions will be made in reporting, editorial and production areas; station services; digital media; research; communications and administrative support.

"A total of 64 filled positions have been eliminated against NPR's current staff of 889, 21 open positions will not be filled and travel and discretionary expenses have been cut across the organization," the news release continued.

"It's crucial to realize that these programming changes are being driven by a loss in revenue, not relevance," added Ellen Weiss, NPR's senior vice president for news. "With near-record audience levels, now more than ever people are relying on NPR to better understand the extraordinary events occurring in the world."

Earlier in the day, Weiss was reported to be on the West Coast meeting with the "Day to Day" staff. Both "Day to Day" and "News & Notes" are produced at NPR West in Culver City, Calif.

"Since its 2003 launch, 'Day to Day' with host Madeleine Brand has redefined the newsmagazine concept to become NPR's fastest-growing new program," with nearly 2 million listeners on nearly 200 stations, NPR says on its Web site.

"News & Notes" started life as "The Tavis Smiley Show," a vehicle for the network to reach out to African American audiences.

NPR had been expanding since it received a bequest of more than $236 million from Joan B. Kroc, the widow of Ray A. Kroc of McDonald's. In 2004, Lynette Clemetson noted in the New York Times that the network was pumping $15 million into its news division over the next three years, using interest from the bequest. "NPR executives have touted the expansion as unmatched in a time of media cutbacks and consolidations," she wrote.

Haarsager addressed the Kroc gift on Wednesday.

"Given the publicity that surrounded the bequest from Joan B. Kroc in 2003, it is understandable to wonder why NPR doesn't draw on it at this time," he said in his note to station managers. "Legal restrictions severely limit expenditure of the NPR endowment, which includes most of the bequest made by Mrs. Kroc.

"Fortunately, even though the endowment lost value and did not generate earnings for this year, the NPR Foundation was able to fund a separate $10 million distribution against what NPR had budgeted for FY 2009. The NPR Board also authorized us to access up to $15 million from the NPR operating reserves, allowing us to cope with the immediate situation and limit the depth of the cuts to staff and programs." [Updated Dec. 11]

Tribune Co. Halts Severance Payments to Ex-Workers

The Tribune Co. has discontinued "all ongoing severance payments, deferred compensation and other payments to former employees" as a result of its filing Monday for protection from bankruptcy, the company said in an internal Q-&-A, Kevin Roderick reported on his LAObserved blog.

Those payments "will be the subject of later proceedings before the Court."

Roderick followed up that Monday report with this one on Tuesday:

"If the Los Angeles Times owes you money, you might have to wait a long time. Publisher Eddy Hartenstein told the staff yesterday that the Chapter 11 filing freezes pending payments to freelancers, but said the paper will ask the Delaware judge to allow the commitments to be met.

"This year's hundreds of laid-off former employees have not heard those assurances and are fairly frantic to find out how long their severance payments will be interrupted."

[The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday, "A federal bankruptcy court judge approved yesterday more than a dozen legal motions filed by Tribune Co. that will allow it to borrow millions, pay thousands of employees and maintain critical vendor and customer contracts.

["Yesterday's rulings will allow Tribune to maintain on an interim basis its centralized cash management system and to continue to pay certain taxes and insurance premiums along with health care benefits, expenses and salaries for its 14,600 full-time employees and 12,000 independent contractors. Health care benefits to roughly 500 terminated employees have been halted," Tricia Bishop wrote from Wilmington, Del.

[But a new q-and-a on the Tribune Co. Web site said Thursday, "For employees who already left the company: All ongoing severance payments (excluding enhanced pension benefits under the Cash Balance Plan), deferred compensation and other payments to former employees have been discontinued and will be the subject of later proceedings before the Court."]

Roderick continued, "Hartenstein apparently said the Chapter 11 status could last six months to a year. By the way, he told the staff 'town hall' meeting that the Times and the rest of Tribune's units remain profitable — this is about Sam Zell's debt load and inability to renegotiate his loans or sell properties like the Cubs."

Jesus Sanchez, laid off from the Los Angeles Times this year, told Journal-isms, "Most of us . . . laid off back in July have probably received our severance payments.  Most of us got them as a special, one-time contribution to a 401k type of fund. I shifted mine out of there as soon as possible. I think the people who were laid off last month are the ones who probably are going to suffer most. It's just adding insult to injury."

The Tribune Co. owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Newsday and six other daily newspapers and commuter tabloids, in addition to 23 television stations, WGN America, WGN-AM and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Many if not all of its media outlets have undergone layoffs.

Some Focus on Zell's Role in Blagojevich Scandal

The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times each published extras Tuesday afternoon after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest that morning."On Monday, Tribune Company, the jobs-shedding media conglomerate, filed for bankruptcy, casting a heavy cloud over its future," Clint Hendler wrote Wednesday morning for Columbia Journalism Review.

"But then came Tuesday, and the two count federal criminal complaint against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, which describes an attempt by the governor and his chief of staff, John Harris, to leverage at least $100 million in state funds for the Chicago Cubs—owned by Tribune Company since 1981 — in exchange for changes to the paper's editorial page, possibly including firing the entire board.

"What was Tribune's response to this corrupt bargain? We don't know. But, according to Harris' reports to his boss, it wasn't a plain, firm, 'No.'

"That, along side the rest of the complaint, raises a lot of uncomfortable questions," to which Tribune Co. Chairman and CEO Sam Zell "presumably knows the answers. Until we hear from him, the implications aren't pretty."

Zell acknowledged Wednesday that he has been contacted by the FBI in connection with the corruption investigation but declined to discuss the case in any detail, Dave Carpenter wrote for the Associated Press.

"Zell, referred to indirectly as 'Tribune Owner' in federal authorities' complaint Tuesday against the Illinois governor, indicated he didn't know whether Tribune was pressured by Blagojevich and his chief of staff to force the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial writers. In the end, none of the writers were fired," Carpenter wrote.

"I'm not personally familiar with any of that, and considering the fact that this is an ongoing criminal investigation, I would feel reticent to comment accordingly," Zell told CNBC. According to the complaint, the governor's office had its discussions about firing the editorial writers with "Tribune financial advisor."

It says, "Tribune Financial Advisor is believed to be an individual identified in media accounts as a top assistant and financial advisor to Tribune Owner, who played a significant role in Tribune Owner’s purchase of the Tribune."

[Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman said Thursday he couldn't comment on an ongoing criminal investigation.]

Also on Wednesday, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., said he did not try to cut a pay-to-play deal with Blagojevich to get the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, the Tribune's Dan Mihalopoulos and Bob Secter reported.

Jackson was identified as "Senate Candidate 5" in federal court documents in the case against Blagojevich and was "the most deeply enmeshed" in the alleged scheme by Blagojevich to benefit from his appointment of a new senator to the seat vacated by Obama, David Johnston wrote for the New York Times.

"I never sent a message or an emissary to the governor to make an offer, plead my case or propose a deal about a U.S. Senate seat, period," Jackson said at a Washington news conference.

The complaint also says that Blagojevich also ordered an aide to leak to a Chicago Sun-Times columnist that a particular candidate was in the running for the Senate seat but did not want the information traced to the governor. The columnist, Michael Sneed, ran the speculation, mentioning Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. 

"Hate to go there, but does anyone believe a black columnist wouldn't
lose his/her job — or face extreme scrutiny — over something like this?" Eugene Kane, columnist at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wrote on the National Association of Black Journalists' e-mail list.









The U.S. Postal Service last week joined the parade of businesses offering inauguration souvenirs, announcing a "philatelic folio" with "a collectible stamped envelope with silk portraits" of the new president and vice president, and other memorabilia, for $14.95.

Obama Team Takes Tough Stance With Broadcasters

"The Obama crowd is not waiting for Inauguration Day to begin managing the FCC-regulated media," Kim McAvoy reported Wednesday for TV Newsday.

"At a meeting in Washington last Friday, Obama transition team officials demanded that broadcasters and cable operators establish or help fund call centers to handle the anticipated flood of complaints and questions in the wake of the analog cut-off on Feb. 17, 2009.

"The transition officials, led by one-time National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Tom Wheeler, had invited representatives of the broadcast, cable and consumer electronics industries to the meeting to discuss what needs to be done to ensure a smooth and successful DTV transition.

"According to industry sources, Wheeler, who heads the Obama review group looking at the FCC and other agencies, suggested that it makes sense for the various segments of the TV industry to pick up the tab for the call centers."

Broadcasters who commented on the posting said they thought it was unfair to ask them to bear the cost. One said, "Since the government has mandated this change to digital, and it is already costing us broadcasters to upgrade our systems to meet their requirements, why should we have to fund the complaints lines? This is heavy-handed and typical. Every broadcaster should stand up and say, "You made this mess, you fix it!"

. . . For Swearing-In, It's "Barack Hussein Obama"

In what was described as his first post-election newspaper interview, President-elect Barack Obama told Tribune Co. reporters that he would be sworn in as "Barack Hussein Obama" at his inauguration, intends to strengthen the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, is not yet ready to commit to continuing to build a border fence on the U.S.-Mexico border, and said he had not discussed naming a successor to his Senate seat with Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The interview was conducted Tuesday in Chicago by Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons of the Los Angeles Times Washington bureau and John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune.

"Barack Obama says his presidency is an opportunity for the United States to spread a message of tolerance, starting the day of his inauguration and continuing with a speech he plans to deliver somewhere in the Muslim world," the three reporters wrote in a separate story.

"I think it's important to make sure that our civil rights laws are enforced," Obama said at another point. "You know, the Civil Rights Division over the last eight years has had a lot of problems and really declining morale, and I want Eric Holder as the next attorney general to reinvigorate that office and its mission. I think it's going to be important to make sure that on the criminal justice front that people have confidence that the laws are being evenly applied to everyone and that we are working with local and state as well as federal officials together to try to constantly improve, you know, the way we train people and how we think about the criminal justice system so that it gains confidence."

On the border fence, Obama said, "one of the things I want to do — and I'm very pleased with [Arizona Gov.] Janet Napolitano as the next head of the Department of Homeland Security, because nobody has more experience on these border issues than she does — I want to discuss with her what our best options are, what our best strategy is, do an evaluation about what's working, what isn't working. And then we'll make a determination from there."

Asked, "Are you aware of any conversations between Blagojevich or [chief of staff] John Harris and any of your top aides, including Rahm [Emanuel]?" Obama said, "it would be inappropriate for me to, you know, remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know. And that's the fact that I didn't discuss this issue with the governor at all."

Asked if he would be sworn in as "Barack Hussein Obama," he said, "I think the tradition is that they use all three names, and I will follow the tradition, not trying to make a statement one way or the other. I'll do what everybody else does."

A "Newspaper Boom" Underway . . . in Brazil

A dispatch from Brazil:

"72-year-old Salvador Neves arrives every weekday before dawn at Banca Estadao, his newsstand in downtown Sao Paulo. Sporting his signature green felt hat and salt-and-pepper mustache, and greeting his customers by name, he gets to work doing what he's done since immigrating from Portugal 52 years ago: selling newspapers.

"If he worked in the United States, where newspaper circulation is in a long decline and ad revenue is collapsing (hello Tribune Co., New York Times, etc.), this story would follow a predictable pattern: Economy shifts, beloved storekeeper shutters business, neighbors lament.

"Not so in Brazil. 'It's holding up pretty well,' said Neves. 'People like to read to pass the time. Not everyone has the internet. They still advertise a lot in the newspaper.'

"He's being modest: Brazil is in the midst of a newspaper boom. Brazilians bought 24 percent more newspapers in the first three quarters of 2008 than they did in 2006, according to the Instituto Verificador de Circulacao, the Brazilian equivalent of the Audit Bureau of Circulations. According to monthly reports produced by Meios e Mensagem, a marketing publication, in the first three-quarters of 2008 alone, revenue was up 15 percent over the same period in 2007. (By contrast, American newspapers' ad revenue fell 18 percent between the third quarter of 2007 and the third quarter of 2008.)" launches Jan. 12, says the dispatch, which appeared on the Huffington Post.

Short Takes

  • Glenn BurkinsGlenn Burkins, who took a buyout in September from the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, where he was deputy managing editor for local news, has launched, a news Web site aimed at Charlotte's African American community. The site had a soft launch on Monday, and a formal launch is planned next month.
  • In Cleveland, "Morning co-anchor Jeff Eliasoph was among as many as 13 employees of sister stations WOIO Channel 19 and WUAB Channel 43 whose contracts were not renewed Tuesday," Julie Washington reported in the Plain Dealer. "Eliasoph did not give any other names."
  • "Just when you thought the 'black voters killed gay marriage in California' myth had been completely debunked and put to rest, the New York Times (12/7/08) publishes an op-ed about Prop 8 and how black voters are homophobic," Julie Hollar wrote¬†Monday for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. "As many of those debunkings noted, despite the stereotype that African-Americans have 'a fiercely held and enduring antipathy toward homosexuality,' religion and socioeconomic level are much stronger indicators of how somehow voted on Prop 8."
  • Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Ken Salazar, D-Colo., say the Portable People Meter (PPM) ratings system is having a "negative impact on minority radio broadcasters" and are encouraging Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin to launch a formal inquiry into Arbitron's implementation of the system, RadioInk reported¬† on Tuesday. The PPM is a cell phone-like device worn by participants to measure their listening habits. African American and Hispanic station owners have argued that the new system will dramatically undercount listeners, particularly minority youth, because of low sample sizes, faulty recruiting and flawed methodology, as Kristal Brent Zook wrote¬† in October for
  • In Gabon, West Africa, "Habib Papy Boubendji, also known as Habib Bibalou, an investigative journalist with the satirical weekly Le Nganga, was badly beaten by soldiers inside the presidential compound in Libreville on the night of 5 December, Reporters Without Borders has learned¬†from several sources. He is now in intensive care in a military hospital near the capital where only his wife is allowed to visit him. . . . Bibalou's colleagues at Le Nganga have stopped going to work since the beating for fear of being arrested as well."
  • NBC's "Meet the Press," which featured an interview with President-elect Barack Obama on Sunday, "posted a 5.0/13 household rating and share" in overnight ratings in metered markets, according to Patrick Gavin, writing on the FishBowl DC Web site. That's 92 percent more than the 2.6/6 on ABC's "This Week," 100 percent more than the 2.5/6 for CBS' "'Face the Nation"and 285 percent more than the 1.3/3 for "'Fox News Sunday," he said.

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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"News and Notes" Cancelled

The cancellation of "News and Notes" represents NPR's continued disengagement from the African-American community in the guise of diversity. I guess that uninspiring shows like "Fresh Air with Terry Gross" and "Car Talk" are more significant than featuring articulate African-Americans who actually listen to public radio and support their local NPR stations. Too bad!

Postal Service Layoffs

Thanks for sharing this post! The US postal service faces a serious financial shortfall that is accelerating reductions in its workforce and raising the possibility of the first-ever layoffs of career employees. Here’s another sad sign of our economic times: The ever declining mail volume added to put pressure on the postal service to reduce the workforce. One of these is the FedEx layoff. The worst of the FedEx layoffs are hitting Memphis, home of Elvis, and this is a case where it really is the Heartbreak Hotel. However, they also know to not be cruel, as employees affected, about 14,000 of them, will receive severance packages and job counseling, which may save them from payday loans for awhile. Other areas are going to be affected as well, but Memphis will be the hardest hit. It's good that they get severance pay, because the affected workers couldn't get payday loans as a result of the FedEx layoffs.

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