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"No Such Policy Here"

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Tale in Which "N" Word Is Final Indignity

Black Enterprise Seems Alone in Ban on Dreadlocks

It was in 1998 that Kenneth Meeks, then assistant managing editor of the New York Amsterdam News, the Harlem black weekly, interviewed for a job at Black Enterprise magazine. He had worn his hair in dreadlocks for 11 years, and he was aware of the publication's no-dreadlocks policy. But he had twins to feed who were less than a year old.

Though he had free-lanced for the magazine and went for the interview, Meeks didn't give working there a serious thought. But then Black Enterprise offered the salary he wanted. And, as they wooed him, they kept asking, "Can you cut your locks?"

Meeks is a man who admires the philosophy of the Rastafarian religious movement. But he gave in to Black Enterprise's requirement. "I took a bunch of photographs for my kids with my locks, I whispered a silent prayer, and handed the scissors to my wife, who did it. For the first year, it was devastating," said Meeks, who now runs the publication's television enterprises. "Every lock I passed" on the street, he told Journal-isms, was painful to look at.

This year, as reported Friday, the magazine required a summer intern, Mashaun Simon, who is the student representative on the board of the National Association of Black Journalists, to cut his dreadlocks, too.

But while the stated reason for the policy was to reduce the chances of potential business partners or customers "saying no to us," in the words of founder Earl G. Graves Sr., it now seems that Meeks and Simon could have worked at almost any other publication in the same field and kept their hair the way it was, according to an informal Journal-isms survey of other black and other business magazines, and New York-area newspapers that cover business. They don't see the turn-off factor.

"We do not have a policy that addresses dreadlocks," Catherine Mathis, communications director at the New York Times, said.

"We don't have anything specific on hair," said Robert H. Christie, director of public relations at the Wall Street Journal. The late Hugh Pearson, an editorial writer for the publication in the 1990s, wore his hair in dreadlocks.

"I don't know that we have a set policy on hair or dress codes," said Carrie Welch, a spokeswoman for the Fortune group of Time Inc. magazines – Fortune, Money, Business 2.0, Fortune Small Business and "People are pretty relaxed, and when they're meeting with businessmen and women, they make sure they're dressed appropriately," she told Journal-isms.

"We ask our employees to choose clothing that communicates professionalism," said Kimberley Quinn, director of communications at Business Week. "Our policy does not stipulate anything other than clothing."

"I can't believe it," Laurie Baker, director of corporate communications at Forbes, said of the Black Enterprise policy. "We do not address hair, facial hair or length of hair. It is a business environment, and you are expected to dress suited to your business."

"It's not an issue here, as there are so few African-Americans on our editorial staff," Forbes Senior Editor Brett Pulley added for Journal-isms. "This corporate culture is pretty libertarian though, so I could not imagine such a policy being implemented if I or some other staffer decided to grow dreadlocks. On the other hand, my wife and kids would certainly find that amusing."

Those publications are geared toward the general market, but the response was the same at black-oriented publications and media organizations.

"No such policy at BET. We even have executives (vice president level and above) who wear dreadlocks," said Michael Lewellen, BET senior vice president - corporate communications.

"We do not have a hair policy," said LaTrina Blair, promotions manager at Johnson Publishing Co., an organization once known to be strict even about the appearance of desktops, since tourists were guided through the building. "Off the top of my head," she named three Johnson managers with dreads – art director Raymond Thomas, Jet Magazine editor Marti Yarbrough and research director Aiesha Powell.

The editors of Essence magazine, Susan L. Taylor, editorial director, and Angela Burt-Murray, executive editor, have both gone on record as supporting dreadlocks as a cultural expression.

Dreadlocks were popularized by the Rastafarians in Jamaica starting in the 1940s, as they followed the injunction in Numbers 6:5 -- "there shall no razor come upon his head . . . he shall be holy and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow."

As reggae music spread, dreadlocks did so, too. The look is now commonplace, although to some it has come to be more a fashion or cultural statement than a political or religious one.

In his February 2000 "Publisher's Page" column, Graves, who has since relinquished control of the magazine to his son, Earl "Butch" Graves Jr., said African Americans "must often perform a difficult yet graceful balancing act between the demands of the cultures of their respective companies and the cultural identity that is the foundation of their ability to thrive in an ultra-competitive environment. . . . What employees wear affects our business. It affects what people think of our magazine and other products. It affects our readers' perception of our authority on the business and financial topics we cover and the recommendations we make.

"Before you decide to grow dreadlocks and ditch your suit and tie for a FUBU jeans and '05' football jersey ensemble, you need to ask some honest questions about the price you're willing to pay for the sake of personal expression in a business environment," Graves wrote.

Meeks said he finally made peace with his new look – "It is America; when in Rome, you do what the Romans do," he said. But Meeks said he hasn't given up on growing back his locks. "In retirement, perhaps, if I have enough hair," said a man who still calls himself "a Rastafarian at heart."

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It's Official: Knight Ridder Sold to McClatchy

"Knight Ridder's shareholders today voted to sell the company to Sacramento-based McClatchy, ending the 32-year run of one of America's premier newspaper companies," Pete Carey reported today in the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News.

"The votes were tallied at the company's annual meeting at San Jose's Fairmont Hotel, a few steps from the company's soon-to-be vacated headquarters. Eighty percent of shareholders needed to approve the deal, and the company said preliminary tallies have overcome that bar."

"I think it will be remembered most for the tragedy of its demise," Jay Harris, who holds the Wallis Annenberg chair in journalism and democracy at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication, said in the Contra Costa Times, in a story by Kiley Russell.

"Harris was publisher of the Mercury News from 1994 to 2001. He said he left because he was unwilling to make cuts mandated by Knight Ridder and had differences in 'the journalistic values and the corporate management of the company'," the story noted.

In the student convention newspaper of the Asian American Journalists Association last week, Kendra Marr wrote, "The sale of Knight Ridder Inc. will likely mean less money for the Asian American Journalists Association and other journalism organizations, top AAJA officials say.

"Knight Ridder lived its motto – 'Diversity. No excuses.' – as a generous donor and enthusiastic supporter of AAJA, as well as the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association. But the pending sale of the company to McClatchy Co., which plans to resell some newspapers to MediaNews Group, leaves a funding void that will not be easy to replace, said AAJA Executive Director Rene Astudillo. The sale comes at a bad time for AAJA, which has been struggling to raise money amid budget cuts at top newspaper companies."

Also today, the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, a Knight Ridder paper was sold to former Times Leader Publisher Richard L. Connor and a group of local investors, according to sources close to the transaction, Renita Fennick reported in the Times Leader.

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AAJA Considers Cuts to Avoid $57,000 Deficit

The Asian American Journalists Association was seeking ways to avoid a $57,000 deficit in a climate in which media dollars are dwindling, according to the AAJA Voices, the student convention newspaper.

"AAJA canceled the traditional closing party because it could not find a sponsor," Madison Park reported for the paper during the AAJA convention, which ended Saturday in Honolulu.

The Executive Leadership Program, "which preps experienced professionals for upward career mobility, saw its traditionally two day advanced session trimmed to one day," Park continued.

"At the governing board meeting Wednesday, one member floated the possibility of turning ELP into a biennial program. It's unclear whether the idea would gain any traction, but ELP is AAJA's second most expensive program, costing $85,000 to $90,000 a year.

"The four student convention projects are the most expensive AAJA programs. The price tag this year was $139,879, according to AAJA data.

"The projects bring students and professional staff to work on Voices, a newspaper; AAJALink, an online project; The Beat, a radio program; and News Now, a TV program. The four projects operate separately.

"Many governing board members recommended restructuring the projects to save money and to provide more training in the converging media environment."

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Dallas Morning News to Offer Buyouts

The Dallas Morning News said on Monday it will hold a voluntary buyout program for newsroom staff as the 10th-largest U.S. newspaper beefs up its Internet operations," Reuters reported.

"A spokeswoman for the Dallas Morning News, which serves nearly 1.6 million readers, said details of the program have not been finalized." The parent Belo Corp. said the timing is also under consideration.

"'We are determined to remain the content provider of choice in our local markets and are confident that we have the assets and management talent to succeed,' publisher Jim Moroney said in a statement.

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Univision Board Agrees to Sell to Mogul's Group

[Added June 27:] "The board of Univision Communications Inc., the nation's largest Spanish-language media company, voted late Monday to accept an $11.3-billion offer for the company from a group of investors including billionaire media mogul Haim Saban, according to three sources close to the board," Meg James reported Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times.

"A native of Egypt, Saban immigrated at age 12 to Israel, where he attended agricultural school and served in the Israeli Defense Forces. He moved to Los Angeles in 1983.

"In Los Angeles, he launched a chain of recording studios that supplied music for television. Saban's venture into television began in 1988, when he formed Saban Entertainment.

"The company produced a number of hits, including 'The X-Men' and other shows developed around Marvel Comics characters."

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A Tale in Which "N" Word Is Final Indignity

Just after one African American columnist declared that it's time for black people to stop the "phony debate" over the N-word, and another wrote a piece declaring "the word 'nigger' doesn't bother me," along comes the Washington Post, in its "Being a Black Man" series, with a passage bound to give pause to anyone considering the issue.

In his June 9 blog, media critic Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times declared, "Frankly, I think it is time black people disengaged from this phony debate. Yes, many black people have a double standard about use of the word nigger, white America. Get over it. You got to use it for 400 years; it's time to leave it alone for our expert utilization."

On Thursday, Patrice Gaines, the former Washington Post reporter and author of the memoir "Laughing in the Dark: From Colored Girl to Woman of Color – A Journey from Prison to Power and Moments of Grace," wrote in the Washington Informer:

"If you think of words as arrows flying around, then some are filled with poison and others are filled with a love potion. If at my core there is a bull's-eye of a wound filled with anger – and fear – then that poison-tipped arrow will hit my wound every time. If I remove the anger and fear, the bull's-eye disappears. Then that word filled with venom can't touch what remains. The arrow dissolves on impact," she said in a column headlined, "When 'Nigger' Has No Meaning."

"Reacting to the word 'nigger' is just that – a reaction. To change the meaning of the word is an act of power. It took people younger than me to open the door for this opportunity. They were born into a world where they do not hear racial epithets every day. That doesn't mean they don't know there is racism. They refuse to be a slave to a word."

But then Sunday, in the Washington Post, Tamara Jones wrote of a black man whose life suddenly changed when he was arrested in a case of mistaken identity, and transported from Prince George's County, Md., to an Atlanta jail. Describing a beaten-down Elias Fishburne after a month of having authorities dismiss his protests, Jones wrote of his final indignity:

"It was in Atlanta, where he remembers how a black female guard stood outside the cell at meal time and called inmates filthy names. When Fishburne didn't respond, she zeroed in. "You going to eat or what, nigger?" she demanded. The racial slur was the most common form of address, Fishburne said; that black guards were using it to address black inmates only made the humiliation worse. The transformation was complete: He was not Elias Fishburne, not Jarvis Tucker," the fugitive they thought he was, "not even a case number. Not a homeowner, not a hairdresser, not a good citizen living a worthy life. Nigger. That's who he was now.

"So stripped was his identity, so thorough the loss of self, that he didn't even recognize his own name – his real name – when a guard shouted it out."

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Columnists Take Congress to Task on Voting Rights

"Here's a variation of a headline we thought we'd never see again:" Tony Norman wrote Friday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "House GOP stalls vote on Voting Rights Act."

"What is it about the renewal of the enforcement side of the Voting Rights Act that seems to inspire so much foot-dragging on the part of Southern conservatives?"

Norman's was one of a number of columns on the House refusal to renew the Voting Rights Act and its failure to move forward on immigration law reform:

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Short Takes

  • Wil LaVeist, who in March left his columnist's job at the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., to return to Chicago, is director of Web development for Johnson Publishing Co., publishers of Ebony and Jet, spokeswoman LaTrina Blair confirmed today.
  • Washington Post television critic Tom Shales, writing in Television Week, today offered this apology regarding his assessment last week of ABC-TV's "Good Morning America": "A reference to Robin Roberts as seeming too 'butch' on the air represented my own personal reaction to her style as a communicator and wasn't meant to imply anything whatsoever about her life outside 'GMA.'"
  • "It was a thrill-a-minute welcome to the world of live television news for Reggie Rivers, Dick Kreck reported today in the Denver Post. "The one-time Bronco, signed recently as weekend sports anchor at KCNC-Channel 4, was literally going to television school Wednesday when he was suddenly thrust on the air" when lightning prevented the station's regular sports guy, Vic Lombardi, from doing a remote report.
  • "The auction for Univision, the Spanish-language media company, was put into more doubt over the weekend as it emerged that a bid from a group led by Grupo Televisa, the Mexican media giant, was much lower than expected, people involved in the process said yesterday," Andrew Ross Sorkin reported today in the New York Times.
  • Discussing the old Black Panther Party newspaper, death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal said in an interview, "What made it invaluable to the revolutionary project was that people interacted on a weekly and often daily basis, while selling papers. To organize folks, you must talk with them. The deficit disclosed by today's internet usage is that one interacts w/ a keyboard, not with a living, breathing person," Rafael Rodriguez-Cruz wrote today on Counterpunch. "Some who do extensive internet work may disagree, but, in point of fact, while it's obviously true that you're interacting w/ a 'person,' it is hard to determine whom that 'person' really is."
  • "South Africa's SABC broadcaster has launched a push to repair its credibility amid allegations of political meddling that critics say are reminiscent of the dark days of apartheid," Andrew Quinn reported for, a Web site owned by Independent News & Media and 14 South African newspapers. "The South African Broadcasting Corp, the public radio and television service, took out full-page advertisements in Sunday newspapers denying political pressure was behind a decision to drop a documentary on President Thabo Mbeki."
  • "The truth is that al-Jazeera is a pioneer of news independence that the U.S. government once lauded for bringing freedom of the press to the Middle East. Now it's planning to broadcast worldwide, including in the United States. But as its Arab owners work to make that a reality, the prejudice here persists, and those of us who work for the network find ourselves running, at every turn, into resistance, rejection and racism," Joanne Levine, executive producer of programming for the Americas at al-Jazeera International, wrote Sunday in the Washington Post.
  • Photojournalist Ed Kashi was detained, along with his Nigerian assistant, by Nigerian authorities for three days this month while on assignment for National Geographic in the Niger Delta area. The area is the source of much of Nigeria's oil production, and is where fatal accidents from toxic "gas flaring" have occurred. The San Francisco Chronicle today published an edited version of Kashi's personal journal, written while he was in captivity.

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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