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Not All Willing to "Fill Up the Jails"

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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Free-Press Groups Coalesce Around U.S. Shield Law

With a one-two punch this week from courts ruling against journalists who want to keep sources confidential, about 20 representatives of news-related organizations, lobbyists and media lawyers met Thursday to firm up their own support for a federal shield law that would establish a uniform standard for protecting newsgathering in the federal courts.

The bill is called the "Free Flow of Information Act of 2005," and it was introduced in April, sponsored by Reps. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

Those gathered said the subject had not yet engaged the public, and they urged journalists to make readers aware of the bill as they write about the issue.

The meeting followed a Supreme Court decision Monday that rejected appeals by Time magazine and its reporter, Matthew Cooper, as well as a reporter for the New York Times, Judith Miller. The two resisted turning over documents on their confidential sources to a grand jury investigating the disclosure of the identity of a covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame, as the New York Times reported.

With one of its reporters then facing an imminent jail sentence, Time magazine announced Thursday it would provide the documents.

In a separate case, a federal appeals court panel ruled Tuesday that four reporters, including Pierre Thomas of ABC News, a black journalist, must answer questions about their confidential sources on stories they produced about former nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, as the Washington Post reported.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which assembled the gathering at its offices at the Freedom Forum in Arlington, Va., took the position in the 1970s and 1980s that the First Amendment was absolute and "that what Congress can give they can take away," as executive director Lucy Dalglish put it. But, she later told Journal-isms, the courts have whittled away at First Amendment protections, and in "states that have passed shield laws it has worked pretty well. It has not led to a broad licensing scheme [of] the media," as some feared.

"That's not to say we approve of any old shield law," she said, and the purpose of the meeting, which included representatives of the Newspaper Guild as well as the American Society of Newspaper Editors, was to be sure that all were in agreement with the legislation.

The Newspaper Association of America, the association of newspaper publishers, is paying for the lobbying effort, she said.

Board members of the American Society of Newspaper Editors were voting by e-mail on whether to support the legislation, "provided that the final draft of such legislation offers sufficient protection against the compelled disclosure of sources without eroding freedom of the press."

Some still believe that granting legislators jurisdiction in this area is surrendering First Amendment guarantees, and thus oppose shield laws. One is Earl Caldwell, whose case involving a subpoena for information regarding the Black Panther Party went to the Supreme Court in 1972. "Let them fill up the jails," he told Journal-isms.

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Craig Seymour Authored Bio of Luther Vandross

A year ago, Harper Collins released what is probably the only book about singer Luther Vandross written by a black journalist, Craig Seymour's "Luther: The Life and Longing of Luther Vandross."

Vandross died today at age 54, never having fully recovered from a debilitating stroke.

Seymour is a former staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who has written for Vibe magazine and Atlanta's alternative Creative Loafing.

"The book basically grew out of my longtime love for Luther's music," Seymour told Journal-isms last year. "I'd interviewed him in the past and, after his stroke, I thought it was a perfect time to look back on his life and pay tribute to his artistry. I think other black journalists should read it because it sheds light on one of the most important black pop culture figures of the past 25 years."

[Added July 2: Seymour wrote about Vandross again for Saturday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

[Vandross' death made the front pages of many, but by no means all, newspapers Saturday, according to pages posted by the Newseum.

[Among broadsheets, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Houston Chronicle and the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., appeared to display the Vandross story most prominently, with the Inquirer giving a story by the Associated Press' Nekesa Mumbi Moody the top of the paper's left-hand column; and the Clarion-Ledger playing the story in prime position in its right-hand column.

[Vandross rated a photo and story across the two left columns in Houston, with the headline, "Star made fans swoon over his romantic R&B." Florida's St. Petersburg Times also placed the story in its left-hand column, and the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, Chicago Tribune and Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas all started their stories on the bottom of the front page.

[Tabloids such as the New York Daily News and Chicago Sun-Times also played the death prominently, with the Sun-Times using a photo and the headline, "A platinum voice is silenced," to refer to the story inside. Newsday played the headline in its left-hand column in both New York City and Long Island editions, both featuring a photo.

[Vandross was in the premium billboard space above the name of the newspaper in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record, The State in Columbia, S.C., and Times Reporter of New Philadelphia, Ohio, and just below the paper's name in the Plain Dealer of Cleveland and the Miami Herald.

[More common were front-page photos referring to a story inside (in the manner of the Nashville Tennessean), though a few papers, such as the New York Times, had no photo. The Times instead featured one of Bruce Springsteen in its box keying to inside stories.

[Among the papers that had no Vandross presence on the front page were several in the West, such as the Las Vegas Review-Journal and San Diego Union-Tribune, as well as Iowa's Des Moines Register, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the New York Post and the Washington Times.]

[Added July 4: "Funeral services will be held at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel, located at 1076 Madison Avenue (at 81st Street) on Wednesday and Thursday, July 6 and 7 with public viewings from 4:00pm - 9:00pm. The Memorial Service will be held Friday, July 8 at Riverside Church, located at 490 Riverside Drive, scheduled for 12:00pm," his record company announced today. The locations are in New York.]

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O'Connor Announcement Catches 2 NPR Talk Shows

This morning's announcement that Sandra Day O'Connor is leaving the Supreme Court presented challenges for two talk shows on National Public Radio that had reporters analyzing the week's events. "The Diane Rehm Show" was taking calls from listeners after its reporters roundtable was in progress when O'Connor's office made the announcement at 10:20 a.m. Rehm mentioned the news briefly.

"News and Notes" with Ed Gordon taped its show at 9 a.m., but is rebroadcast at various times around the country. Listeners at stations that delay the broadcast heard commentators discussing Supreme Court actions earlier in the week, but not today's newsmaking announcement.

Among O'Connor's legacies will be her stances on affirmative action, as the Associated Press reported.

"In the 1980s, the Reagan administration moved to dismantle [affirmative action] for minorities. O'Connor was a critical vote in thwarting the administration's plans," an AP story said, using the term "preferential treatment" rather than "affirmative action."

(The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, established in 1957 to appraise federal anti-discrimination laws, said in a November 1981 report, "Affirmative Action in the 1980s: Dismantling the Process of Discrimination":

("Only if today's society were operating fairly toward minorities and women would measures that take race, sex and national origin into account be 'preferential treatment.'")

The story continued, "She was the crucial vote when the court upheld affirmative action policies on the nation's college campuses," which of course affected efforts by journalism schools to improve their numbers of students of color.

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4 More Black Reporters Leave St. Pete Times

Less than two months ago, we reported that Florida's St. Petersburg Times, which now has an African American managing editor in Stephen Buckley, lost four black reporters in two weeks.

Now, four more African Americans are leaving: reporters Duane Bourne, Tim Grant and Adrienne Samuels, and Kinfay Moroti, a photographer who also writes.

They are leaving for varying reasons, but one, Moroti, told Journal-isms that, "if things were better here, I would stick it out for another year." Dealing with racial issues outside the newsroom is one thing. . . . the last thing we want is to deal with a newsroom" where we're dealing with "the same things."

Bourne is going to the Virginian Pilot in Norfolk, Va., to cover law enforcement in Virginia Beach; Grant starts next week at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and Samuels said she plans to be a general assignment reporter at the Boston Globe, which recruited her.

Samuels, a Chicagoan who started in journalism in 1999, said that, "at the end of the day, the Times has been very good to me, but on the other hand, I'm looking forward to the challenge of working in a big northern city." Bourne said he was leaving simply because "it was a good opportunity for me."

Moroti, 35, said he was leaving for Macon, Ga., without a job, to be with his 12-year-old son, Devante. He said his work had taken him to Iraq and that he writes as well as photographs. But he said he had particularly objected to a piece in tbt*, the paper's free tabloid, that described singer Whitney Houston as "the world's most notorious coke ho."

"I never play the race card," he said, but a "coke ho" is street slang for someone who sells her body for drugs. He said he had complained.

"I don't think this paper is meeting the standards of the [mythical] St. Pete Times," Moroti said. And rather than being looked upon simply as a journalist, he said he found that as a black man, "my passion is always tagged as being intimidating."

Neil Brown, the executive editor, agreed in an in-house newsletter that the Whitney Houston comment was "over the line," Brown told Journal-isms.

On the departures, he said that, "staff development and retention are absolutely essential to keeping any paper strong, ours included. The biggest key is developing editors and leaders and bosses."

In his own career, Brown said he knew that two or three editors who went to bat for him and gave him the proper guidance made the difference. "We've got work to do. It transcends race, in my opinion," Brown said. "We've been working on it for the better part of a year and a half." He added, "I want as diverse a newsroom as we can possibly have."

Moroti called back to mention an editor he said fit Brown's description, Joe Childs, managing editor of the Clearwater bureau. "I cried when I told Joe I was leaving the paper. I'm not ashamed to say that. I would run through a wall for that man," Moroti said. "That's the kind of leadership that this minority journalist needs."

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Contractor Tagged 14 of 33 Smiley Guests "Liberal"

The contractor paid to monitor the political leanings of the guests on PBS' "The Tavis Smiley Show" counted 33 participants in June 2004 and labeled 14 of them liberal, according to material released by the office of Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

As reported Monday, news reports said $14,170 found its way to Indiana "consultant" Fred Mann, who was paid by Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He monitored Bill Moyers' "Now," "The Diane Rehm Show" on National Public Radio, Smiley's show and two episodes of "Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered" on PBS, according to the documents supplied to Dorgan.

"Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who was critical at one point of some elements of the Administration's war effort in Iraq during his appearance on the Tavis Smiley show, received a classification of 'liberal,'" according to talking points prepared by Dorgan's office. Tomlinson sent Dorgan more than 50 pages of "raw data," after Dorgan demanded to see what Mann did to justify his $14,170.

Many of the guests on Smiley's show were entertainers and not labeled liberal or conservative. Those labeled liberal included Hagel; film director Leslie Neale; Jim Ellis, chief of correspondents at Business Week; Clifford Alexander, former secretary of the Army; Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban; Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree; former Clinton administration ambassador Richard Holbrooke; former president Bill Clinton; Democratic strategist Donna Brazile; comedian D.L. Hughley; filmmaker Michael Moore and Michael Kinsley, opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Conservatives included actor Mark Wahlberg; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; entrepreneur Janice Bryant Howroyd; rapper Everlast; musician Henry Rollins and Kristen Forbes, a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers.

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Times Not Calling New Venture a "Black" Newspaper

The New York Times Co. is officially calling its new venture in Gainesville, Fla., a "community" paper, not a "black" newspaper, according to Zachary M. Seward, writing today for Forbes magazine online.

And contrary to fears expressed by black publishers that the new venture would steal ad revenues from existing black papers, Seward quoted a former corporate development officer for the Times who suggested that ads might be hard to come by.

As reported last week, the New York Times Co. is starting a newspaper in Gainesville, Fla., targeting African Americans in a way that mirrors efforts by mainstream newspaper companies to target the Hispanic market by offering Latino products.

The black press responded negatively, with George E. Curry, editor of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, writing this week, "What is so galling is that White-owned media companies that have done such an embarrassingly poor job of accurately portraying people of color on their pages and broadcast outlets are now seeking to supplant the only legitimate Black media voices that have performed that task admirably for more than a century."

Seward wrote that, "Perhaps sensing the potential controversy, a spokesman for The Times pointed to East Gainesville's equally large white population and insisted the Guardian would not be a black newspaper."

And while Charlotte Roy, who is managing the project, said in the story that the Gainesville Guardian would "sink or swim" on ad sales, Seward quoted Porter Bibb, managing partner at Mediatech Capital and a former corporate development director for the Times, who said, "Who are they trying to kid here? . . . The risk-reward ratio is perilous. There's no way they can attract very many advertisers in that market."

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Short Takes

  • About 2,500 people attended the funeral of Philadelphia disc jockey Georgie Woods, "The Guy with the Goods," remembering him for his contributions to music, black culture in Philadelphia, and the civil-rights movement, Vernon Clark reported today in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Woods was also the subject of Elmer Smith's column in the Philadelphia Daily News.
  • "SIRIUS Satellite Radio and MultiCultural Radio Broadcasting Inc., a privately held multi-ethnic radio operator, today announced a multi-year exclusive agreement to create and launch Asian language channels on SIRIUS," according to a Tuesday news release. "The Asian programming, the first of its kind to be broadcast on satellite radio, will launch first with a Korean channel and later followed by a Chinese channel."
  • "The National Association of Hispanic Journalists raised over $36,000 in individual contributions for its Campaign for Parity during its annual convention held in Fort Worth, Texas, June 15-18. NAHJ also gained 21 new lifetime members that donated $1,000 or more to the association," NAHJ announced Wednesday.
  • "My June 20 column asking . . . why can't the U.S. government formally apologize for the enslavement of African-Americans provoked a flurry of reader responses, once again underscoring the very different perspectives many black and white Americans have on addressing racial wrongs," Luther Keith wrote Thursday in the Detroit News.
  • Despite a string of no-shows, as Reuters reported, the "BET Awards" became "BET's most-watched telecast in the network's history with 6.6 million viewers (5.1 rating, 4.1 million households) watching the three-and-a-half-hour program according to Nielsen Media Research," a BET news release said.
  • "Firing off the starting gun for a new debate over media ownership deregulation, the Federal Communications Commission is slated to launch a proceeding July 14 seeking input to help it determine what to do about controversial rules that limit the ability of companies to buy broadcast stations and daily newspapers, FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said Thursday," Doug Halonen reported in the subscription-only section of TVWeek.
  • "Mario Garcia, the first to put color on The Wall Street Journal's front page three years ago, will lead the redesign of the newly integrated print and online format for the newspaper's international editions, Dow Jones & Co. announced Thursday," Editor & Publisher reported.
  • "Under pressure from civil rights groups, ABC Television yesterday canceled plans to broadcast a reality show that let the white suburban families living on a Texas cul-de-sac decide which of seven families - including one black, one Asian, one Hispanic and one gay couple - would move into their community," Felicia R. Lee reported Wednesday in the New York Times, writing about "Welcome to the Neighborhood."

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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 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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