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NPR Exec Resigned, but Did a Mindset?

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Journalists of Color Urge Meaningful Change on Diversity

NABJ Is $191,000 in Black, Reversing Deficit

Scott Sisters Freed Amid Crush of News Media

Immigration Backlash Top Race Story on Nightly News

Sheila Johnson Says OWN Needs More African Americans

DeWayne Wickham Named Interim J-Chair at N.C. A&T

Short Takes

Ellen Weiss, who came up through the ranks at NPR, "was open to diversity but she was too much a product of this place to bring change," one observer said. She is shown here at a 2008 meeting of the Public Radio Program Directors. (Credit: Steve Behrens/

Journalists of Color Urge Meaningful Change on Diversity

The resignation of Ellen Weiss as NPR's senior vice president for news can improve prospects for diversity at the network, according to current and former employees of color, but some say only if her departure signals a more drastic change in the corporate culture.

Weiss resigned in the wake of the NPR board of directors' examination of the firing of Juan Williams, NPR staffers were told on Thursday. It was she who delivered the news to Williams, who on Fox News later Thursday characterized Weiss as "the keeper of the flame of liberal orthodoxy. She was pushing out everyone who had a different point of view. She has kept along her pals, her friends who all think alike."

"Obviously I can't comment on the record because of the 'not authorized to speak to the media' rule," said a newsroom employee, one of eight current and former journalists of color at NPR who shared their assessments with Journal-isms.

"I can't really say if Ellen's departure will be good for diversity since I don't know who's going to replace her. But I can say this:

"Ellen was in positions of authority at NPR for many, many years. She had every opportunity to encourage or demand a diversified workforce, but it was not a front-burner issue for her. You have to keep in mind that Ellen sees the world through the prism of 'NPRness,' which encompasses a certain worldview that may or may not include diversity issues. She was inclined to hire and nurture people who reflect her sense of 'NPRness.' If a person of color reflected that sense, she was all for them. But more often than not, she spotted that sense of 'NPRness' in people like herself — upper middle class or higher, Ivy League or a similarly prestigious schools, even down to a certain temperament, personality and tone of voice.

"The most likely candidates to meet those traits were white women; the least likely were black men. I don't think she consciously excluded anyone from working at NPR, but I don't get the sense that she ever seriously examined her own psyche whenever she looked into NPR's diversity problem."

Williams was a senior news analyst under contract at NPR and a commentator on Fox News Channel. His Oct. 20 firing came over his remarks on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" that Muslims dressed in Muslim garb on planes made him nervous. For most of his career at NPR, he was the only black male regularly on the air. NPR has since hired two others. NPR also has black women on the air, such as Michel Martin, host of "Tell Me More," and Michele Norris, co-host of "All Things Considered." Others work off-air.

"The key is that Weiss was the establishment here, the institutional memory. She had a strong following," another employee said. "But she also was a big part of this place's inability to change. She was open to diversity but she was too much a product of this place to bring change.

"Her replacement will be the single-most important decision made here for yrs to come," this employee said via e-mail.

The diversity issue at NPR came to a boil in October 2009, when less than 24 hours after hosting the National Association of Black Journalists at its headquarters in Washington, NPR terminated Greg Peppers, the black journalist in charge of its newscasts and one of two black men in newsroom management.

Peppers is now a senior editor at WAMU, the NPR news affiliate in Washington. He messaged that he thinks Weiss' departure will be good for diversity. "I would also hope that the next Vice President for News takes diversity seriously, meaning does a top to bottom review of diversity issues, from hiring to retention and makes significant changes; particularly in the news managerial and editorial areas. There needs to be a diverse of group managers brought on who can hire a diverse workforce as well as green light a story," he said.

A previous diversity flashpoint took place in December 2008, when the network announced it was canceling "News & Notes" and "Day to Day" effective the following March, and would reduce its work force by 7 percent to forestall a $2 million deficit.

Doug Mitchell, left, Farai Chideya and Adam PowellDoug Mitchell, an NPR employee of more than 20 years who has trained scores of young journalists of color to enter broadcasting, was among those laid off.

Mitchell and Farai Chideya, who hosted "News & Notes," say they see a deeper problem than a single news executive.

"There's a lot at stake these days and the act of removing Ellen Weiss, I think, is a small part of the performance," Mitchell told Journal-isms by e-mail. "The political challenges are huge and there's relationship building to be done on many scales from Congress to communities of color who are not a very large part of the public media landscape. Opportunities have been wasted and perhaps a change of leadership at that level will kickstart bridge building."

Chideya, who was overseas, sent this message, which she also posted on her blog:

"The framing of the departure of Ellen Weiss will always publicly revolve around Juan Williams. But there was a much longer legacy of questionable decisions regarding diversity and even the decisions to kill the geographic tendrils NPR had in LA and New York, leaving those operations greatly smaller in number.

"Her departure should not be viewed as a victory for the political right, or a case of someone being forced to walk the plank for political reasons. From what I understand, the questions raised by the internal audit are much deeper and more institutional.

"I hope NPR will use this shakeup in leadership as an opportunity to continue some promising steps regarding diversity, including the recent hiring of a reporter to cover diverse communities and having Keith Woods as 'Diversity Czar'. But public radio, including NPR, is facing a much bigger question about how to integrate itself internally, in terms of staff, and also in terms of adjusting its coverage so it can reach an increasingly multi-ethnic nation."

Others saw little hope for improvement. Another former employee said, "The people who chose Ellen Weiss and the people whom she chose are still there. The difference is a pretty cold-blooded corporate mindset as represented by Vivian Schiller, which no doubt has Weiss' minions trembling in their boots, but may not necessarily improve things.

"On paper, as someone said to me, NPR has one of the most diverse workforces in the country but like most intellectual establishments remains suspicious of and downright hostile to African Americans and others who have not adopted the sensibilities of the current media culture in this country. So black Americans, Hispanics and minorities in the strictest sense are there but have seldom had a central role or held key positions that influence editorial decisions in hiring or coverage.

"The numbers are going up but I doubt what you hear and read will change."

Adam Powell, who was NPR's vice president for news and information from 1987 to 1990 and the only African American to hold that post, has been a longtime NPR watcher.

"Since they have failed to increase diversity for the past 20 years — and indeed NPR News is *less* diverse than it was in *1990* — we must conclude that either NPR lacks the competence to do it or NPR has chosen not to do it. One or the other: there is no other explanation," he messaged Journal-isms. "If they say they are in favor of diversity and have tried to implement pro-diversity policies, then they are either insincere or incompetent. ABC News, CBS News, NBC News and Fox News are more diverse than NPR News, which to my knowledge is the only network news organization to have been cited in a federal court order for discriminatory hiring and promotion. It's in the DNA."

Powell is now a technology and globalization expert who works as director of Washington policy initiatives at the University of Southern California.

Pressed on diversity, Schiller declared in April 2009, "We need to make sure that we are constantly thinking about a diversity of audience." Later in the year, she appointed Keith Woods, the No. 2 administrator at the Poynter Institute, the school for professional journalists, to the new position of vice president of diversity in news and operations.

Woods told Journal-isms then that he believed he could succeed because "the leadership of NPR has changed and there is a critical mass of leadership both new and longstanding that wants to see NPR succeed at this."

Nadege Douge of the San Diego Association of Black Journalists appears in a video promoting the 2010 convention of  the National Association of Black Journalists. (<a href="">Video</a>)

NABJ Is $191,000 in Black, Reversing Deficit

"We Accomplished Our Mission for 2010," Treasurer Says

The National Association of Black Journalists has turned a $338,901 deficit at the end of 2009 to a surplus of more than $191,000 a year later, Gregory Lee Jr., the organization's treasurer, told Journal-isms on Friday.

"2010 was a year in transition for NABJ," Lee said, previewing a message he said members would receive next week.

"We renegotiated room blocks and vendors contracts associated with the San Diego Convention, that's a huge chunk. But also we marketed the Convention so members can fill up the hotel block we were committed to fulfilling. Hotel attrition greatly hurt the association in 2009," he said by e-mail.

"We also slashed expenses in most of [the] cost centers. Board members picked up the tab on a board meeting. The philosophy 'if an event is not sponsored, it will not go on' was actually executed at all levels. The Board determined that in 2010 we would lay low with expenses, lower debts and execute a successful convention in San Diego. Execution from all levels was critical and we accomplished our mission for 2010."

As with its sister journalism organizations, NABJ suffered in 2009 as the recession took its toll. NABJ President Kathy Times said in October of that year that NABJ had run into higher expenses than projected at its summer convention and was reducing staff, imposing furloughs and asking members for one-time, tax-deductible donations.

The organization had to pay penalties for unused hotel rooms for that year's Tampa, Fla., event.

"Understandably, many people either doubled up or tripled up in rooms, leaving many rooms empty. Nobody knew when the contract was signed in 2005 that we would be facing the greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression," she said then.

The Asian American Journalists Association also faced a budget deficit that year.

It, too, cited a drop-off in membership dues, losses associated with a lower-than-expected turnout at its Boston convention, sponsors who pulled or reduced their support and a buyout of a hotel contract with the Westin Boston Waterfront.

But late last month, AAJA announced that it turned a $207,000 deficit to a $399,000 surplus, emerging "stronger than ever," outgoing National President Sharon Pian Chan told members.

Leaders of the American Society of News Editors, Unity: Journalists of Color, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Conference of Editorial Writers and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association also said they ended the year financially healthy.

However, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists has projected a $240,000 deficit for the year, and the National Association of Multicultural Media Executives, dormant for at least a year, now plans to dissolve. The Native American Journalists Association has yet to report.

"NABJ is entering 2011 on a high," Lee said in a statement. "The association finished the last quarter financially on a high. That momentum is carrying into 2011, where fundraising for our Hall of Fame Gala later this month is doing quite well. We have taken steps to end the trend of slow 4th and 1st quarters. We are moving towards year-round fundraising."

Scott Sisters Freed Before Crush of News Media

"Jamie and Gladys Scott are expected to reunite with their mother and children in Florida tonight, a reunion 16 years in the making," Elizabeth Crisp reported Friday for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.

"The Scott sisters left the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility this morning, waving to a crush of news media and yelling 'We’re free.' ”

" 'I never thought this day would come — where I would be on the outside of those walls,' Jamie Scott said during an afternoon press conference. 'It’s still a dream to me.'

"The sisters had been serving life terms for their involvement in a 1993 armed robbery that netted between $11 and $200, but Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour agreed last week to indefinitely suspend their sentences."

Barbour's Dec. 29 decision came in the wake of a furor over an interview in the conservative Weekly Standard magazine in which Barbour, a Republican who had been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, spoke approvingly about a group called the Citizens Council, known in other states as the White Citizens Council.

But it also followed a campaign that saw New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, among others, championing the Scott sisters' cause.

He wrote of the sisters on Oct. 12: "what has happened to them takes your breath away.

Nancy R. Lockhart, who has championed the sisters' cause since she was a law student, wrote last night of the sisters' mother, Evelyn Rasco: "Mrs. Rasco wanted me to inform everyone that Jamie and Gladys have not arrived home yet. The press conference was too much for her and they had to stop at a hospital and have her examined.

"*They are now on the way HOME!*

"Thank you to everyone who assisted in obtaining freedom for the sisters. Your assistance will be needed in gaining a Full Pardon with Restoration of all Civil Rights."

Immigration Backlash Top Race Story on Nightly News

"Illegal Immigration provokes backlash" was the top story involving race and immigration in 2010 on the television networks' nightly newscasts, according to Andrew Tyndall's Tyndall Report.

The topic logged 100 minutes on ABC, CBS and NBC, followed by "adoption of Haitian immigrants controversy" at 76 minutes, "USDA accused of racial bias against farmers" at 37 minutes and "ICE border controls along Mexico line," 21 minutes.

"ABC's Jake Tapper was the most used reporter," logging 335 minutes; and the Gulf oil spill was by far the top story on the newscasts, logging 1410 minutes, compared with 426 minutes for the runner up, the Haiti earthquake.

We built it and they came,' Oprah Winfrey said. But where are the black experts?'

Sheila Johnson Says OWN Needs More African Americans

Critics who suggest that Oprah Winfrey's new OWN network could use a little more racial diversity found a gentle supporter in Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television.

Johnson, who counts herself as Winfrey admirer, said Thursday on NPR's "Tell Me More":

"The only advice that I say, let's open up your circle a little bit more. You know, we love the Dr. Phils. We love the Suze Ormans. Let's open up. There are other people. And there's also African-American experts out there that I think she should start bringing on her show that can reach even a wider audience."

Host Michel Martin said, "And it's true that there doesn't appear to be a great deal of ethnic diversity in her programming at this point, which is puzzling to some people."

"No. Yes," replied Johnson. "And I think she really should do that and not be afraid to do it. There's really a lot of great experts out there that really know the businesses at hand. And I'd like to see her open up her circle to do that."

Meanwhile, "In a rare Television Critics Association winter tour appearance Thursday, Winfrey told a packed ballroom of TV writers that Saturday's launch of OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network — a joint venture between Winfrey's Harpo Inc. and Discovery Communications — was 'revelatory' for her," R. Thomas Umstead wrote for Multichannel News.

" 'We couldn't ask for more — we built it and they came,' Winfrey told Multichannel News Thursday night during an OWN dinner party. 'My dream is that they continue to come. It's a long process — it's not about this weekend it's about sustainability long term, but I'm pleased with the start.'

"While OWN CEO Christina Norman said the network drew some 13 million viewers during its weekend debut, Winfrey said she's not concerned about ratings. Instead she's focused on providing viewers quality and uplifting programming.

" 'Obviously ratings are important, but they're not as important to me right now . . . I'm not concerned about that,' Winfrey said. 'What I am concerned about is could we get people to the channel. Now that we're able to do that what we know that if we continue to build the channel with programming that is meaningful to our viewers.'"

DeWayne Wickham Named Interim J-Chair at N.C. A&T

DeWayne WickhamDeWayne Wickham, columnist for USA Today and Gannett News Service, has been named interim chairman of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at North Carolina A&T State University, Dr. David Aldridge, interim dean of the school's College of Arts and Sciences, told Journal-isms on Friday.

"I'll continue to do my column. The university has allowed me to hire an assistant chair to help me manage the department and to make it possible for me to continue to go wherever I need to be to report and write my column," Wickham said.

Wickham founded the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies at the historically black university in 2001. The institute annually takes a delegation of black journalists to Cuba to report on the role that Afro-Cubans play in that society and undertakes other reporting projects.

Wickham's appointment is "for the remainder of the fiscal year and began January 1st and will run through June 30th. He will continue to hold his 12 month position as Distinguished Professor and Director of the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies at A&T," Aldridge said.

Aldridge added by e-mail that because of projected state government budget cuts, Wickham's post will not be a 12-month position, and that "the College of Arts and Sciences has proposed to convert its 12 month chair appointments to 9 month appointments as part of its strategy of meeting the state of North Carolina's request for budget reductions for the 2011-2013 fiscal biennium. No final decision has been made by the University on that recommendation."

The state legislature is seeking to cut $3.7 billion in spending.

"A&T's Department of Journalism and Mass Communication currently has two faculty searches underway," Aldridge added.

Short Takes

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Intellectual Cowardice of Black Journalists @ NPR

Ellen Weiss was not the usual suspect, a white male in charge of operations. for over decades she created the template of what is appropriate for coverage and focus at NPR. Under her stewardship she slighted entire continents and paid homage to the Europe, England, Israel and trainwrecks and carnage in 3rd world venues. Where were the Black journalists at NPR advocating for inclusion? Why now do we get these impotent remarks off the record about her marginal attention to diversity and inclusion? White women as derivatives of the White male privilege is not a newsflash for Black folks on this soil.

When can people like me expect Black folks at NPR to step up and make a difference? I am tired of the whispers and off the record commentary. Yeah let's stick a camera and microphone in the face of Black journalists for a change and make them make a difference.

What time will the protest be scheduled? When will the list of candidates of Black talent for Weiss's job be published by Black folks at NPR, Trotter Group, NABJ???

Thanks for your work

Great writing/reading this week, including the excellent analysis about NPR. Shared some of your work last week on my radio show, and I'm sure I will again in the near future.  Keep up the good work. 


Intellectual Cowardice of Black Journalists @ NPR

In response to Greg Thrasher's comment here: In 1981 I began as an occasional commentator on NPR's "All Things Considered." I voluntarily stopped offering commentary ideas in 2005 when I went to work at WPFW-FM as News Director. I felt a conflict of interest might appear in the minds of some, if I was on the payroll of a daily radio news show, and did work on the side for another daily radio news show. In September 2007 however, I committed what a friend described as a form of "career suicide" as far as "major" public radio outlets are concerned, when I openly wrote about an encounter with Ellen Weis, then Executive Producer of ATC about a commentary of mine she spiked about the Million Man March in 1995. I wrote openly in a column in The Washington Informer, that in my case I felt her Jewishness trumped her better news judgement when I told her of the influence of Rabbi David Sapperstein (her husband) on the Black leadership, causing Min. Louis Farrakhan to be dis-invited from speaking at the 30th anniversary of Dr. King's March on Washington in 1993, after Farrakhan was permitted to speak at the 20th anniversary march in 1983. The author of this "Journal-isms" column sternly rebuked me suggesting that perhaps it was simply the fact that I had spoken about her husband, and not because he/they are Jewish that she slapped down my commentary idea. I want it to be known that not all Blacks "inside" NPR have been silent about what Greg Thrasher said in response to this story (I can't really say that I was "inside" but I did have a long on-air relationship until 2005 there, and I did speak out, at peril to my own potential of returning to their airwaves). Privately, Juan Williams and other Blacks inside NPR who I will not name, complained to me about what they described as a "coterie" inside NPR. Greg Thrasher's observation here does not surprise me, but let it be known that someone with something at stake, has complained about this bias, long, long before Juan's right-wing, reactionary outburst brought down the wrath of that very same coterie. But in my case, who would ever defend someone complaining that there was any kind of "pro-Jewish," or "pro-Israel" slant inside NPR? Maybe if she knew about me and this situation, Helen Thomas might have agreed with me, but we see where her opinions on such subjects got her...

Askia, Thanks for having the


Thanks for having the courage to reveal this story and to remind me that some Blacks folks at NPR are not cowards and undercover brothers and sisters.. I am sure Richard can speak for himself on your allegations..I am surprised however by the Trotter Group, NABJ and others who have no problem lecturing, editorizing, posturing when our community fails and engages in stupidity and backwardness yet these interests are reluctant to step up and confront their white corporate superiors etc.. I agree with you about Juan Willams a classic Black apologist impotent Black man but it does appear he did piss off Mastahers Weiss and Schiller while others played the role of good negroes and coloreds...

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