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NPR Fires a Top Black Manager

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Native Journalists Join Court Brief Against "Redskins"



Black journalists went to National Public Radio on Thursday to hear Byron Pitts of CBS News. The next day, a top black manager was escorted out. (Credit: Drew Saunders)

Greg Peppers Supervised Network's Newscasts

Less than 24 hours after hosting the National Association of Black Journalists at its headquarters in Washington, National Public Radio let go the black journalist in charge of its newscasts, Greg Peppers, one of two black men in newsroom management at the network.NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said in April, 'We need to make sure that we are constantly thinking about a diversity of audience.'

Peppers, who has been with NPR since the 1980s, was escorted out of the building Friday, colleagues said. He was executive producer of NPR's newscast unit.

"We don't comment on [an] employee's reasons for departure or any other personnel matters," spokeswoman Anna Christopher told Journal-isms.

Peppers did not respond to messages left at his home.

An internal note from David Sweeney, managing editor of NPR News, gave no hint of the reasons for Pepper's departure. It said:

"Greg Peppers has left his position as Executive Producer, Newscast.

"Our thanks to Greg for his many contributions to NPR over the years. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.

"Effective immediately, Dave Pignanelli will temporarily take over as manager of the unit. Dave will be closely working with Stu Seidel and me during this transition period. Over the coming weeks, Dick Meyer, Stu and I will begin the search for a new Newscast leader."

Pepper's NPR bio notes, "NPR's newscasts are a twenty-four-hour, seven-day-a-week operation. NPR broadcasts thirty-eight newscasts a day that are heard on more than 700 member stations and overseas on armed forces radio."

Peppers joined NPR from Providence, R.I., where he worked for an all-news radio station. "In the 1980s, Peppers joined the staff of NPR as a part-time news writer. He later worked as an assistant producer for NPR's classical music program 'Performance Today.' Seventeen years later, he moved into his current role with NPR's newscast unit," the bio says.

Peppers' departure leaves Keith W. Jenkins, supervising senior producer for multimedia, as the sole African American man in NPR newsroom management. Jenkins joined NPR last year after taking a buyout from the Washington Post, where he was multimedia director.

Last year, NPR dismissed Doug Mitchell, an NPR employee of more than 20 years who has trained scores of young journalists of color to enter broadcasting. A number of African American men on-air, ranging from former hosts Tavis Smiley and Ed Gordon and reaching back to Sunni Khalid, the former Cairo bureau chief who in 1997 filed a $2 million discrimination suit against the network, have had issues with NPR over the years. Khalid and NPR reached a settlement in 2003.

Vivian Schiller, NPR's president and chief executive, told a National Press Club audience in Washington in March that NPR needs to do a better job reflecting "the full spectrum of . . . our potential listenership" in its most popular programs, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered."

"And in those programs, both in the staffing of those programs, in the stories that we tell, in the guests that we interview, we need to make sure that we are constantly thinking about a diversity of audience. So rather than having a special program that is just for African Americans or a special program that is just for Latino listeners, we needed to be represented in the fabric of everything that we do," she said.

. . . Before Ax Falls, NPR Hosts NABJ and Byron Pitts

National Public Radio hosted "An Evening with Byron Pitts," a book reading and talk sponsored by the National Association of Black Journalists and its Washington chapter, on Thursday night. Byron Pitts

A number of African American NPR employees, although not Greg Peppers, who was let go less than 24 hours later, were present.

The occasion was designed to boost membership in the black journalists' organizations and celebrate the release of the CBS correspondent's new memoir, "Step Out on Nothing: How Family and Faith Helped Me Conquer Life's Challenges" (St. Martin's Press).

In a second-floor auditorium at NPR's Washington headquarters, Pitts told of his struggle as an East Baltimore youth who was bullied, didn't learn to read until he was 12 and stuttered until he was 20, yet fulfilled a lifelong dream to become a journalist on CBS-TV's "60 Minutes."

"The book is meant to encourage all people. It's about struggle and what's required to get past the difficult moments," Pitts earlier told Journal-isms.

"I talk very honestly about my faith and the importance it's played and still plays in my life."

Pitts told the audience that as a journalist, "I'm more interested in telling stories about the voiceless. I know what it's like to be voiceless. I know what it's like not to matter. I know what it means when people say, 'not you.'"

He also said he saw no contradiction between his desire to be closer to God and his mission as a journalist to search for the truth.

Pitts, a longtime NABJ member and an NABJ honoree, pledged to take out a $3,000 lifetime membership in the association, which is striving to overcome a funding crisis.

NABJ gained three such memberships at the event, spokesman Abraham Mahshie told Journal-isms. In addition, Lee Ivory, president of the Washington Association of Black Journalists, said the local chapter signed up about 15 new members.

Telemundo Cuts Eliminate Job of N.Y. News Director

The NBC-owned Telemundo Spanish-language network has eliminated 40 full-time positions, including that of Hugo Balta, the news director of its New York operation, WNJU-TV, and has cut its morning news show on KVEA-TV in Los Angeles, Telemundo spokesman Alfredo Richard told Journal-isms on Friday.

In New York, Telemundo has "created a VP of Content position to oversee the News Dept., Creative Services and all digital platforms," Richard said by e-mail.

"This way we have one person overseeing all content created locally regardless of who produces it at the station. This includes content for the News department, Acceso Total," its entertainment magazine show, "the web and cell phone platforms. We are reviewing applications and will be announcing a VP of Content when the selection process is completed."

Balta is vice president/broadcast of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Overall, "These are very tough decisions as they have a direct impact [on] people's lives," he said. "These reductions are not related to the performance of these employees, but are necessary adjustments we have to do to navigate through these difficult times and secure the continued long-term viability of our station group.

"The reductions will impact approximately 40 full-time positions, which represent less than 3% of the Telemundo employee population. All impacted employees will receive the standard applicable company benefits."

In Los Angeles, "We will, however, have news briefs and we will continue to have Acceso Total at 11:30 and support our network morning show 'Levantate,'" he said.

According to Nielsen ratings figures released Sept. 29 for the first week of the fall season, Univision led among the Spanish-language networks, with 3.66 million viewers (1.9 rating, 3 share). Telemundo had 880,000 (0.5 rating, 1 share), and Azteca had 200,000 (0.1 rating, 0 share).

Joe Davidson, Wife in Chain Kidney-Donation Operation

Joe Davidson urges readers to consider organ donation. (Credit: Jahi Chikwendiu)Joe Davidson, the veteran journalist who writes the "Federal Diary" column for the Washington Post, is recuperating after he and his wife participated in a pioneering kidney-donation program designed to increase the number of kidneys available for those who need transplants.

"My wife (Dine Watson) and I had kidney transplant surgeries on Sept. 22 at Johns Hopkins University" in Baltimore, Davidson told Journal-isms on Friday.

"As you probably know, people with kidney disease can wait many years and even die on dialysis waiting for a transplant. Originally, I had planned to donate my kidney directly to Dine, but our blood and tissue types are not compatible. Dr. Montgomery's program allowed me to donate my kidney to [a] stranger who is compatible with me and allowed Dine to receive a kidney from a stranger who is her blood and tissue type. Getting a kidney from a living, more compatible donor is better all the way around. Both Dine and I are recovering well. I plan to go back to work next week and she plans to return to work in November."

Davidson's reference is to Dr. Robert A. Montgomery, chief of transplantation at Johns Hopkins, and, as of September, bridegroom of mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves.

Montgomery told Shari Rudavsky of the Indianapolis Star last month that about 300 people had received transplants through the multiple-donation program he pioneered in 2007. The first operation involved 10 recipients.

"Although they are still rare, chain donations could help ease the crunch for kidneys. Currently 81,832 people in the United States . . . are awaiting a kidney donation," the story said.

"This is going to be the future. It's not going to solve the organ shortage crisis, but it's going to be one of the things that will significantly increase the number of live donor transplants," Montgomery told the Star.

"Paired donations and chains could allow doctors to transplant an additional 2,000 to 3,000 donations a year," he said.

Davidson, 60, is a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists. He told Journal-isms, "I'd really like to urge your readers to consider being an organ donor. The lack of donors is a particular problem in the black community. I expect to have no lasting ill-effects as a result of my donation. I'd be happy to speak with anyone who is considering organ donation."

Two Post reporters, Martha McNeil Hamilton and Warren Brown, wrote a book in 2002 about Hamilton's donation of a kidney to Brown, "Black and White and Red All Over: The Story of a Friendship."

Both are Southerners. Hamilton is white and Brown is black.

Who's Asking White Players About Limbaugh?

"Over a week has gone by since the news broke that Rush Limbaugh is part of a bid to purchase the St. Louis Rams, and the reactions are in. NFL player Mathias Kiwanuka immediately condemned Limbaugh's many statements as 'flat out racist,'" sportswriter Charles Modiano wrote on the Counterpunch Web site. "A few other players joined in and The New York Daily News headline began with a race qualifier:

“'Black NFL players crush prospect of playing for a Rush Limbaugh-owned St. Louis Rams'

"The story, and the qualifier, were repeated in many more articles, TV spots, and blogs which soon morphed into a new debate:

"'Will Black Players Refuse to Play for Limbaugh?'

". . . So now that we have heard sentiments about 'black people,' columns from black journalists, and reactions from many current and retired 'black NFL players,' a serious question need to be asked:

"How did opposition to Rush Limbaugh ownership become exclusively 'a black thing'?

"Where do 'white people' stand on this?

"Where are the direct denunciations from white sports writers? (Besides Dave Zirin!). And what do white NFL players think? Do we even know? . . . Have we even asked?"

Meanwhile, Limbaugh denied uttering a statement attributed to him by St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell and repeated by CNN and other outlets.

The Post-Dispatch ran an editor's note on Wednesday that said, "A quote in Bryan Burwell's column Oct. 7 attributed to Rush Limbaugh about the merits of slavery in the United States came from the 2006 book '101 People Who Are Really Screwing America' by John Huberman. The book does not provide specific details about the quote.

"Limbaugh, who is part of a group bidding to buy the St. Louis Rams, said Monday that he did not make that statement, which has been widely reported in recent days.

"The Post-Dispatch continues to research the origin of the quote." On Thursday, the newspaper wrote, "Huberman said Wednesday that he had a source for the quote but declined to reveal it on advice of counsel."

On CNN, Rick Sanchez apologized for using the quote. "We have been unable to independently confirm that quote. We should not have reported it and for that I apologize," he said.

Some nonblack columnists have opposed the exclusion of Limbaugh. On National Public Radio's "Tell Me More" with Michel Martin, Ruben Navarrette, a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, said, "as someone who offends people on an hourly basis, okay, and is constantly being berated by right, left and center, and people call my boss any given day to say, 'fire that guy, fire that guy' — I have to object to censorship and this — the idea somehow that people, as Michel mentioned, are being punished for their views."

Similarly, David Climer wrote of Limbaugh in the Nashville Tennessean, "I think it was self-serving foolishness for the owners of NFL teams to essentially black-ball him."

Meanwhile, Limbaugh said on his radio show he was taking the high road.

In addition, "Limbaugh, an ardent enemy of the Democratic party and liberal groups, said the flap over his potential ownership of an NFL reflected his misgivings about the direction of the country under the presidency of Barack Obama," Nathaniel Vinton reported in the New York Daily News.

"What is happening to the National Football League, what is about to happen to it, has already happened to Wall Street, has already happened to the automobile business,' Limbaugh said, claiming he had been done in by the media's 'blind hatred.'"

Obama Image Gives Rolling Stone "Cover of the Year"

'Cover of the Year''"The cover of the July 10-24, 2008, issue of Rolling Stone featuring Barack Obama was named 'Cover of the Year' in the American Society of Magazine Editors’ (ASME) Best Cover Contest," the ASME announced on Thursday. "The announcement was made today by David Willey, ASME President and Editor-in-Chief, Runner’s World, at the Magazine Innovation Summit currently underway in New York City.

"This is the first time in the Awards’ four-year history that the 'Cover of the Year' was determined by consumers rather than by members of ASME. Ten category winners, chosen by visitors to during the first round of public voting, competed for the 'Cover of the Year' honor. The Rolling Stone cover, which won the 'Best Obama' category before it was chosen 'Cover of the Year,' depicts Barack Obama in Raleigh, North Carolina, just a few days after he nailed down the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination."

The nine other Best Cover Contest category winners can be viewed here.

Native Journalists Join Court Brief Against "Redskins"

The Native American Journalists Association is one of several Native groups joining in a friend of the court brief calling on the Supreme Court to review a case contending that the name of the NFL's Washington Redskins is so odious that it should be denied its trademark status.

"The organizations and Indian tribes stand together to express with one voice their collective opinion on the fundamental fact underlying this case: the 'Redskins' trademark is disparaging to Native Americans and perpetuates a centuries-old stereotype of Native Americans as 'blood-thirsty savages,' 'noble warriors' and an ethnic group 'frozen in history,'" says the filing in Suzan S. Harjo, et al., v. Pro-Football, Inc.

The brief quotes Native American columnist Tim Giago: "As far as I can determine, there is only one species of human beings . . . that have sports teams named after the color of their skin – the American Indian."

A Sept. 23 column by Courtland Milloy in the Washington Post, "If the Redskins Care About Honor . . ." is cited in a footnote.

"At least five newspapers have adopted policies forbidding the use of 'Redskins' to identify sports teams: the Oregonian (Portland, Ore.); the Portland (Maine) Press Herald; The St. Cloud (Minn.) Times; the Kansas City (Mo.) Star, and the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star." the brief adds.

The Native groups in the filing are:

The National Congress of American Indians; Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Comanche Nation of Oklahoma, Oneida Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, and Seminole Nation of Oklahoma; National Indian Education Association; National Indian Youth Council; National Indian Child Welfare Association; American Indian Higher Education Consortium; American Indian College Fund; National Native American Law Student Association; Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism; Capitol Area Indian Resources; American Indian Studies - University of Illinois (Urbana Champaign); Native American House, a student services unit at the University of Illinois; Wisconsin Indian Education Association "Indian" Mascot and Logo Taskforce; Native Americans at Dartmouth; Native Americans at Brown; National Institute for Native Leadership in Higher Education; Society of American Indian Government Employees; Native American Journalists Association; Native American Finance Officers Association; Indigenous Democratic Network; Americans for Indian Opportunity; Alianza Ind??gena Sin Fronteras and the International Indian Treaty Council.

Tonya Mosley reports on a bear spotted three times in three days in Arlington, Wash.

"I'm Wearing a Short 'Fro on Air and I Love It"

"I am a broadcast reporter for KING 5 News in Seattle, the NBC affiliate," Tonya Mosley wrote to Journal-isms, reacting to the Oct. 7 column "Good Hair on the TV News Set."

"I made the decision a few weeks ago to go natural — I'm wearing a short 'fro' on air and I love it. Not only that, the response has been overwhelmingly positive from my news director and viewers. I just wanted to let you know that there is a movement (I believe) . . . a resurgence of some kind, and I'm hopeful!"

Short Takes

  • Don Terry, who was laid off in February from the Chicago Tribune and now writes a weekly column for the Chicago Sun-Times, has been chosen as one of four journalists in "the first group of CJR Encore Fellows, a new initiative ‚Äî the first of its kind in the news industry ‚Äî that will provide downsized professionals with a writing position as well as support to help them choose how best to use their experience in the years ahead. Their work will be featured in the magazine and on over a nine-month period beginning in late October," the Columbia Journalism Review announced on Thursday. Others are Lisa Anderson, who was with the Chicago Tribune; Jill Drew, the Washington Post; and Terry McDermott, Los Angeles Times.
  • "Though there were reports today that CNN would air the 'Drop Dobbs' anti-Lou Dobbs ad during the 'Latino in America' series next week, CNN says it will not be running it," Kevin Allocca wrote Thursday for MediaBistro. "The Chicago Tribune's Swamp reports, 'Media Matters says it has partnered with America's Voice, with the help of "thousands of grassroots activists" who responded to fundraising for the anti-Dobbs ad campaign, to air its ad Oct. 21 and 22 during the cable network's heavily promoted Latino in America series'" but "a CNN spokesperson tells us, 'Contrary to reports, CNN has not accepted these spots and they will not air on the network.'"
  • "CNN said Thursday that it would disclose one of its contributors‚Äô ties to an insurance industry advocacy group in the future, but did not explain why it had not done so in the past," Brian Stelter Alex Castellanosreported Thursday for the New York Times. "The cable news network was reacting to a claim by Media Matters for America, a progressive media monitoring group, that one of its regular commentators, Alex Castellanos, was tied to an advertising campaign by America‚Äôs Health Insurance Plans, an association of about 1,300 insurers. AHIP opposes a government-run plan." Castellanos also produced the 1990 "white hands" spot for the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., in which a narrator intoned, "You needed that job. And you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair? Harvey Gantt says it is." Gantt, a Democrat who lost to Helms, is black.
  • "From a strict buzz standpoint, ESPN The Magazine‚Äôs 'Body Issue' ‚Äî featuring near-nude professional athletes like Serena Williams ‚Äî was bound to be a success," Dylan Stableford wrote Friday for "And judging from the early returns, it‚Äôs exceeding the business rationale for the Disney-owned publisher, too. At the Magazine Innovation Summit in New York on Thursday, ESPN general manager Gary Hoenig said that the 'Body Issue' generated 400 new subscriptions in the two hours following its publication."
  • "The Providence Journal says it's 'saddened' some readers have been offended by an editorial cartoon depicting a mixed-race Rhode Island lawmaker as a shoeshine boy," the Associated Press reported on Thursday. "The cartoon, which ran Saturday, showed House Majority Leader Gordon Fox shining the shoes of House Speaker William Murphy, who was wearing a crown. The cartoon prompted an outcry by the NAACP, which said it was inappropriate to depict a person of color as subservient."
  • Roland Martin Commentator Roland Martin "will take a short time out from his numerous endeavors to travel to Atlanta today to receive from the Rev. Jesse Jackson the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition's 'Broadcaster of the Year' award at the organization's 'Keep Hope Alive' gala," Lewis Lazare wrote Friday in the Chicago Sun-Times. In a statement, Jackson said Martin has "his finger on the pulse of African-American thought." Lazare continued, "Martin doesn't shy away from the praise Jackson heaps on him. But not because he thinks he is something extra special. Rather, he will tell you he has toiled for decades in the trenches as a black journalist, and he is constantly listening to his African-American brethren."
  • Editorial writer Jarvis DeBerry of the New Orleans Times-Picayune said he worried when he had to address students at Dillard University. "The students enrolled in the newswriting class have come of age in an era where ad hominem attacks shouted at great volume are wrongly characterized as healthy debate. . . . I encouraged the students to read opinions written by writers they don't like, writers who are philosophically opposed to their deeply cherished positions. Not just so they could say that they had done so, but so that they can honestly wrestle with an adversary's opinion. This will not only help them to anticipate the other side's argument when they're writing their own opinions; it will also allow them to step out of the echo chamber and engage in honest dialogue with those who see the world differently."
  • "Amid signs of disagreement over war strategy within the Obama administration, Afghanistan led the news last week, the first time since the News Coverage Index began in January 2007 that the eight-year-old war has emerged as the top story," Mark Jurkowitz wrote Wednesday for the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
  • MyTribeTV, an Indian-owned business in Seattle, will provide online coverage of the first-ever White House Tribal Nations Conference on Nov. 5, the business announced. The event is to be streamed at The White House said each of the 564 federally recognized tribes can send one representative to the conference. President Obama has promised to meet yearly with tribal leaders.
  • In Cuba, "Medical doctor and dissident journalist Darsi Ferrer, who began a hunger strike two days ago, today entered his 80th day in 'preventive detention,'‚Äù Reporters Without Borders said on Friday. "His wife, Yusnaimy Jorge, has written an open letter condemning the circumstances of his imprisonment, at Valle Grande jail in Havana."
  • "The editor-in-chief of Zambia‚Äôs largest newspaper was criminally charged for the second time on Wednesday after running an op-ed critical of controversial pornography charges against a journalist, according to local journalists and news reports," the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Thursday. "Magistrate David Simusamba charged Fred M‚Äômembe, a 1995 recipient of CPJ‚Äôs International Press Freedom Award, and the daily Post with contempt of court over an August op-ed on the ongoing trial of Post News Editor Chansa Kabwela, according to defense lawyer Remmy Mainsa."

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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