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Outraged by the Violence

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Black Columnists Urge Attention to Lost Lives

A spate of killings from Oakland to Newark is galvanizing African American columnists, who are asking for action in their own communities, wondering why there has been no national outcry and pointing the way to possible solutions.




"It has been almost six years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the nation's consciousness of terror was yanked to new heights," Bob Herbert wrote Friday in the New York Times. "In those six years, nearly 100,000 people — an incredible number — have been murdered in the United States.

"No heightening of consciousness has accompanied this slaughter, which had nothing to do with terrorism. The news media and most politicians have hardly bothered to notice."

It was the fourth column on the subject that Herbert has written since July 14.

That day, he wrote: "As of last week, the toll of public schoolchildren slain in Chicago since the opening of the school year had reached 34, including two killed since the schools closed for summer vacation."

"That's more than a kid every two weeks," he quoted Arne Duncan, the chief executive of the city's school system, as saying. ''Think about that.''

On July 17, Herbert quoted Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.: "It's important, he said, that Americans reach a mind-set in which 'we care just as much' about the children slain in Chicago as those killed at Virginia Tech."

On Aug. 11, the columnist turned his attention back to the East Coast: "As if signaling the start of an accelerated killing season, six people were murdered on the first day of summer. Philly's homicide rate is on pace to break last year's tally of 406," he noted.

Generating perhaps the most outrage was the execution-style killings of three Delaware State College students in a Newark, N.J., schoolyard two weekends ago.

It followed by three days the killing of Oakland editor Chauncey Bailey, the first assassination of an American journalist on U.S. soil since 1993.

But the steady buildup in homicides has caused even more concern.

"At exactly what point should the number of homicides in a city make your jaw drop?" Gregory Kane asked Wednesday in the Baltimore Sun.

"It depends on where you are. In Newark, N.J., that number appears to be 60. When four college students were shot— three fatally —in a schoolyard Aug. 4, Newark residents figured that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Within days of the crime, disgruntled Newark residents gathered outside City Hall and demanded Mayor Cory Booker's resignation.

"In Baltimore," Kane continued, "we didn't get outraged until the number of homicides hit 178, and only then because we feared that, at 178, we were drifting back toward the dreaded three-oh-oh in the number of killings for one year."

Los Angeles-based commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson, wearing his activist hat, held a news conference calling for more resources and attention to the issue of witness protection.

"As has been reported on this site in the past, the problem of witness cooperation is at the core of the national homicide problem," crime reporter Jill Leovy wrote on her Los Angeles Times blog.

In Atlanta, Cynthia Tucker wrote in the Journal-Constitution, "Even if racism were to magically disappear tomorrow, we could manage to destroy ourselves."

She took to task the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other old-line civil rights groups: "If the SCLC and its counterparts are still interested in rescuing black America, the worsening plight of young black men is clearly the place to begin. It's no simple matter — no easy call to action against the benighted forces of white racism.

"But there is no more important work to be done."

On Aug. 9, the Justice Department released a study showing that nearly half the nation's murder victims in 2005 were black, and the number of black men who were slain is on the rise.

And on Friday, Brendan McCarthy reported in the New Orleans Times-Picayune that that battered Gulf Coast city, still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, is also suffering from a worsening crime problem.

"Quarterly crime statistics released Thursday by the New Orleans Police Department show that violent crime — murders, rapes, armed robberies and assaults — is up 31 percent compared with the same period in 2005, before Hurricane Katrina," he wrote.

"While the NOPD, much like the rest of the city, struggles to rebuild its infrastructure and increase staffing, the statistics make clear that violent crime in a notoriously violent city has increased."

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In Detroit, Some Note Absences at Bailey Service

"In a moving tribute in one of the many cities Chauncey Bailey Jr. called home, Detroit said goodbye Thursday evening to the firebrand journalist who made his mark here as a hard-charging reporter and columnist during his 12 years at The Detroit News," Cindy Rodriguez wrote Friday in the News.




But on the e-mail list of the National Association of Black Journalists on Friday, the talk was about who was not present at the Detroit memorial service. Bailey worked at the Detroit News, the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune and the Hartford (Conn.) Courant, all mainstream newspapers, and his last job was as editor of the Post Newspaper Group, a black-owned company in the San Francisco Bay area that includes the Oakland Post.

"I just returned from the memorial service for Chauncey Bailey here in Detroit," wrote Randye Bullock, a communications specialist and former president of NABJ's Detroit chapter, as well as a former national board member.

"I was only one of nearly 55 people to show up. Where were representatives of Detroit's black press? Where were the current Detroit Chapter NABJ officers? Where were the young journalists [for whom] Chauncey helped to pave [the] way? People can't say they didn't know about it . . . it was in both of our major papers. Don't our young people know that he was killed for doing his job? So what if they didn't know him. He was a good journalist, he was a black journalist who loved what he did. His life was ended too early. Have they become so calloused, so desensitized not to care?"

Some attributed the low attendance to Bailey's membership in the black press. Others discounted that theory.

Elizabeth Atkins, a novelist and former president of the Detroit NABJ chapter, gave Journal-isms this account of the service for Bailey, who was slain Aug. 2 in Oakland as he went to work:

"Friends, family and former colleagues attended the memorial service at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit. It was organized by Chauncey Bailey's former wife, Robin.

"Bob Berg, who was press secretary for the late Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, recalled a time when Chauncey questioned the mayor as they entered an elevator at the airport.

"Mayor Young deflected the question by saying: 'I don't like black reporters who come out to do a hatchet job on me.'

"Chauncey responded: 'You don't like black reporters who ask tough questions.'

"Tension mounted to the point, Berg said, that the mayor's security chief actually pulled the mayor back. The elevator doors closed, with Chauncey on the outside, the mayor on the inside. Later, however, Chauncey wrote a touching column about a friendly encounter that he and his young niece shared with the mayor during a chance meeting at a store.

"'Chauncey was either catching hell or giving hell,' said former Detroit News editor Luther Keith, who was Chauncey's editor. 'Chauncey was not trying to get everybody to like him. He cared about, "What's the story?" He didn't go along to get along.'

"U.S. Congressman John Conyers said: 'Chauncey Bailey was dynamic and unrelenting. He was a terror to those that could not speak truth. He was one of the few members of the press who was a progressive advocate for truth and justice.'

"Speakers also referenced the state of contemporary journalism, and said Chauncey Bailey's death was a chilling tragedy for all journalists.

"'His death was an attack on what America stands for — freedom of expression," said Keith. 'Chauncey paid the ultimate price.'

"Joe Madison, host on WOL radio in Washington, D.C., and former head of the Detroit NAACP chapter, flew in for the funeral. He shared his vision of an imaginary press conference in heaven, where Chauncey would be stirring things up.

"Former WXYZ-TV (ABC) news anchor Bill Bonds delivered a moving speech about an imaginary conversation with Chauncey in which they discussed the news media's fixation on celebrities. He questioned why we know more about Lindsay Lohan, Michael Vick and his dogs and Anna Nicole Smith than we know about the U.S. attorney general, George Bush's agenda and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Chauncey Bailey, he said, 'was a gift . . . his gift was real heart.'" Berg estimated attendance at 150.

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Dellums' Relations with Media at a Low Point

"Ron Dellums' relations with the media, which have been strained over the years, hit a low point this week, when the Oakland mayor told reporters they were 'cynical' for asking him to detail his plans to fight crime in the city," Christopher Heredia wrote Aug. 11 in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"The Thursday news conference at City Hall — where the mayor was to announce his new anti-crime initiative— had the appearance of a pep rally, with city staffers outnumbering journalists. Dellums allowed reporters only five or six questions after giving what sounded like a sermon about crime and violence at the national level and the need for journalists to not fan violence with sensational reporting.

"Dellums told reporters they need 'to move beyond "if it bleeds, it leads." '

"Reporters who have covered Dellums over the years said it was an example of his strained relationship with the media."

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Melvin Claxton Takes Tennessean Buyout



Melvin Claxton, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Nashville Tennessean, is one of eight newsroom employees at the newspaper approved for a "voluntary severance program," or buyout, and the only one of color, publisher Ellen Leifeld told Journal-isms on Friday.

Claxton's work at the Virgin Islands Daily News earned that paper the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for public service for its disclosure of the links between the region's rampant crime rate and corruption in the local criminal justice system. The reporting, largely the work of Claxton, initiated political reforms, the Pulitzer Board said.

That same year, his work, "Antigua: Corruption, Inc.," a series on how government officials were involved in murder, drug trafficking and more, was also honored.

After his Virgin Islands service, Claxton, 49, moved to the Chicago Tribune, Detroit News and then, two years ago, to the Gannett-owned Tennessean.

Claxton told Journal-isms that he was recruited to the Tennessean by then-editor E.J. Mitchell, with whom he had worked at the Detroit News. Mitchell put an emphasis on investigative reporting. "I only went there because E.J. had a vision for what he wanted to do. I have no interest in a job in journalism" unless it involves investigative work and public service, he said. "That's not the direction the new management wanted to go."

Mitchell left in September, and the paper's new direction "would not allow us to do the kind of things that really need to be done in this community," Claxton said.

"Leifeld announced the buyout offer last month. Sixty-six employees requested the buyout, but only 24 were accepted," the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. Claxton said he will continue to be paid for seven months, giving him time to decide his next move.

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BET: We Employ the Most Black Journalists

Less than a week after being awarded the Thumbs Down award from the National Association of Black Journalists, Black Entertainment Television touted two awards it received from the organization at its convention last week and asserted, "BET employs more Black journalists than any other news organization, and they do award-winning work."



Asked to support that statement, Keith Brown, BET's vice president for news and public affairs, told Journal-isms:

"Over the past 15 years I've worked for most of the major networks in the industry, and have always been one of a very few number of black news producers. That was one of the reasons I was so excited to come to BET — to have the opportunity to be part of a news organization where so many black journalists can have an opportunity to do their best work.

"Over the course of the year we've employed more than 50 Black journalists and news managers, which include executive producers, senior producers, producers, editors, videojournalists and news managers to work on our specials, our weekly series Meet the Faith and the daily Newsbriefs. If we include those journalists working for BET.Com the number is even greater."

BET was cited by NABJ for its dearth of regular public affairs programming, its failure to broadcast live the funeral of Coretta Scott King and "the channel's perpetuation of harmful Black stereotypes due to the airing [of] hip-hop videos that often have misogynistic, materialistic and violent themes."

In NABJ's "Salute to Excellence" awards, BET won in the "best feature/long form" network television category for a segment on methamphetamine on the discontinued Sunday morning show "The Chop Up." It also won for a news special that looked at the Louisiana and Mississippi region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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Morganfield Exits Freedom Forum, Plans Ministry



Robbie Morganfield, who as executive director of the Freedom Forum's Diversity Institute in Nashville ran the primary program training people in other professions to become journalists, is leaving the Freedom Forum for the University of Maryland and, eventually, a full-time ministry.

"Since the Diversity Institute's inception in 2002, we trained 79 fellows in nine classes. About 60 percent of those continue to be employed at newspapers or are working as full-time freelancers," Morganfield told Journal-isms. "Dozens of them have won awards, including one fellow who recently won first place in a national competition; two graduates are now assigning editors, one is a columnist and member of her newspaper's editorial board. This has been a very rewarding experience."

Last year, however, Freedom Forum officials decided to end that program and move in a different direction.

Jack Marsh, the Freedom Forum's vice president for diversity programs, said, "We have three diversity initiatives we are piloting this year: The Diversity Institute multimedia journalism course and internship program we ran earlier this summer in partnership with Black College Wire; the Diversity Institute Online and Multimedia Reporting Seminar for working journalists this week in Nashville; and a semester-long student exchange program this fall at the University of South Dakota being run through our American Indian Journalism Institute.

"Robbie Morganfield has directed our operations in Nashville the past few years. Although some responsibilities will be realigned, we remain committed to effective programs and new initiatives that promote a diverse workforce in daily newsrooms," Marsh told Journal-isms.

Morganfield, 46, a nephew of blues legend Muddy Waters, had more than 20 years of newsroom and classroom experience when he joined the Diversity Institute as a training editor/instructor in 2002, rising to executive director.

He said he has received a fellowship from the Merrill College of Journalism at Maryland that will allow him to pursue a Ph.D. in Media Studies with an emphasis in "Race, Religion and Media." He also plans to teach there and assist the school with diversity programming. Moreover, "I have been hired as the new executive director/minister of Shaw Community Ministry, a nonprofit that offers after-school and other programming to youths and their families living in the Shaw area of DC," he said.

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At NABJ, Hillary Clinton Pulls Out the Stops

"What's the difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? First, the obvious: She's a white woman, he's a black, or black enough, man. Beyond that, it gets muddled," Robin  




Washington, editorial page editor of the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune, wrote on Friday.

"So they're both smart," Washington concluded, writing from the National Association of Black Journalists convention last week in Las Vegas, "but Clinton, taking endearment lessons from her husband, may have found an edge.

"How planned it was, I don't know, but sitting behind me in Clinton's meeting with the columnists was Mary Wilson of the Supremes, a supporter guaranteed to impress everybody. When the two stood for a picture, Wilson stretched out her arm in 'Stop!' mode. So did Clinton.

"Smart. And hip."

His column was titled, "Two smart candidates, but one Supreme edge."

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DNA Testing + Truth Telling = Racial Surprises

Betty Bayé of the Louisville Courier-Journal attended the "What Is Race?" panel at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, discussed in advance in this column.

"Race in America is being redefined," she concluded in her column on Thursday, "and the one-drop rule," under which one drop of black blood makes one black, "is being openly challenged like never before. DNA plus liberal doses of truth-telling, I do believe, are going to surprise a whole lot of Americans about how they've been robbed of their inheritances— and the extent to which they've been lied to about the branches on their family trees."

Also from the NABJ convention:

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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