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Labor Dept. Backed Secrecy on Diversity

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Yahoo, Google Cited Need to Protect "Trade Secrets"

Rand Paul Cancels Out on "Meet the Press"

Fox News to Launch Latino Website

FDA to Follow Up on Skin-Lightener Findings

Black-White Wealth Gap Quadrupled, Study Reports

Leon Dash Co-Producing Film on Disabilities

NBC Networks Taking Joint Look at Immigration

Writer Concedes "Treme" Has "Thin Line" on Language

Short Takes

Yahoo prepared a video virtual tour of its Sunnyvale, Calif., campus. (Video)

Yahoo, Google Cited Need to Protect "Trade Secrets"

As things now stand, the U.S. Labor Department is standing with Yahoo, Google, Apple and two other Silicon Valley companies that refuse to disclose the amount of diversity - or lack of it - in their workforces.

The American Society of News Editors this year added "online-only newspapers" to its annual diversity census of print newspapers. Yahoo and Google were among the 21 that did not respond. A Yahoo spokeswoman later told Journal-isms flatly, "We do not release our diversity statistics."

The Labor Department confirmed this week that Yahoo, Google and three other Silicon Valley companies felt so strongly about not disclosing the information that they persuaded federal officials two years ago to block public disclosure - and that the Labor Department agreed that to be forthcoming would be revealing "trade secrets."

Referring to the Freedom of Information Act, Labor Department spokeswoman Elizabeth N. Alexander told Journal-isms, "The FOIA Appeals Unit determined through its own careful analysis that the companies' claims that the release of the information could cause significant competitive harm were valid."

The refusal came during an investigation of Silicon Valley diversity by the San Jose Mercury News.

In February, reporter Mike Swift wrote that in early 2008, the paper had sought federal employment data for Silicon Valley's 15 largest companies through the Freedom of Information Act. "Following an appeals process that stretched over nearly two years, five of those companies - Google, Apple, Yahoo, Oracle and Applied Materials - convinced federal officials to block public disclosure," Swift reported.

He nevertheless concluded, "Hispanics and blacks made up a smaller share of the valley's computer workers in 2008 than they did in 2000, a Mercury News review of federal data shows, even as their share grew across the nation."

Alexander told Journal-isms that "Mr. Swift's request was for EEO-1 data (composition of the workforce with respect to demographic information). The Department of Labor was required to determine whether the information fell within the FOIA exemption relating to trade secrets, or commercial or financial information.

"Ten of the companies included in Mr. Swift's request did not object to the release of the information, and as a result, this data was released to Mr. Swift.

"Five of the fifteen companies included in Mr. Swift's FOIA request did object to the release of the requested information. These companies claimed that if the FOIA request were granted, the public release of confidential trade secrets, or commercial or financial information would occur.

"Mr. Swift appealed the decision that the FOIA request fell within the 'trade secrets' exemption. The FOIA Appeals Unit determined through its own careful analysis that the companies' claims that the release of the information could cause significant competitive harm were valid. Therefore, as required by Executive Order 12600 the appeal was denied and the information was not released.

"Once information is classified as falling under the 'trade secrets' exemption, it is a criminal offense to disclose it."

The Labor Department's response leaves unanswered why the Labor Department decided that disclosing the demographic information caused "significant competitive harm" in the case of these five companies when it did not in the case of those that did not object to disclosure.

Alexander was also asked whether the position by the FOIA Appeals Unit, determined under the Bush administration, would be the same under the Obama administration.

"There is not really anything more I can tell you," she replied. "We've explained the process for reviewing FOIA requests, but it is not possible to discuss the specific details underlying the determinations regarding the requests."

Milton ColemanMilton Coleman, president of the American Society of News Editors, noted that "the census we release to the public reports only the percentages of women and journalists of color in individual newsrooms, not numbers. Those are kept confidential."

He told Journal-isms, "The American Society of News Editors believes that newsroom diversity is essential for the accuracy of coverage on whatever platform that news is presented. We cannot cover communities well if those communities are not represented among those who decide what news is, report and edit it, and present it to the public. Newsroom diversity is therefore an industry imperative.

"Since 1978, we have conducted an annual census of daily newspaper newsrooms and have in recent years begun to invite online news organizations to participate in the survey. All the numbers reported to us by hundreds of newsrooms each year are voluntary disclosures, and the census we release to the public reports only the percentages of women and journalists of color in individual newsrooms, not numbers. Those are kept confidential. In this way, concerned journalism organizations can monitor the news industry's progress in this very critical effort."

Yahoo News is the most-visited news site on the Web.

"For the first time, Yahoo! News actually has full-time beat writers - six of them, including high-profile bylines like John Cook (formerly of Gawker), Michael Calderone (formerly of Politico) and Holly Bailey (formerly of Newsweek)," Joe Pompeo wrote Friday for businessinsider.com. "And they've already unearthed some big scoops, like Cook's recent piece about revelations that Walter Cronkite may have aided anti-Vietnam War activists in the 1960s,"

Pompeo quoted Andrew Golis, editor of blogging for Yahoo News: "It's like doing a startup, except we've already got the biggest news audience in the country."

"Golis said the basic strategy for Yahoo! News was to take advantage of Yahoo.com's existing audience of around half a billion people."

Rachel Maddow's interview of Rand Paul on MSNBC received more than 500,000 online video views in 24 hours. "I thought I was supposed to get a honeymoon," he later said. (Video)

Rand Paul Cancels Out on "Meet the Press"

Rand Paul, engulfed in controversy over his views on the 1964 Civil Rights Act 24 hours after he won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate from Kentucky, has canceled his scheduled appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

His campaign spokesman "said he was exhausted and just doesn't want to rehash the civil rights stuff anymore," Betsy Fischer, executive producer of "Meet the Press," told Journal-isms on Friday.

She said she appealed to the spokesman, Jesse Benton, asking him to contact her or host David Gregory, but as of 5:30 p.m., the candidate had not changed his mind.

Fischer, who became a political researcher for the program in 1992 and had interned there in college, said she could think of only two other such cancellations: Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, who canceled in 1995 on the day of the Million Man March, also pleading exhaustion, and Prince Bandar Bin Saud Bin Khalid, Saudi ambassador to Washington, who canceled at 2 a.m. on a Saturday in 2003. Adel al-Jubeir, a Saudi foreign policy adviser, replaced the prince on three programs that Sunday and said Bandar had been sent on an unspecified mission, the Associated Press reported at the time.

As Barb Shelly wrote about Paul for the Kansas City Star, the news media "won't stop talking about his controversial remarks suggesting he wouldn't have supported the Civil Rights Act had he been in Congress at the time, because it represents government intrusion. (Because of the uproar, Rand issued a statement saying that, actually, he would have voted for the legislation, because racism at the time was 'a stain on the South and our history.' "

Rachel Maddow's Wednesday night interview of Paul on MSNBC received more than 500,000 online video views in just 24 hours, Jeremy Gaines, an MSNBC spokesman, confirmed for Journal-isms.

" I thought I was supposed to get a honeymoon," Paul told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "When does my honeymoon start after my victory?'"

Media writer Michael Calderone asked Friday on Yahoo News: "if Paul's view is controversial enough to dominate cable news and the political blogosphere all day Thursday, how come it wasn't an issue in the month leading up to Kentucky's primary?

" 'It's hard to say why the national media didn't pick it up,' said Bennie Ivory, executive editor of the Courier-Journal. 'It was clearly out there — a major editorial on a really highly visible race.'

"Ivory added that, 'it's just interesting how this thing has evolved in the last 24 hours.' "

Benton told David Weigel, who blogs on conservative issues for the Washington Post, "Rand did Good Morning America today, set the record straight, and now we are done talking about it. No more national interviews on the topic."

Fox News to Launch Latino Website

"Fox News, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, said on Wednesday www.FoxNewsLatino.com) will provide original news and features">the new site FOX News Latino (www.FoxNewsLatino.com) will provide original news and features focused exclusively on the Latino community, Yinka Adegoke reported Wednesday for Reuters.

" 'The U.S. Latino population is one of the fastest growing, accounting for around 15.4 percent of the population in 2008, up from 12.5 percent in 2000, according to Pew Research. As that population grows, marketers are spending more of their advertising dollars with Hispanic media outlets.

" 'About a third of the country is going to be of Latino heritage by 2050 and we thought it was time to launch a site with more of a focus,' said Michael Clemente, Fox News' senior vice president of news editorial.

"The new website will feature videos and other content in both Spanish and English with reports from the United States as well as South and Central America, and the West Indies, among other regions.

"Clemente said he sees little risk that a Latino audience would avoid a website backed by Fox News because of the cable TV network's conservative pundits, whose views on issues like immigration can be at odds with the Latino community.

" 'I don't think there'll be conflict,' he said. 'We will do what we always do on the news side which is to be very fair and balanced on all sides of the issue in our reporting.' "

FDA to Follow Up on Skin-Lightener Findings

"The Food and Drug Administration said Friday it will investigate whether creams used to lighten skin and fade age spots contain dangerous amounts of mercury," Ellen Gabler and Sam Roe reported for the Chicago Tribune.

"Responding to a Tribune investigation that found high levels of the toxic metal in some creams, the FDA said it has alerted its district offices about potentially hazardous products and will take enforcement action if necessary.

" 'We didn't know there was that kind of a risk, and we believe now there is a level of risk,' FDA spokesman Ira Allen said. 'We are going to follow-up.' Allen said he could not provide specifics of the agency's investigation but that the inquiry might include testing samples and inspecting facilities.

"The Tribune reported Wednesday that the newspaper had sent 50 skin-lightening creams to a certified lab for testing, most of them bought in Chicago stores. Six were found to contain amounts of mercury banned by federal law. Of those, five had more than 6,000 parts per million — enough to potentially cause kidney damage over time, according to a medical expert."

Black-White Wealth Gap Quadrupled, Study Reports

"Drawing on economic data from 2,000 American families who were interviewed every few years between 1984 and 2007, researchers have found that the wealth disparity between white and black households has more than quadrupled, regardless of income bracket," Rich Blake reported Tuesday for ABC News.

"In 1984, the average white family in the sample group held around $20,000 more in assets than the average black family, according to a study conducted by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University. By 2007, the 'racial wealth gap' had increased by $75,000.

Additionally, the study found that middle-income white families hold much more assets (stocks, bonds, business interests, real estate other than primary residence) than do high-income black families. A quarter century ago, higher income black households held more wealth than middle-class white families.

" 'As a long-term socio-economic trend, this is both shocking and disturbing,' Tom Shapiro, IASP director and the study's coauthor, told ABCNews.com.

"The IASP study also found that many black families hold more debt than assets and at least 25 percent of black families had no assets to turn to in times of economic hardship. The fourfold increase in the wealth gap reflects a variety of public policies, such as tax cuts on investment income and inheritances, which benefit the wealthiest Americans, Shapiro said. Persistent discrimination in housing, credit and labor markets are also factors that likely played a role in the widening of the gap, he said.

" 'Our study shows a broken chain of achievement,' Shapiro said. 'Even when African Americans do everything right — get an education and work hard at well-paying jobs — they cannot achieve the wealth of their white peers.'"

Leon Dash Co-Producing Film on Disabilities

When Leon Dash talks about people with disabilities, the Pulitzer-winning former Washington Post journalist has cited these figures:

Leon and Destiny DashIn 1960, 70 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. When President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, 70 percent of persons with disabilities were still unemployed. Today, 70 percent of persons with disabilities are — unemployed.

His source for the 70 percent figure, he says, is Andrew J. Imparato, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Dash holds the Swanlund Chair as professor of journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is director of the Center for Advanced Study there. His interest in people with disabilities is personal: His daughter, he told a convocation at the university last fall, was born while Dash was a foreign correspondent in the Ivory Coast, and she has cerebral palsy.

"From her earliest interactions, the world saw Destiny as being disabled. But she quickly developed a strong will to fight the prejudices and ignorance directed toward persons with disabilities. Destiny was determined that she would not be marginalized and she fought — with her family's support — every effort to relegate her to what I call the 'learn nothing disability track' in school from the first to the ninth grade.

"By the 10th grade, she entered an enlightened school system in Chapel Hill, N.C., and was able to concentrate on her studies rather than revisit efforts to put her on the career path to sanding wood and stuffing envelopes — barely making a living.

"Today Destiny uses a power wheelchair and a walker for mobility. She's 29. She works at the prestigious Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Md., and volunteers as a teacher in a school for autistic children.

"Still, her life has been and will always be a struggle against others' presumptions of her capabilities. She must struggle daily against innumerable barriers — both societal and psychological — that steal opportunities and shrink the lives of people with disabilities.

"This is not just a national domestic issue but a global one. Persons with disabilities represent the largest minority in the world, according to the United Nations."

Dash and Mark Leonard, Illinois Public Media executive producer, are on the road seeking funding to make a television documentary, "Ramping Up: The Road to Access," that will show how "inclusion" can clear the obstacles he outlined.

"We are seeking a total of $800,000 for documentary production, web, and outreach. We have no external $$ so far," Leonard told Journal-isms.

NBC Networks Taking Joint Look at Immigration

"According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll," NBC said in an  announcement this week, "the majority of Americans (64 percent) back Arizona’s new controversial immigration law. Yet nearly an identical amount (66 percent) believe the law will lead to the discrimination of Latino immigrants who reside in the U.S. legally. NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo take a special look at the complicated topic of immigration during a daylong series of reports on-air and online May 26, 2010.

"The cross network series, 'A Nation Divided,' sheds light on the on-going debate about immigration in America through investigative reporting, first hand accounts and interviews with immigration experts. A poll of American attitudes towards immigration will be released in conjunction with the series on MSNBC.com.

"NBC News will include special reporting on both 'Today' and 'NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.' While 'Today' will look at how immigration affects families on both ends of the spectrum, 'Nightly News' will take a closer look at the recently passed Arizona law, and other states contemplating similar measures.

"All Telemundo network news shows and local Telemundo TV stations will all have a special focus on Immigration. .. . MSNBC hosts guests discussing immigration every hour. . . . CNBC will debate the economics of immigration reform and discuss the tax implications of legalizing current immigrants. . .

"Additional segments, both archived and new or updated, will be featured on MSNBC.com, TheGrio.com and Dateline’s website (www.dateline.msnbc.com). Meanwhile, local NBC affiliates will be reporting on community based immigration stories as well."

"Treme" team members Tom Piazza, left, David Simon, Lolis Elie, Eric Overmyer and the late David Mills. (Credit: Mary Howell/HBO)

Writer Concedes "Treme" Has "Thin Line" on Language

The new David Simon series on HBO, "Treme," about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, has a lot going for it: The music is one of the stars of the show, it educates viewers about the human dimension of Katrina's tragedy. It has a stellar ensemble cast, and it should provide a smooth career transition for journalist Lolis Eric Elie, a native of the city who took a buyout in December from the Times-Picayune.

It also cusses up a storm. There is no PG version, and while Simon's previous HBO show "The Wire," was set in tough Baltimore neighborhoods where one might argue that profanity was a part of life, Treme features ordinary working people. Episode 6, which aired last week, featured some 36 cases of characters unloading the F-bomb, the S-bomb or some other gratuitous bomb, an average of once every two minutes in the hour-long show.

Journal-isms asked Elie about his work on the show and the language issue.

"I wrote episode 5 and a few scenes in Episode 10, the final one for this season. I'll be back on the job next fall, brainstorming in the writers room and writing another script," Elie replied by e-mail.

"That's the great part about this, the writers room. It reminds me of sitting around with the editors talking about how to cover a big event, or do a series. It's exciting discussing the possibilities. At the end of the day, writing is writing, and it's a lonely business. But collaborating is energizing.

"As for the language issue, I've heard the concern that there is too much cursing from several people, including my father. I'd agree with you that the casual use of foul language coarsens our culture more broadly. It can be too readily acceptable to curse, even in front of older people and authority figures — the very people we used to put on our best behavior for. The show walks a thin line between chronicling reality and also creating an atmosphere where language and action are just a little more clever and exciting that you might encounter on a daily basis. So our language reflects this world that we have created out of the world we live in. It's not our ambition to offend. But hearing this from you will have me checking out the dialog with more sensitive ears."

Short Takes

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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 BugMeNot.com 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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Comments

Trade Secret in Online Media: Blacks need not apply

Imagine, the new media, where we have been told is the future of journalism, investigative reporting, communication and of course information about both the private and public sector of life in America, is under no obligation to communicate, report and reveal to the public the demographic composition of its work force... Instead of inclusion new media giants like Yahoo, Google and others have created workplaces where Black folks are not relevant. According to these companies, it is a trade secret to not report on the amount of diversity in these firms. Secrecy is now the foundation of the new media.... Journalism's secret at these firms is that Black folks need not apply....

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