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Roger Ebert Championed Diversity in Film

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Critic Found Filmmakers of Color "Morally Necessary"

Plain Dealer Trims Home Delivery, Plans Staff Cuts

Website Maps Newspaper Use of "Illegal Immigrant"

Ex-FCC Officials Say Redskins Name Inappropriate on Air

National Journal Counts 2 Blacks Among Staff of 70

MSNBC Most Diverse in Survey of Sunday Talk Shows

Report: Media Ignore Unions, Except as "Troublemakers"

U.N. Panel Says Ethiopian Is in Prison for His Views

Short Takes

Caption: Roger Ebert and Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert at their 1992 wedding. (Credit:

Critic Found Filmmakers of Color "Morally Necessary"

Among the tributes to the likability, insight and journalistic skill of America's most well-known film critic, Roger Ebert, were praise for the way Ebert expressed his appreciation for diversity in his professional and personal lives.

Friday's front page

Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times critic who became more broadly well-known as half of the television team of Siskel and Ebert, died at 70 on Thursday after a long battle with thyroid cancer.

Ebert's appreciation of diversity was wide-ranging. He is survived by his African American wife, Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert. Oprah Winfrey's website posted a piece about their two dates in the 1980s, during which he encouraged the then-host of a modest local TV show, "AM Chicago," to go into syndication. She took the advice.

 "Roger Ebert is one of my Asian American heroes, because he helped change the face of Asian American film after he famously responded to a (white) heckler during the Q&A after a screening of Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow at Sundance in 2002," Joz Wang, who uses the pen name jozjozjoz, wrote Thursday on the website

She quoted from a transcript of Ebert's remarks:

"I was on a panel today with Chris Eyre, the Native American director. And he said, that for a long time, his people, American Indians, had always had to play some kind of a function, like they were the source of spirituality, or the source of great wisdom and they spoke to the trees and the wind and so forth. And he wanted to make a movie that allowed Native Americans to be people. People in some cases who are alcoholics or who are vigilantes, or in prison (music interrupts). And what I find very offensive and condescending about your statement, is nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers, 'How could you do this to your people?' This film has the right to be about these people and Asian American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. They do not have to 'represent' their people. . . ." [video]

Wesley Morris, a black journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism last year while at the Boston Globe, added to that thought Friday on the Grantland site:

"Ebert did a lot of reading, particularly on social issues," Morris wrote. "No major critic did more for black movies than he did. He championed great filmmakers like Spike Lee and Charles Burnett. He lifted up directors like John Singleton and Matty Rich, finding the upside in some of their mediocre filmmaking without ever seeming to damn with faint praise, lower his standards, or lie. Their filmmaking might not have been spectacular, but he deemed it morally necessary.

"That Ebert married a black attorney named Chaz Hammelsmith in 1992 doesn't seem relevant to his racial sagacity and yet it does: He could see her radiance. Neither on television nor in print was there any kind of white guilt, just empathy and an uncanny sense of the nuances of racial politics.

"Talking to [Gene] Siskel about 1991's House Party II, Ebert observed that the dark-skinned kids were portrayed as troubled, bad, or stupid while the light-skinned kids were smart and virtuous, and worried that that dynamic just reinforced all the old intra-racial inferiority complexes. That was the sort of insight television producers were always bringing on Julianne Malveaux to make. To see a white critic express that and do so with that kind of concern only made you feel closer to Ebert. He and Siskel were not unfairly hard on Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Murphy, or Richard Pryor, making them responsible for their bad choices and not the vagaries of Hollywood racism. There was no lament in the criticism, just disappointment. . . ."

Eric Deggans, television critic for the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, credited Ebert with being "the first arts critic who showed me just how far you could take this gig," who was "so cool he once dated Oprah and has Martin Scorsese working on a film about his life."

On the "She the People" section of the Washington Post website, Mary C. Curtis steered readers to Ebert's July 17, 2012, blog posting, "Roger Loves Chaz," and wrote, "Try to read this love letter from Roger Ebert to his wife, Chaz, and not cry."

"Wednesday, July 18, is the 20th anniversary of our marriage," Ebert wrote. "How can I begin to tell you about Chaz? She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she has my love, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading. If my cancer had come, and it would have, and Chaz had not been there with me, I can imagine a descent into lonely decrepitude. I was very sick. I might have vegetated in hopelessness. This woman never lost her love, and when it was necessary she forced me to want to live. She was always there believing I could do it, and her love was like a wind forcing me back from the grave. . . ."

Plain Dealer Editor Debra Adams Simmons addresses the newsroom on Thursday. Terr

Plain Dealer Trims Home Delivery, Plans Staff Cuts

"The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, whose reporters organized one of the industry's most active opposition movements against its parent company's plans for cutbacks, will trim home delivery to three days a week and create a new digital company, the owner, Advance Publications, said on Thursday," Christine Haughney reported for the New York Times.

The paper is also expected to cut more than one-third of the 165 Newspaper Guild members on its newsroom staff. However, the contract guarantees employment for those who remain through 2019.

"According to the announcement, the company is creating a new digitally focused media company called the Northeast Ohio Media Group. It will continue to print a daily newspaper that readers can buy on newsstands and elsewhere. These changes will start to take place this summer," Haughney reported.

It is expected that some of those cut from the newsroom staff will be assigned to the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Debra Adams Simmons, the Plain Dealer's editor, told Journal-isms it was too early to discuss their fate.

"No staffing decisions have been made. The leadership of the new company was just announced yesterday," Adams Simmons said Friday by email. "The next step would be to decide what skills are needed and to identify the best talent to fill those roles. We currently have a diverse staff and I expect that to continue here and at the new company. You may have noticed three of the top positions in our market — the president of the media group, the general manager of the publishing company and the editor — are held by women, including two women of color. You often have said diversity in top positions breeds a more diverse workforce so I think we are well poised."

Robert L. Smith noted Thursday in the Plan Dealer story, "Many newsroom staff, while lamenting the end of a home-delivery era, expressed relief the changes were not more dramatic. Advance, a privately held company run by the heirs of S.I. Newhouse, has been drastically curtailing the print schedules at many of its newspapers across the land."

The Associated Press reported that the Plain Dealer has a weekday circulation of about 286,400 and that other Advance papers, such as the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and the Birmingham News in Alabama, have cut back their publishing schedules to three days a week.

Key: Purple: Undocumented Immigrants/Similar; Pink: Illegal Immigrants/Similar;

Website Maps Newspaper Use of "Illegal Immigrant"

"When the Associated Press Stylebook decided to no longer sanction using the term 'illegal' or 'undocumented' immigrant, we noted our policy as well," John Rosman wrote Friday for the Fronteras website.

He continued, "As a striking change as this is for journalists, we were curious if this decision impacted our audience. We sent out a query asking people what terms they used, and were surprised by the responses we got along the border and across the U.S."

Using Google Maps, the Fronteras site developed a map of responses and published "some of the voices that highlight the complexities of a term."

Meanwhile, "Editors at the Los Angeles Times are considering changes in policy regarding the use of the term 'illegal immigrant' in Times reports," Cindy Chang and Marisa Gerber reported in that newspaper.

They continued, "At the Los Angeles Times, 'illegal alien' was the preferred usage from 1979 until the newspaper's style guide changed in 1995, said Henry Fuhrmann, assistant managing editor in charge of copy desks.

"Since then, writers have been directed to use 'illegal immigrants' while avoiding 'illegal aliens' and 'illegals.' "

At the 17th annual American Copy Editors Society conference in St. Louis, Darrell Christian of the AP Stylebook team "said discussion about banning ['illegal immigrants'] was long and involved talks with interest groups, but no reasoning could be found for 'ease of use' to trump not offending people," Gerri Berendzen reported in a blog from the conference.

"But while groups asked for a ban on the word 'illegal,' Christian said it will continue to be used to describe 'illegal actions.' . . . "

Elsewhere, "The Americans for Legal Immigration political action committee, which is neither a traditional news publication nor a reliable source of independently verified information, said Wednesday that it will adopt the term 'illegal invader' in its communications to replace 'illegal immigrant,' ” HuffPost Latino Voices reported Friday.

Ex-FCC Officials Say Redskins Name Inappropriate on Air

"Led by former FCC chairman Reed Hundt, a dozen former FCC officials, activists and others have written Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder asking him to change the name of the football team, suggesting broadcasters are breaking the law by using the name on the airwaves," John Eggerton wrote Friday for Broadcasting & Cable.

"In addition to the letter, Hundt wrote an op ed in the Washington Post on Friday saying that the FCC 'clearly has the authority to investigate whether broadcasters' use of derogatory names to describe sports teams and players comports with the public interest.'

"And he would like them to use it.

"Hundt told B&C that his first choice would be for Snyder to change the name, but if that didn't happen, for broadcasters not to use it on-air, and for the FCC to actively investigate whether its use constitutes indecency. 'The FCC chairman and commissioners ought to speak up right now. They don't have to say they have to regulate, but they ought to say what the right answer is. It's not their job to be silent.' . . ."

Meanwhile, Julius Genachowski, the current FCC chairman, announced last month that he was stepping down. In the Columbia Journalism Review, Tracie Powell wrote Thursday that journalists should care who succeeds him because:

  • "That person will likely decide whether Rupert Murdoch and other big media owners will be allowed to own both newspapers and TV or radio stations in large markets.

  • "With more newspapers reducing print schedules and relying solely on digital, the next FCC chair will determine ways to either make broadband more accessible and cheaper or whether to maintain the status quo, with rising prices and a limited number of competitors in the marketplace.

  • "The FCC is the only agency with a mandate to make the media more diverse, local, and accountable. A new chief could choose to use its enforcement powers to ensure diversity is reflected in the voices, perspectives, and owners in media.

  • "The new chairperson could also determine whether to make political advertising more transparent in TV ads and online. . . ."

In Denver, the National Conference for Media Reform opened Friday. The "Democracy Now! radio and television show reported, "Some 2,000 people are expected to gather to look at how media, technology and democracy intersect. . . . One of the major topics this year is media consolidation. As newspapers struggle to survive, billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch have expressed interest in buying Tribune Company, which includes the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is also weighing a bid for the Los Angeles Times in a market where he already owns two television stations. . . . "

National Journal Counts 2 Blacks Among Staff of 70

Charles GreenThe Washington publication National Journal published a piece Thursday that is called "Has Obama Done Enough for Black Americans?" online and "the Weight" in print.

It assumed added interest for this column because the Journal is one of a circle of Washington magazines not known for their diversity. The Journal also maintained a partnership with PBS' "Washington Week" with Gwen Ifill from 2005 to 2012, supplying panelists to appear on the show.

The piece's conclusions were not surprising, saying of many African Americans, "Thrilled beyond words at seeing a proudly black man in the Oval Office, they almost don't want to admit they want still more. But they know they have to be exceedingly careful in pushing [President] Obama to talk more about — and do more for — black Americans still reeling from a recession that hit them harder than anyone else.

"Wanting more is why so many blacks, from the barbershops and street corners to the think tanks and highest levels of academe, are investing so much in the belief that Obama has been liberated by his reelection to become more of a champion for his community. . . ."

Charles Green, editor of the Journal since 1999 responded to a question from a Journal-isms reader asking whether any African Americans worked on the story.

"Neither George Condon nor Jim O'Sullivan, the authors of the story, is African American," Green responded by email.

"We currently have two African Americans on our editorial staff," he continued in response to another question.

"To answer a question you didn't ask: I don't think the fact that both Condon and O'Sullivan are white detracts from the merits of the article about President Obama. The two authors reported on what black supporters and black critics of President Obama had to say on the issue of whether the president has focused enough on race during his presidency. I think the story airs both sides of the issue and is a very fair treatment of a sensitive subject.

"I hope you agree that it was a worthwhile piece."

Green said that of the two African Americans, one is a reporter and the other a copy editor. The editorial staff includes about 70 people. He said he did not want to name the black journalists without their permission, and they are not readily evident among the magazine's staff bios.

Green also said the publication has no staff openings at the moment.

MSNBC Most Diverse in Survey of Sunday Talk Shows

"The four broadcast networks' Sunday morning political talk shows guests skewed right during the first quarter of 2013," Rob Savillo reported Friday for Media Matters for America.

"MSNBC's two Sunday programs featured far greater gender and ethnic diversity in its guests than the broadcast programs and CNN's Sunday morning political talk show."

Savillo continued, "Melissa Harris-Perry was the only show to host a majority of non-white guests — 39 percent of guests were African-American, 4 percent were Latino, 4 percent were Asian-American, and 1 were percent Arab-American. Up [with Chris Hayes] was still significantly more diverse than broadcast and CNN, with 37 percent of guests being non-white. No other program had a guest pool that was less than 82 percent white; Fox News Sunday was the least ethnically diverse, with 91 percent of guests being white." In addition, "MSNBC's programs were the only ones not dominated by white men."

Other conclusions:

  • "Broadcast Networks Hosted Republican And Conservative Guests Most Often. 

  • "Each Network Hosted More Guests From The Right Than The Left.

  • "Elected Republicans Were Hosted More Often Than Elected Democrats And Obama Administration Officials.

  • "Elected Republicans [Were] Featured In More Solo Interviews Than Elected Democrats and Obama Administration Officials.

  • "Four Of The Top Five Guests With The Most Solo Interviews Were Republicans.

  • "Imbalanced Panels Overwhelmingly Tilted To The Right.

  • "MSNBC's Sunday Shows Hosted Significantly More Women Than Those Of The Broadcast Networks Or CNN's State Of The Union. . . . "

Report: Media Ignore Unions, Except as "Troublemakers"

"A report that examines national TV networks' coverage of unions and the labor movement over three years confirms what unions have long known: The media largely ignores labor, except to paint unions as a source of trouble in the American economy," the Newspaper Guild reported Tuesday.

" 'Even in stories about labor or unions, the main sources relied on are external to labor or unions,' writes Professor Federico Subervi in a summary of the report. 'Moreover, the discourse and framing continues to fault the workers and their representatives for any conflict or impasse, not the business, company or government.'

"Professor Subervi's report was commissioned by The Newspaper Guild-CWA. Subervi is the director of the Center for the Study of Latino Media & Markets at the School of Journalism and [Mass Communication] at Texas State University. . . . "

Subervi also holds the at-large, academia position on the board of directors of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

U.N. Panel Says Ethiopian Is in Prison for His Views

Eskinder Nega (Credit: Eskinder family)

"Authorities in Ethiopia describe Eskinder Nega, a prominent columnist and government critic jailed since September 2011 on vague terrorism charges, as a dangerous individual bent on violent revolution," Tom Rhodes reported Friday for the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

"However, in an opinion handed down in 2012 — publicized only this week by Washington, D.C.-based legal advocacy group Freedom Now — a United Nations panel of five independent experts ruled that Eskinder's imprisonment came 'as a result of his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression.'

"The opinion from the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was issued after a judge in Addis Ababa sentenced Eskinder to 18 years in prison in July 2012, accusing him of writing 'articles that incited the public to bring the North African and Arab uprisings to Ethiopia.'

Rhodes continued, "The opinion, however, is not binding, and Ethiopian authorities have a notoriously tough hide when it comes to international criticism of their human rights record — despite being major recipients of Western aid . . ."

Nega's supporters in the United States and around the world have been pleading for his freedom for months.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault wrote last year on the Root, "Crying onstage in front of a crowd is not my thing, but a few days ago, as I stood next to Serkalem Fasil, I couldn't hold back my tears. It was a bittersweet moment because Fasil had just received the prestigious PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award on behalf of her husband, Eskinder Nega.

"He faces life in prison on charges of terrorism and incitement to violent revolt after writing an article discussing the implications of the Arab Spring uprising for democracy in Ethiopia. And Nega is not alone in being on the receiving end of an ongoing government crackdown on independent journalists in Ethiopia, many of whom are also being silenced by arrests and imprisonment. Many have fled the country to keep hope (and themselves) alive. . . ."

Short Takes

  • In South Africa, the University of Cape Town's "weekly student newspaper Varsity has issued a formal apology for printing a survey polling the most attractive race," Kieran Legg reported Friday for IOL News. "The survey documented the dating preferences of 60 people — 10 whites, 10 coloureds, 10 Indians, 10 east Asians, 10 'biracial' people and 10 Africans — and concluded that white people were considered to be the most attractive. African people were considered to be the least desirable." Lorne Hallendorff, president of the university's Student Representative Council, said that to draw conclusions from a poll of 60 people failed to meet any real statistical requirements.

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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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