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Roland Martin to Leave Defender

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Historic Black Paper to Face Yet Another Test

Roland S. Martin, who raised the profile of the historic Chicago Defender as its executive editor and general manager for the last 2 1/2 years, has told the newspaper's management that he will leave when his contract expires in March, he said Friday.



"After several months of contemplation, evaluating where the paper currently stands, as well as available resources to implement the vision that I have had since I arrived, I've decided that it's time to move on to new pursuits. I've prayed on this, and when God tells me it's time to go, I do His will. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here since July 2004, and completed many of the projects that I originally sought to do. Although there are others, I'm satisfied with the progress we have made in restoring the Defender from its previous state," Martin said in a statement.

He said he had no new full-time job lined up.

Martin's announcement came a day after his decision was reported in the Stella Foster gossip column in the Chicago Sun-Times. She attributed it to "one of my many reliable sources."

Despite the paper's limited resources, Martin, 38, created buzz about the Defender nationally in part because of his own media activities.

As the statement noted, "In addition to his work at the Defender. Mr. Martin has a popular talk show on WVON-AM and has been a frequent guest on CNN, MSNBC and other cable outlets as an analyst on social and political issues. He is also seen by millions on cable channel TV ONE. He provides commentary on a myriad of issues. Mr. Martin recently released . . . his second book, Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith."

This week, he participated in a "Paula Zahn Now" show on race relations on CNN for two consecutive nights. "It's guerrilla marketing" of the paper, he told Journal-isms.

But the Defender, which celebrated its centennial last year, operated under a number of handicaps.

In January 2005, veteran journalist Pearl Stewart resigned as managing editor, saying, "I was ready for challenges, but not that many."

Martin replied then, "This is a difficult job we have. This is not a culture and an institution that you can completely turn around in a few months. There are issues of staff and resources, particularly with a daily. It's a difficult prospect that can be extremely overwhelming." The paper now publishes four days a week. Stewart was not replaced.

To cover the city of Chicago, the paper has two full-time reporters, an entertainment writer, a society columnist, an entertainment/nightlife columnist and a sportswriter. In January, it will have a full-time photographer, Martin said Friday. It uses a cadre of freelancers, including a night editor.

The Defender grabbed attention with splashy covers and, from time to time, special sections. Martin announced this year that the paper made $117,000 last year on the heels of a $950,000 loss the year before, according to Crain's Chicago Business.

"He added Associated Press wire stories to spare his thin staff the burden of attempting to offer comprehensive coverage and instead asked reporters to focus on stories more narrowly cast toward the paper's African-American audience," Crain's reported in September.

"Mr. Martin broke with the past visually, dumping the paper's historic script nameplate for a more contemporary look. He also launched the paper's first Web site and recently began podcasting.

"The Defender also has invested in event marketing, which has raised its profile and revenue. Its `Million Pound Challenge,' which challenged Chicagoans to collectively lose a million pounds, has drawn more than $400,000 in ad revenue since its July launch."

"While those moves have improved the paper's image and finances, they've done little to grow its audience, which is largely confined to the South Side. (Mr. Martin estimates a circulation audit under way will put paid daily circulation between 14,000 and 16,000)," the story by Jeremy Mullman said.

Hiram Jackson, president and CEO of the Defender's parent company, Real Times, did not respond to a request for comment.

The paper is credited with triggering the Great Migration of blacks from the rural South to the industrial North after World War II. But the 1997 death of longtime publisher John H. Sengstacke "ushered in a period of family squabbling, estate-tax indebtedness, and caretaker ownership that repeatedly frustrated would-be buyers," as Mark Fitzgerald wrote in 2003 in Editor & Publisher.

However, that year, a group of African American businessmen, under the banner of Real Times, bought the Chicago Defender, Michigan Chronicle, New Pittsburgh Courier, Memphis Tri-State Defender and Michigan Front Page.

"People now respect the Defender. They don't call it the Chicago Offender" any longer, Martin said.

Martin credited his decision to leave to divine intervention. "I was struggling. I was praying. God said, 'Roland, I will not open any door for you until you make the decision for you to leave. The day I articulated it, I got three e-mails from media companies" wanting to talk about opportunities, he told Journal-isms.

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D.C. Political-News Venture Pledges Diverse Staff

A new multimedia political news venture being overseen by two star white male journalists announced it had hired two other star white male journalists this week, but that does not mean that the publication will not strive for diversity, John F. Harris, who left his job as a Washington Post editor to help lead the new venture, told Journal-isms.

"I wasn't surprised to get your call," Harris said. "We were acutely aware" of the lack of diversity among the the first hires announced: Mike Allen, a reporter who covers the White House for Time magazine, and Roger Simon, chief political correspondent for Bloomberg News.

"I'm in favor of diversity . . . to inform the journalism," Harris said. "My values are formed by the Post's values." The Washington Post reported 22.9 percent journalists of color in the most recent census of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Katherine Seelye explained in the New York Times on Tuesday that, "The moves by Mr. Allen, 42, and Mr. Simon, 58, mark another step by traditional 'old media' journalists toward a 'new media' venture that is largely online, although both are writing or have written for the Web, and Mr. Allen will stay in Time magazine's print version with a new column about the White House."

The Politico and are being financed "by the deep pockets of Allbritton Communications and overseen by John Harris, the former political editor of The Washington Post, and Jim VandeHei, a former national political reporter for The Post.

"Mr. VandeHei said that although The Politico is entering a field crowded with sources of political news, it will try to distinguish itself by hiring a half-dozen reporters who have established reputations, as well as about 15 or 20 energetic journalists in their 20s and 30s who are building their careers and are eager to break news."

Harris told Journal-isms the newsroom so far also lacks gender balance. Of the 10 reporters on board, one is an African American woman, Helena Andrews, a former editorial assistant at the New York Times.

The typical Washington political publication — in print or online — is unlikely to have a journalist of color in an editorial position.

And as Unity: Journalists of Color reported in 2004, "Few of the journalists of color in Washington newspaper bureaus believe the capital press corps does a good job in covering race-related issues. Only 13 percent say the coverage is good and none believe it is excellent or even very good."

Inquiries about positions with the Politico may be directed to Ta'Mara Blake at

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Zahn to Conduct "Town Hall" in Ex-"Sundown Town"

CNN anchor Paula Zahn will devote a full hour of "Paula Zahn Now" to exploring racism in America during a special town hall meeting live from Vidor, Texas, on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, CNN announced Friday.




"Zahn, joined by a panel of experts on race relations, will take a closer look at race in America, the progress we've made and the specific issues facing a town like Vidor, TX. with a racially troubled past," the announcement said.

Vidor was known as a "sundown town," where blacks were in danger if they were spotted after sundown.

"Paula Zahn Now" spent three nights this week exploring racism, including a report on Vidor.

CNN spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg confirmed a report by Brian Stelter in his TV Newser column that the Tuesday night show delivered 818,000 total viewers and 351,000 in the 25-54 demographic, up significantly from Zahn's November average of 685,000 viewers and 231,000 in that demo, and that the show was "flooded with e-mail" after the hour-long examination, titled "Skin-Deep: Racism in America."

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Spurned Sportswriter Won't Have to Pay Court Costs

A white male sportswriter who unsuccessfully sued the Cleveland Plain Dealer claiming racial and gender discrimination after the newspaper declined to hire him will not have to pay the Plain Dealer's court costs after all.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge David T. Matia, who had called plaintiff Marty Gitlin's lawsuit a "complete waste of time," ruled Nov. 29 that Gitlin's action did not meet the test of frivolous conduct — "whether no reasonable lawyer would have brought the action in light of existing law."

The Plain Dealer was trying to recover more than $46,000, the newspaper reported in July.

In a message to the Web site, Gitlin said on Sunday, "I very much hope nobody out there felt only a racist or sexist could file such a lawsuit because anyone who knows me is well-aware that I have always been a believer in affirmative action to right past wrongs and that I've always been very left of center politically. The possibility that anyone assumed otherwise hurt more than anything else.

"What was warranted were the snickers about me becoming a nursing home administrator. Horrible! I hated it! I am strictly a freelance writer these days."

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Campus Disaster Intensified Interest in Journalism

A plane carrying the Marshall University football team crashed in 1970, leaving no survivors. It was — and remains — the worst sports-related disaster in American history, according to the Associated Press.




It was also one of the reasons Angela Dodson, a veteran journalist who is executive editor of Black Issues Book Review, entered the field.

"We Are Marshall," a Warner Brothers film about the tragedy and its aftermath, debuts nationally Dec. 22. It premiered Tuesday in Huntington, W. Va.

"Every person even remotely connected with Marshall University or its home in Huntington, West Virginia, could probably tell you where they were on the dreary, damp evening of November 14, 1970, the moment they heard the news," Dodson writes in the December/January 2007 issue of Heart and Soul magazine. "In the days following, the crash probably reinforced my desire to enter the news field as a sophomore journalism major reporting on it" while a student at Marshall.

"We had a daily college paper, The Parthenon, and I was taking my first actual reporting class. I covered some stories related to the crash throughout the week after and wrote about the bus trip to the funerals," Dodson told Journal-isms.

Another Marshall undergrad with journalism ties was Nate Ruffin, vice president for community relations for The Freedom Forum, who had served 12 years as director of personnel policy for Gannett Co.

"Ruffin was supposed to go on the trip, but an arm injury kept him out of the game, and his seat was given to a booster. He and a handful of players who also missed the flight resurrected the program the following year," as the Tallahassee Democrat reported in 2001, when Ruffin died at age 51.

"It is a story in which race is largely irrelevant," Dodson wrote of the tragedy, "though the rebuilding is a plot in which black people played significant roles. . . . On a campus where we were only 3 percent of the student body, 10 black players died, plus a father traveling with his son. . .

"The tone of the film is intended to be upbeat, focused primarily on the miracle comeback of a new team the following year."

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The White Christmases on Madison Avenue

A blogger who goes by "copyranter," and says he has been a New York advertising copywriter for 14 years, displayed a raft of photos and wrote this on Thursday:

"It's time to play the age-old Media game: Where's Black/Brown Waldo?

"On November 28th, Ad Age — a publication that hasn't been relevant since about 1989 — honored their 2006 'Media Mavens.' White people wearing White nametags drinking White wine talking about their White paper reports or White-collar crimes at an event that was just a lot of White noise."

Responding to a query from Journal-isms, Ad Age Editor Jonah Bloom took umbrage at the posting.

"On Ad Age and the diversity issue? I'd argue this has probably been the issue we've given most coverage to this year (in previous years it's been high on the list, but it's been particularly prevalent this year thanks to the New York Commission on Human Rights' rightful shaming of the industry)," Bloom wrote by e-mail.

"We've reported on it in over 30 stories, ensuring that no one has been able to duck away from or forget this industry embarrassment. We've stressed, time and again and on the front page, that the industry should be ashamed and should act now. We've covered events — including the NYCHR's Diversity Hearings — that no one else bothered to cover. We brought the entire industry video of people like Jesse Jackson addressing the subject (the video is here — — and you'll also find a lot of links to our other stories here.) We've been round the ad schools and highlighted their diverse talent — to make the point there's plenty of this talent coming up into the industry ranks today. Nor do we intend to stop covering the subject until it's not a subject.

"On our Media Maven selections? Of 18 mavens selected this year, 15 were white and none were African American. Do I wish it were otherwise? Yes. Do I think this reflects the industry issue that we've been covering? Yes. Of the 15 biggest media agencies, only one is run by a black or hispanic person, StarcomMediavest — run by Renetta McCann, who has been previously recognized in several Ad Age awards. I can think of only 2 black CMO/VP-media officers in the top 100 Leading National Advertisers, and I know we've recognized them on panels and in our awards. I haven't done a thorough analysis for you, but I can't think of many black or hispanic executives at the top of the top media owners in the country — by which i mean publishers of the top 50 magazines or [research]/sales/marketing chiefs at the 4 broadcast networks, major internet portals or top cable networks. When you really go through them, it's shocking. But if you think that's about Ad Age exhibiting a bias in its selections, I think you'd have to give us examples of the people we missed out."

Bloom did not respond to a question about diversity among the Ad Age staff.

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FCC Rejects Bid to Halt Chicago License Renewals

"The Federal Communications Commission today rejected Third Coast Press' attempt to halt the license renewal of all 18 Chicago market TV stations, saying the progressive newspaper didn't prove its charge that the stations have been 'systematically negligent' in serving the public service," Ira Teinowitz reported Wednesday for TV Week.

"The publication filed its petition to deny a year ago, contending that the stations had provided inadequate public affairs coverage and children's programming and that they had engaged in 'hypercommercialism.' It also argued that the stations had emphasized 'police actions, crime and celebrity trivia' in newscasts over information that would promote debate on important issues, particularly the Iraq war, and had aired few news programs featuring African American commentators."

John Eggerton reported in Broadcasting & Cable that, "Tribune's WGN-TV Chicago said Thursday it will partner with the NAACP and job fair producer Personnel Strategies Inc. to co-sponsor all of the NAACP's 2007 diversity job fairs in Chicago.

"The news came just a day after the FCC rejected a challenge to the licenses of 18 TV stations."

Meanwhile, the FCC announced it renewed the charter of its diversity committee -- the Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in the Digital Age -- through Dec. 5, 2008.

The committee is chaired by former FCC commissioner Henry Rivera, now with the Emma Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media.

Members are:

Daryl E. Bassett, Arkansas Public Service Commission; Matthew Blank, Showtime Network; Maria E. Brennan, American Women in Radio & Television; Sheba Chacko BT Americas, Inc.; Abel Guerra, Latino Coalition; Salvador Guzman, WHEW Radio; David Honig, Minority Media & Telecommunications Council; Rodney Hood, National Credit Union Administration; Paul Jones, Time Warner Telecom; Rebecca A. Klein, Loeffler Tuggey Pauerstein Rosenthal, LLP; Marc S. Lampkin, Quinn Gillespie & Associates; Marie Long, AT&T; Vonya McCann, Sprint Nextel; Robert Mendez ABC Television Network; Max Navarro, Operational Technologies Corp.; Andrew Schwartzman, Media Access Project; Tara Sweeney, Arctic Slope Regional Corp.; Kade Twist, Native Laboratories; Margarita Wilder, Entravision Communications; and James Winston, National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters.

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Editors Call "Black Man's Burden" Fair Comment

Critic Craig D. Lindsey of the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer didn't much like "Blood Diamond," the film about the mining and trading of conflict diamonds in Africa, but he ended his Dec. 8 review by saying, "'Blood Diamond' is a full-on botch job, but it does show us how the white man always ends up on the black man's back — and how the black man has no choice but to carry his sorry behind."

Moreover, Lindsey's supervisor, as well as the paper's reader representative, Ted Vaden, agreed.

In his internal blog, Vaden told newsroom staffers this week that reader David Farmer had objected to Lindsey's closing line, saying, "I find this remark to be racially offensive and have to wonder how a comment like this could be allowed into a movie review, or anywhere in a legitimate public news forum."

Vader wrote: "'What's Up' editor Amber Nimocks responds: 'Craig was struck by this particular moment in the film as revealing what he believes is a universal truth: That the wealth and power the white race has accumulated has been balanced on the backs of the people of color that they have exploited to build that wealth and power.'

"My comment: I agree. As I replied to the reader, I thought the truth of the statement pertained, regardless of the race of the reviewer."

Lindsey is African American; Vader is white.

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Short Takes

  • Less than a month after a harsh public rebuke from Rupert Murdoch, publishing provocateur Judith Regan has left HarperCollins, Steven Zeitchik reported Friday for Variety. "News Corp.-owned HarperCollins announced the news late Friday on the East Coast with a terse press release headlined 'Judith Regan Terminated.' . . . Move was clearly a reaction — albeit a delayed one — to the embarrassing scandal involving a Regan tome and T.V. special with O.J. Simpson titled 'If I Did It,' in which he described the way he would have committed the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman."
  • Statehouse reporter Kimberly Atkins left the Boston Herald on Friday, leaving the tabloid without a journalist of color in the newsroom. Managing Editor Kevin Convey did not respond to a request for comment, but in April, when Atkins became the last remaining African American journalist, Convey described the paper's precarious financial status and told Journal-isms, "Obviously, I don't like it. But we can hardly blame people for taking an opportunity to leave. It's disturbing and a situation we'd like to rectify."
  • "Granite Broadcasting Corp. Chief Executive W. Don Cornwell stands to gain at least $2.6 million if the company's Chapter 11 plan . . . passes muster with a judge, court documents show," the Syracuse (N.Y.) Post-Standard reported on Friday. The black-owned company owns and operates, or provides programming, sales and other services to 23 channels around the country. "The plan to exit bankruptcy calls for . . . bondholders to take control of the company in exchange for forgiving the $295 million owed them," the paper said.
  • "Comedian Rosie O'Donnell, a co-host on the television talk show 'The View,' apologized Thursday on the show for mocking spoken Chinese after protest from Asian Americans in the Bay Area and across the country," Vanessa Hua reported Thursday in the San Francisco Chronicle. Karen Lincoln Michel, president-elect of Unity: Journalists of Color Inc., said O'Donnell's remarks "really didn't sound like an apology to me," reported Erin Carlson for the Associated Press.
  • "ESPN's Jim Gray unwittingly became part of the Allen Iverson story on Friday night when he broke in live from Denver during the 76ers game at the Wachovia Center against Washington with an update," Marc Narducci wrote Friday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "News of Iverson's trade demand had broken that day, and Gray, who was the sideline reporter that night for the game between the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets, broke in to say he just talked to Iverson. Gray said Iverson told him that he hoped that a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves would work out. It appeared to be a great scoop since nobody else had talked to Iverson. And as Gray found out later, neither had he. . . . he had talked to an impostor."
  • "CBS News is borrowing another correspondent from CNN. Less than a week after Anderson Cooper premiered on CBS' '60 Minutes,' CBS has announced CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta will add medical reports to the 'CBS Evening News,'" Marisa Guthrie reported Friday in the New York Daily News.
  • The Hattiesburg (Miss.) American ran a front-page story Thursday about Clarence Williams, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who is lecturing students at the University of Southern Mississippi as he documents the reconstruction of New Orleans. "I'm down for the poor brothers and the poor sisters and the voiceless, trying to give them a voice. It has nothing to do with race and or ethnicity — it's for the hurting, and I'm here for them. I believe in advocacy — I want to live in a different world one day," Williams said in the story.
  • "Paul Burton is a fresh face in Boston's television scene," Jesse Noyes wrote Friday in the Boston Herald. "But he arrives at WBZ-TV (Ch.4) with a well-known name. Burton, 33, is the brother of sports anchor and fellow WBZ employee Steve Burton. Another brother, Phil Burton, is a co-host of the sports show 'Out of Bounds,' which runs on Comcast's cable channel CN8. And, of course, Burton's father was Ron Burton, the famous running back for the Boston Patriots, which later became the New England Patriots." Paul Burton has been named a general assignment reporter at WBZ as part of the CBS News Development Program, aimed at developing correspondents of color at affiliate stations.
  • Lori Robinson, author of "I Will Survive: The African-American Guide to Healing from Sexual Assault and Abuse," was the subject of a cover story Dec. 2 by Patricia Montemurri in Twist, a new Sunday magazine for women in the Detroit Free Press.

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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