Roy Hobbs Says He Was Suicidal
Sunday, August 8, 2010
When Roy Hobbs, a veteran journalist and weekend television anchor in Birmingham, Ala., was busted on drug charges in April, his name splashed across local news media, "I was trying to commit suicide," Hobbs told Journal-isms on Sunday.
"I was trying to take the coward's way out. I was too cowardly to get a gun to blow my brains out.
"I have three stents for opening up my arteries," he said, and drug abuse - police said they found crack cocaine in his car - would surely affect his heart.
"I was suffering from major depression for 25 years," he said, aggravated by a bad marriage and personal insecurities. "I wasn't getting any help," Hobbs said. "I was self-medicating." He denied a police-report statement: "When asked what he was doing in the area, Hobbs said 'he was looking for a girl.' " He already had a girlfriend, he said.
Hobbs, 56, appeared Thursday before District Judge Shanta Owens of Jefferson County, Ala. She nullified the charge of drug paraphernalia possession and sentenced him to Birmingham's drug court for the possession charge, Owens' judicial assistant, Paula Wright, said. If he succeeds in keeping clean, the charges will be dismissed in a year.
Meantime, Hobbs lost his job as weekend anchor at WBMA-TV, known as ABC 33/40. General Manager Michael Murphy would say only that "Roy is no longer employed here" and "I do not comment on personnel matters." But Hobbs said that he was called into the Human Resources Department for a "hearing" on July 15 and that his employment was terminated.
Now he attends counseling sessions, including Narcotics Anonymous meetings, two or three times a day, and says he wants to help others avoid his fate.
Hobbs says he wants people to know that many employee assistance programs are ineffective. When he needed a professional to "talk me off the ledge" on that fateful Friday, all those available until Monday were volunteers, he said. Monday would have been too late, he added.
He says he wants people to recognize the signs of clinical depression, especially in black men, especially in the local television news business, where "everything is chasing death and destruction." Those in other professions might be able to turn their work on and off, but the memories of mayhem, he said, provide the material from which he draws to keep doing those stories.
Moreover, he said, there is the particular status of black men, perceived as more threatening than black women and taken less seriously than white men.
Hobbs made it clear that he is thankful for the intervention. "I am very, very happy," he told Journal-isms, after spending three months in the hospital, two as an outpatient, and receiving antidepressant medication to restore chemical balance in his brain. He is working on inner demons of insecurity, recognizing, he said, that "you have to accept responsibility for your actions."
He said he would like to remain in Birmingham, where he said members of the public have been supportive. He'd like to work at another station or to do "voice work," or at least to find employment elsewhere in the South. He said he is surviving on unemployment insurance and what remains of medical benefits.
"If I was as bad as the doctors say, they were only getting 50 percent of me," he said of his most recent employer. "Whoever hires me will get 100 percent."
In 2004, John Head, a veteran of USA Today and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wrote about his own struggle with depression. In "Standing in the Shadows: Understanding and Overcoming Depression in Black Men," he told readers, "This book is a plea for black men with depression to walk out of the shadows, to stop suffering in silence, and a plea for our people to remove the stigma attached to mental illness."
Head told Journal-isms earlier this year that "people can be affected in ways that those who don't experience it don't understand. I would not be surprised if there were many white reporters and reporters from other races suffering," he said, but minority reporters face added pressures in the newsroom to prove themselves "in ways that might not be obvious to other reporters."
A Chicago native, Hobbs has worked for stations around the country, including UPN 38/New England Cable News in Boston; WAPT-TV in Jackson, Miss.; KBMT-TV in Beaumont, Texas; and KTRK-TV in Houston. He anchored for Atlanta's WAGA-TV from 1997 to 2003, worked in 2005 and 2006 at KSHB-TV in Kansas City, and joined the Birmingham station in October 2006 as reporter and weekend anchor, according to his bio.
Hobbs founded the Houston Association of Black Journalists and has been vice president of the Nashville chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists and president of its Atlanta chapter. He said he'd like to work with others in NABJ to develop a network to help address the initial symptoms of depression - at least providing someone to turn to in the same business.
And Hobbs applauds what he calls enlightened media employers, citing the 2005 case of morning anchor Hosea Sanders of WLS in Chicago, whose station stood behind him as Sanders underwent treatment for substance abuse. Hobbs, a Chicago native, was in the city at the time. Two men with a history of drug arrests were arrested for allegedly trying to blackmail Sanders. Chicago police said the men threatened to expose details about Sanders' personal life and substance abuse, the Chicago Sun-Times reported at the time
"This has been a very public outing. It's tough to face that," Hobbs said. "I've faced the humiliation of this very public matter. But I hope that in the wake of what happened to me, I can save others."
Rhonda Levaldo, chosen by fellow board members as president of the Native American Journalists Association, the smallest of the major journalist-of-color groups, teaches video production, news production and news writing at a tribal college in Lawrence, Kan., and says her goal is to "make Native American stories be viewed by the general population."
Levaldo, 36, was elected at a board meeting at the NAJA convention July 24 in St. Paul, Minn. "The new vice president is Brent Merrill. Antonia Gonzales was re-elected Secretary and Shirley Sneve was re-elected as Treasurer. Our current board members include Andy Harvey, Lori Edmo-Suppah and the new board members are Nancy Kelsey, Darla Leslie and Jolene Schonchin," Executive Director Jeff Harjo told Journal-isms on Monday.
Levaldo is an adjunct faculty member in media communications at Haskell Indian Nations University, which she said is open only to federally recognized Native Americans.
"I am Acoma Pueblo from Acoma, New Mexico. It is billed as the 'Oldest Continuously Inhabited City' in the United States. It is a beautiful place that still has no running water or electricity on our village. I recently made my grandmother famous for a video I made for the Youtube/Pulitzer contest 'Project Report' in 2009. That video I submitted was selected as a top 10 semifinalist . . . I think those stories really propelled my name into the media around here which I felt was awkward, but enjoyed that my stories were being seen."
Her goals as NAJA president are "to make sure we maintain the goal of our mission statement, get out more information regarding Native Americans in the media. I think the mainstream news still misses on some stories about us and how to find a reliable source."
Meanwhile, Tim Giago, founder and first president of NAJA, devoted his column this week to recognizing "really great Indian news reporters," including Mark Trahant, Laverne Sheppard, Lori Edmo-Suppah, Jodi Lee Rave, Ron Holt, Avis Little Eagle, Amanda Takes War Bonnet, Harriet Skye, Shirley Bordeaux, Richard LaCourse and others.
From left, Doris Truong, Barbara Ciara, Michele Salcedo and Kathy Times
The summer's election of Doris Truong as president of the Asian American Journalists Association, Michele Salcedo as leader of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and Rhonda Levaldo as president of the Native American Journalists Association means women will lead all five major journalists associations of color.
Barbara Ciara is president of Unity: Journalists of Color and Kathy Y. Times leads the National Association of Black Journalists. In the summer elections, Truong and Salcedo defeated male candidates, and Salcedo and Levaldo replaced men.
Journal-isms asked these women what they made of the phenomenon, and they responded by e-mail.
Ciara said, "It's my observation of the gender trend in our industry. I am finding that there are far more female journalism students studying our craft. Contrast to when I first entered the business when my male counterpart in 1976 told me that 'news coming from a woman's mouth sounds like gossip.' Look who's talking now. Not too long ago it was not considered unusual for the 'men's club' to occupy leadership positions. I would offer that we should not be surprised or make too much hay that women have taken their rightful positions in leading our beloved associations."
Truong said, "What a victory for journalists everywhere to have such powerful voices calling for diversity in news and news coverage! (Teresa Schmedding is president of ACES, so this sisterhood extends beyond the alliance partners)," she said, referring to the American Copy Editors Society.
"We still have far to go. AAJA is bringing back the Men of AAJA calendar to showcase our hardworking male broadcasters, who are disproportionately underrepresented in their medium.
"I look forward to actions we will take as fellow presidents to keep diversity issues at the top of the agenda for leading news managers and I know that together we will make sure news coverage accurately reflects our communities."
Salcedo said, "It's a testament to the leadership development our respective organizations have offered their members. And it's recognition by our members of our past achievements. Our members are confident that we will lead our groups through these challenging times back to solid footing."
Levaldo: "I think its great. I am really excited to see how we can collaborate together for the next UNITY conference and see what we can do for the future of all our organizations."
This is not the first time women have collectively led these associations. During the 1999 Unity: Journalists of Color convention in Seattle, Vanessa Williams was president of NABJ, Nancy Baca of NAHJ, Kara Briggs of NAJA and Cat Camia of both AAJA and Unity.
Jemele Hill wrote of Barry Bonds, "This charitable gesture makes me wonder if he is attempting to soften journalists who look like him."
Sportswriter Jemele Hill of ESPN.com came out strongly Friday against the National Association of Black Journalists accepting a donation from the Barry Bonds Foundation.
"It has nothing to do with a personal dislike of Bonds. I accept his accomplishments on the field at face value and believe he should be in the Hall of Fame, regardless of his role in the steroids era," wrote Hill, an NABJ member. "And unlike a lot of sports writers, I don't harbor a grudge against him because of his contentious relationship with the media, even though I have been critical of Bonds in the past.
"I disapprove of NABJ accepting Bonds' money because it violates one of the basic tenets of journalism: You don't accept money from sources. It doesn't matter if those sources seem well-intentioned. It doesn't matter if the money will greatly help the organization. . . .
"I'd like to believe the motives behind Bonds' grant were pure, but how can anyone rule out the possibility that he is trying to use the donation to bolster his image before he goes on trial? As I mentioned before, Bonds has always had a difficult relationship with the media; this charitable gesture makes me wonder if he is attempting to soften journalists who look like him.
"There are a lot of young, impressionable journalists who are NABJ members. Many of them look to the organization as a guiding force while they navigate their careers. How can the organization preach integrity, but accept money from someone who is a subject of the coverage its members undertake, especially when it's someone as controversial as Bonds?"
As reported last week, the Bonds Family Foundation has given the National Association of Black Journalists a $20,000 seed grant to encourage and promote journalistic entrepreneurship among black journalists.
It became the primary topic of conversation over the weekend on the NABJ e-mail list.
Bonds is likely to stand trial in March on perjury charges in the BALCO steroids case, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last month. "Bonds is accused of lying when he told a federal grand jury in 2003 that he had never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs. He faces 11 charges of perjury and obstruction of justice," the story said.
Uptown magazine, an African American-oriented lifestyle publication that has begun regional editions, recorded a 36.8 percent circulation increase this year in figures released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, even as U.S. consumer magazine circulation in general completed two consecutive years of declines.
Among publications targeting Latinos, TV y Novelas Estados Unidos, which "gives readers the inside scoop on the hottest Latin stars on stage, on screen, and in the recording studio, with exclusive interviews and one-of-a-kind photos." saw a 22 percent circulation gain.
Ebony, Jet and Black Enterprise magazines did not report their figures to the bureau by the deadline, the ABC said. The figures cover the first six months of the year.
Uptown's circulation rose from 153,460 from the same period last year to 209,988 this year.
Among others, Essence showed a 2.4 percent decline, to 1,066,482; Hispanic declined 0.4 percent, to 314,417; Latina rose 0.5 percent, to 509,444; Siempre Mujer grew by 1.5 percent, to 462,447; Sister 2 Sister increased circulation by 1.7 percent, to 167,829; XXL declined by 9.9 percent to 188,729, and Vanidades rose 4.1 percent, to 190,553.
Although it does not specifically target people of color, O, the Oprah Magazine, rose 0.7 percent, to 2,415,336.
Uptown Media Group announced in May that it was adding the Philadelphia and Detroit markets with its June/July issue, buttressing its national edition and regional editions in New York, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles and Charlotte, N.C.
"Uptown began expanding its reach after receiving a reported $6 million investment from InterMedia Partners in late 2007," Chandra Johnson-Greene wrote for Folio magazine in May. "Revenues soared 80 percent the following year and in February 2009, Uptown went from a quarterly to a bi-monthly, increasing its rate base from 125,000 to 200,000."
According to Uptown founder and CEO Len Burnett, who is also associated with past and current incarnations of Vibe magazine, "Uptown currently runs on a hybrid model in which 35 percent of its copies are sent to households with a total income of $75,000+ in smaller cities such as Charlotte and $125,000+ in larger cities such as New York, 30 percent are sold via subscriptions and 15 percent are sold on the newsstand. The rest are sent to restaurants, lounges, hotels and other venues where the targeted audience may socialize."
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A year ago, Liz Zavala, the public safety/justice editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, won a last-minute reprieve from a round of layoffs when Editor Jim Witt offered her a reporting job, which she accepted. Zavala was then vice president for print of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
This year she was not so fortunate. "I was told last Thursday that my last day is this Friday, Aug. 13," Zavala told Journal-isms on Monday. The Star-Telegram laid off 15 people paperwide, three in the newsroom: Andrew Marton, features reporter, and photographer and videographer Kelley Chinn.
"Siempre adelante ‚Äî always forward. There's no other way to go," Zavala said.
"I am actively looking ‚Äî for other opportunities as a professional journalist. I am not yet ready to change careers. I've spoken with NAHJ and lots of colleagues that I have been lucky enough to call friends in 25 years as a working journalist. They are more than friendly connections, they are family. I remain optimistic I'll find something doing what I love."
Chinn took a different view. "I'm not sure exactly what I'll do next but I do know that it won't be in journalism," he said by e-mail. "I have no regrets about being a photojournalist at the Star-Telegram for the past 16 years and I've enjoyed my career there, but the jobs that's been lost are not coming back. So my next career will likely be in a completely different field."
"When Joe Oglesby delivered a shipment of computers, cameras and video equipment to Haitian journalists two weeks ago, he was greeted with tears and bear hugs from people who've had little to cheer about for many months," Anders Gyllenhaal, executive editor of the Miami Herald, wrote Sunday.
" 'It was a pretty moving moment,' said Joe, who's heading up an international drive to help Haiti journalists with new equipment, support and training.
"But there's an unfortunate subplot to this story that says something about why progress comes so slowly to Haiti.
"It took more than two months of battling bureaucracy and corruption just to get the equipment into the country and in the hands of local reporters and editors trying to track the story of Haiti's recovery. At times, it looked like this simple gesture would be blocked by obstacles the Haiti government itself put up."
". . . The Haiti News Project was launched right after the Jan. 12 earthquake. A group of media organizations from the United States and Latin America formed to help Haitian journalists, who like the country itself, were obliterated by the disaster."
Meanwhile, entertainer Wyclef Jean orchestrated a media rollout in the United States before he declared his candidacy for president of Haiti, Liz Cox Barrett wrote Thursday for Columbia Journalism Review. "He was planning to announce his presidential bid on 'Larry King Live' on CNN after flying to Haiti on Thursday to register with the elections board. But Time magazine, which had interviewed him for its coming issue, broke the news on its Web site first, on Tuesday night.
"Reactions here to Mr. Jean‚Äôs expected candidacy ranged from ecstatic to depressed."
- Trenton Daniel, Miami Herald: Hip-hop star Wyclef Jean and 33 others file to become Haiti's next president
- Trenton Daniel, Miami Herald: Wyclef Jean discusses his decision to seek Haiti presidency
- Wyclef Jean, USA Today: Don't forget long-term goals for Haiti (July 8)
- Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press: Haiti faces a question: Who is Wyclef Jean?
- Garry Pierre-Pierre, theGrio.com: 'Yes Wyclef Can!' Why rapper's presidential run may help Haiti
- Marjorie Valbrun, theRoot.com: Dear Wyclef: Please Don't Run!
- Imani Walker, the Grio.com: Haitians should think twice before backing Wyclef
Journal-isms asked David Honig, president and executive director of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, which works for minority ownership of media properties, for his reaction to last week's report by the firm CB Insights that, among other findings, blacks were 11 percent of the population but 1 percent of the founders of private, early-stage Internet companies that raised their first round of institutional venture capital funding in the first six months of 2010.
He wrote back:
"Anyone who reads the CB Insights report, and has a conscience, will be shocked.
"Only 1% of funded Internet start-ups are owned by African Americans? Is this 2010 or 1910?
"The CB Insights report ‚Äî and the San Jose Mercury News‚Äô February expose of African American and Latino exclusion from employment in high tech, are a chronicle of economic inefficiency on a massive scale. In the nation‚Äôs fastest growing industry, representing a tenth of the economy, 30% of the nation‚Äôs people are unable to fully express their inherent technical, creative, managerial and entrepreneurial talents. Why are we wasting all those brains, all that initiative, that insight, that vision?
"It‚Äôs no wonder America lags so far behind most of the developed world in science, in math, in manufacturing, in economic growth, in broadband penetration and in broadband adoption.
"This industry had its birth after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, yet it is just as exclusionary as newspapers were in the 1930s, radio was in the 1940s, and television was in the 1950s. The malignancy and persistence of racial discrimination, as well as the fast-growing racial wealth gap which Pew now places at 14:1, are heralding our 25th consecutive generation of second-class citizenship.
"And so far no one‚Äôs published a map giving directions to the Promised Land. The FCC has no plan to close the digital divide ‚Äî NONE. Instead, the FCC is obsessively focused on an issue that‚Äôs of secondary impact and importance ‚Äî net neutrality. Much of net neutrality is worthy, but some of it is downright anti-minority and none of it is nearly as critical as reaching universal broadband adoption and closing the racial digital divide among consumers, high tech workers, entrepreneurs and owners. How un-engaged is the FCC? As MMTC recently documented, the FCC hasn‚Äôt even brought an EEO case in over a year ‚Äî the first time that has happened since 1968, when there was no FCC EEO rule at all. We‚Äôre still waiting on the FCC to designate a compliance officer to enforce its rule against racial discrimination in broadcast advertising ‚Äì‚Äî which it adopted unanimously in 2007 after 23 years of litigation. And the FCC is now over seven months late in issuing its congressionally mandated 2009 triennial report on what‚Äôs being done to knock down the market entry barriers facing minorities and women.
"As has always been the case, this is a question of priorities. Let‚Äôs not assume that just because this administration won the votes of most people of color, it will be any more assertive than any other administration in addressing, head on, The American Dilemma.
"Think of how strictly we would have held President McCain accountable. Unless we‚Äôre hypocrites, we now have to hold President Obama just as accountable. Fortunately he understands this very well ‚Äî after all, he was the first civil rights lawyer to be elected President since John Quincy Adams. And he empathizes with us. He can fix it! And he will fix it if, as Franklin Roosevelt told A. Philip Randolph, we 'make him do it.' ‚Äù
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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