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Scared, Anxious at the Los Angeles Times

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Thursday, October 5, 2006

Staffers, Fellow Editors Endorse Baquet's Fight

Journalists of color at the Los Angeles Times said Friday the drama over the firing of the paper's publisher and the threat of budget cuts was making them "running scared," anxious and thankful that Editor Dean Baquet had decided to stay.

 

 

"This turmoil is on everyone's mind," sports columnist J.A. Adande told Journal-isms. "Layoffs could affect every department in the newsroom . . . that's the great fear behind this."

A petition expressing support for Baquet and "regret and disappointment" over the dismissal of publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson by the parent Tribune Co. had gathered 400 signatures in less than four hours, Vernon Loeb, the California investigations editor, told Journal-isms Friday.

Some outside Los Angeles saw in the paper's struggle a mirror of what the rest of the newspaper industry is facing, and they, too, hoped Baquet, the paper's first black editor, would prevail.

Greg Moore, editor of the Denver Post, said of Baquet: "People might disagree about the public nature of his position, but he is fighting the good fight for quality and the ability to have the resources to do important journalism. The bottomline pressures are immense, but they have to be met with sound arguments for quality. That it is an African American making those arguments and risking an opportunity of a lifetime makes me proud personally and I have told him that. I really hope he survives in LA. It will help us all if he does."

"His fight is not unlike what a lot of editors are facing," Sherrie Marshall, executive editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph," told Journal-isms. "All of us are interpreting what the future might hold for us."

Bennie L. Ivory, executive editor of the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, said that while he did not know enough details of the Los Angeles situation, "You can't slash your way to success . . you still have to stick to the tenets of what good journalism is about."

As reported on Thursday, the Tribune Co. forced out Johnson Thursday morning, a little more than a month after he defied the conglomerate's demands for staff cuts that he and Baquet said could damage the newspaper. Johnson was replaced by David Hiller, chief executive of the Chicago Tribune.

Hiller and Baquet met Thursday morning. "Dean will have the chance to present our case why the newsroom should at least stay the same size," Times Managing Editor Douglas Frantz said in the Chicago Tribune. "Hiller said he would listen to him. . . . That's all we're asking for."

Nikki Finke, a former L.A. Times staffer who blogs for the L.A. Weekly, called Baquet "an incredible gutless wonder!" for remaining after Johnson was axed. But Loeb told Journal-isms, "no one except Nikki Finke thinks Dean Baquet is a sellout." To leave would be "a walkaway before the fight has really begun. That's not Dean Baquet," Loeb said.

Steve Padilla, deputy metro editor, said journalists of color were like others in the newsroom in expressing relief that Baquet had decided to stay and fight. But there were differences among the journalists of color over whether Baquet would succeed, and over the implications for diversity at the newspaper.

"Many of us believe Dean will be gone before the end of the year. Chicago wants 160 jobs," one veteran said privately. "Nobody knows what the cuts are." "Ultimately, we're looking at cuts," veteran reporter John Mitchell agreed.

Padilla said that what he hears constantly from members of the journalist associations of color around the country is, "in a time of belt-tightening, is diversity considered a luxury that a news organization can't afford?" He said the fear is that the answer is yes.

When 35-year veteran Frank Sotomayor took a buyout offer in November 2005, the paper also ended its Student Journalism Program, which annually served 28 high school students and 40 college journalists, many of them students of color. Sotomayor ran that program.

Latino icons such as Sotomayor and 33-year veteran Frank del Olmo, who collapsed the previous year in his office, cannot be replaced, Padilla said.

The journalists of color disagreed over whether Baquet has made diversity a priority—"I don't think you can tell the newspaper is run by a black editor; the L.A. Times is always the L.A. Times," one said. But Craig Matsuda, senior editor for development, contended, "How many African American editors-in-chief are among the elite publications? Who has put together a more diverse masthead than Dean and the Los Angeles Times?" For starters, he named Simon K.C. Li, an assistant managing editor who is Asian American; and Janet Clayton, an assistant managing editor who is African American.

"The stakes are huge for everybody in the business," Matsuda said. "Not just for this place. This place has really set a standard due to Dean and the quality of people like him."

Regardless of the outcome of the current struggle, Ivory said a job like Baquet's is still worth aspiring to. "You have to be very flexible and very nimble these days," Ivory said. But "I can't imagine doing anything else. It's just fun for me. When we do our job right, we make a difference. There are not many professions where we can say that. We get to do it every day."

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NAHJ Nets $75,000 as Latinos Tell Their Stories

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists netted more than $75,000 at its 21st annual awards gala Thursday night, according to executive director Iván Román. It was NAHJ's third held at a Washington hotel away from its annual convention.

The event grossed about $143,000, Roman said.

Unlike the other years, when such topics as immigration and Iraq (2004) or the movement against illegal immigration (2005) dominated, a variety of subjects competed for attention in this year's awards.

Tina Griego, metro columnist with the Rocky Mountain News, won the Frank Del Olmo Print Journalist of the Year Award after writing 50 columns about the dropout rate at Denver's North High School. She said education had been identified by the paper's Latino Advisory Committee had as one of their community's most important issues.

"Hispanics were the only major ethnic group in which dropouts outnumbered graduates," Griego wrote on May 25, 2005, discussing another series.

"I know. I had to read that twice, too.

"Latinos make up 57 percent" of the Denver Public Schools. "They are one of the fastest-growing groups in Colorado. Tell me what that kind of dropout rate—if sustained over time—means for our future economic health," she wrote.

After a short video about the series, Griego told the gala audience of 282, "I hope what you feel was not pity. I hope what you feel is outrage."

Similarly, Alvaro Visiers and Mario Carrasco of WGBO Univision Chicago accepted the award for television investigative news for the story of Michael Rodriguez, a 19-year-old Latino from Chicago who graduated without learning how to read or write. "There are many Michaels out there," Visiers said.

 

 

 

In the television breaking news category, Univision anchor Maria Elina Salinas told of mudslides caused by Hurricane Stan in Mexico and parts of Guatemala, killing hundreds of people as it made landfall on Oct. 4, 2005. More than 130,000 were left homeless and living in shelters, but most attention in the United States was on the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Salinas and her crew went to a remote area reachable only by helicopter and told the story of hundreds who were buried alive. She had only two hours to put together the story, but it was "human suffering that just had to be told," she said.

The Hurricane Katrina tragedy was recalled by the owner and staff of KGLA Radio Tropical in New Orleans, one of a number who accepted their award speaking entirely in Spanish. It was explained in English afterward that all of the radio staff had lost their homes, and that they became the sole source of information and news for New Orleans' Spanish-language community during the storm.

Rick Rodriguez, editor of the Sacramento Bee, accepted an award for a Bee series revealing mistreatment and abuse of Latino workers who plant and thin federal and private forests in the United States. He said the Bee's Web site recorded a substantial number of hits from Central America, the men's home. People would gather in Internet cafes and call up the stories, he said later.

Krissah Williams of the Washington Post won for a story on efforts by Guatemalan immigrant Jose Tenasa battle to open a restaurant. As the subject of her series beamed from a table in the audience, Williams, who is African American, said, "Part of my calling as a journalist is to write about people of color. Thank you for validating that mission."

 

 

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Caution Urged on Use of Jihad, "N-word" Euphemism

"Some of our newsroom colleagues have raised questions in recent days about our use of certain terms," Don Podesta, the Washington Post's assistant managing editor for copy desks, wrote staffers Wednesday.

"We should be careful about:

"anti-immigrant — We've been using this as short-hand for people opposed to increased immigration or to specific proposals involving immigration policy. It has racist connotations that might not apply in many cases. Someone can be opposed to more open or increased immigration or to illegal immigration without being against people who have immigrated into the country legally. Better to use a few more words in the interest of precision, such as 'groups seeking to curb immigration.'

"jihad, jihadist — Here's what our style book says about this: Jihad means a war by Muslims against unbelievers or enemies of Islam, carried out as a religious duty, or a fanatic campaign for or against an idea, etc. For Muslims, it has a more nuanced meaning. In Arabic, jihad means 'struggle' and can indicate a person's struggle with religion versus culture, a struggle to retain faith, a struggle to wear or not wear the hijab, etc.

"Extremist and terrorists groups have adopted this term to justify their activities. We should avoid using it unless it's in a direct quote or in the name of an organization, publication, etc.

"the N-word — We've used this euphemism in more than a dozen stories in the last month. It's trivializing and almost cutesy, as in 'Johnny said the f-word in school today, Mom.' Again, better to take a few more words and say something like 'a well-known racial epithet.' (We've printed the actual word 1,254 times since 1977, mostly in the titles of plays and books, but also in news stories about racial harassment.)"

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PBS Ombudsman Responds to "NewsHour" Criticism

Ombudsman Michael Getler of the Public Broadcasting Service responded Friday to a study by the group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting that said PBS' "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" fails to provide balance and diversity of perspectives.

The report also found that among partisan sources, Republicans outnumbered Democrats on the NewsHour by 2-to-1 and that people of color made up only 15 percent of U.S. sources.

On the partisan sources, Getler said, "I think one of the flaws in the kind of head-counting that FAIR uses to forge conclusions is the failure to take into account that an intelligent audience is able to cut through partisan rhetoric, so that party spokesmen are not necessarily gaining any advantage when they keep talking about things that viewers understand don't mesh with other facts and their own experiences.

"But these are, as someone once said, perilous times. As a viewer and journalist, I find the program occasionally frustrating; sometimes too polite, too balanced when issues are not really balanced, and too many political and emotion-laden statements pass without factual challenges from the interviewer."

On diversity, Getler said, "This is an enormously diverse country and there is a definite advantage to broadening your Rolodex to include people other than those that are always easy to go back to."

He quoted Executive Producer Linda Winslow: "We make it a point to question the decision makers, and when we do we also make it a point to include other views that provide balance and/or a different perspective either in the same program, or one produced soon after. We try to book the most qualified guests we can for every segment; when they are people who work for the government, the military or corporate America, their sex, age, ethnicity and political affiliation reflect decisions made by the people who hired (or voted for) THEM.

". . . I'm glad to see the percentage of women guests is improving (again, something that is documented in the full report in comparison to earlier surveys). We have made a concerted effort to improve in this area, and that effort continues. Again, as women move into more decision-making positions in government and business, we expect to see even more of them on the program. The same goes for non-white guests, and I'm glad to see that we've also improved there. In fact, it looks to me like we've improved in just about every way FAIR could think of to categorize what we do."

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3 Names Vanish From NABJ Staff List

Three names—including that of deputy director Timothy Bracey, who briefly headed the office—disappeared without explanation this week from the staff listing of the National Association of Black Journalists.

The others are Germaine Ashton, membership and development director, and Monica Lewis, member services associate.

Bracey joined the organization March 1, bringing a background in civil rights law compliance. "Some call it litigation avoidance," he told Journal-isms then. He had worked with the Equal Rights Center, formerly the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington, as deputy director of compliance.

He became interim executive director after Tangie Newborn resigned abruptly as executive director on March 8.

[NABJ President Bryan Monroe told Journal-isms on Oct. 7, "As we told the membership in August, we continue to take responsible steps to position our organization for growth and run this association as a business. Nevertheless, we wish the departing staff members well. We will miss them."]

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UNCF Challenges AP Story on Black Colleges

The United Negro College Fund has joined Hampton University in challenging a widely circulated September Associated Press story that said enrollment was declining at historically black colleges and universities.

"Has the proportion of black students attending HBCUs decreased since 1970? Of course it has. Back then, young African Americans had few other choices if they wanted to go to college. Now they have many choices. That's good," UNCF President Michael L. Lomax wrote in a letter to the story's author, Dionne Walker.

"Are HBCUs losing enrollment? You accentuate the negative when you say that 26 of 87 HBCUs recorded declining enrollment. But isn't the real story that more than twice as many, 61 vs. 26, didn't lose enrollment?"

AP Managing Editor Mike Silverman said the news cooperative would look into the complaints.

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Short Takes

  • The controversy over ethical breaches at The Miami Herald's Spanish-language sibling highlights broader challenges facing media companies that seek to publish Spanish-language newspapers in major U.S. media markets, Laura Wides-Munoz wrote this week for the Associated Press. "Where you have some conflicts is that we all import people from other countries to work in newspapers," Editor Gilbert Bailon of Al Dia, published by the Dallas Morning News, said in the story. "That doesn't mean they are unethical, it just means they may not have the same training."
  • "Although usually excluded from discussions about civil rights, Asian Americans are increasingly introduced as an argument against racial diversity. Yet like all Americans, Asian immigrants and their native-born children benefit from the modest efforts to include everyone in the American Dream," Frank H. Wu and William Kidder wrote Wednesday in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.
  • S. Mitra Kalita, president of the South Asian Journalists Association and immigrant business reporter for the Washington Post, is taking a leave of absence to move to India with her husband and daughter to write a book and help launch a new financial publication in New Delhi, the Post announced. The publication is an offshoot of the Hindustan Times, India's second-largest English-language paper. Kalita also intends to research a book on the Indian economy.
  • "The U.S. military has detained an Al-Jazeera cameraman for five years without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence," the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday. "CPJ outlines the case against Sami al-Haj, the only confirmed journalist held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, in a new report by Joel Campagna. The report traces al-Haj's journey from assignment on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in late 2001 to detention in an 8-by-7-foot cell today."
  • Jamie Foster, news director at WJLA-TV in Washington, has been named news director at WATE-TV in Knoxville, Tenn., WATE announced.
  • "A Canadian network anchorman of Indian descent has landed the coveted weekend news anchor job at WLS-Channel 7," Robert Feder reported Friday in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Ravi Baichwal, morning news anchor and national news correspondent for Canada's CTV network, is expected to join the top-rated ABC-owned station here in late November."
  • "Since Tuesday, CNN 360 anchor Anderson Cooper has reported from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where war and disease have killed more than 4 million people since 1998. And CNN's Sanjay Gupta and Jeff Koinange are in Darfur for a two-pronged look at crises affecting millions of people," Peter Johnson reported Thursday for USA Today. According to CNN, Anderson's trip is part of an overall plan to differentiate the network from others and showcase international reporting, Johnson wrote.
  • Services for Army ranger Michael Anthony McQueen, 22, son of Mike McQueen, New Orleans bureau chief of the Associated Press, found dead Sept. 26 of gunshot wounds in the Washington suburb of Gaithersburg, Md., are scheduled for Saturday in St. Augustine, Fla., with a full military-honors burial at 3 p.m. Oct. 12 at Arlington National Cemetery, his father said. McQueen was home on leave after three tours in Afghanistan and planned to attend the University of the District of Columbia. Police said Friday they were still investigating and had not determined a cause of death.

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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