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Tweets Drive News of Teena Marie Death

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Old-Fashioned Reporting Follows Buzz in Social Media

Teena Marie on the cover of her 1983 album "Robbery," her fifth album and first for Epic Records.

Old-Fashioned Reporting Follows Buzz in Social Media

R&B singer Teena Marie died at age 54, it was reported Sunday night, and the news spread by e-mail and by social-media tools such as Twitter before the mainstream media had a chance to catch up.

But it was old-school reporting that enabled Roland Martin, the analyst for CNN, TV One and the "Tom Joyner Morning Show," to tell the e-mail list of the National Association of Black Journalists at 8:19 p.m. Eastern, "It is true. I just confirmed it with her manager and publicist. I will have details in a moment." He was simultaneously keeping his Twitter followers up to date. Marie's daughter, Alia Rose, found the entertainer's body earlier Sunday at Marie's California home.

The Associated Press reported later that a statement from Pasadena police said the death appeared to be from natural causes. "The police and fire department were called to her home after family members found her unresponsive."

"I got a bunch of tweets and Facebook comments asking about it. I saw comedian Kym Whitley tweet that the story wasn't true of her death. I called Kym. Kym put me on the three-way with Teena's publicist, Lynn Jeter. Lynn said it wasn't true, but for me to call Teena's manager, Mike Gardner. She gave me his cell. Jeter had been trying to call Teena all day about it and had no luck getting through. I called Gardner immediately and he said, 'It's true.'

"I called Jeter back, she said she had just gotten through to the house, and talked to the folks there who said the coroner had just left with Teena's body."

Roland Martin

For those unfamiliar with Marie, born Marie Christine Brockert, this is how she was described for a fall 2009 episode of "Unsung!," a TV One series that chronicles R&B stars of the '60s, '70s and '80s:

"There may never be a more soulful, sexy, funky combination of voice and music like that which emanates from the 'Ivory Queen of Soul,' Teena Marie. Signed by Motown at 17, and teamed up musically — and for a time, romantically — with funk master Rick James, who produced her debut album, 'Wild and Peaceful', and later put together their steamy duet, 'Fire and Desire,' one of the all time stage show-stoppers. That, and Teena’s robust sound and powerful delivery, helped to overcome long standing racial barriers between Black audiences and white singers.

"Under the auspices of James, she launched a ground-breaking initiative that allowed her to leave Motown at the height of her career, and also revolutionized the relationship between musicians and record labels throughout the industry. [That was known as the Brockert Initiative, the Los Angeles Times has reported.] Teena went on to solely produce every subsequent album in her career, while earning four Grammy nominations, and recording a host of classic R&B hit singles, including 'Square Biz,' 'Lover Girl,' 'Oh La La La' and 'Portuguese Love.' She also shared a poignant reunion on stage with her friend and mentor Rick James, shortly before his passing in 2005. It’s all part of an inspirational story, still unfolding, of a woman who poured her life into music, and whose music has enriched our lives."

An early version of an Associated Press story mistakenly said Marie was Motown's first white act, and that line was repeated in news stories even after AP corrected it. The Washington Post and CBS News were among those running the incorrect information.

TV One tweeted Sunday night that it was re-running the "Unsung" episode Monday at 9 p.m. and midnight Eastern and Pacific times.

Kevin Ross, editor and contributing writer of Radio Facts, a Los Angeles-based site covering urban radio, claimed to be first with the story, posting at 5:09 p.m. Pacific time, and later updating:

"It has been confirmed Teena has died. WDAS stole the story from a link that we sent them and they are claiming she died of a heart attack, this has not been confirmed. They are in Philly and we are in Los Angeles where Teena lived. I was confident since Radio Facts broke the story that the source was a good one. Several people who are close to Teena and her family have called and emailed me to confirm it’s true. Sorry to report this sad news a day after Christmas. Ironically, I JUST finished the page on the Deaths for 2010 for a Radio Facts review of 2010 this afternoon. I guess I will have to edit it now. Still no word on the cause of her death. I will keep you posted. Kevin."

A spokesman for Philadelphia's WDAS-FM told Journal-isms on Monday that the station broke the news on the air at 8:20 p.m. Eastern time and online at about the same time.

But there was some confusion over when the news actually broke. A Twitter report from WDAS-FM sometime before 8:11 p.m. Eastern time said, "We regret to inform you that Music Legend Teena Marie has died at the age of 54. Tributes and further details soon at" However, there were no details on the website until 9:01 p.m., when the station linked to Twitter messages from singer Ronald Isley and a drummer for singer-drummer Sheila E.

Meanwhile, at 7:50 p.m. Eastern, Denise Clay, a Philadelphia journalist who said she saw the news on the WDAS website, asked colleagues on the National Association of Black Journalists e-mail list, "Does anyone have any information confirming or denying a report that R n B singer Teena Marie is dead?"

"Tthe source wasn't one I recognized and I'm a part of the 'If your mama says she loves you, have it verified by three sources' school," she later told Journal-isms.

"There's nothing on Google News ..." one journalist wrote back at 8:07 p.m.

"Twitter is going nuts right now, but I've got nothing," an entertainment writer added.

"twitter has killed tons of folks off this year — so this could be some nasty hoax, too. . . . Also: folks are citing a blurb from a radio station. That same radio station also killed Luther off years before he died, so there's that ...,"a reference to Luther Vandross.

Twitterers went back and forth.

Ahmir Thompson, better known as Questo of the band the Roots, wrote under his Twitter name "questlove,"  "something is telling me my hacked instincts are right. im not accepting this. im sorry. until CNN says it. its not true..."

There was indeed bad information. As Martin explained, referring to comedian Kym Whitley, "Teena Marie's publicist told her, & me, that the news wasn't true. Then she finally got through 2 Marie's home."

And then he tweeted, "the manager of @teenamarie, just told me that it is true: the legendary R&B singer has indeed died."

The CNN news blog followed with a brief report at 8:43 p.m. Eastern.

And CNN anchor Don Lemon tweeted then, "cnn has confirmed from teena marie's manager that she has died."

Gulf Oil Spill Voted Year's Top Story

December 24, 2010

Haiti Makes AP Editors' Top 10, but Immigration Doesn't

Was Obama's Year "Terrible, Horrible, No Good"?

Top "Underreported Story": Designs on the U.S. Dollar

Do the Electric Slide With Columnist and His Readers

Gay, Lesbian Journalists Group to End 2010 With a Surplus

Reginald Stuart Follows Kemba Smith, 10 Years Later

FCC Chairman Signals Approval of Comcast-NBC Merger

Short Takes


President Obama checks for tar balls washed ashore at Port Fourchon Beach in Louisiana in May. The deep-sea spill ultimately spewed at least 170 million gallons of crude into the Gulf. (Credit: David Grunfeld/Times-Picayune)

Haiti Makes AP Editors' Top 10, but  Immigration Doesn't

"The massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, triggered by a deadly blast at a rig used by BP, was the top news story of 2010, followed by the divisive health care overhaul, according to The Associated Press' annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors," David Crary reported for the AP this week.

"The oil spill received 54 first-place votes out of 180 ballots cast for the top 10 stories. The health care bill was next, with 30 first-place votes. The U.S. election was third.

"In fourth place was the U.S. economy, which had been voted the top story of 2009."

About the Haiti earthquake, which ranked fifth, Crary explained, "Already the Western Hemisphere's most destitute nation, Haiti was shattered by an earthquake on Jan. 12 that killed at least 230,000 and left millions homeless. Crucial reconstruction projects were slow to get started; disease and political instability added to the woes.

". . . The April 20 explosion at a BP-leased rig killed 11 workers and unleashed a deep-sea spill that ultimately spewed at least 170 million gallons of crude into the Gulf. Consequences included devastation for fishing and tourism industries, a huge and costly cleanup effort, a management change at BP, and creation of a $20 billion fund to pay for damages."

The top 10 stories were, in order:

  • 1. Gulf of Mexico oil spill

  • 2. Health care overhaul

  • 3. U.S. elections

  • 4. U.S. economy

  • 5. Haiti earthquake

  • 6. Tea Party movement

  • 7. Chile mine rescue

  • 8. Iraq

  • 9. WikiLeaks

  • 10. Afghanistan

"It was a year of dramatic and diverse news events. Among the stories which didn't make the top 10 were Arizona's enactment of a tough law against illegal immigration, the European fiscal crisis, a Supreme Court ruling freeing corporations and unions to fund election ads targeting candidates, floods in Pakistan that affected 20 million people, and the volcanic eruption in Iceland that caused trans-Atlantic air travel chaos," Crary wrote.

Was Obama's Year "Terrible, Horrible, No Good"?

"The AP yesterday posted an op-ed titled 'Obama's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.' And from the headline you might think that it would show why [President] Obama's year has been terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad," Tim Heffernan wrote Wednesday for Esquire.

"It doesn't. What it shows is that the president has been yelled at a few times by the opposition, that he nonetheless remains vastly more popular than legislators of both parties and Congress as a whole, and that he managed to win virtually every major policy change he sought. Actually, you wouldn't know that last point, because the column mentions only a single policy victory: health care reform. Missing are, among others, a major bill regulating the finance sector, the one that just ended discrimination against gays in the military, and (shortly) the one that will enact the new START treaty with Russia.

"Here is how the AP spins this annus horribilis:

"From the start, 2010 delivered a string of setbacks that built up to an electoral shellacking come November, to use the president's own word. . . . "

"By this logic, it does not matter either that on the same day this column was released, Senator Lindsey Graham was stamping his feet in frustration at the Democrats' ability to pass major bills with significant Republican support during the current lame-duck session. Nor does it matter that this morning a new poll shows the president's approval rating with Republicans rising by nine points in the last two weeks.

"If I were a cynic, I'd suggest that the AP column might be just a little bit slanted, perhaps because one of its authors, Calvin Woodward, has demonstrated clear anti-Obama bias repeatedly in columns past, which itself might be a consequence of his tutelage by an AP bureau chief who was considerably too chummy with the Republicans he was supposed to be reporting on, including Karl Rove. . . ."

Eric Boehlert of Media Matters agreed, saying the op-ed read "like it was pulled out of Rep. John Boehner's top desk drawer."

An AP spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Top "Underreported Story": Designs on the U.S. Dollar

"Global Plans to Replace the Dollar" is the No. 1 underreported story for 2011, according to Project Censored, which has been compiling a list of such stories for more than 30 years.

"Nations have reached their limit in subsidizing the United States’ military adventures," it said.

"During meetings in June 2009 in Yekaterinburg, Russia, world leaders such as China’s President Hu Jintao, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev, and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation took the first formal step to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The United States was denied admission to the meetings. If the world leaders succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value; the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket; and interest rates will climb."

As Rebecca Bowe noted in the Colorado Springs Independent, "In 1976, Project Censored first distributed its list nationwide to shed light on the top stories not brought to you by the mainstream press. These days, stories are submitted, researched by students, filtered through LexisNexis to determine which outlets have covered them, and then voted on by a team of judges.

"An international network of 30 colleges and universities contributes to the project, and volunteers from around the world submit stories for consideration. At the end of each project cycle, the work is released in a compendium."

The rest of the Project Censored list:

  • 2. U.S. Department of Defense is the Worst Polluter on the Planet

  • 3. Internet Privacy and Personal Access at Risk

  • 4. ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Operates Secret Detention and Courts

  • 5. Blackwater (Xe): The Secret U.S. War in Pakistan

  • 6. Health Care Restrictions Cost Thousands of Lives in U.S.

  • 7. External Capitalist Forces Wreak Havoc in Africa

  • 8. Massacre in Peruvian Amazon over U.S. Free Trade Agreement

  • 9. Human Rights Abuses Continue in Palestine

  • 10. U.S. Funds and Supports the Taliban

Barry Saunders, columnist with the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., dances the electric slide after readers gave more than $43,000 to charity. He greeted his audience to the strains of "Rocky."  (Click on the video and join the dancers if you like), (Credit: News & Observer)

Do the Electric Slide With Columnist and His Readers

Barry Saunders, columnist for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., "danced the Electric Slide while wearing a Duke basketball jersey today in front of The News & Observer. He'll also be getting a new column photo that doesn't have a cigar," the newspaper reported on Friday, posting a video of the midday event.

"When we announced our N&O Holiday Giving Guide last month, readers were challenged to donate at least $10,000 to the 130 local charities registered in the guide, and Barry would dance. Those charities received a grand total of $43,614 from readers.

"Disc jockey Mark Speed, owner of Speed of Sound, donated his record-spinning services to play the Electric Slide for the occasion."

"It's all right to make a fool of yourself for a good cause," Saunders told Journal-isms. He explained that "It's been my goal in life never to do the electric slide" but said he was challenged to do so for charity. Saunders said that line dances such as the slide "make men obsolete" because women don't need a partner. Thus, that was the first and last time he would do it, Saunders said.

Other columnists commemorated the holiday season with stories, some involving themselves.

Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution told how she adopted her daughter, Carly Robbins Tucker, declaring, "Today is my daughter’s second birthday, but I’m the one who received the awesome gift."

In the Washington Post, Courtland Milloy Jr. wrote about overwhelming reader response to his column last week about Cheyenne Browne, who passed up the toy fire truck she wanted in order to buy gifts for her grandmother and friends. Her father, Michael Browne, was a volunteer fire fighter who was killed saving Cheyenne from a tornado.

"To say the response was tremendous would be an understatement," said Diane Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Charles County (Md.) Sheriff's Office, in the follow-up column.

Gay, Lesbian Journalists Group to End 2010 With a Surplus

David A. Steinberg"It's definitely been a tough few years for all of the minority journalism organizations," David A. Steinberg, national president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, wrote Journal-isms Wednesday after reading about the financial plight of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

"I'm happy to say that NLGJA is projected to end this year with a small but significant surplus. I've had discussions with many people in NLGJA and in our sister groups, and I think NLGJA got hit harder and earlier than some of the other groups — but that forced us to deal with the situation earlier, too. As a result, we spent time restructuring our operations and now don't find ourselves scrambling to make ends meet as we did just a couple years ago. We're actually in the rebuilding stage now and are restoring programs that had been cut back. (For example, we have relaunched our newsletter to members, at the same time transforming it from a printed quarterly publication to a more timely bimonthly electronic communication.)

"Hope you're having a good holiday season — and that 2011 brings good news to all of us!"

The NLGJA was founded in 1990 by the late Leroy F. Aarons, a co-founder of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. It now has 650 to 700 members, said Steinberg, copy desk chief and stylebook editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. "That's down from a few years ago (and from our high earlier in the decade), but has held relatively steady this year.

"I can't definitively answer why we got hit harder/earlier, though I have a few theories. For one, we're a smaller group with a smaller budget, so big shifts really impact us. The frustrating thing to me, in many ways, is that we had taken a lot of the steps that one would think would have helped to insulate us from the huge shifts in the media. For one, we had diversified our funding base substantially, so that we didn't rely entirely on media companies. Unfortunately, many of the companies that had started to support us were also caught up in the deep recession (Fannie Mae and GM, for example).

"Also, unlike some of the other groups, we have never had a big endowment/reserve. (It's been my goal for a while, but as of now we're just not there.) For that reason, when revenue fell, we had to make cuts immediately and didn't have the option of putting that off by tapping a reserve.

"Another way in which we were hit earlier and have subsequently been able to rebound: Like the other groups, we had to pay penalties for failing to meet our convention room block commitment (in our case starting in 2007). Because of our size, our penalties were probably smaller than those incurred by, say, NABJ or NAHJ," referring to the national associations of black and Hispanic journalists. "As soon as we saw the big drop-off in convention attendance, we started very early and worked very hard to renegotiate those hotel contracts, and as a result, we paid no penalties to our convention hotels in either 2009 or 2010.

". . . NLGJA has downsized for several years. Our staffing was at seven full-time employees just a few years ago. Through attrition, that dropped to two staffers by 2008. In 2009, we hired Michael Tune, our executive director, and he along with Bach Polakowski now staff our office.

"Many of the actions being taken by our fellow minority journalism groups are actions NLGJA took two or three years ago. We made a big push to encourage lifetime membership; we updated members on the specifics and depths of the organization's financial challenges; and we made pleas for donations and monthly giving.

"So, yes, NLGJA is a smaller organization than it was three, five or seven years ago. But we're much leaner and we are trying to focus on the things that will be of the most benefit to our members, specifically professional development and networking."

Reginald Stuart Follows Kemba Smith, 10 Years Later

Reginald Stuart, who wrote the 10,000-word "Kemba's Emerge magazine stories on Kemba Smith mobilized blacks nationwide.Nightmare" cover piece about federal prisoner Kemba Smith for the old Emerge Magazine in 1996, has an update on Kemba Smith Pradia, as she is now known, in Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

"Smith’s 'nightmare' was a case of a promising college student who became a poster child for the failures of a hastily written federal mandatory minimum drug sentencing law. In December 2000, during his final days in office, President Bill Clinton commuted Smith’s prison sentence to the 6½ she had served," Stuart wrote in the piece, posted online Friday.

"With her new lease on life, Kemba Smith Pradia has worked to get her life on track, advocate for drug sentencing law reform and help students learn from her misfortune. Today, Pradia is a college graduate and married mother of two who tours college campuses telling her tale and warning students about the consequences of their life choices."

Wayne Dawkins wrote in Black Issues Book Review that "Stuart's reporting in 1996 and 1998 mobilized blacks nationwide and probably influenced President Clinton's decision to commute Smith's sentence."

Stuart's Diverse piece continued, " 'There are few days that go by when I am not thinking about the past and how far God has brought me, the lessons I’ve learned from it and the struggles that continue over sentencing and the women I left behind,' says Pradia, 39. 'I just take it a day at a time.'

”Smith, now married and living in Indianapolis, had become the poster child in the mid-1990's for all that was wrong with the tough mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws enacted by Congress after the death of University of Maryland basketball sensation Len Bias.

". . . Women are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population, and 56 percent of them are in prison for drug or property crimes, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Like Pradia, many of these women were victims of violence before incarceration. Nearly six in 10 women in state prison have experienced physical or sexual abuse in the past."

Stuart, a recruiter for the McClatchy Co., told Journal-isms, "I'm proud of this journalistic journey — one starfish at a time." He also wrote a brief update on Pradia for the December-January issue of Heart and Soul.

FCC Chairman Signals Approval of Comcast-NBC Merger

"The Federal Communications Commission chairman, Julius Genachowski, signaled his approval of Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal on Thursday, but that approval will come with conditions," Brian Stelter wrote for the New York Times.

"Among the anticipated stipulations is that Comcast not withhold NBC programming from its competitors in the online video market and that it allow rival distributors to have reasonable access to NBC Universal programming.

"Details about the proposed conditions started to trickle out Thursday after the F.C.C. started to share its order for the deal internally. Essentially, the order is a draft of the rules that Comcast and NBC will have to operate under."

The merger has divided organizations of color. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists opposed it in April, saying that "this massive media consolidation will lead to fewer journalism jobs, less coverage of the Latino community, less diversity of voices, and excessive control for one company over the country's media."

Short Takes

Merry Christmas!

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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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Happy Holidays

Just wanted to email you RP from "Sin City" and wish you all the very best holiday season.




RB [at my newer email address]

CORRECTION to Teena Marie/Roland Martin article

Please correct your article on the timeline for reporting on the death of R&B singer Teena Marie.

The record should reflect that BlackPressRadio first reported (via Twitter/Facebook/Text and eventually Myspace) aboutTeena Marie's death at 7:06pm. It's not a matter of being petty, but just making sure that America's Black Press gets the proper credit for being completely connected to its community, owning our own stories and not allowing corporate media, like the outlets that Roland Martin works for take credit for the labor of Black-owned media outlets.

Without taking anything away from Roland - he's a good guy and talented reporter - but this story was

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