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Some Learned Proper English, but Others . . .

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

. . . Latino Writers See Problems With Language Barrier

Not everyone at the college level is as polished as NBA players such as Atlanta Hawks guard Ronald Murray, interviewed here by Hawks sideline reporter James Verrett. (Photo credits: Scott Cunningham/NBA Photos)

Sportswriters Debate How to Quote the Undereducated

Mike Freeman, a columnist for, had a question for fellow sportswriters in the National Association of Black Journalists.

"I'm in Philly at the NCAAs," he wrote, speaking of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament. "I was listening to the players from Chattanooga. Here is one quote:

"When we seen that we got UConn, I mean, we was happy to be up there on the board. Coming here, we believed we can be one of the teams in history, to make history and beat UConn. It's all about believing in the system, believing in yourself. When you toss up that ball, anybody can win. Ain't just 'cause they UConn it's a lock. It's a basketball game. Both teams we got to play, they just like us.

"We seen? We was happy?

"A couple of questions:

"1. This quote was distributed verbatim by ASAP Sports," a transcription service. "Should it have been cleaned up by them?

"2. There are too many young brothers speaking this way publicly. What can anyone do about it?

"I hope I don't sound like a prude nor am I saying I'm without faults but I find the way many of these young players are speaking in public to be troubling. They're being ill-served by their coaches and schools.

"Whenever I said 'ain't' growing up, my mom corrected me. Who is correcting the grammar of these young kids?"

Sixty-four postings later, members of the e-mail list of the NABJ Sports Task Force had debated the fairness of the journalistic rules for using direct quotes, who was to blame for the poor grammar of many black college athletes, and where the journalists' responsibilities lie in such situations.

Officially, the transcription service says it does not "clean up" quotes. "The nature of transcription is that as soon as a word comes out of someone's mouth it's put down," Jeri Gargano, ASAP Sports vice president, told Journal-isms. An exception is made for "ums" and "ahs."

Likewise, the Associated Press stylebook, a bible in most newsrooms, is clear:

"Never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage. Casual minor tongue slips may be removed by using ellipses but even that should be done with extreme caution. If there is a question about a quote, either don't use it or ask the speaker to clarify. . . . Do not use substandard spellings such as gonna or wanna in attempts to convey regional dialects or informal pronunciations, except to help a desired touch in a feature."

But not everyone agrees.

Elle Duncan, another Hawks sideline reporter, with forward Josh Smith."White players and coaches routinely get cleaned up. Very few people answer questions in proper, grammatically correct English. How many times have you seen a White person quoted as saying 'gonna,' but everyone says that. When the guy's Black, you usually see 'gonna,'" said one.

A sportswriter in a town with its share of rednecks referred to a particular athlete and wrote, "I would get literally hundreds of emails or voicemails from people upset about me cleaning up his quotes . . . I always answered every call and voicemail to people leaving contact info and explained that I wasn't interested in reinforcing negative stereotypes only to be accused of not doing 'real journalism.'  . . .  I'll never stoop to their level. In my opinion, I'm giving a lot of bruhs the benefit of the doubt not afforded by 99.99 percent of my counterparts."

Another cautioned that bad grammar does not necessarily mean low intelligence.


Some said they had seen transcription services leave out damaging quotes from white coaches.

Conversely, J.A. Adande, a columnist for, had a practical reason for quoting verbatim.

"In the past, I like many others have cleaned up grammar in quotes as a courtesy," he wrote in his posting, "as long as it didn't change the intent of what the athlete or coach was saying. I don't think that's the way to do it anymore. Not when there's such widespread access to the original words, be it live tv coverage of the press conference or the ASAP site where the transcripts are posted. If readers can see the discrepancy it's fair of them to ask what other words we've changed in quotes."

Then the sportswriters got to what they said was the real problem. Some said it was the educational system.

"Blaming the coaches and colleges for these guys poor grammar is like blaming them because the guys don't know their times tables. . . . check what school that guy went to - chattanooga. schools like chattanooga tend to get the guys the other schools didn't want for some reason. often, that reason is academic. it's too big for any of us to fix," one wrote.

"Let's be honest. Many of these guys are just flat-out uneducated, which just speaks to the hypocrisy of the 'student-athlete' system. If they tried to go up there and speak properly - without major training - some would be too uncomfortable, nervous and self-conscious to say anything worthwhile. . . . this problem has to be fixed before they get to college - or they've got to undergo some training once they get there. I suspect, though, that some whites are sometimes too scared to correct them for fear of being called racists for 'criticizing the way blacks talk.'"

"The schools should spend the time working with the kid," another said. "And I guarantee that if the President or head honcho at the school was embarrassed enough or concerned enough he/she would call that whole staff (AD, Coach on down) to make sure it didn't happen again. These students are supposed to represent the schools. Doesn't each conference and the NCAA pour money into commercials touting the academic side of [the] student athlete? So why wouldn't they want all of their student-athletes to be well rounded spokespersons?"

The root of the problem goes deeper than the schools, others said.

"The real issue is this: our utter failure as a generation to teach our children," one writer argued. "We have allowed good intentioned but nonetheless wrong people to foster Ebonics on our children as an acceptable alternative to learning proper English. (If you know of anyone who desires hiring Ebonics-speaking children and/or adults outside of 'Flavor of Love,' please let me know.) We have allowed a culture of drugs, gang-banging and disrespecting women to take hold in our society, glorified it in music and movies and said anyone who isn't living this life isn't 'keeping it real.'"

Shaun Powell, longtime New York columnist and author of "Souled Out?: How Blacks Are Winning and Losing in Sports," agreed. "Whenever I attack the self-hating culture that we've allowed to flourish, I can't begin to tell you how many emails I get from whites who say 'amen' and blacks who cry foul. Uh, what's wrong with that picture? I cringe every time I see Wheezy slur the words and get glorified by the media for his 'gritty language' and 'pulse on the street' and whatnot, and the silence on the subject from black folks. Hell, you had Jay-Z knock Chris Brown for hitting up Rihanna, but didn't Jay-Z talk about his 99 problems but a bitch wasn't one? And how many black folks stopped snapping their fingers long enough to knock Jay-Z? None, or very few. He's teflon, as far as we're concerned.

"Unfortunately, this young generation of black folks seems totally disconnected from the struggles of the previous generation, and thank goodness for that in one sense, but they've also taken the so-called culture and twisted it. Before the haters chime in here, I'm not talking about ALL young folks and ALL music and ALL snippets of the culture, only the stupid ones."

What, then, should be the sportswriter's role, apart from the issue of how to quote the athlete?

"As journalists our job is to chronicle reality," Adande said, "and if the reality is that African-American athletes can't speak proper English then that is the world we must describe. We can use our platform to advocate changes to that world as well."

"I do feel we have a certain responsibility not only to the athlete, but also to the young kids looking up to them," Omar Kelly, who writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, told Journal-isms. "We shouldn't make it acceptable for college athletes to sound ignorant. I talk to college players all the time about speaking to the media like [they're] on a job interview because their future employer might be watching, reading or listening to what they have to say.

"However, I would like to point out that as most of them grow up and continue their schooling they drastically improve. Frank Gore could barely put together two words when he was a freshman at UM [the University of Miami] and he's quite polished now. The same can be said about Andre Johnson. I listened to him during a Texans Dolphins game this year and wondered if I was still dealing with the same mumbler I covered in college. I clearly wasn't, but he needed time to come into his own, and to learn what was, and wasn't acceptable.

"Just so you know," Kelly's e-mail continued, "I just helped out an agent friend of mine by instructing three draft prospects on what to say during their team and media interviews.

"Part of it was encouraging them to use the Kings English. We joked about it a lot, but they got the point. It was time to show off that education they got for free thanks to their football skills.

"I never dealt with one player who wasn't thankful I pulled them aside or said something to them. But that usually had to do with them knowing I wasn't there to hurt them, but wanted to help.

"As for the pro athletes I deal with today, it's not [too] common you see the same issues in the NFL."

Gregory Lee of the Boston Globe, who chairs the Sports Task Force, said he was pleased that the group's listserve facilitates discussions that can become workshops at the NABJ convention. This ethical debate "should really spark another conversation with regard to these students' education at the university they earned athletic scholarships. At the very least, the school's media relations team should give courses on the art of being interviewed," he said.

Freeman, who started the discussion, was also satisfied. "The answers posted were the sort of well thought out and smart responses I see all the time on the 'serve," he said.

. . . Latino Writers See Problems With Language Barrier

Latino sportswriters' issues with the coverage of Latino ballplayers are compounded when the athletes don't speak English or don't do so very well, according to Jose de Jesus Ortiz, baseball writer at the Houston Chronicle.

"Most of us who are bilingual do understand that athletes are quoted when they're speaking English [in a way that] doesn't reflect their intelligence," he told Journal-isms. "I always encourage guys to learn English as quickly as they can so they can communicate better."

There is also a cultural difference between Latinos in the media in the U.S. and many sports journalists who work in Latin American countries, Ortiz said. "In those countries, some writers are boosters and even ask for autographs, which is something Latino writers from the U.S. realize is a no-no. Because of the difference in the way the athletes are treated by the media on their islands or other Latin American countries, some athletes don't realize our job is to write the story, not make you look good."

Still, "what I've found in nearly 13 years of Major League Baseball is that if you're fair, the Latino athlete will seek you out," Ortiz said. "I've had a lot of guys say, 'this is the first time my story is complete.'"

Ortiz is president of the Latino Sports Media Association, an organization of "not 50" Latino sportswriters that was created less than a year ago, patterned after the Sports Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Language misunderstandings can sometimes spiral.  In 2004, one led to a libel suit against the Miami Herald that was settled only last year on terms that were not disclosed.

Jockey Jose Santos rode Funny Cide to victories in the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness stakes. He filed suit accusing the Herald of printing an article that falsely accused Santos of carrying an unauthorized and illegal object in his hand during his Kentucky Derby ride.

The newspaper reported that Santos said he carried an object in his hand during the race and that he described it as a "cue" ring to alert an outrider to his presence. Derby racing stewards later concluded Santos was holding only his whip.

The jockey, who speaks English with a heavy accent, later said there was a misunderstanding: He was talking about his "Q-Ray" bracelet for arthritis.

"If we have a situation again where a Spanish-speaking jockey [talks to] a non-Spanish-speaking reporter, we'll have a Spanish speaker conduct the interview," the Herald's then-executive editor, Tom Fiedler, said in hindsight, according to Miami New Times.

HD News reporter Cory Thompson, an instructor at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, promotes the school in a video on the school's Web site. A bank froze the school's assets.

Broadcast School to Reopen After Leaving 400 Stranded

"Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced Thursday that his office has reached an agreement with the management and bankruptcy trustees of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting to reopen the school so that its students may finish their courses," Rinker Buck reported Friday in the Hartford (Conn.) Courant.

"On March 6, the school filed for bankruptcy after its bank froze its assets, stranding about 400 students at its 24 campuses in 16 states. The agreement will allow the students, including 43 at campuses in Farmington and Stamford, to finish their requirements for degrees in film editing and production.

"Most of these students were just a week or two away from completing their degrees when the school abruptly shut down and locked its doors."

The Connecticut School of Broadcasting produces its share of graduates of color. "We do not collect information about the races and ethnic backgrounds of our students," Jason Muth, vice president/marketing, told Journal-isms. "Anecdotally, some campuses have more students of color than others, but the percentages closely mirror those of each metropolitan area."

San Antonio Journalists Cover Mayor's Race on Web

Patricio Espinoza Three Latino broadcast journalists "between" jobs in San Antonio have begun a Web site designed "to bring independent community reporting using the latest Digital and Social Media tools."

"In only 60 days in operation we are up to 18,000 page views. We use videos and interactive rich media, and next month will be hosting San Antonio's first Interactive Cyber Townhall meeting," Patricio Espinoza, founder and managing editor of, told Journal-isms. "Our reporters can go LIVE via web anytime, 24/7. Come May we will transition into full time, interactive, online, local news:" is the only bilingual site covering this year's San Antonio mayoral race both in English and Spanish, Espinoza said.

"We're self funded . . . if you can say that . . . Unfortunately, two out of the three in our team lost our jobs like many other journalists last year. After knocking on many doors, we just got tired of trying to talk 'traditional' media into giving us an opportunity to apply new media tools . . . so we decided to build our own opportunity and contribute to our community our way while helping to shape what we believe is the future of journalism.

"While we do not take political ads, our site — — does offer sponsorship links and donations . . . but we're journalists, so haven't concentrated much on that. As we move forward however, into our local news efforts, we are looking for angel funds and may go non-profit. Whatever happens my priority is to protect our editorial freedom."

Espinoza was vice president of news and new media for the social networking site He is joined in this venture by Kaye Cruz and Ed Lozano.

Elsewhere in San Antonio, the Talking Biz News Web site reported, Aissatou Sidime, who covers residential real estate, and Adolfo Pesquera, the small business reporter, are being laid off at the San Antonio-Express-News. The paper is cutting its business news desk staff from 15 to nine.

NPR's "News & Notes" Might Have Started Something

Tony Cox"News & Notes," the only National Public Radio news magazine specifically targeting African Americans, went off the air on Friday after more than six years and four hosts: Tavis Smiley, Ed Gordon, Farai Chideya and Tony Cox.

And when it concluded, "It was a combination of feeling good about the quality of work we'd done, sad that it was over, and a little exciting, wondering what the future may hold. We feel like we really started something," Cox told Journal-isms via e-mail.

The show's departure "started a push/call for a black national talk radio magazine show that's content driven, not personality driven. We helped create that audience," he said.

"We've been hearing from people all over the country — and outside — that they need an outlet like this and won't stop until they get one. Especially the bloggers. Maybe, hopefully, it will happen because since it began (with Tavis) and has evolved over the years since he left, a lot of folks have gotten accustomed to having a show like this as an option."

NPR announced Dec. 10 it was canceling "News & Notes" and the midday afternoon magazine show "Day to Day" and reducing the NPR work force by 7 percent. It said a projected $2 million deficit for fiscal 2009 had become $23 million with the downturn in the economy.

Obama Delivers Tie for Leno's Fourth-Biggest Audience

In 35 minutes of air time, President Obama attempted to sell the public on his economic proposals as a guest on the 'Tonight Show' with Jay Leno. "President Barack Obama's appearance on 'The Tonight Show With Jay Leno' delivered one of the biggest audiences in years to the late-night program," Sam Schnechner reported for the Wall Street Journal.

"Some 11.2% of TV households in 56 U.S. markets tuned in Thursday night to watch Mr. Obama, a number that ranks as a tie for fourth-best since Mr. Leno took over the program in 1992, according to early data from Nielsen Co. Thursday's telecast nearly tripled the show's average of 3.9% of homes so far this season.

"Mr. Obama's big numbers for the Tonight Show appearance follow strong viewership for his inaugural address and his address to a joint session of Congress."

"For all the ease with which Obama sat in the chair nearest Leno’s desk, right leg crossed over left, looking as smooth and cool as Tony Bennett as he sold his economic proposals for 35 minutes of air time, what a remarkable moment in TV history it was," David Zurawik wrote for the Baltimore Sun.

Others questioned whether it was appropriate for Obama, the first sitting president to appear on a late-night comedy show, to do so, or commented about his quip that his score of 129 made bowling at the White House "like the Special Olympics," for which he apologized.

Meanwhile, CBS News announced on Saturday that, "In his longest interview since taking office, President Barack Obama tells 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft that New York's Wall Street executives need to get out of town to appreciate the public's anger towards them and that embattled Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's job is safe.

"The president even joked that were Geithner to tender his resignation, he would say, 'Sorry, Buddy, you've still got the job.'

"The 90-minute interview Friday evening began on the White House lawn and ended in the Oval Office where the president also addressed the economy, the bonus tax, healthcare, automakers' bailouts, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and answered recent criticism from former Vice President Dick Cheney.

"The interview will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, March 22, at 7 p.m. ET/PT." [Updated March 21.]

Attorney General Holder Open to Helping Newspapers

"U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Wednesday preserving a healthy newspaper industry was important and he was open to adjusting antitrust policy if it could help," Randall Mikkelsen reported for Reuters.

"'I'd like to think 20, 30, 40 years from now people will still be reading the newspaper,' Holder told reporters.

"He was responding to a call by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urging the Justice Department to give newspapers more leeway to merge or combine operations."

Meanwhile, Holder "issued his much-anticipated memorandum today advising executive branch agencies how the Obama Administration wants the federal Freedom of Information Act to be interpreted. In it, he expressly rescinds the Bush Administration's standard favoring withholding information, and orders that government agency records should be presumed public," Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, happily reported.

"The Holder memo is a refreshing change from the disastrous standard set by former Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2001," Dalglish said. "We hope it empowers federal employers who manage these public records to improve their services to the taxpayers who request them."

Short Takes

  • "Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps is cranking up the agency bureaucracy in an effort to increase ownership of TV and radio stations by women, African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities," Harry A. Jessell reported¬†Friday for TV Newsday. "His office this week announced that it wants to launch an inquiry into the matter at its April 8 meeting ‚Äî a first step in the laborious and time-consuming policy-making and rules-writing process that could take many months or years to complete."
  • "Joyce Shelby Joyce Shelby, a reporter with New York Daily News for the past 22 years, died Thursday night," according to her Daily News colleague Clem Richardson. "Joyce collapsed on the sidewalk outside the News' downtown Brooklyn offices as she left work. Though a doctor was one of the passersby who rushed to her aid, all efforts to revive her proved inadequate." Shelby, 62,¬†was a graduate of Spelman College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and an adjunct faculty member at the journalism school. Further details are expected in a Daily News obituary on Sunday.
  • "Press freedom in the Americas 'worsened' in recent months, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) declared in its semiannual review of working conditions for journalists at its Midyear Meeting in Asuncion, Paraguay," Editor & Publisher reported¬†on Friday. "Press freedom in the hemisphere worsened in the last six months as the longstanding violent enemies of free expression claimed new journalist victims while populist governments following the lead of Venezuelan President Hugo Ch?°vez stepped up their campaigns of abuse and ridicule of news organizations and individual reporters," the conclusion, adopted unanimously at the meeting, began.
  • Robin GivhanThe Washington Post's Robin Givhan, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for criticism, is returning to Washington from New York to cover Michelle Obama and the first family, the Post announced to its staff on Thursday. "Robin has long been one of our most graceful and insightful writers, not only on fashion designers but on politicians as well," editors Raju Narisetti and Steve Reiss said. It's safe to say that former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice won't soon forget Givhan's 2005 piece on the martial-looking outfit Rice wore to Europe.
  • "It's not every day ‚Äî okay, hardly ever is more like it ‚Äî that such an eclectic and outsize collection of talents gets together like the get-together last night at the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters annual communications awards dinner," Paul Farhi wrote Friday in the Washington Post. "It's a sure bet that the flame-haired diva Chaka Khan doesn't often hang out with the demure and stately actress Cicely Tyson. Nor is it likely that R&B and reality-TV star Keyshia Cole has spent a lot of time schmoozing with Attorney General Eric Holder. Maybe R&B pioneer Jerry "The Iceman" Butler has caught Andra?© Crouch's gospel act, but that's about as close to overlapping as it seemed to get."
  • Deborah Simmons, until January the editor of the Washington Times editorial page, "will be stepping into the newly formed role of Editor for Citizen Journalism," Times editor John Solomon told staffers on Friday. "This is one of the most exciting projects we are taking on in 2009, marshaling an army of trained, skilled citizens who an report for us across the globe. We recently announced our first citizen journalism project of 2009 with the creation of a new Web site called that will aggregate citizen journalism reports from military bases across the globe." Solomon told Journal-isms, "Deb still will be holding the title of special correspondent, and as you saw last week, will be writing for our front page. Her engaging interview with Michelle Rhee last week is an example of the sort of stuff she'll be writing for the front page," he said, referring to the chancellor of the District of Columbia schools.
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists called Thursday today for an immediate investigation into the March 18 death of an Iranian blogger imprisoned in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. "Omidreza Mir Sayafi's lawyer, Muhammad Ali Dadkhan, told the UK's Times Online that prison officials told him that his client had committed suicide. Dadkhan said that before his death, Sayafi had expressed concerns about his health, 'but the doctors there didn't take this seriously and said he was faking it,'" the committee reported. Iranian-American freelance journalist Roxana Saberi is currently being held in Evin prison.
  • CNN International announced¬†it is increasing its coverage of Africa with the launch of new weekly programming "dedicated to showcasing the continent‚Äôs cultural, sporting, and business highlights."

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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Some Learned Proper English, But Others...

Why does the world of the Student Athletic make an undeniable problem a case for complex resolution? The answer is simple, practical and already exists at every college and university that has a sense of pride about themselves. Teach these athletes! Student athletes who perform on the playing field, yet are unable to speak in legible English carry the extra burden of explaining to a sportscaster what they do. Why? And it doesn't have to be that way. There's really no valid excuse by a college administrator or coach to let a player face the national media unprepared. Every coach, assistant coach and recruiter knows of this problem the minute they go after a prospective athlete. But in many cases, it's not their job nor responsibility to educate the athlete. Additionally, everyone should know that a scholarship awarded to student athletes from the selected college/university - is a contract. For the athlete, breach it and the athlete is gone. Then, a college/university spokesman comes out of the PR closet to explain the school's actions. Real dumb logic. Now, there are some thieves and common criminals who should not be accepted into any college scholarship programs, no matter their color, social economic situation or ethnicity. And we all have witnessed the rare, athletically gifted individual who accepts a scholarship for "one year" to play then puts his/her hat in the ring to go pro. But that's the gamble of awarding the scholarship. Were an educator there with the coach to speak and interact with such an athlete (like they do at a few institutions), many of those going pro would have more than the dream should they fail. Why aren't educators taking a firmer hand in holding up their end of the contract bargain? No president or chancellor wants to be accused of holding back a winning sports program for fear of losing booster support which, at some institutions, brings in millions. The same administrators lack the spine to effectuate change in school operations related to curricula that can make it easier for these kids to receive some form of education with their scholarship. Here's a policy that even the NCAA could swallow because they also share the blame in this scenario. So you'll know: the bulk of the annual budget for the NCAA is made from basketball, tournaments and conference dollars. On the coaching side, there is a list of memorable names (Bobby Knight, Joe Paterno to name a few) who used to brag about ensuring that their players got an education with a shot at the NBA or NFL. Those values now stand with only a few. Coach John Thompson (the 1st) for Georgetown University fielded winning teams and refused to have his players speak to the media until he felt they were ready. His employment of a full time tutor for his team was a terrific asset to many of the players who went on to have careers beyond basketball. Let it be known: colleges and universities are in the business of education. They can solve this problem with a little initiative, some boldness in the face of adversity and curriculum adjustments to help their student representatives. Why? Colleges & universities are fierce about not being embarrassed for fear of a tarnished reputation. Yet they allow these under-prepared student athletes to wear their colors and bring shame not only to the schools, but to themselves. How Rude!! Just solve the damn problem! (Tom Jones spent 13 years in the New Jersey Public Higher Education System as an administrator and 20 years as an adjunct instructor).

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