State Department Grades the Media
Monday, May 4, 2009
CNN's Atia Abawi reports from Afghanistan to mark President Obama's 100th day in office. (Video)
Diplomats Lukewarm on Africa, Latin America CoverageRichard C. Holbrooke, President Obama's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, pays attention to the news media.
At a briefing of about 20 editorial writers on Monday, the veteran diplomat noted that the Pakistan story led both the New York Times and the Washington Post, and pointed out an error in a Times story in the process.
He travels these days with New Yorker magazine writer George Packer, who is writing a piece about him. He has authored a monthly column himself in the Washington Post and his wife, Kati Marton, is on the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
He told the opinion writers that their editorials could help bolster support for a $1.5 billion-a-year funding request, for which he is due to testify in Congress on Tuesday.
He says Pamela Constable of the Washington Post and Dexter Filkins of the New York Times do a good job in covering the area.
But he says apart from CNN, American television is "inexplicable" in its absence.
And he disagrees with a Newsweek cover story on Afghanistan in January by Fareed Zakaria that declared, "Obama's Vietnam."
"The core difference is 9/11. The Vietnamese posed no threat to the American homeland," he told the journalists. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, attacked the United States once and said it would do so again.
Holbrooke was one of 10 members of the Obama administration's new State Department team,¬† many departing for or arriving from some foreign capital, who addressed members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers.
They were asked whether they thought the American news media accurately reflected their area of expertise.
The answers: mostly yes on terrorism, the threat of nuclear proliferation, East Asia and the Middle East.
Mostly no on Latin America and Africa.
Their criteria were "clear-eyed," "balanced" coverage that provided perspective. And reporting that actually went to the scene of the news.
Philip Carter III, principal deputy assistant secretary for African affairs, chided reporters who filed stories about Congo from Nairobi, Kenya, which is like filing a story about the United States from Canada.
"The media has an educational function that perhaps it doesn't realize," Carter added. During last month's hijacking of a U.S.-flagged container ship that was briefly captured by Somali pirates, "you got the impression every ship in the gulf" was being attacked, when actually the percentage of ships targeted is more like three-tenths of 1 percent. And of those, only 17 percent are actually hijacked, he said.
And yes, be concerned about the genocide in Darfur, but "in some ways the bigger story is the implementation of the comprehensive peace accord between the north and the south" of Sudan, said the career diplomat, previously ambassador to Guinea.
"Sudan's Arab-dominated north and mainly Christian south fought one of Africa's longest civil conflicts between 1983 and 2005," as Agence France-Presse reported on Sunday. Sudan's vice president warned over the weekend that a collapse of the fragile 2005 deal would spark fresh fighting that would spill over into neighboring countries.
Craig A. Kelly, another career diplomat with Latin America as his portfolio, echoed Carter: "We can do a better job of educating Americans to the stakes we have in our hemisphere."
We might also educate them about "The diversity in our own hemisphere," about the "Afro-descended" and the "significant Asian and European communities, all of which have influence beyond their numbers."
Ties that bind: More Latin Americans are interested in learning English, and more in the United States similarly are learning Spanish. He said he looks at the region as rife with opportunity.
Of course, that's Kelly's job. Still, he argued, without reporting the positive, Americans become "overpessimistic" about the area, which leads to "utopian solutions," which leads to "more disappointment." For a fuller picture, he said, he'd look at the rise in democratically elected governments and the increase in trade with the rest of the world.
Give us less of "what did Fidel Castro say today, and what did Hugo Chavez say," Kelly urged.
These alternative views of Africa and Latin America aren't new.
Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times op-ed columnist, wrote in the New York Times Book Review on Sunday, "the conventional view of Africa as a genocide inside a failed state inside a dictatorship is, in fact, wrong. In the last few years, Africa overall has enjoyed economic growth rates of approximately 5 percent, better than in the United States (although population growth is also higher). Africa has even produced some 'tiger cub' economies, like Botswana and Rwanda, that show what the continent is capable of. (A new Web site, See Africa Differently, specifically aims to present a more positive image of the continent.)"
Last fall, Jendayi E. Frazer, then assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told¬†the Trotter Group of African American columnists that the "very negative" portrayal of Africa, especially in major media outlets, is costing nations in southern Africa 1 to 2 percent of their gross domestic product" just by being in the same neighborhood as the extremely troubled Zimbabwe.
Unfortunately, if the prospects for better coverage depend on more dollars or bodies, forget it.
A study last year from the Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of newspapers surveyed have cut back on foreign news, over half have trimmed national news and more than a third have reduced business coverage.
The diplomats mentioned National Public Radio and such magazine shows as CBS-TV "60 Minutes" as offering more substantial broadcast coverage, but the aides dismissed most television stories as too short to be meaningful.
An editorial writer asked Gordon Duguid, acting deputy spokesman for public affairs, how he should respond to a reader who challenged him on why Americans should care about the rest of the world.
"Every allied soldier in Afghanistan is taking the place of an American," Duguid replied.
"Every euro spent in Afghanistan is taking the place of an American dollar."
A United States that didn't care much about the rest of the world tried to press forward with a meager "coalition of the willing" a few years ago.
"I think we found out in 2003" where the burden falls when that happens, he said.
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On Afghan Border, "Bad Guys Dominating the Media"
In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Pakistan border with Afghanistan, "the bad guys are dominating the media," U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke warned on Monday.
He said Taliban forces were using the radio in ways similar to how stations in Rwanda fomented massacres in that country in 1994, when they urged Hutus to kill the Tutsi "cockroaches."
The Rwandan genocide resulted in the massacre of between 500,000 and 1 million people in three months.¬†
"There is no counterprogramming to it," Holbrooke told a delegation from the National Conference of Editorial Writers, speaking of the Taliban radio speech. "We've got to suppress the signals and get the real story out." Since most are illiterate, radio is the primary means of mass communication,¬† he said.
An aide said the Taliban forces are using up to 150 unlicensed radio stations to broadcast over an area that includes the "unsettled" Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the "settled" Swat area.
The BBC carried this report on Monday from the Pakistani daily The News:
"The Taliban have made it clear they have every intention on clamping down on the right to express opinions - or even merely to report facts.
"They have warned that certain journalists were promoting western 'propaganda', and that if they did not refrain from doing so those publishing 'lies' would be tried in Qazi courts in areas controlled by the Taliban.
"This threat is not a hollow one. Journalists in Swat," one of the border areas, "and elsewhere have complained on constant harassment and intimidation by the Taliban. Some, like Musa Khan Khel, who was shot dead in Swat in February, have apparently paid with their lives for their attempt to simply perform their duties and tell the truth as it unfolded before them.
"We still do not know who killed the TV reporter, and this failure to apprehend his murders or those of others who died before him surely puts others too at risk."
- Pamela Constable, Washington Post: The Taliban Tightens Hold In Pakistan's Swat Region
N.Y. Times Backs Off Closure of Boston Globe"The Boston Globe dodged a corporate bullet yesterday as the New York Times Co., after all-night bargaining with union leaders, backed off a threat to notify federal authorities that it plans to close the paper within 60 days," Howard Kurtz reported¬†for Tuesday's Washington Post.
"The company has reached agreement with six of the Globe's seven unions over its demands for $20 million in concessions, but not with the Boston Newspaper Guild, which has accused Times executives of 'bullying' tactics. A guild spokesman said negotiations would resume soon.
"'It's posturing by both sides,' said State House bureau chief Frank Phillips. 'The New York Times doesn't want to embarrass itself by shutting down one of the great institutions, not only of Boston but of America, really.'
"Globe Editor Martin Baron, who declined to comment yesterday, told Emily Rooney of WGBH-TV that 'you don't want to confront the possibility that your own newspaper will get shut down.' That 'disturbing' specter, he said, has caused 'an enormous amount of anxiety and tension.'
"The Globe, which is on track to lose $85 million this year, has repeatedly trimmed its staff and closed its foreign bureaus. Advertising revenue at the paper and its Web site declined more than 30 percent in the first quarter of the year. But Dan Kennedy, who teaches journalism at Northeastern University, said its estimated $300 million in annual revenue should enable a slimmed-down paper to survive."
Clemetson Leaving the Root to Accept FellowshipLynette Clemetson, who as managing editor of theRoot.com has guided the daily online magazine since its debut in January 2008, is resigning to accept a Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, the Washington Post Co. said on Monday.
"The Root is seeking a permanent replacement for Lynette. With an editorial staff of 6, the role of managing editor is critical to moving the magazine forward," spokeswoman Jennifer Lee told Journal-isms via e-mail.
"Lynette‚Äôs attention will be entirely focused on her fellowship, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Root's Editor-in-Chief, Donna Byrd, Publisher of The Root, and Lynette all agree that with a permanent editorial leader, the growth of The Root will not be interrupted. Lynette has agreed to stay with The Root into June and will have an active role in finding her replacement."
The Root was conceived by Post Co. Chairman Donald Graham and Gates, Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard and director there of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. It became a sister publication to the online magazine Slate, only with topics of specifically African American interest.
The Root never claimed to be able to pay writers much, but quickly caught on among writers seeking an outlet for their work. At times, it had trouble keeping up with the submissions.
Before joining the operation, Clemetson was an award-winning national and foreign correspondent for Newsweek magazine and the New York Times. Terence Samuel, a political reporter formerly of U.S. News & World Report and AOL Black Voices, is deputy editor, and Natalie Hopkinson, who came from the Post newspaper and the University of Maryland-College Park, rounds out the editing team.
On Tuesday, the Knight Wallace fellowship program announced that a second African American journalist, Christina Samuels, a staff writer at Education Week, was chosen for the next 12-member fellowship class.¬† Her topic is "Translating the research of learning differences into classrooms."
There are "No Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans or Native Americans this year, although the group will include a Korean, an Egyptian, a Colombian and an Argentine," director Charles Eisendrath told Journal-isms."Overall applications approximately doubled, to 193," he said. [Updated May 5.]
12 Awarded Knight Fellowships at StanfordVeronica Anderson, editor in chief of Catalyst Chicago; Maureen Fan, Beijing bureau chief at the Washington Post; Teru Kuwayama, New York-based¬† freelance photographer and Gabriel Sama, senior consultant, Innovation International Media Consulting Group, San Antonio, Texas, are among 12 U.S. journalists named Monday to the next class of John S. Knight Fellows at Stanford University.
Anderson plans to work toward "a platform that leverages the principles of social entrepreneurship with the mechanics of search engines to deliver public school information more effectively to urban audiences," the announcement said.
"Fan will study the challenges facing journalism today and explore a searchable, interactive guide that will inform and support foreign journalism in the future.
"Kuwayama will focus on creating a South Asia reporting web site that incorporates social networking technology, to promote information sharing among journalists, policy makers, military personnel, aid workers, academic experts, and others.
"Sama plans to explore digital journalism projects using multi-platform publication: the web, cell phones, billboards, videos and audio."
The program received 166 applications for the U.S. fellowships, up from 88, said James Bettinger, director of the program. He announced in November that henceforth, "The program will focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership to foster high quality journalism during a time of ."
Tribe member Rhea Archambault opened her home to her friend Leslie Ironroad. Ironroad lived here with Archambault's family until she died after being brutally raped. (Credit: Amy Walters/NPR)
Funds From Stimulus Bill to Aid Native Rape VictimsIn an award-winning series for National Public Radio, Laura Sullivan reported¬† in 2007 that, "According to the Justice Department, one in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. Tribal leaders say predators believe Native American land is almost a free-for-all, where no law enforcement can touch them.
"According to the Justice Department, 80 percent of the assailants in rape cases on the reservations were non-Native men."
On Sunday's "Weekend Edition," Sullivan followed up.
"The federal government has recently announced plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to improve medical clinics, buy more rape kits and bolster the police response to what authorities say is an epidemic of rapes on Indian land," she reported.
"The February stimulus bill injected $500 million into Indian Health Services, the agency that handles most medical needs for Native Americans, while the appropriations bill that passed in March is also adding funds. The March bill increases the budget for the Bureau of Indian Affairs by $85 million to provide additional law enforcement on reservations.
"Meanwhile, Congress is attempting to strengthen the authority of tribal police with a new bill that would grant Native American tribes greater police powers."
Nominate an Educator Who Has Helped J-DiversityThe National Conference of Editorial Writers annually grants a Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship ‚Äî actually an award ‚Äî "in recognition of an educator's outstanding efforts to encourage minority students in the field of journalism." The educator should be at the college level.
Nominations, which are now being accepted for the 2009 award, should consist of a statement about why you believe your nominee is deserving.
The final selection will be made by the NCEW Foundation board and will be announced in time for the Sept. 23-26 NCEW convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, when the presentation will be made.
Since 2000, an honorarium of $1,000 has been awarded the recipient, to be used to "further work in progress or begin a new project."
Past winners include: James Hawkins of Florida A&M University (1990); Larry Kaggwa of Howard U. (1992); Ben Holman of the U. of Maryland (1996); Linda Jones, Roosevelt U., Chicago (1998); Ramon Chavez, U. of Colorado, Boulder (1999); Erna Smith of San Francisco State (2000); Joseph Selden of Penn State (2001); Cheryl Smith; Paul Quinn College (2002); Rose Richard, Marquette University (2003), Leara D. Rhodes of the University of Georgia (2004), Denny McAuliffe of the University of Montana (2005), Pearl Stewart of Black College Wire (2006), Valerie White of Florida A&M University (2007) and Phillip Dixon of Howard University (2008).
Nominations may be e-mailed to Richard Prince, NCEW Diversity Committee chair, richardprince (at) hotmail.com. The deadline is May 26.
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