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Station: It Was About Policy, Not Hair

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Updated December 13

News Director Says Rhonda Lee Had Been Warned

. . . NABJ Urges Latitude from Stations, Employee Discretion

Demby to Join NPR's Race Relations Reporting Team

U.S. Projected to Become Majority-Minority in 2043

Why We Should Pay Attention to Media Consolidation

Media Ignorance Made Singer Both Famous, Obscure

G.M. Was the Most Unpopular Man in the Room

Number of Imprisoned Journalists Highest Since 1990

Wanted: Holiday Stories That Downplay Consumption

Short Takes

Meteorologist Rhonda Lee said of this exchange, "I was the one who brought it to

News Director Says Rhonda Lee Had Been Warned

Responding to an uproar over the firing of Rhonda Lee, a meteorologist who responded to criticism of her short Afro on the station's Facebook site, the news director at KTBS in Shreveport, La., said the firing was over violations of station policy, not her hair.

Randy Bain, KTBS news director, pointed to a memo emailed to staff members on Aug. 30. Lee told Journal-isms Wednesday, however, that the memo referred to viewer complaints, and she viewed the Facebook message as a comment, not a complaint. In any case, Lee said, while she does not deny its existence, "That's the first I'm hearing of this memo."

Bain issued the following late Tuesday:

Rhonda Lee

"Typically this station does not comment on personnel matters, but due to the publicity and interest about this issue, the station has included the following statement.

"On November 28, 2012, KTBS dismissed two employees for repeated violation of the station’s written procedure. We can confirm that Rhonda Lee was one of the employees. Another employee was a white male reporter who was an eight year veteran of the station. The policy they violated provided a specific procedure for responding to viewer comments on the official KTBS Facebook page. Included is an email that was sent to all news department employees informing them of this procedure. This procedure is based on advice from national experts and commonly used by national broadcast and cable networks and local television stations across the country.

"Unfortunately, television personalities have long been subject to harsh criticism and negative viewer comments about their appearance and performance. If harsh viewer comments are posted on the station’s official website, there is a specific procedure to follow.

"Ms. Rhonda Lee was let go for repeatedly violating that procedure and after being warned multiple times of the consequences if her behavior continued. Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance. She was fired for continuing to violate company procedure."

The Aug. 30 email is addressed to several people, including Lee [scroll down]. The other names are redacted. It says:

"Hey everybody,

"Over the past few months, we've had a few Facebook Fans complain about commercials, promos, and even our programming and talent. I would like to offer some guidance, although this really is more of a starting point for a 'Social Media Best Practices' policy for our company:

"When we see complaints from viewers, it's best not to respond at all. Responding to these complaints is a very sensitive situation and oftentimes our off-the-cuff first response will be the wrong response. Even if our immediate reaction response to the complaint were exactly what it should be, it still leaves us open to what has a huge opportunity to become an argument. Either way, it's a no-win situation for us, and for the viewer also.

"If you choose to respond to these complaints, there is only one proper response: Provide them with (redacted) contact information, and tell them that he would be glad to speak with them about their concerns. Once again, this is the only proper response.

"And don't forget, if you have a social media question of any sort, please contact me and I will be glad to help you in deciding the best plan of action.

"Thank you for your time,


"Marketing Project Manager|News & Promotions


Lee had messaged Journal-isms on Saturday, "I had a meeting with my ND [news director] and GM [general manager] Friday trying to get my job back. They told me the policy I violated isn't written down, but was mentioned in a newsroom meeting about a month-and-a-half prior. A meeting I didn't attend. So when I asked what rule did I break there isn't anything to point to."

Since Lee's comments appeared in the Monday edition of Journal-isms, "talk about a whirlwind," Lee said. On Wednesday morning, CNN drove her to its Dallas studios to appear on "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien" [video]. She also fielded calls from radio shows in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago, from MSNBC and from radio's nationally syndicated "Tom Joyner Morning Show."

The case has reverberated around the Internet, particularly on websites addressing issues of black women and their hair.

"THIS would not have happened if she was a white woman with long, straight hair," said one posting on But others  agreed with the station. ". . . I understand why such an ignorant post upset her, but she didn't have to take his bait," another said.

On Washington's WPFW-FM Wednesday morning, Eric Deggans, media critic for the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, compared the case with that of Jennifer Livingston, a TV news anchor at WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wis., who responded on the air in October to a viewer who said she was too fat. "She went on the air and stood up for herself and was supported," Deggans told "Morning Brew" host Askia Muhammad. "I find it interesting. The station managements reacted totally differently. Rather than condemning the viewer's racism, they got rid of her."

On Tuesday, the Poynter Institute's Andrew Beaujon asked Livingston about the Lee case. The Wisconsin anchor emailed that she had not read much about it, but ". . . I don't think when you decide to become a journalist it means you have to put a piece of duct tape over your mouth regarding comments directed at you."

. . . NABJ Urges Latitude from Stations, Employee Discretion

The National Association of Black Journalists took the middle ground early Thursday on the Rhonda Lee situation, urging television stations to "allow greater latitude when it comes to employees defending themselves" in online forums but reminding NABJ members "to continue to employ discretion when responding to complaints to minimize opportunities for targeted, adverse action."

The association said KTBS "missed a golden opportunity to initiate a community dialogue about respect, identity and diversity, particularly as it relates to redefining standards of beauty, what is aesthetically acceptable in television news and the value of on-air journalists beyond appearance."

The NABJ statement said, ". . . We encourage media companies to protect employees on official social media platforms that are used to engage news consumers. We urge managers to be more sensitive to social media comments and attacks on their employees. Many companies employ social media editors or utilize electronic systems to quickly discard offensive comments, but not all organizations do. Therefore, companies should allow greater latitude when it comes to employees defending themselves in these forums.

"When Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston was ridiculed as overweight by a viewer, managers quickly came to her defense and allowed her to address the issue in an editorial-style response. This reaction facilitated a greater discussion in which Livingston emerged as a role model and a tremendous asset to her employer. NABJ believes Lee's managers missed a golden opportunity to initiate a community dialogue about respect, identity and diversity, particularly as it relates to redefining standards of beauty, what is aesthetically acceptable in television news and the value of on-air journalists beyond appearance.

"What happened to Lee is disturbing. Although the nation continues to become more diverse, biases based on race, ethnicity, gender and culture persist in newsrooms.

"We want to remind every journalist, especially NABJ members, to review your company's social media policy and employee handbook for guidelines about using these evolving, yet essential, news delivery and audience engagement tools. We also remind our members to continue to employ discretion when responding to complaints to minimize opportunities for targeted, adverse action."

Demby to Join NPR's Race Relations Reporting Team

"NPR has formed the core reporting team for its initiative to deepen coverage of race, ethnicity and culture," the network announced on Thursday.

"Gene Demby, founder of the blog PostBourgie and former journalist at the New York Times and Huffington Post, will be the team's blogger and correspondent.Gene Demby Shereen Marisol Meraji returns to NPR as a reporter, joining correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates at NPR West in Culver City, CA. Two additional positions of apprentice reporter and apprentice digital journalist will be hired soon.

"NPR announced the initiative, supported by a $1.5 million grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, at the UNITY Convention in August 2012.

"The team, which will ultimately include six journalists, will deliver a steady flow of distinctive coverage on every platform, including a new branded space within expected to launch this spring. Demby and Meraji will join Bates in producing compelling stories and presenting new voices and conversations online and on-air."

A year ago, Demby was promoted to editor of HuffPost BlackVoices, then stepped down to become political editor. Last month, the Huffington Post confirmed that he had left the company.

Matt Thompson, the NPR journalist who is heading the race-relations reporting team, said in September that NPR had received more than 1,300 applications for four positions.


U.S. Projected to Become Majority-Minority in 2043

"White people will no longer make up a majority of Americans by 2043, according to new census projections, part of a historic shift that is already reshaping the nation's schools, workforce and electorate," Hope Yen reported for the Associated Press.

"The official projection, released Wednesday by the Census Bureau, now places the tipping point for the white majority a year later than previous estimates, which were made before the impact of the recent economic downturn was fully known.

"America continues to grow and become more diverse due to higher birth rates among minorities, particularly for Hispanics who entered the U.S. at the height of the immigration boom in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since the mid-2000 housing bust, however, the arrival of millions of new immigrants from Mexico and other nations has slowed, pushing minority growth below its once-torrid pace.

"The country's changing demographic mosaic has stark political implications, shown clearly in last month's election that gave President Barack Obama a second term — in no small part due to his support from 78 percent of non-white voters. . . "

The bureau reported, "The black population is expected to increase from 41.2 million to 61.8 million" from 2012 to 2060. Its share of the total population would rise slightly, from 13.1 percent in 2012 to 14.7 percent in 2060.

"The Asian population is projected to more than double, from 15.9 million in 2012 to 34.4 million in 2060, with its share of nation's total population climbing from 5.1 percent to 8.2 percent in the same period.

"Among the remaining race groups, American Indians and Alaska Natives would increase by more than half from now to 2060, from 3.9 million to 6.3 million, with their share of the total population edging up from 1.2 percent to 1.5 percent. The Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander population is expected to nearly double, from 706,000 to 1.4 million. The number of people who identify themselves as being of two or more races is projected to more than triple, from 7.5 million to 26.7 million over the same period.

"The U.S. is projected to become a majority-minority nation for the first time in 2043. While the non-Hispanic white population will remain the largest single group, no group will make up a majority."

Why We Should Pay Attention to Media Consolidation

"In a world with hundreds of cable channels and thousands of websites, it must sound as quaint as talk about VHS players and Walkmans to worry about how many media outlets any one company gets to own," Eric Deggans wrote Tuesday in his media blog in the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times.

"But even in a media landscape with countless options, the nation's biggest media companies also control our biggest TV stations, radio outlets and online destinations, wielding an influence that can be magnified far beyond the actual platforms they own.

"In the Tampa Bay market, just three companies — Clear Channel, CBS Radio and Cox Radio — own 20 radio stations, including the top 16 outlets reaching more than 80 percent of people listening in November's ratings period.

"And some of media's biggest websites, from the Huffington Post to the Drudge Report, are built around 'aggregating' stories already reported by other news outlets, allowing the New York Times or Wall Street Journal to echo across a wider swath of the Internet than you might imagine. . . ."

Media Ignorance Made Singer Both Famous, Obscure

"The Chicago Sun-Times declared Jenni Rivera 'a heroine' and quoted an entertainment executive who lauded her 'extraordinary gifts,' " Paul Farhi wrote Wednesday in the Washington Post. "The New York Times compared her to Diana Ross and Tina Turner. Numerous media accounts labeled her a superstar.

"Chances are, this was news to you. Chances are, you'd never heard of Rivera until you learned that she died in a plane crash in Mexico on Sunday.

"The American-born Rivera has sold at least 15 million records — more than many other successful and widely acclaimed singers in the United States. But she did not enjoy much attention from the English-language media. Although she was bilingual, Rivera sang only in Spanish. Her most ardent, record-buying fans reside primarily in the American Southwest and farther south, across Mexico.

"Rivera's life and death suggest once again that it's possible to live in parallel Americas, with the larger part only dimly aware of the enormous things happening in the other one. For all our instant connectivity, it's possible for someone to be hugely famous and perfectly obscure — all at the same time. . . . "

G.M. Was the Most Unpopular Man in the Room

A week after a shakeup in the programming of WPFW-FM, Washington's community radio station, the general manager, John Hughes, remained the most unpopular person in the room.

John Hughes (Credit: Darrow Montgomery/Washington City Paper)

Hughes addressed a packed "town hall meeting" of about 180 station listeners at Howard University that ran over its two-hour limit Tuesday night.

He heard an earful as his boss, Summer Reese, interim executive director of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Pacifica Foundation, which supervises the five Pacifica stations around the country, sat in the audience. Hughes again apologized for the way more than a dozen of the station's on-air programmers were abruptly let go.

But Hughes repeated that listenership is dwindling, the station is "reeling under economic conditions" and it needs to "be smarter about what we put on the air."

The audience, mostly veterans of the civil rights era, reminded Hughes of the unique nature of much of the station's programming. It is almost as unique as the structure that, in theory at least, gives listener representatives a role in governing the station.

In her turn at the microphone, Sofiyyah Abdullah, a Muslim and Native American, told the crowd that "most of the Muslims on the station have been canceled" and that "the only radio station that carries Native American news" in the area, hosted by Jay Winter, had been moved from Friday night to 1 p.m. Fridays, in "the middle of the afternoon."

Nasar Abadey, a jazz drummer who teaches at Peabody Preparatory, a community school for the performing arts in Baltimore, said he used the station as a teaching tool. "My youngest son was raised to listen to WPFW 24/7," he added. Referring to the station's progressive political stance and its "Jazz and Justice" slogan, Abadey said, "jazz is a music of protest."

John Constantine, a Haitian American businessman, said that Haitians have taken off from work Saturday nights to listen to "Konbit Lakay," the station's Haitian show. "That's how we got our news," Constantine said. ". . . Haitian people paid a heavy price to be where they are. You serve the people," he said to Hughes. "The station was there for people who had no voice."

Hughes, challenged to provide details on how he would address the objections and urged to roll back his programming changes, proposed to caucus with Reese and some of the community representatives on the elected local governing body, known as the local station board. After continually pointing to the station's dire financial straits, Hughes was asked his salary. He ignored the question, then said when pressed, "I'm not going to divulge that."

(Credit: Committee to Protect Journalists)

Number of Imprisoned Journalists Highest Since 1990

A census of imprisoned journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists identified 232 writers, editors and photojournalists behind bars on Dec. 1, an increase of 53 from 2011 and the highest since the organization began the survey in 1990, the press freedom group said this week.

"We are living in an age when anti-state charges and 'terrorist' labels have become the preferred means that governments use to intimidate, detain, and imprison journalists," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a news release.

"Criminalizing probing coverage of inconvenient topics violates not only international law, but impedes the right of people around the world to gather, disseminate, and receive independent information.

"The three leading jailers of journalists were Turkey (49), Iran (45), and China (32), where imprisonments followed sweeping crackdowns on criticism and dissent, making use of anti-state charges in retaliation for critical coverage."

CPJ said the census "does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year, which are otherwise documented on Journalists who either disappear or are abducted by nonstate entities such as criminal gangs or militant groups are not included in the prison census. Their cases are classified as 'missing' or 'abducted.' "

Wanted: Holiday Stories That Downplay Consumption

"It all started with my pal Tanya's Facebook post," Annette John-Hall wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer as the holiday season began after Thanksgiving.

Big Brother Jude Lucien of Northeast Philadelphia with his little brother, Carl

" 'Jack and I have decided to reject the out-of-control commercial aspect of the Christmas season,' she wrote recently. 'We will not be giving gifts to any adults. Instead, we hope to share the gift of time and fellowship with the people we love during the holidays.'

". . . Over the years, I've come to know you, dear readers, pretty well. Agree or disagree, you're a passionate, caring bunch. So I have no problem issuing a request:

"Take the Giving Pledge. Tell me what you are doing to give of yourselves this holiday season. I will take the best stories and share them in this space between now and the new year. Just a simple act of giving can change how we think about what has become a receiving season. . . ."

On Wednesday, John-Hall gave readers an update. "Well, just as I suspected, dozens of you responded. And the most wonderful thing is that most of you don't only donate your time, talent and treasure during the yuletide season, but you do it all year round.

". . . . I don't think I've ever met a young person more focused on community uplift than Nehemiah Davis.

"Davis holds at least a half-dozen neighborhood events annually through his nonprofit, the Nehemiah Davis Foundation ( He recently served Thanksgiving dinners to 300 people in West Philadelphia and Overbrook during his Food From Heaven Thanksgiving Feast. Now he's knee-deep in organizing his Gifts From Heaven Holiday Party, on Dec. 24 at Shepard Recreation Center, where he'll provide at least 50 kids with a Christmas carnival and presents."

Short Takes

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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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Rhonda Lee Had Been Warned??

Is there an official, written/posted, company policy or not? E-Mail messages can often be missed, but posted company policies cannot.

Firing her seems somewhat suspicious given the hazyness of an official posted company policy, especially since the comment/complaint was not about her job performance/competence, but the "acceptability' of her personal appearance.

Hairy Situations

... and that's why the title, UNITY- Journalists of Color remains a potent, apropos  and critically necessary banner in 2013 and beyond. We're neither post racial nor post color struck but many of us are still blind.

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