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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

N.Y. Times Helps Shake "Fatigue" Over Issue

The front-page story in the New York Times on Monday, "Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn," "really seems to have touched a nerve," according to its pleasantly surprised author, Erik Eckholm.

It was the most e-mailed story on the New York Times Web site for Monday and much of Tuesday, and Eckholm said tonight he had received more than 150 e-mails from readers.

Though the studies cited in the article had been out for at least a month, Eckholm's "trend" story was widely reported as news – no doubt owing to the prominence of the Times and its front-page display. The books of two authors mentioned in the piece, which might have appealed previously mostly to policy wonks, sold "a couple hundred" more copies, "significantly more than any normal day," a spokesman for the publisher said.

Eckholm's Baltimore-datelined story began: "Black men in the United States face a far more dire situation than is portrayed by common employment and education statistics, a flurry of new scholarly studies warn, and it has worsened in recent years even as an economic boom and a welfare overhaul have brought gains to black women and other groups.

"Focusing more closely than ever on the life patterns of young black men, the new studies, by experts at Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and other institutions, show that the huge pool of poorly educated black men are becoming ever more disconnected from the mainstream society, and to a far greater degree than comparable white or Hispanic men."

Eckholm, 56, a white journalist who has been a Nieman fellow, Beijing bureau chief, Iraq war correspondent and special projects editor at the Times, said he pursued the story as part of the poverty beat he had recently been assigned. "So much focus had been on welfare reform" and less had been written about the overall consequences, he told Journal-isms. Once welfare reform became law during the Clinton years, there followed "kind of a fatigue about these issues."

He said he was surprised to learn, as he talked to experts, that "this particular group" – meaning "black men without a good education" – "is continuing to suffer."

A book published in January, "Black Males Left Behind," by Ronald Mincy of Columbia University, piqued Eckholm's interest. "I was surprised to see for black males without some college, the degree of unemployment. I felt this was an important story, just to get this out." But, he noted, "The article doesn't offer any answers."

Eckholm's editors on the Times' National News desk were supportive, he said. He went to Baltimore to interview black men "living in a different world than middle-class America."

"One of them, Curtis E. Brannon, told a story so commonplace it hardly bears notice here," he wrote in Monday's story. "He quit school in 10th grade to sell drugs, fathered four children with three mothers, and spent several stretches in jail for drug possession, parole violations and other crimes. . . . he noted optimistically that he had not been locked up in six months."

A small number of responses came from right-wingers who said "they deserve what they get," Eckholm said. "A few" African Americans asked why he was focusing on the negative. But "by and large, I got very thoughtful comments from blacks and whites." A man in the Midwest gave him an emotional account of how, having grown up without a father, he had spent time finding and relocating his half-brothers.

"Often you write things expecting reaction, and then there's a big silence," Eckholm said. He said he's hoping to revisit parts of the story over the next year. "Almost every aspect needs more attention and journalistic coverage," he said.

On the Journal-isms message boards, fellow New York Times reporter Ronald Smothers, a black journalist, challenged those in the news media to look into their databases and see how often similar stories had been done. "How many times does the journalistic horse have to be led to the water before he drinks?" Smothers asked.

"This country and society is harder on black men, plain and simple," Smothers added later, "and it is that way because they feel, in a very practical way, their white privilege most threatened by any ascension of black men, and not so by the ascension of black women or white women or latinos. That is the realization that has failed to dawn on the news media."

Others took different points of view in response to Smothers' posting.

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Author's Prescriptions on Uneducated Black Men

After Monday's New York Times story on black men mentioned the books "Black Males Left Behind" by Ronald Mincy and "Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men" by Harry J. Holzer, Peter Edelman and Paul Offner, "a couple hundred" more of those books left the stockroom of the Urban Institute Press, spokesman Tom Mentzer told Journal-isms today.

In addition, Mincy appeared on "News and Notes" on National Public Radio today discussing prescriptions for the plight of uneducated black men. Some excerpts:

"We had a policy in the 1990s to increase the number of women who are raising children alone and to decrease welfare rolls. And in order to do that, we spent $50 billion in the 1990s on job search services, Medicaid, Medicare and most importantly on earning subsidies. So that when women were required to work and their wages were very low, we capped off their wages with an earned income tax credit.

"We do in fact exactly the opposite for young men, particularly in black families. . . . About 70 percent of African American children are born to unwed parents. So we have mothers raising children alone, and on the other hand we have young fathers who have mounting child support obligations.

"So when they go to work, their earnings are taxed at 17 to 22 percent, depending upon the state. . . . Now, I'm not saying that men and women should not be supporting their children. But I think in the same way that we required and enabled young women to go to work, we ought to be doing the same for young men.

". . . Again, we spent $50 billion helping mothers shoulder the responsibility, so I think we need to work with those programs in ways that engage fathers in the lives of children when they're very, very young, to help them strengthen their relationships with the mothers of the children, to help those who choose marriage to sustain their marriages, so that their kids grow up with two parents from the times they're in diapers to the time they have their college robes on.

"I also think that we need to do more investment in employment and training services . . . that change the attitudes of young men, but that also engage employers so that when there are difficulties in placements, the programs come behind and help smooth some of those difficulties out. And in order to do that, we need an expansion of funding in these workforce development programs, as well.

"Finally, I think we need to get to this ex-offender problem. Twenty-five to 50 percent of young African American men are or have been incarcerated. In major cities around the country, incarceration rates are enormous. That hurts not only the employment experiences of ex-offenders, but also of young black men who live in the same neighborhood that they do."

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On War Anniversary, Columnists See Bush in Denial

Sunday marked the third anniversary of the start of the United States-led invasion of Iraq. Columnists of color marked the occasion with commentary that by and large portrayed the war as a disaster and the Bush administration in denial.

  • Lawrence Aaron, The Record, Hackensack, N.J.: March 20 "should be declared a day of mourning. The third anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq leaves us with thousands dead, continued instability and no real plan to get troops out of there."
  • Betty Baye, Louisville Courier-Journal: "'We're making progress because we've got a strategy for victory,' Bush told reporters on Tuesday. Who is he kidding? . . . A new generation fights and dies in a war conjured up by old men, including more than a few who could have served in Vietnam but took special pains to leave that fighting and dying to others . . . " [Added March 26]
  • Cary Clack, San Antonio Express-News: "JJ, a 20-year-old native of Stockton, Calif., who joined the Army in 2003, was the only survivor of a mortar attack in April of last year but was burned on 75 percent of his body. . . . Couldn't families, or better yet, religious institutions and community organizations adopt a wounded soldier and his or her family? Not only to provide emotional and spiritual support but to help integrate them into the community and navigate it?"
  • Bob Herbert, New York Times: "Everyone who thought this war was a good idea was wrong and ought to admit it. Those who still think it's a good idea should get therapy. . . . Invading Iraq was a disastrous move by the Bush administration, and there is no satisfactory solution forthcoming. The White House should be working cooperatively with members of both parties in Congress to figure out the best way to bring the curtain down on U.S. involvement."
  • Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe: "With 133,000 troops only being an outline of what security analysts feel is needed, Bush's illusion of the minimalist explodes with every car bomb." Like Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War, "It is all a sign that Bush, like Johnson, is hearing voices."
  • Deborah Mathis, "On this, the third anniversary of the invasion, journalists, pundits, policy wonks and politicians are having something of a group therapy session about the campaign's failures and their own errors of prognostication. . . . For the most part, the black press has no such navel-gazing to do. We were duly skeptical from the beginning and, with a few sad exceptions, were not loathe to criticize the administration, as 'anti-American,' 'unpatriotic' and 'anti-Bush' accusations are generally old hat to us. The majority media could have spared themselves some embarrassment had they lent us an ear."
  • Les Payne, Newsday: "Those who truly care about the honor and reputation of this great country should take the time to read the National Security Strategy of the United States. It is a chilling document that cuts to the heart of Bush's execution of preventive war. . . . The section of the new security report on weapons of mass destruction lays out what can only be described as a policy of breast-beating one's way to an alibi. The Iraq war, at one level, was launched over a dictator's bluff."
  • Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: "History's verdict is all we have left. And when tomorrow calls today to account, some of us want to be able to say, we stood up. We called out. We were not silent."
  • Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: "Cynicism and cluelessness are one thing. Actually being divorced from reality is another. Do Bush et al. really see only the democratic process they have installed in Iraq and not the bitter sectarian conflict that process has been unable to quell? Do they realize that whatever happens, there's not going to be a neat package, tied up with a bow, labeled 'victory' -- certainly in the 34 months (but who's counting?) that the Bush administration has left in office?"
  • Elmer Smith, Philadelphia Daily News: By President Bush's "conservative estimate, about 30,000 Iraqi civilians have died so far. By his rosy assessment, we are on the verge of establishing a democracy there. I want to believe that it will not be like the democracy that sprang up in Afghanistan after we drove the Taliban out in 2002. Our allies in the newly minted democracy of Afghanistan are in the process of trying Abdul Rahman, 41, who faces a possible death sentence for converting to Christianity from Islam."
  • Gregory Stanford, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The prez fancies himself a Captain Midnight. But he's more an Inspector Clouseau – except that 1) Bush's team tries to keep his stumbles off-screen and 2) the missteps are not funny because they are so herculean and consequential."

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Make It 0 for 8 at N.Y. Times on Top Appointments

In January, after the New York Times management had received a report from employees warning that the newspaper was "at risk" if it did not diversify its makeup more quickly, we reported that the Times promoted seven people to news management, none a journalist of color.

This week, we can make that figure eight -- although below the level of top editors, veteran reporter James Dao, an Asian American, started March 6 as deputy metro editor.

"The New York Times has promoted Gerald Marzorati, editor of The New York Times Magazine, to the position of assistant managing editor. The appointment was announced by Bill Keller, executive editor," the paper reported today.

Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. met today for more than an hour with members of the in-house Diversity Council, and a town hall meeting with Times employees on diversity issues is expected in April.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, editorial writer Pati Poblete wrote Monday about the importance of diversity at newspapers, mentioning this column's e-mail announcement that the Times Co. had decided to appoint a diversity officer.

"During my time at four different Bay Area newspapers, working in different capacities from copy editor, to reporter, to assigning editor, I have seen the effect that a non-diverse staff has on the news," Poblete wrote.

"I sat in countless meetings pitching stories from different ethnic communities at tables filled with all white males. Each time I'd hear the words: 'Why does that story matter to our average reader?' But all I really heard was 'Why would a white male from a middle-to-upper class community care?' "

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12 "Orphan" Papers Not Likely to Be Sold Together

"The bloc of 12 newspapers being sold by the McClatchy Co. as part of its acquisition of Knight Ridder Inc. will likely be broken up and bought by several buyers, McClatchy said Tuesday," the Associated Press reported.

"Elaine Lintecum, a spokeswoman for McClatchy, which owns the [Star Tribune] of Minneapolis, said there has been strong interest in the papers by several parties, although she declined to name them.

"'It's not likely to be one transaction,' she said. 'It's not likely to be 12 transactions. It's somewhere in between.'

Meanwhile, representatives of local unions of the Newspaper Guild at newspapers owned by Knight Ridder announced Saturday, "We are working, in partnership with the Yucaipa Companies of Los Angeles, to create a worker-friendly and customer-friendly company to buy and improve our newspapers and their online services."

In the Los Angeles Times, Joseph Menn reported that Denver press baron William Dean Singleton last week "emerged as a likely bidder for at least some of the 12 papers," and profiled Singleton.

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Study Urges Blacks to Embrace Broadband Internet

A report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies urges more effective promotion of broadband Internet rather than dial-up to African Americans.

"Improving educational and employment outcomes is fundamental to economic advancement within the African American community. This fact is well known within the African American community, and African Americans who are online are more likely than other Internet users to use the Internet for job searching and training or educational purposes," Margaret C. Simms wrote in "Measuring the Divide: African Americans' Access to the Online Universe."

"Young African Americans who are online are more likely than their white peers to download study aids and enroll in online courses. But fewer African Americans than whites are online generally. Therefore, one avenue for promoting broadband use is to find other contexts in which users can become familiar with its benefits."

She added that, "community-based health facilities and satellite facilities such as senior citizen centers should be locations where individuals with modest incomes and limited mobility could be assisted with medical information and could receive specialized diagnosis and treatment from medical providers who are located off-site."

The author noted that "African Americans who used the Internet were more likely than their white counterparts to have used it 'for information about major life issues such as researching new jobs and finding places to live.' In addition, they were more likely to use it for entertainment and for religious or spiritual information. The differentials were largest for listening to music and seeking religious information. African Americans were found to be less likely to use the Internet for e-mail, but more likely to seek out health information."

In related news, Joanna Glasner looked at the gender gap online in a commentary for Wired magazine.

MESSAGE BOARDS: Feel free to post a comment on this subject and view those from others.

"I'm a Stronger Journalist" for Covering Red Lake

Dalton Walker, a Red Lake Chippewa tribal member and student journalist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, reflected Tuesday on being drafted to cover the shootings on the Red Lake reservation in northern Minnesota a year ago.

"Looking back, I realize I'm a stronger journalist for doing it," he wrote in the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune. "I've even received compliments for my work. But it has [been] hurtful to be accused of exploiting my people when I simply was trying to share with others a sacred place that is home to so many beautiful people. Before the shootings, if I told others I was from Red Lake, they'd shrug or say, 'Where's that?' Now, everyone knows.

"I didn't know" Jeff Weise, the 16-year-old killer, "the guard he killed or any of his student victims. But I did know the teacher. She was my senior English teacher. I remembered sitting in her class and listening to her stories. She even gave me an award for excellence my senior year. She loved her students, and I once told her I was thinking about being a journalist. She encouraged me. I'm an aspiring journalist because of her, and now she's dead.

"But I didn't die in the shooting. So what right do I have to write about it?

"Maybe none.

"But if I don't, who will?"

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Neurologist Treating Novelist Bebe Moore Campbell

Journalist-turned-novelist Bebe Moore Campbell has been diagnosed with a neurological condition and her appearances have been cancelled for the next 90 to 120 days, according to a March 5 news release posted on her Web site.

"Ms. Campbell's physician, Dr. Keith Black, a world renowned neurosurgeon who made the diagnosis stated, 'With the prescribed treatment for her condition and with the proper time to heal and rest, there is every reason to believe that Ms. Campbell will have a normal recovery and will resume her regular schedule of activities. She is in the best of care.'"

"Expressions of concern and comfort may be sent to Ms. Campbell at 3255 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90010-1418. Email messages may be sent to and visit for updates."

Her Web site said Campbell had written for the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Essence, Ebony and Black Enterprise and was a regular commentator for National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." Her novels include "Brothers and Sisters," "Singing in the Comeback Choir" and "Your Blues Ain't Like Mine."

A spokeswoman for Black, Sandy Vann, told Journal-isms this week that she could not confirm or elaborate on the news release because of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) rules on patient privacy.

MESSAGE BOARDS: Feel free to post a comment on this subject and view those from others.

Short Takes

  • Public Radio International yesterday announced the launch of "Crossing East," an eight-part documentary series hosted by George Takei and Margaret Cho that traces Asian immigration into America and its impact on the building of the United Statees, subsequent generations and global ties. "Originally slated for distribution by NPR, 'Crossing East' will be available to PRI's 745 affiliates nationwide in May for broadcast and online streaming," a news release said.
  • "Human-rights activists are scorching The New York Times for taking almost a million dollars in advertising from the blood-soaked country of Sudan, whose leaders – according to the paper's own news and editorial pages, as well as its Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof – promote slavery and genocide on a grand scale," gossip columnist Lloyd Grove reported Tuesday in the New York Daily News.
  • Former executive director JoAnne Lyons Wooten has returned to the National Association of Black Journalists as interim executive director for two months as NABJ conducts a nationwide search for a permanent director, the association announced Monday. Wooten was executive director from 1995 to 1998. With a background in association management, she was the first non-journalist in the post.
  • Attacks by Mexican drug gangs and government harassment in several countries are having a chilling effect on the news media in Latin America, the Inter American Press Association said Monday, the Associated Press reported. In its midyear report on press freedom in the hemisphere, the group denounced hostility toward news media by Argentina and Venezuela and the jailing of 25 journalists in Cuba.
  • Lawyers for Zhao Yan, a jailed Chinese researcher for the New York Times, asked prosecutors this week to release him immediately in order to comply with a surprise court decision that withdrew the case against him, Jim Yardley reported today in the Times.
  • "The Rumbo chain of newspapers late Friday announced a 'refocused strategy' that includes shutting down its Austin edition and changing the frequency of its papers in Houston, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley," Marketing y Medios reported Friday.
  • Shayna Seymour, anchor and reporter at WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass., is joining WCVB-TV Boston's nightly newsmagazine "Chronicle" in mid-April as a reporter and producer, WCVB announced Tuesday.
  • Bob Der has been promoted to managing editor of Sports Illustrated for Kids, from deputy managing editor, Mediaweek magazine reported Tuesday.
  • New York Times reporter Margo Jefferson celebrated the release of her first book,"On Michael Jackson," at Baker's Chez Josephine in midtown Manhattan, Herb Boyd reported Tuesday for The Black World Today.
  • CNN Havana bureau chief Lucia Newman is joining Al Jazeera International as a correspondent based in Buenos Aires, Brian Stelter reported Monday on his TV Newser Web site.
  • Colombian radio commentator Gustavo Rojas Gabalo died Monday of injuries he suffered in a Feb. 4 shooting outside a local supermarket in the northwestern city of Montería, Córdoba province, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported Tuesday.
  • BET News announced yesterday "its most controversial documentary ever" in "The Down Low Exposed," "a probing look into the undercover world of men with wives or girlfriends who also secretly engage in sex with other men." It premieres March 28 at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time.
  • ESPN sports anchor Danyelle Sargent inadvertently dropped "an 'F' bomb on the air on national television, Jeffrey Flanagan reported Tuesday in the Kansas City Star. "As a taped voice-over was being played for some basketball highlights, Sargent was heard in the background uttering in amazement 'What the (blank) was that?'"

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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