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Suicide Suspected in Ramirez Death

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Skepticism Urged on Use of "Eyewitness" Accounts

Speculation Involves Layoffs, Incident at NAHJ

"While police continued to investigate the unexpected death of longtime Mercury News journalist Rich Ramirez, there were indications Thursday that the 44-year-old newsman may have taken his own life," Brandon Bailey reported Friday in the San Jose Mercury News.




"Ramirez, a veteran reporter and editor who served for the last 12 years as assistant to the executive editor, was discovered Wednesday morning in his Livermore back yard, with a fatal injury the Alameda County Coroner's Office described as a knife wound in his midsection.

"A coroner's spokesman said the death was considered a 'possible suicide,' adding that self-inflicted knife wounds are uncommon but not unheard-of as a cause of death.

"Livermore police said Thursday that they are investigating the death as 'suspicious.' Lt. Scott Trudeau would not release details but said there was 'nothing to indicate' that anyone besides Ramirez 'was involved.'

"The exact reasons why he would have taken his own life were unclear. He had been worried about the newspaper's plans to eliminate about 40 newsroom jobs, said his wife, Janet Dalke. Executive Editor Carole Leigh Hutton said Thursday, 'He and I had a conversation in which I told him he was extremely unlikely to be laid off,' and that she had talked with him about moving to a different job in the newsroom because his current position was likely to be eliminated.

"Ramirez had been upset about something that happened during a recent national journalism convention that he helped to organize, and he talked about it with his wife and Managing Editor David Satterfield. They declined to provide specifics. Leaders of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists have credited Ramirez with working long hours to make the convention a success.

"While Ramirez had been worried, Dalke said she had tried to reassure him that they would weather any setbacks. She said she was stunned by the loss of her husband of 17 years. 'I'm still having a hard time believing Rich could leave me,' she said Thursday."

Later on Friday, Joe Strupp reported in Editor & Publisher that Detective Jason Boberg of the Livermore police department pointed out that the evidence was still inconclusive.

"At this point, at face value, it does have the appearance of a suicide, but it could be at the hands of another," Boberg told E&P. "There is a definite possibility of suicide, but it is premature to actually call it that. The injuries, while they could be at his own hand, could have been at the hands of another."

As reported on Thursday, more than 100 co-workers, community members and Mercury News alumni gathered for a vigil outside the Mercury News building Thursday afternoon to remember Ramirez, Peter Delevett, an assistant city editor, told Journal-isms.

"It was just an opportunity for us to come together and remember Rich. His death hit us really hard. Yesterday we were kind of reeling and trying to get deadline done," he said.

Co-workers brought in photos and mementos, including photographs Ramirez had taken, Delevett said. "He was remembered as a dedicated journalist who was always happy, worked very hard and always had a good word for everyone," said Delevett.

Pamela Moreland, assistant managing editor/features, told Journal-isms, "A group of us here at the Merc are working with NAHJ to set up a scholarship in Rich's name. Veronica Villafañe, former Merc TV reporter and former NAHJ president, is helping us do this." Moreland mentioned the effort at the vigil.

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NABJ Addressing Job-Seekers' Frustrations

In an attempt to address the perennial frustrations of job-seekers at its annual convention, the National Association of Black Journalists plans to ask recruiters to list their job openings before the conference opens, according to Barbara Ciara, the organization's vice president/broadcast, who mentioned the plan after the first NABJ candidates forum of the year.

Ciara, who is running for NABJ president, said a survey found a disconnect between those who were seeking jobs and the positions being offered. Reporter candidates presented themselves to employers who needed assignment editors, producers and copy editors — not reporters. The mid-career people sought by the employers weren't going to the job fair.

As mid-career journalists, "We don't do that anymore," Ciara said. "We go by word of mouth." This year, job seekers will "be able to go to the recruiter's booth and know exactly what they have to offer," she said.

The survey had been mentioned at NABJ board meetings, Ciara said, although it has not been publicized among the NABJ membership.

She mentioned it at a June 12 forum for NABJ candidates hosted by the Washington Association of Black Journalists, this columnist reported Thursday on the NABJ Web site.

Ciara, managing editor and anchor at WTKR-TV in Norfolk, Va. is running against Cheryl Smith, a past board member and executive editor of the Dallas Weekly.

Ciara also said NABJ had improved ties with the Meredith Corp., the company that in 2005 fired the head of its broadcast operation, Kevin O'Brien, for remarks criticizing African Americans.

At the time, Ciara called O'Brien the true definition of "a power bigot." Working with Paul Karpowicz, who succeeded O'Brien as president of Meredith's Broadcast Group, she said more than 100 student NABJ members applied for a Meredith program in which students spend a week working in the newsroom of KPHO-TV in Phoenix with reporters, producers, editors, videographers and instructors from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Ciara said at the forum that "the stats went up, up, up" on black professionals employed at Meredith.

As noted in the story on the NABJ site, the association received accolades from some for its leadership in removing jock Don Imus from the airwaves in April, but that came after NABJ piled up a $641,500 deficit for 2006.

Both Imus and the deficit surfaced as issues during the session. Smith said the deficit was caused by mismanagement and lack of accountability, and that at the same time the organization focused on Imus, the American Society of Newspaper Editors was reporting that 392 newspapers had no minorities on their full-time staffs.

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Film Critic Dies After Heart Attack at Screening

"Add another chapter to the sturm und drang surrounding 'A Mighty Heart': Thursday night a film critic's heart gave out before a promotional screening at the ArcLight," Diane Garrett reported from Los Angeles Friday night for Variety.

"Anderson Jones, a former critic for E online, CNN Headline News and TNT's Roughcut, suffered a major coronary at the theater and died shortly after.



"Jones, also known as Andy, left E several years ago and had been freelancing ever since for publications such as Emmy mag and Lavender, a gay and lesbian pub in Minnesota.

"He was 38 and had been struggling with health issues in recent years."

The plot of "A Mighty Heart," starring Angelina Jolie, is set in motion by the disappearance of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic radicals in Pakistan in 2002.

On the Web site Cinematic Happenings Under Development (C.H.U.D.), Mark Wheaton wrote of Jones, "There were as many publicists who hated him as loved him, and the same could be said about his colleagues. There were reporters who refused to be in a junket room with him, but then there were plenty who would seek [him] out wherever he had put his generally bright orange messenger bag and file in alongside. To take it one step further, there were plenty of celebrities who loved Andy nine ways to Tuesday— just as many as there were ones who wished they would never, ever, ever see him again."

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Hill Leaving for Arizona's Cronkite School

"Retha Hill, a senior executive at BET and digital media leader who helped launch The Washington Post's first Internet news operation, will join the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication as director of the New Media Innovation Lab at Arizona State University," the school announced on Friday.



"Hill joins ASU from BET, where she is vice president for content for BET Interactive, the online unit of Black Entertainment Television. In that senior role, she is in charge of content strategy and convergence with the television network." says it is the most visited site specializing in African American content on the Internet.

Hill, a former president of the Washington Association of Black Journalists, was one of the first journalists of color to see the potential of the Internet. Before joining BET, Hill was executive producer for special projects at, developing new products for the Postâ??s Web site. She joined The Postâ??s early online operations in 1995.

A graduate of Wayne State University in Detroit, Hill started her journalism career as a reporter at the Detroit Free Press in 1983. She went to the Charlotte Observer in 1984. Three years later, she was hired by the Post as a metro reporter, the news release said.

In April, the Washington-based Hill was honored by the National Association of Minority Media Executives as the recipient of its New Media Catalyst Award.

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Newspaper Job Cuts Reach 800; Bloomberg Hiring

"The latest round of newspaper job cuts will bring the number of jobs slashed since April to more than 800. The Gannett-owned Honolulu Advertiser is offering enhanced retirement packages to 86 workers," Media Life magazine reported.

In a bright spot in the job picture, "Bloomberg, the privately owned news and information company, will expand its 2,300-strong news operation by more than 10 per cent this year as news plays a growing role in the content on the electronic system," Aline van Duyn reported on Wednesday for the Financial Times.

"The plans to add at least 240 more reporters in 2007 shed light on Bloomberg's strategy for maintaining an edge over rivals Reuters and Thomson, which have agreed an $18bn merger."

Elsewhere, David Westin, president of ABC News, told employees on Friday that, "we've begun a two-year process to take a fresh look at ABC News from top to bottom" and, "After we've added positions in some areas and cut positions in others, we will trim about 35 jobs from ABC News staff worldwide. We will do all that we can to minimize the effects on those of you affected."

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Skepticism Urged on Use of "Eyewitness" Accounts

"Mistaken eyewitness identification is the most common cause of the conviction of innocent people," Gary L. Wells wrote last week on the Nieman Watchdog Web site. "Since 1992, there have been 200 definitive exonerations of people whose convictions were overturned using forensic DNA testing, and mistaken eyewitness testimony was involved in 154 of those cases."

Wells is professor of psychology at Iowa State University and director of social science research at the American Judicature Society's Institute of Forensic Science and Public Policy.

A chart illustrating his point on the Web site of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, shows a disparity between the races of the victims and those of the exonerated defendants.

Seventy-eight percent of the victims were Caucasian; African Americans were 14 percent and Latinos 6 percent. The exonerated defendants were 61 percent African American; 28 percent Caucasian and 10 percent Latino.

"Cross-racial identifications are much less reliable," said Ezekiel R. Edwards, the Mayer Brown Eyewitness Fellow at the Innocence Project. He said those who have regular contact with people of other races are better at identification, but too many do not have that kind of interaction.

The lesson for journalists, Edwards told Journal-isms, is to be skeptical when reporting eyewitness accounts of crimes.

"It's an issue, just like criminal justice issues, that has a tremendous impact on poor people and obviously, people of color," he said. The skepticism also should apply to composite sketches drawn by police departments and shown on news programs.

Studies have shown that such sketches are unreliable because they are based on what can be faulty memories. Yet "people have been picked up seven or eight years later based on a composite sketch," Edwards said.

Wells' piece lists "Questions that should be asked of police and prosecutors regarding eyewitness identification evidence in your area."

Edwards suggested that journalists should also report whether their local police departments are updating their practices on use of "eyewitness" accounts in light of recent research.

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Undocumented Tell Pollsters They Would Comply

"Undocumented immigrants by an overwhelming majority are following the debate over immigration reform with close attention and would comply with proposed legislation to legalize their status, including paying stiff fines and fees and undergoing criminal background checks," according to a national public opinion survey of 1,600 undocumented immigrants from Latin America who arrived in the United States before Jan. 1.



"Eighty-three percent say they would apply for the new "Z" work visa. Their greatest anxiety is over any requirement to return to their country of origin without a guaranteed right to return. The vast majority report that anti-immigrant sentiment has negatively impacted their families," a summary of the story said.

To qualify for the new "Z" visa, undocumented immigrants would have to register at a government office and admit they were in the United States illegally. The head of the family would have to pay $3,000 in fines and fees and each undocumented member of the family would have to pay an additional $2,000.

The results were disclosed on Thursday at a news conference at which Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., appeared, along with Odette Keeley of New America Media and pollster Sergio Bendixen of Bendixen and Associates.

Meanwhile, Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas has written an open letter to the U.S. Senate calling "for senators to move forward with immigration reform." She "gives them advice on how to navigate the debate without being 'blinded by irrational anti-immigrant forces,'" Univision reported on Wednesday. Senators should distance themselves from the word 'amnesty,' Salinas said. She added that many senators have succumbed to the 'little devil' that whispered in their ear and told them not to support immigration reform.

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144 Journalists Made Political Contributions

" identified 144 journalists who made political contributions from 2004 through the start of the 2008 campaign, according to the public records of the Federal Election Commission. Most of the newsroom checkbooks leaned to the left: 125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes. Only 17 gave to Republicans. Two gave to both parties," investigative reporter Bill Dedman wrote Thursday on

"Giving to candidates is allowed at Fox, Forbes, Time, The New Yorker, Reuters — and at Bloomberg News, whose editor in chief, Matthew Winkler, set the tone by giving to Al Gore in 2000. Bloomberg has nine campaign donors on the list; they're allowed to donate unless they cover politics directly.

"Donations and other political activity are strictly forbidden at The Washington Post, ABC, CBS, CNN and NPR.

"Politicking is discouraged, but there is some wiggle room, at Dow Jones, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report," Dedman wrote.

Among those listed:



  • "CBS affiliate in Boston, WBZ, Liz Walker, newsmagazine host, $1,000 to Women Senate 2006, which gave to Democratic candidates, in December 2005; $2,500 to Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton in January 2005; $250 to Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in Michigan in March 2006; and $250 to Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, in March 2006. "Walker did not return a phone call, but WBZ spokeswoman Ro Dooley Webster said that Walker was not in the news department when she made those contributions, though she has since returned to a news department role. Walker had been the station's anchor for 20 years but left in January 2005 to become host of the station's community affairs and opinion show. She made the contributions in 2005 and 2006, before returning to a news role, doing pieces for the newscast.
  • "The Economist, Joanne Ramos, financial writer, a total of $2,100 in September and December 2005 to Matt Brown, the former Rhode Island secretary of state, a Democrat who ran for the Senate before dropping out amid a fundraising controversy. Ramos has written about banking, corporate pension reform, auditor concentration, the hedge-fund sector, Iraqâ??s banking system and international accounting standards.

"'I'm a finance writer. I don't write about politics,' Ramos said. 'I'm not sure what the policy is.'

  • "The Wall Street Journal, Krishnan Amantharaman, managing editor of the classroom edition, $500 to Barack Obama in two payments in February and March of 2007. "'I asked for those contributions back,' Amantharaman said. 'I don't want to comment on this.'
  • "Bloomberg News, Carlos Torres, reporter in Washington, $250 to John Kerry in July 2004. He also gave $250 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in September 2003. Torres covers U.S. economic news.

"'I have nothing to say about that,' Torres said."

Media Bistro's Fishbowl LA Web site quoted a message from Lesley Phillips, organizer for the Newspaper Guild, saying, "The Guild would aggressively support your right to contribute your time and/or money to causes important to you regardless of your political persuasion."

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Critic Says Paying for News Won't End Soon

"It seems obvious now — amid rumors NBC is offering $1-million for the first post-jail Paris Hilton interview — that NBC is continuing the ethical two-step that has allowed them to get high-profile interviews with Princess Diana's sons and develop the widely watched 'To Catch a Predator' series, opening its checkbook to buy access," media critic Eric Deggans wrote Friday on his St. Petersburg Times blog.

"As the Los Angeles Times details nicely here, it's a dance well-known to network executives. You cut a deal with an interview subject for some ancillary material — paying them for video footage, or personal mementos or, in the case of the royals, rights to broadcast a charity tribute concert (the only mistake CBS seemed to make in offering a similar deal to Jessica Lynch was putting the money offer in the same letter where news coverage was detailed). Everyone involved knows the cash also includes a Big Interview, but technically the money is a payment for materials or a fee from the entertainment division (CBS, for example, bought a Michael Jackson special it never aired).

"Clearly, the network suits haven't read that part of the journalism ethics code which talks about the appearance of impropriety being [as] bad as actual [wrongdoing]. And given that the interview with the royals was such a ratings hit — Monday night's 'Dateline NBC' got its best rating in two years— no one should expect this practice to end anytime soon."

Hilton plans to appear on CNNâ??s â??Larry King Liveâ?? on Wednesday night, a day after sheâ??s scheduled to be released from jail, a spokeswoman for King said Saturday, John Rogers reported for the Associated Press. [Updated June 24].

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"Diversity" Called "Happy Talk," Little Understood

"A new study by the University of Minnesota's sociology department says that though Americans are optimistic about the word 'diversity,' it is often used as a blanket to cover their true feelings about the 'R' word — race," Margaret Kamara reported Thursday in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.

"The respondent's biggest fear, according to the study, is that America is transforming into a multicultural nation overnight. The researchers say American diversity talk is sort of a 'happy talk,' an upbeat language that is now part of everyday conversation.

"'The topic of race lies outside of the realm of polite conversation,' says Joyce Bell, a graduate student who co-authored the study with associate sociology professor Dr. Doug Hartmann. 'Everyone, regardless of their race, political affiliation and even rhetorical ability, had real trouble talking about the inequities and injustices that typically accompany diversity in the United States.'

"Hartmann said several of the responses seem to indicate that respondents don't necessarily understand what the word 'diversity' means."

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NAHJ Defends Use of Spanish-Language Media

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists issued a statement on Thursday saying California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's comments at its convention were misunderstood. However, NAHJ defended the consumption of Spanish-language media.

"The substance of what the governor said was not controversial: Latino students who struggle in school because they have trouble with English need to improve their English language skills to succeed academically in the U.S.," NAHJ said.

"It is said by some that too many use Spanish language media as a crutch, and that it prevents people from fully assimilating into American society. But crutches are a good thing. They help people walk. Latinos who have yet to learn English in the United States should do so, sooner rather than later.

"In the meantime, we have a social network that was not available to many previous waves of immigrants in the U.S. We have an extensive network of news media available in Spanish. The current inability of some Latinos to speak English should not bar them from learning about what's happening in their communities. And the ineffectiveness of the mainstream media in providing substantive news about the nations to the south of the United States should not bar those of us who are bilingual from getting that news in Spanish."

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Short Takes

  • At least three journalists a month flee their home country to escape threats of violence, imprisonment or harassment; more than two-thirds of the 209 journalists currently in exile have not found opportunities to continue in their profession; and only one in seven journalists who flees ever returns home, according to Elisabeth Witchel and Karen Phillips, reporting Thursday for the Committee to Protect Journalists. The committee documented 243 cases of journalists forced into exile over the past six years.
  • "Families and friends of eight independent Cuban journalists who have been unjustly imprisoned since 2003 say that the health of their loved ones has seriously deteriorated in recent months amid poor prison conditions and insufficient health care. In a series of interviews with the Committee to Protect Journalists, relatives and friends described health problems ranging from diabetes and a tumor to pneumonia and cataracts," the committee said on Wednesday.



Jeff Koinange

  • Marianne Briner, whose disclosures of an affair with CNN Africa correspondent Jeff Koinange helped precipitate his departure last month from the network, is planning a book on the affair. "My book on the whole Jeff-Koinange-Saga will come out in the States around the end of July / beginning of [August]," Briner wrote on the Journal-isms message board. "I will keep you and all the readers of my blog posted." The affair was carried on partly through use of the CNN e-mail system.
  • "Anita Luera, a long-time journalist and past president of the Arizona Latino Media Association, is the first director of high school journalism programs for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University," the university announced last week. "Luera will oversee an expanding array of high school programs, including national training institutes for high school journalism teachers and students."
  • "Rajiv Chandrasekaran will be the new National editor, capping a whirlwind three weeks in which heâ??s gotten married, gone on his Asian honeymoon and won Britainâ??s prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for his terrific book, 'Imperial Life in the Emerald City,'" Susan Glasser, the Washington Post's assistant managing editor for national news, told staff members on Friday. "As assistant managing editor for continuous news, Rajiv played a key role in developing the newsroomâ??s web strategy before we lured him away earlier this year to help lead Nationalâ??s enterprise coverage of 'Washington at War.' Before that, he was The Postâ??s bureau chief in Baghdad, covering the U.S. occupation and supervising a team of Post correspondents."

  • "The latest installment of CNN's 'Uncovering America' coverage coincides with plans for several large events and parades across the nation as part of 'GLBT Pride Month,' the network announced on Friday. "Online, has requested 'Coming Out' stories from users and users' reflections on gays in their communities. Through I-Reports, users can submit videos, still photos and text of their stories, experiences and reactions. Some of these submissions are posted at"
  • The Death Penalty Information Center is honoring Gary Fields of the Wall Street Journal; Alan Johnson of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch; Eleanor Hayes, Amy Rogan, Jamie Walters and Jeff Gostomski of the Ohio News Network; and Steve Mills and Maurice Possley of the Chicago Tribune. They are "journalists who have made an exceptional contribution to the understanding of problems associated with capital punishment. A special award recognizing the years of contribution to journalism by the staff of The Angolite, a prison magazine, will also be presented," the center announced on Thursday.
  • "Tennessee State University publications advisor Pamela Foster learned yesterday she would keep her post as advisor for the universityâ??s award-winning student newspaper," Amanda Maynord reported Thursday in Nashville City Paper. "However, according to Foster, [she] will give up her responsibilities as advisor for the TSU yearbook. Foster learned that the university planned on removing her as publications advisor of both The Meter and the Tennessean yearbook after receiving a letter May 21" from Dorothy Lockridge, the university's associate vice president of student affairs, "claiming the publications were 'moving in a different direction commencing July 1.'â??
  • Shon Gables, former morning anchor at WCBS TV in New York, is hosting the "Black Enterprise Business Report," a half-hour, nationally syndicated television program that spotlights successful African American power players and business executives, Black Enterprise announced on Wednesday.
  • "'Encuentro Latino,' the local Spanish-language news show with Angel Salcedo, has found a new home, the Boston Globe reported on June 15. The weekly show, which began airing Saturday mornings on Telefutura in April, will be broadcast at 6 p.m. Fridays on Telemundo beginning June 22. The community affairs program is the creation of Salcedo and his wife, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) reporter Yadires Nova-Salcedo.

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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