Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Sword Swings Again at Sun Sentinel

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Updated May 21
Has Barack Obama's Election Sobered BET?

30 Let Go at Newspaper That Touts Diversity

'We are not an endangered species here in South Florida, and the Sun Sentinel expects to be alive and well for many years to come,' Editor Earl Maucker wrote.How's this for gallows humor?

"Rafael Olmeda Reported for work at Damocles Corp.," the president of Unity: Journalists of Color wrote on his Facebook page.

He posted as his employer, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, was undertaking yet another round of layoffs.

"rafael, who didn't make it?" someone asked.

"Rafael Olmeda survived. But so what, when so many who are so good did not?"

Thirty people were being laid off at the nonunion paper this week, Editor Earl Maucker told Journal-isms. At the end of the day on Wednesday, he was still calling people into his office to give them the news.

"The total of color this week and in March was 13 from the Sun Sentinel.  There was one other from our Spanish Language paper, el Sentinel so the overall total was 14," he said.

While nearly every newspaper is shedding staffers in light of the advertising downturn, competition from the Internet, and in the case of the Sun Sentinel's parent Tribune Co., too much debt, at the Sun Sentinel diversity is a particular concern.

Sharon Rosenhause, the managing editor who retired on July 31, was an advocate - she chaired the Diversity Committee of the American Society of News Editors - and some of those laid off were her hires.

Maucker told Journal-isms, "Our commitment is not to go beneath the 30 percent diversity level that we have established. We've made diversity a commitment with or without Sharon." He said the race and demographics team would remain, minus one of its four members.

According to staffers and Bob Norman's blog in the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, these journalists of color were among those let go or volunteered to leave:

Mc Nelly Torres, consumer investigative reporter, reporter Luis Perez of the race and demographics team, designer Xavier Maranon and Eliseo Cardona, senior copy editor/music critic at el Sentinel, who are Hispanic; editorial writer Alva James-Johnson, sports columnist Michael Cunningham and copy editors Khari Williams and Davidson Taylor, African American; Macollvie Jean-Fran?ßois, a Haitian-American, and Andrew Tran, an Asian American journalist who was a graduate of the Tribune Co.'s Metpro training program. Mc Nelly Torres

They follow 12 others who departed in March, Maucker said. They include Deputy Managing Editor Pat Thompson, a black journalist, and Hispanic journalists Ralph De La Cruz, a columnist, and David Cazares, an assistant city editor of Mexican and black American heritage.

"Prepare yourself as if this was your last month," Cazares told Journal-isms by way of advice to those still in newsrooms. "Make all your contacts. Make sure you have all the things that you want at your disposal."

Cazares, 48, had been at the paper 15 years and says he's now looking for a job in new media, yet "casting a wide net." At one time he was Miami bureau chief, race and demographics editor and liaison to an intern program he helped to create. In it, students at Florida International University wrote stories that appeared in the Sun Sentinel.

"I wanted to be one of the people running a newsroom," Cazares said. "That's gone."

Thompson said via e-mail, "Since my DME job was eliminated, I'm pursuing some exciting opportunities, most of them out of state, and hope to land a new job soon. "What's happening to the newspaper industry is so frustrating. Many talented journalists are being shown the door. We have to figure out how to continue getting the best of what we do - watchdog, explanatory work - to the public, and find good uses for our extraordinary skills and training."

Cardona said, "I will be blogging about my experience as a writer for newspapers. I say 'writer' and not 'reporter' because I've never considered myself a journalist. I'm a reader who happens to write. I love journalism and learned the trade from the old schools of news agencies. Newspapers are something else. And if we talk about Spanish newspapers, well, they're something worst. I'll be happy to engage in any debate concerning Spanish newspapers, which sadly the Sun-Sentinel people don't read; not even those who speak the language. Ask youself why." Cardona, 45, worked for El Nuevo Herald from 1992 to 2000 and at el Sentinel since 2002.

Torres, a board member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, said she had spent her 15-year career - at five papers - as an investigative reporter. She wrote about corruption in school construction in San Antonio and unsolved homicides in Lawton, Okla. The day before she was laid off, she got word that she had won a Green Eyeshades Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.  "I've felt it was an honor to do the job we do. It was a great ride.

"I've got a lot of thinking to do," said Torres, 41. "I'm an investigative reporter at heart. When I go to IRE," referring to the June 11-14 IRE convention in Baltimore, "I'll be talking to a lot of people."

She wrote on her Facebook page, "I was never a favorite, I never sucked up or engaged in office politics. I think is a waste of time when there's so much work to do all the time. I did my job with integrity and that's how I want to leave the building holding my head high. Mirando pa'lante y nunca para atras ni pa' coger el paso. I have no regrets. Life is too short." [Updated May 21.]

Has Barack Obama's Election Sobered BET?

A new day?: Debra Lee, left, and Iyanla VanzantBlack Entertainment Television wants us to believe that the election of Barack Obama has helped sober it up. It put on a presentation in Washington on Tuesday night showcasing its new season that left a big smile on the face of Iyanla Vanzant, the author and self-empowerment guru.

"It's what BET should have always been," she told Journal-isms after the presentation at the Freedom Forum's Newseum, for an audience of 200 or so. "I'm proud."

Coming from a woman who has more in common with Oprah Winfrey than Lil' Kim, Vanzant's comments were enough to give pause. We all know BET's history of booty-shakin' videos, killing off news shows and the dismissive rejoinder "the 'E' stands for 'Entertainment'" to those who pleaded for more responsible programming for its impressionable audience.

Change has been building. At the reception afterward on a deck overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, CEO Debra L. Lee told Journal-isms that the change in Washington helped prompt a belief that it was "time to sit back with my management team and say, 'where are we going. What do I want my legacy to be? After 30 years, what do we want to stand for?'"

It surely hasn't gone unnoticed that competitors are eager to satisfy the craving for fare that appeals to the grown-ups. But Lee says as the largest black-oriented network, it bears its own responsibility.

This is the season for each of the networks to unveil its new programming for advertisers and the news media, usually in New York and Los Angeles. BET added Washington, and Congressional Black Caucus members Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Mel Watt, D-N.C., along with White House press aide Corey A. Ealons, were among those in attendance.

"This is the Time," BET's promotional material said. "After a remarkable year of programming and coverage that empowered over 80 million homes to witness the nomination and election of President Barack Obama in 2008, BET Networks embraces the new day with more pride and resolve than ever before."

The new programs being presented might not all survive. Their quality has yet to be judged, and it remains to be seen how much viewer interest there will be in the lives of black male models, in a show about black race car drivers, or in a game show that gives contestants the chance to "pay off their bills one at a time."

What seems more significant is that the largest black-oriented television network is telling us it is broadening its definition of African American life.

The actor Mario Van Peebles was present to introduce "Bring Your A-Game," a joint venture with the 21st Century Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The documentary features Chris Rock, Diddy, Dick Parsons, Hill Harper and others showing young black men that the road to success does not lie exclusively through rapping and sports.

To get the point across in an entertaining way, the show is presented as a video game with few doors open for rappin' and ballin', but multiple ones for other career choices.

As one BET executive after another presented the fruits of his or her labors, Janet Rolle, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, outlined five principles she said would guide the network, including "backing black dreams" and "not on our watch," spotlighting problems in the black community.

Researchers undertook "The Black Family Study," in which respondents were asked to list their concerns.

No. 5 on the list was "Media influences."

Johnson's TV Plans Unchanged by Partner's  Woes

Robert L. Johnson Ion Media Networks, the company with which Robert L. Johnson has partnered in hopes of creating a new "urban" television network, has filed for bankruptcy court protection, Christopher Scinta and Thom Weidlich reported Wednesday for Bloomberg News.

However, "ION's filing has no impact on the ION/URBAN venture," Traci Otey Blunt, a spokeswoman for Johnson, told Journal-isms. "ION is not going out of business and this filing is not a liquidation. They filed under Chapter 11 to clean up their balance sheet and to gain financial flexibility and will remain in control of all of their business operations. ION's day-to-day operations will continue uninterrupted and this allows for ION to continue to execute their programming plans including the Urban TV venture."

Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, is seeking permission to share time on over-the-air stations owned by Ion, an arrangement supported by the National Association of Black Journalists and other black groups, but opposed by competitor TV One and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which represents the cable industry.

"As you are aware, our joint venture is on hold pending the FCC's approval of our application. We are awaiting the appointment of the FCC Commissioner (and remaining Commissioners) and believe our proposal represents the opportunity for the FCC, with the stroke of a pen, to create more diversity in ownership and programming," Blunt said. "The Obama-Biden Technology and Innovation plan, which incoming FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski was instrumental in drafting outlines the Administration's commitment to encourage this and Bob Johnson's vision for Urban Television addresses both diversity in ownership and programming."

Ion, the former Paxson Communications Corp., was founded by Lowell “Bud” Paxson, who left the company in November 2005, the Bloomberg story noted.

Among other topics, Shankar Vedantam 'will study how perceptions of intraracial differences influence education, politics and the criminal justice system' on his fellowship.

4 of Color Win Niemans, More Are Freelancers

Three Hispanic journalists and a South Asian — but no African Americans — are among the 2009-10 class of Nieman Fellows at Harvard University, a class for which "we received applications from — and awarded fellowships to — more freelance journalists than ever before," Nieman curator Robert H. Giles said.

Awardees include:

  • Monica Campbell, a freelance journalist based in San Francisco, who "will study how criminal organizations create cultures of fear and fuel corruption, with a special focus on Mexico and ways the press can effectively navigate the current climate of violence there."
  • Marcela Valdes, a freelance writer from Annapolis, Md., who "will study the historical roots of contemporary Latino and Latin American culture, with a focus on how film and literature grapple with the political and artistic legacies of the 1970s, including dictatorships, forced immigration and magical realism."
  • Liz Mineo of the MetroWest Daily News in Framingham, Mass., who "will study the social, economic, political and legal implications of the recent waves of Latin American immigrants to the United States, with a special focus on Brazilian immigrants."
  • Shankar Vedantam, national science reporter at the Washington Post, who "will study solutions to collective action problems and explore how online social networks might solve public policy challenges. He also will study how perceptions of intraracial differences influence education, politics and the criminal justice system."

Not only is Vedantam from India, he is the son of a journalist there. "I was the first woman to have become the Associate Editor of an English newspaper where I had started as an Education Correspondent!" Vatsala Vedantam wrote Journal-isms in 2004.

"My son, Shankar, who is an engineering graduate, was very interested in my work. Soon after graduation, he joined The Times of India next door which was a rival newspaper! Both of us competed to grab the headlines. It was great fun. He went to Stanford later for his Masters in Communication, and joined the Philadelphia Inquirer. I met him at the Asian American journalists Convention in LA in 1993, where we were both interviewed and written about as the only mother-son delegates."

The program saw a dramatic increase in white applicants this year: 120, up from 33 last year, Giles said. He provided this breakdown on Thursday:

  • Total applicants: 164 (up by 45 from 2008)
  • White: 120 applied (up 33 from last year)
  • African American: 15 applied (up four from last year)
  • Asian American: 10 applied (up one from last year)
  • Hispanic: 15 applied (up eight from last year)
  • Native American: Two applied (down one from last year)
  • Arab American: One applied (down one from last year)
  • Multiracial: One applied (up one from last year)

In his announcement, Giles said of the freelance applicants, "They are highly talented professionals who by choice or circumstance don‚Äôt hold staff positions with established news organizations. In response to their needs and those of all the Nieman Fellows, we will introduce a yearlong multimedia curriculum in the fall, designed to teach new media skills in what is becoming an increasingly competitive market.‚Äù 

The phenomenon extends beyond the Nieman program. "The crop of fellows set to enter this year‚Äôs most prestigious programs, whose names are just now being announced, shows how much that pattern is changing," Richard P?©rez-Pe?±a wrote Sunday in the New York Times.

"These days, struggling papers are less likely to allow their journalists the time off, for one thing. The pool they employ is drastically smaller, and those who have lasted to midcareer tend to be less worried about recharging their batteries than keeping their jobs." [Updated May 21]

DownBeat, "World's Oldest Jazz Magazine," Turns 75

"DownBeat — which calls itself the world's oldest jazz magazine — turns 75 this year. And the big anniversary has stirred memories at DownBeat's main office in Elmhurst, a place where photos of jazz greats line the walls, where mail crates overflow with constantly arriving CDs and where a phone call could be anyone from Tony Bennett to Diana Krall," Colleen Mastony wrote Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune.

"The venerable jazz publication celebrates the three-quarter-century mark with the publication of 'DownBeat: The Great Jazz Interviews. A 75th Anniversary Anthology,' due in October. In addition, the Elmhurst Historical Museum is staging an exhibit that traces the history of the magazine along with the history of jazz. Running through Sunday, the display includes relics large and small, from Louis Armstrong's trumpet to Benny Goodman's silk bow tie.

"'If you are thirsting for knowledge about jazz, then you have to go to DownBeat,' said Jon Faddis, 55, renowned trumpeter and artistic director of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble. As a kid growing up in Oakland, Faddis saved his pennies to buy copies of DownBeat. Now, he keeps a collection of hundreds of back issues and sometimes hunts for missing editions on eBay because, he explains, 'for over 75 years and counting, DownBeat has been the source.'

"Other readers have included President Bill Clinton, who perused the magazine while he was learning to play the saxophone; Clint Eastwood, who reportedly keeps a collection of back issues tied up with ribbon in his basement; and The Doors' late frontman, Jim Morrison, who in 1970 was quoted saying: 'Most of the so-called music magazines cover everything but music. They are fan magazines and sensation-seekers. I have been written about in all of them — but so what. . . . I'm not an avid or knowledgeable jazz fan, but I do read DownBeat regularly because it deals with music.'"

"Accuracy" Memo Said to Be Bad for Corrections

"The Washington Times made an embarrassing mistake on its website last week. This picture pretty much speaks for itself," Craig Silverman wrote  Tuesday on his "Regret the Error" site.

"Yes, those are the Obama kids. No, they weren’t involved in the story.

"After being spotted by one blog, the image quickly spread. Some people said it was an example of the Times’ right-wing bias. The Times spoke up, publishing a story to explain the error:

"Executive Editor John Solomon said The Times published the story in its print edition without a photo, then editors sent it to the Web platform without an attached photo.

"He said The Times’ automated 'news themes' engine, constructed to match related content to the Web site, paired the Associated Press photo of the Obama daughters to the bylined story. An online editor later spotted the photo and added a short caption.

". . . Solomon also reacted to the incident by sending a memo to staff. It ostensibly reinforces the importance of accuracy, but I worry that it could result in Times staffers doing more to conceal mistakes. Here’s a relevant passage:

"1. Any reporter or editor who makes an error in a story that requires a published correction must submit a letter to the Executive Editor and Managing Editor explaining the mistake and what corrective actions were taken. These letters will be placed in your permanent personnel file.

"This sends the message to the newsroom that it’s better to conceal an error than correct it. I know that’s not what Solomon meant to say, but his policy will encourage some staffers to do everything they can to hide a mistake. . . ."

It Wasn't Easy to Keep the Georges Straight

George Strait and George StraitThe Washington Post ran this correction on Tuesday:

"The May 15 Weekend section incorrectly ran a photo of country singer George Strait with a caption saying that he was going to be an emcee at a May 16 concert titled "Bridging the Musical Spectrum" at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Former ABC News correspondent George Strait was the emcee."

Strait, who is now assistant commissioner of public affairs for the Food and Drug Administration, told Journal-isms, "In public appearances I often joke that I am not the singer but that 'all my exes are in Texas.' Ironically I made the same joke to this audience. I hear some people actually came to the event because they saw the ad and picture of the other guy in the paper. Also I hear that some wanted their $ back. :)"

Short Takes

  • Shaquille O‚ÄôNeal found himself at Syracuse University on Tuesday, celebrating the successful completion of a mock four-minute interview as if it were a playoff buzzer beater, Pete Thamel reported Tuesday in the New York Times. "O‚ÄôNeal‚Äôs three-day broadcast boot camp at Syracuse is a spinoff of the second-year program that the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications runs in concert with the N.B.A.‚Äôs players association for players interested in pursuing broadcasting after their careers. Players pay $5,200 for the program. But because O‚ÄôNeal wanted his own private session, he had to fork over more than $15,000."
  • "Some administration stars are beginning to emerge and some patterns are becoming apparent," according to a poll of those who book guests for the Sunday television talk shows, writes Elizabeth Jensen for TelevisionWeek. President Obama was the leading vote-getter for "biggest get." Also mentioned were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Pope Benedict XVI. "By a very slim margin," Vice President Joe Biden led in the "Under the Mistaken Impression That They Are the Biggest Get" category.
  • "A potentially key witness to a killing last month in San Francisco ‚Äî a college journalism student ‚Äî is invoking a state law aimed at protecting working journalists' sources and unpublished material in refusing to cooperate with police, Jaxon Van Derbeken reported Tuesday in the San Francisco Chronicle. "The 22-year-old student at San Francisco State University maintains that he was on the scene as part of a school project chronicling life in the community, and that his witness account and the photos he took are covered by California's shield law for journalists.'
  • Dorreen Yellow Bird, columnist for the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, Dorreen Yellow Birdtold readers she had settled in New Town, N.D., and was working as press secretary for the Three Affiliated Tribes. In March, Yellow Bird told readers that although she had been laid off by the newspaper, the Herald was giving her a chance to continue her column after she moves to her parcel of reservation land.
  • "The Local Radio Freedom Act, a resolution opposing performance royalties for radio, adds the support of four more members of the House, bringing the total to 200. The bill has added eight co-sponsors since the House Judiciary Committee approved the Performance Rights Act last week; that bill would for the first time impose performance royalties on over-the-air radio," Radio Ink reported on Monday. Some black and Latino broadcasters and members of Congress have opposed the royalties as threatening the stations' existence.
  • "Estrella TV, Liberman Broadcasting's new Spanish-language TV network set to launch in third quarter, announced Tuesday it has signed an affiliation agreement with Belo. The affiliation pact gives the new network clearance in four more markets to reach 60 percent of Hispanic TV households," Katy Bachman reported for MediaWeek on Tuesday.
  • Vu Nguyen, education reporter for the Torrance, Calif., Daily Breeze, died late Friday when he was removed from life support systems with his wife and family at his side, Larry Altman reported Saturday for the newspaper. "Doctors at Kaiser Permanete Medical Center in Harbor City determined that after a week in a coma, the 34-year-old Long Beach man's brain had stopped functioning. . . . Nguyen never regained consciousness after suffering cardiac arrest while playing soccer with friends on Sunday."
  • In Boston, known locally as "the Hub," "Former WBZ-TV Channel 4 anchor Liz Walker ‚Äî a legendary Hub newswoman who left the station after nearly three decades in December ‚Äî is returning to the local TV news scene but to a competing station," Jessica Heslam reported on Tuesday for the Boston Herald. "Walker is launching a new TV series, 'Better Living with Liz Walker,' on WCVB-TV (Ch. 5)."
  • Joseph Hayden, 68, a Harlem man who considers himself a news junkie, last year invested $40,000 with two other men to start a news organization, Still Here Harlem Productions, "that would, in the words of its mission statement, 'cover every aspect of the community life of the marginalized and voiceless in Harlem,'" Jason Grant reported Monday in the New York Times.
  • Sonya McNairSonya McNair has been named vice president, communications, CBS News, CBS announced on Tuesday. She reports to Jeff Ballabon, senior vice president, communications. McNair was spokeswoman and director of public relations for the New Yorker magazine and vice president of corporate communications for Time Inc's Essence Communications Inc.
  • A day after the American Society of News Editors announced that Bobbi Bowman is stepping down as diversity director on June 30, the organization said that Scott Bosley is retiring as executive director at the end of the year.
  • The Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles. Memphis, Tenn., pastor and former executive producer for 30 years of the Rainbow Coalition/PUSH weekly radio show, the late Ed Bradley, a former war correspondent and "60 Minutes" reporter, and Robin Roberts, co-host of ABC's "Good Morning America" who has shared her struggle with breast cancer with viewers, were to be honored Tuesday with a Ford Freedom Award by the Ford Motor Co., Oralandar Brand-Williams reported Monday in the Detroit News
  • Etritrean "President Isaias Afwerki said that the Kenyan government holds main accountability for the abduction of 3 Eritrean journalists in the streets of Nairobi," reported Tuesday. "In an interview with the Kenyan Television Network (KTN), the President pointed out that as the crime committed against the Eritrean journalists who were abducted in the streets of Nairobi and transferred to Mogadishu in chains and whose whereabouts still remains unknown took place in sovereign Kenyan territory, the Kenyan government is to be held accountable, and that Eritrea would never overlook the issue."
  • "Authorities in Malawi should immediately release three journalists arrested today in a police raid on an opposition radio station, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. The country is holding general elections between today and Thursday" the committee said on Tuesday. "The 4 a.m. raid targeted Joy Radio, a station owned by former president and opposition leader Bakili Muluzi, in the commercial city of Blantyre. According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa, journalists from the station were picked up in relation to the rebroadcast of a 2008 political program contradicting government claims that the country's food supply was secure."

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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BET's newfound "sobering"

BET - bless their heart. The network believes it's finally seeing the light after the election, although legions of conscious viewers had long switched it off after our years of complaints about trite and degrading programming were rejected. I no longer know what channel BET airs on in my market, and I don't want to know. Sometimes a divorce really is final. Too late to come back crying now.

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