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Viewers Peek at Politico's Diversity - or Not

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Saturday, March 20, 2010
Updated March 22, 23

Editor Says Camera Shots, Reputation Mislead

Debate Begins on Media's Coverage of Health Care Saga

. . . Cable News Networks Made Differences Clear

Tiger Woods Called Unrevealing in Media Comeback

Immigration Marchers Had Stiff Competition

In AP Story, Blacks Endorse Obama's Stance on Race

40 Years Later, Newsweek Women Measure Progress

Short Takes


John F. Harris, Politico editor in chief, second from left, says Politico is not as white and male as it looked on CNN's "Reliable Sources." Watch the video. (Credit: CNN)

Editor Says Camera Shots, Reputation Mislead

CNN took viewers Sunday to an editorial meeting at Politico, the buzz-creating Web-and-print operation that launched in Washington three years ago. For many journalists of color, what was striking was not what was said but who wasn't saying it.

"Did anyone catch CNN's Reliable Sources going inside the newsroom of" Roland S. Martin, the CNN and TV One commentator, wrote to the National Association of Black Journalists e-mail list. "It was pathetic. All white folks at the table deciding the stories to cover. Not one African American or any other minority.

"I only saw one woman, and I swear she didn't say a word. They had her sitting next to the editor, and it was clear she was window dressing," said Martin, who is secretary of the association.

A self-described Latina "news junkie" wrote Journal-isms, "I just watched with my significant other in absolute horror on CNN that POLITICO's morning 'top editors and reporters' meeting had not ONE female or ONE person of color. POLITICO has often been referred to as one of the top and influential DC publications. How is this possible when they seem to only represent the views of white men? How can they consider themselves 'new media' when they look just like the old media? . . . Should it be any surprise to anyone why their articles on issues of race seem so absurd?"

Harris said Politico's recruiting efforts have 'made a diversity a focus.'John F. Harris, Politico co-founder and editor in chief, says the camera shots might have been misleading and that Politico is, in fact, committed to diversity.

"We are making strides that are gratifying to me, even as I have always considered this a long-term project," he said. "We have racial diversity in most of the most important positions in our newsroom - on the White House team, on our photo team, on the copy and production desks, and on our congressional team."

However, Harris told Journal-isms, "our corporate policies don't allow me to release numerical data."

Politico launched in January 2007, attracting well-known white reporters such as Mike Allen, formerly of the Washington Post and Time, but with a single black reporter, Helena Andrews, a style writer for the publication who had been a news aide at the New York Times Washington Bureau. The staff then comprised 52 people, including 19 journalists.

Andrews left in September 2008. Nia-Malika Henderson of Newsday joined in November as a member of the team covering the White House under the nation's first black president.

Henderson has remained the only African American reporter, though Politico announced that November that it planned to expand its staff from 85 to more than 100 employees. 

The Web site's list of more than 80 editorial employees includes star white reporters who came from other publications, such as Roger Simon, chief political columnist, and at least five journalists of color in other roles: Henderson; Michael Schwartz, director of photography; Web producers Seung Min Kim and MJ Lee; and copy editor LaRonda Peterson. No one of color was visible in the agenda-setting news meeting, however.

"In terms of audience, it is a smashing success, averaging over three million unique monthly visitors, according to Nielsen Online - more than all but 10 American newspaper sites," Richard P?©rez-Pe?±a wrote of Politico in the New York Times.

"But Politico's largest source of revenue has been a printed newspaper, circulation 32,000, that attracts interest group advertising and is distributed to Washington power players."

In October, Politico's parent company announced it was starting a local news site for the highly multicultural Washington area.

The American Society of News Editors encourages news organizations to be forthcoming about their diversity figures, using them for the census of newsrooms it has conducted since 1978, primarily as a means of measuring minority employment.

It found last year that although blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans represented 33 percent of the U.S. population, the percentage of those groups in newsrooms stood at 13.41 percent.

Harris told Journal-isms via e-mail:

"I didn't see the CNN segment or what shots they used.

"I do wish to disabuse you of the idea that the editorial meeting featured 'token representation of women.' The women in that meeting included our managing editor for on-line (in charge of the web site), the deputy managing editor (in charge of running the print operation day to day) and one of our lead White House reporters.

"On racial diversity, POLITICO has made steady progress since you and I first corresponded around the time of our publication's launch three years ago, and we are expecting more progress as the publication matures.

"We have racial diversity in most of the most important positions in our newsroom--on the White House team, on our photo team, on the copy and production desks, and on our congressional team.

"This progress has come because we have worked at it, attending NABJ conventions (and sponsoring one of their Washington events) and establishing good ongoing relationships with Eric Wee's impressive JournalismNext job site, as well as several collegiate programs.

"Beth Frerking, who helps with our recruiting efforts, has made a diversity a focus.

"When we can, we'll make progress by hiring well-known journalists with established reputations in the profession. Since this path alone is not enough, we are also putting emphasis on our own internal development of young journalists.

"Our summer intern programs have helped us advance diversity, including with interns who have performed so well that they worked themselves into full-time jobs. Our entry-level reporting and web production jobs have also been good opportunities to help the cause.

"So we are making strides that are gratifying to me, even as I have always considered this a long-term project."

Politico has advertised 13 jobs on, from events coordinator to political reporters.

President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and senior staff members react in the Roosevelt Room of the White House as the House passes the health care reform bill Sunday night. (Credit: Pete Souza/White House)

Debate Begins on Media's Coverage of Health Care Saga

"It was the story that refused to die," Howard Kurtz wrote Monday in the Washington Post.

"Sunday's last-gasp passage of President Obama's health care bill will finally liberate the journalists who have been chained to this complicated, arcane, often tedious story for 14 long months.

"It's not that media types were rooting for the House to drag the measure across the finish line. It's that many were frustrated by a tangled tale that never seemed to end, and knew that plenty of readers and viewers were sick of the subject as well.

"The conventional wisdom is that the press failed to educate the public about the bill's sweeping changes, leaving much of America confused about just what it contained. That is largely a bum rap, for the media churned out endless reams of data and analysis that were available to anyone who bothered to look.

"As time went on, though, journalists became consumed by political process and Beltway politics, to the point that the substance of health care reform was overwhelmed. Here the plea is guilty-with-an-explanation: The battle came down to whether the Senate could adopt changes by majority vote (reconciliation) and, until late Saturday, whether the House could approve the Senate measure without a recorded vote (deem and pass). With the bill's fate hanging by these procedural threads, there was no way to avoid making that the overriding story. (And yes, the Senate reconciliation vote is still to come.)

"History is written by the winners, and sometimes by the leakers. Thus, the New York Times and Politico began lengthy Sunday tick-tocks on the battle with Nancy Pelosi privately confronting Obama and Rahm Emanuel over a scaled-down version of the bill that, according to both accounts, she dismissed as 'kiddie care.' The odds that her staff provided such colorful details are high.

"Trudy Lieberman, a longtime specialist in health reporting, offers a harsh verdict in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review. She says the press coverage 'has been largely incoherent to the man on the street . . . failed to illuminate the crucial issues, [and] quoted special interest groups and politicians without giving consumers enough information to judge if their claims were fact or fiction.' "

. . . Cable News Networks Made Differences Clear

"As the fight to pass health care legislation progressed on Sunday, the tenor of the struggle changed depending on what channel you watched," Eric Deggans wrote Monday on his St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times blog.

"On right-leaning Fox News Channel, the cries of tea party protesters resisting the legislation were never far from the stage, as anchors and reporters referred continuously to those parked outside the Capitol building as the day wound on.

"On liberal-friendly MSNBC, pundit panels were stocked with on air personalities known for supporting the legislation and/or Democratic politics, including Ed Schultz and Lawrence O'Donnell.

"CNN went hip-deep in its own anchor bench, bringing in Wolf Blitzer, Candy Crowley, John King, Gloria Borger and Sanjay Gupta, with punctuation from partisan commentators. And there was always C-SPAN as an option, if you preferred to watch the debate on the House floor unfiltered.

"It added up to a bizarre display of reporting, in which you could flick between different political perspectives like an eye doctor clicking through different lens prescriptions."

Tiger Woods gave five-minute interviews Sunday to ESPN and The Golf Channel. CBS passed. (Video)

Tiger Woods Called Unrevealing in Media Comeback

"Phase two of the 'Tiger Woods Comeback' was rolled out on Sunday evening with a pair of five-minute interviews with Woods on ESPN and The Golf Channel," Marcus Vanderberg wrote Monday for

"Tom Rinaldi and Kelly Tilghman (yes, the one who said Tiger should be lynched in a back alley in 2008) had free range with Woods, who allowed no restrictions on the questions.

"So with no restrictions on the questions, you would expect to finally hear all the juicy details on what really happened on the night of Nov. 27 or his thoughts on the series of text messages that were released last week by alleged mistress Joslyn James, right? Not so much.

"Woods deflected anything dealing with the accident or his relationship with his wife, Elin.

"'Well, it's all in the police report,' Woods told Rinaldi. 'Beyond that everything's between [wife] Elin and myself and that's private. I was living a life of a lie, I really was. And I was doing a lot of things . . . that hurt a lot of people. And stripping away denial and rationalization you start coming to the truth of who you really are and that can be very ugly. But then again, when you face it and you start conquering it and you start living up to it, the strength that I feel now . . . I've never felt that type of strength.'

"The follow-up questions from both networks, especially Tilghman and The Golf network, were a shank job (for lack of a better golf term) to say the least," Vanderburg wrote, referring to what is considered the worst shot in golf.

In the New York Times on Monday, Bill Carter explained that,"CBS declined an opportunity to be the third outlet speaking with the golf star Sunday, primarily because executives at the network did not believe the interview would hold much value — not after he had already given his five minutes’ worth to ESPN and the Golf Channel.

"Though they declined to speak on the record, CBS executives described their reluctance Monday less as a journalistic stand against an interview subject trying to control questioning than as a practical decision about what benefit the network could get from the interview."

Immigration Marchers Had Stiff Competition

"The pictures prove it. Over 200,000 (unsubstantiated estimates go as high as 500,000) immigration reform marchers, dressed in white t-shirts and toting either American flags or signs marched and mingled at the National Mall in Washington, DC yesterday, while at the same time the House of Representatives busily debated the healthcare reform bill on Capitol Hill," Marisa Trevi?±o wrote Monday on her Latina Lista blog.

"The hope of the march was to remind the President that the Latino community had not forgotten his campaign promises to reform immigration policy. Plus, it was to show Congress that even a small fraction of the Latino community can make a lot of noise.

"Yet, with all (media) eyes focused on the congressional theatrics leading up to passage of the healthcare bill and undue attention given to a small group of Tea Party protesters on Capitol Hill, after some in their group unleashed their special warped brand of patriotism against some gay and Democratic politicians of color, the 200,000-500,000 immigration reform marchers were hardly seen or heard of in the mainstream media. . . ."

[On Tuesday, the New York newspaper El Diario linked the diminished coverage to underrepresentation of journalists of color in mainstream newsrooms, saying in an editorial:

["Immigration does not simply affect the lives of immigrants and Latinos — it is a national issue. But which stories get play and to what degree is a result of who is making decisions in newsrooms.

["In the United States, Blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans represent 33 percent of the population. But their representation in newsrooms was at 13.41 percent last year, according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors."]

In AP Story, Blacks Endorse Obama's Stance on Race

"In this banking center walloped by the Great Recession, where unemployment just hit a 20-year high and as many as one in three black people are out of work, blacks could easily be frustrated with President Barack Obama's insistence that a rising economic tide for all will lift African-American boats," Jesse Washington, the Associated Press' race relations reporter, wrote Saturday from Charlotte, N.C.

"Yet despite surging discontent among some black advocates over Obama's refusal to specifically target rising black unemployment, it's hard to find average black folks here who disagree with the president's approach.

". . . The drumbeat for Obama to embrace a black agenda grew loudest Saturday, when PBS host Tavis Smiley convened a public meeting of prominent black activists and intellectuals in Chicago to demand policies tailored to the needs of blacks who have been hit disproportionately hard by the recession. . . .

"Interviews with two dozen African-Americans last week revealed common themes: Obama is correct to focus on the needs of all Americans. It's too soon to condemn him for inaction. His emphasis on health care and education will greatly help blacks. Black people should take responsibility for solving their own problems.

"And when 2012 comes, they plan to vote for Obama again."

40 Years Later, Newsweek Women Measure Progress

"In 1970, 46 women filed a landmark gender-discrimination case. Their employer was NEWSWEEK. Forty years later, their contemporary counterparts question how much has actually changed," the newsmagazine blurbed for the March 29 edition, posted on the Web on Friday.

Jessica Bennett, Jesse Ellison and Sarah Ball wrote, "Until six months ago, when sex- and gender-discrimination scandals hit ESPN, David Letterman’s Late Show, and the New York Post, the three of us — all young NEWSWEEK writers — knew virtually nothing of these women's struggle. Over time, it seemed, their story had faded from the collective conversation. . . .

"Yet the more we talked to our friends and colleagues, the more we heard the same stories of disillusionment, regardless of profession. No one would dare say today that 'women don't write here,' as the NEWSWEEK women were told 40 years ago. But men wrote all but six of NEWSWEEK's 49 cover stories last year — and two of those used the headline 'The Thinking Man.' In 1970, 25 percent of NEWSWEEK's editorial masthead was female; today that number is 39 percent. Better? Yes. But it's hardly equality. (Overall, 49 percent of the entire company, the business and editorial sides, is female.) 'Contemporary young women enter the workplace full of enthusiasm, only to see their hopes dashed,' says historian Barbara J. Berg. 'Because for the first time they're slammed up against gender bias.' "

Short Takes

  • Jose Antonio Vargas in 'The Other City.'Jose Antonio Vargas, who wrote a year-long series on AIDS while at the Washington Post, is premiering a 90-minute documentary based upon the series April 26 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. "Sheila Johnson (BET co-founder) produced the film; Susan Koch, a D.C. native and veteran filmmaker, directed it," Betsy Rothstein wrote for MediaBistro. "The Other City" "shows a DC that's far from the Capitol Hill-Dupont Circle-Georgetown mindset," said Vargas, who is now technology and innovations editor at the Huffington Post.
  • "Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer was denied a visa to the United States where he was scheduled to speak in Chicago about the living conditions in Palestine, tour organizers said," the Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem reported. "'Effectively canceling a planned speaking tour, the U.S. consulate in the Netherlands has put an extended hold on the visa application of [Omer],' tour organizers in Chicago wrote in a news statement. . . . Omer was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2008 for 'his firsthand reportage of life in the besieged Gaza strip.' "
  • Pamela Edwards Christiani, beauty editor at Essence for a decade, is joining People magazine as style and beauty editor, effective March 29, a People spokeswoman confirmed on Monday. Christiani takes the place of Clarissa Cruz, who is leaving People to write a book.
  • "The New York Times today rolled out its new lunchtime digital video show, 'TimesCast,'" Mike Taylor wrote Monday for FishBowl NY. "The program is scheduled to appear at the top of the Times web site from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday." The video of Monday's news meeting showed many more women than were at a similar meeting at Politico, discussed above, but no journalists of color. Marcus Mabry, international business editor and an African American, was interviewed later in the video about news percolating in his section. (Video)
  • Editors of the Washington Post told staff members on Monday that "of our full-time, professional newsroom staff, 24.1% are journalists of color. This compares to 25.5% in 2009, and for the first time includes both our print and digital staffs in the merged newsroom. While we are encouraged by the fact that after a difficult year, we haven't had a significant decline in our overall diversity ranks, we are aware we need to do more," said the note, signed by Marcus Brauchli, Raju Narisetti, Liz Spayd and Shirley Carswell. "We are in danger of losing ground if we do not consistently try to recruit the best minority journalists. We encourage all of you to continue flagging us to candidates who can strengthen our newsroom." Overall figures for member news organizations are to be released at the annual convention of the American Society of News Editors April 11-14 in Washington.
  • "'The Tom Joyner Morning Show' crew gave a live demonstration of a 'party with a purpose' by taking their spring vacation to Haiti," Jackie Jones reported Monday for Joyner's "The group of nearly a dozen people worked with staffers from Project Medishare, which is running the largest tent hospital in the Caribbean nation to help those most impacted by the massive earthquake that rocked the island on Jan. 12."
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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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I guess we can be thankful that a corporate policy prevents Mr. Harris from releasing the company's pitiful numbers on diversity. Clearly, Politico has no minorities in decision-making roles, which fuels the perception that websites are slow to embrace diversity. Politico, however, is hardly the lone website with woeful practices in terms of hiring and promoting men and women of color, but its lack of diversity was so naked that I had to comment on it. Mr. Harris can talk all he wants about efforts Politico has made to bring diversity to its workforce, but when you see a news meeting like the one CNN showed Sunday, Harris has no reason to be proud of whatever efforts his editors have made on this front. This is 2010, not 1910. Justice B. Hill Freelance writer/editor

before I'd even come across

before I'd even come across this article, I submitted a question to Howard Kurtz's online discussion hosted at this morning. I, too, was struck by the absence of women and minorities in the Politico segment on CNN. Kurtz did not answer my submitted question during the discussion time, so we didn't get to hear his take. Had I known that the lack of diversity was a recognized, ongoing problem at Politico, I would've referred to that in my submission as well. Since it was ignored, I guess it doesn't matter anyway. - from a white woman

Politico's Black Blind Spot

I am not surprised at all by the defensive excuse making by Harris.. He doth protest to much........

Diversity (?)

I've worked in mainstream media for years now and I have to say that this article is not shocking the least. It is completely in line with my experiences.

Dwayne, it wasn't a shock to

Dwayne, it wasn't a shock to me either.

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