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Westin to Step Down as ABC News President

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Network Lagged Behind NBC, Led CBS on Diversity

After Loss, Minnesota Ex-Anchor Robyne Robinson Doubts Return to Politics

2 More Key Executives Leave Johnson Publishing Co.

Does "Progressive" D.C. March Have Too Big an Agenda?

Pickets Greet Gay Journalists Convening at S.F. Hotel

Short Takes

David Westin with Elizabeth Vargas in 2006. She was made co-anchor of "World News Tonight' after Westin would not meet Charles Gibson's request for a three-year term, the New York Times reported. (Credit: ABC)

Network Lagged Behind NBC, Led CBS on Diversity

David Westin, longtime president of ABC News, announced Monday night that "the time has come for me to step down as President of ABC News."

Westin said "there are some other things I want to do professionally - things that I cannot explore while fulfilling my responsibilities here," but the New York Times' Bill Carter quoted a staff member as saying that Westin's decision "relates to a long-running conflict between Mr. Westin and the management of the network, including ABC's parent company, the Walt Disney Company, over the financial standing of the news division."

Westin, who just turned 58, was a lawyer with little background in news when he took over in 1997 from television legend Roone Arledge, who had headed ABC Sports.

In 1978, under Arledge, ABC boasted the first African American to regularly sit in the weeknight anchor chair when Max Robinson co-anchored the new "World News Tonight" from Chicago with Frank Reynolds in Washington and Peter Jennings in London.

Under Westin, ABC lagged behind CNN on cable and NBC in broadcast on diversity concerns.

A July 2008 study of network decision-makers by the National Association of Black Journalists found that of the executive producers at ABC, six were white, two were Asian American and none was African American, Native American or Hispanic.

"He had some opportunities to really move some African Americans into key positions as correspondents," Kathy Times, NABJ president, told Journal-isms, with disappointment in her voice. She said she would have liked to have seen more support from ABC for NABJ during the year and at its convention, and looks forward to that from his successor. Other network presidents attended recent conventions, she said.

On the positive side, Times said, NABJ established a relationship with Westin after its leaders met with him and other network presidents in New York in 2008, and the network "feeds us opportunities."

In a follow-up note to Times, then NABJ's vice president for broadcast, Westin said:

"In our discussions, I told you that I was focused in particular on executive producers and senior producers. I said that, in my opinion, this was the critical area for us to work on to make progress on diversity. I also said that I did not believe in quotas but that, in general, I would like our overall workforce - and in particular the senior management of our programs - to reflect the overall population. I did say that it was my hope that we could approach that figure in five years."

In recent years, Carole Simpson, a black journalist, vacated the weekend anchor chair and Paul S. Mason, who was the highest ranking black journalist in network news, stepped down as ABC's senior vice president.

However, Robin Roberts became an anchor at "Good Morning America" and before Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric became evening news anchors at ABC and CBS, respectively, ABC named Elizabeth Vargas, who is Hispanic, as short-lived co-anchor of "World News Tonight."

Westin was aware of the need for greater diversity at ABC, Jim Avila, senior law and justice correspondent for the network, said at a National Association of Hispanic Journalists awards dinner in 2008. Avila told Journal-isms then that Westin and Executive Vice President Robert Murphy acknowledged the lack of diversity in the top producer ranks - "largely white and largely male" - at a meeting with the network's journalists of color at that year's Unity convention. The executives agreed then to set up a mentor program, Avila said.

In his note to colleagues on Monday, Westin said, "As rewarding as I've found my time here, there are some other things I want to do professionally - things that I cannot explore while fulfilling my responsibilities here. I'm announcing my decision now so that I can pursue those possibilities, something I couldn't do in fairness to all of you until I'd told you of my plans to step down. I have agreed to remain your leader through the end of the year to ensure that Anne has the time she needs to find the right successor and that there is an orderly transition. So, I'm not going anywhere for the time being. I will need your support during this interim period to make sure that we continue to move forward."

The reference was to Anne Sweeney, president, Disney-ABC Television Group.

In her own message, Sweeney said, "For the past 13 years, David proved himself a tireless advocate for ABC News, effectively guiding the group through some of the most seismic industry, and divisional, changes imaginable. During that time, he helped reinvent our News organization, and positioned us for great success going forward. While it will be sad to see David leave, his desire to pursue other professional endeavors is understandable, and commendable, and I know you'll join me in wishing him nothing but the best. I'll be announcing a new leader for ABC News in the near future.

Former Twin Cities anchor Robyne Robinson, shown on primary night with running mate Matt Entenza, said, "The campaign really awakened the Somali, Hmong, and African American communities." (Credit: City Pages)

After Loss, Minnesota Ex-Anchor Doubts Return to Politics

Robyne Robinson, who left her Twin Cities anchor post in May to run for lieutenant governor, says "I don't believe I'll continue in politics" after she and gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza ran a distant third in Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor party primary on Aug. 10.

Entenza and Robinson won 18 percent of the vote as former U.S. senator Mark Dayton edged DFL-endorsed candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the Minnesota State House speaker, by less than 7,000 votes out of more than 430,000 cast.

"I don't believe I'll continue in politics," Robinson told Journal-isms in a message from Europe over the Labor Day holiday.

"I am extremely honored that Matt Entenza asked me to be his Lt. Governor. I saw it as an opportunity to thank Minnesotans for the years they watched me on the news. A love song of sorts to the public that supported me... a way of giving back. My community involvement has always been higher than most, sitting on numerous boards, and a Hubert H. Humphrey Public Policy Fellow. Despite my family's political background (dad was a Chicago alderman), this was quite possibly the only time."

Robinson, the first African American in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market to anchor a local prime-time newscast, said her goodbye to viewers on May 26 after she had already confirmed that she might be picked as a candidate. She drew criticism questioning the ethics of how she and the station handled that prospect.

"Will I return to journalism? I never left," she told Journal-isms. "I left KMSP. I am currently considering opportunities and talking with folks in broadcast media here in the US and the UK.

"Despite the media critics (who forgot we had a wrestler as Governor and my ex co-anchor who ran for Congress), my sign off from KMSP garnered a 14.1 ratings over American Idol's finale 13.5 ratings... the next day, I announced my candidacy and my celebrity added 16 points in the polls for our ticket. It also helped in television appearances with the other Lt. Governor candidates, as well as anticipating questions from the media. It also helped with shooting TV ads... I could give lighting suggestions, helped Matt relax in front of the camera and saved money by doing voice-overs for TV spots."

She added that her jewelry line, Rox Minneapolis jewelry, "is about to make its debut on ShopNBC. My line was introduced this June at the JCK convention in Las Vegas, and the prototypes are being worked on by The Reeves Park Group in Edina, Minnesota. and also on facebook. You can find Rox in Santa Fe, Twin Cities, Tampa and Naples, FL, New York City and Athens, Greece."

The morning after the primary, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis quoted Robinson saying that particularly in the Somali community, the Entenza-Robinson ticket had tapped into voters of color who would not be ignored in the general election.

"People have realized their voice, they're not going away because our candidate lost," Robinson said.

Erin Carlyle of Citypages reported that, 'Campaign headquarters was crowded with volunteers - many of them Hmong and African-American. Entenza had reached out to minorities, and supporters said they felt pained by the defeat.

" 'I think the country at large is not ready for diversity,' said Mannie Lee, a Hmong woman from Brooklyn Park. 'He supports minorities and the majority are not ready for that.' "

2 More Key Executives Leave Johnson Publishing Co.

Eric EasterLess than a month after business executive and former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers became CEO of Johnson Publishing Co., the chief of the company's new media operations and its director of corporations are gone.

Eric Easter, who joined the company in 2007 as chief of digital strategies, left on Wednesday, and Wendy E. Parks, who led corporate communications, departed earlier, Easter confirmed.

Parks could not be reached for comment, but she is listed at the University of Chicago as senior communications officer.

Rogers' first appointment last month was in Parks' bailiwick: Rodrigo A. Sierra was named senior vice president and chief marketing officer. Sierra, a former radio reporter, worked with Rogers at Peoples Gas when Rogers was company president.

Easter came to Johnson Publishing from Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, where he managed the communications strategy, branding and promotion for websites that included washingtonpost.com, newsweek.com, slate.com and several other sites. "As Chief of Digital Strategy, he will be responsible for developing and supervising all aspects of online, new media and Internet strategy for Johnson Publishing Company," Bryan Monroe, then vice president and editorial director of Ebony and Jet magazines, said in announcing Easter's arrival. Monroe left the company last year.

Without naming names, journalist Wil LaVeist described in his self-published "Fired Up" how the comapany abruptly let him go after bringing him in to do the job that Easter was later assigned. "My new supervisor, who was brought in to replace me, did the deed," LaVeist wrote. "I thanked him for being upfront and professional despite the circumstances."

In May, Johnson introduced a new website for Jet, MyJet247.com, but the main news and opinion site, ebonyjet.com, remained understaffed and underresourced.

Easter, most recently vice president — digital and entertainment, told Journal-isms his departure was undertaken "Happily. Amicably."

"I actually moved back to DC last summer so my family would be closer to relatives and close friends, and I've been doing a pretty brutal weekly commute back and forth to Chicago for a year now, and that was just unsustainable," Easter said in a message. "But in that year I've also been laying the foundation for some really exciting ventures that get me closer to where I think the future of digital media is going. Luckily the timing coincides with JPC being in a stronger position — a good team, renewed focus on the brand, etc. So it was time.

"We did some fun stuff on EbonyJet.com, exposed a lot of new voices, digitized the archives, showed that you could do really intelligent and edgy content under the Ebony brand."

In 2008, Johnson announced a partnership with Google in which, "through Google Book Search, anyone can search the covers and content of Ebony and Jet and the defunct Negro Digest and Ebony Jr. "and see the original pages, in their full context and in full color," as Easter wrote then.

"But on to newer things," Easter said Monday in his message. "More importantly I get to look at my kids in the morning and not flight attendants."

Does "Progressive" D.C. March Have Too Big an Agenda?

 

The website for the planned Oct. 2 'One Nation Working Together' rally declares that participants include more than 150 organizations that are 'determined to build a more united America – with jobs, justice and education for all.'"Now that we are a week removed from the march on Washington organized by the self-named rodeo clown, Glenn Beck, it's clear that the event was nothing more than an exercise in ego worship," Roland S. Martin wrote Friday in his column for Creators Syndicate.

"It's still unclear if the event was about the troops, restoring the honor of America — whatever that is defined as — an effort to reclaim the civil rights movement, which I'm still laughing at, or a tent revival intended to move Americans closer to God.

"So many conflicting agendas and purposes left nothing more than a headache. Now that conservatives had their shot, Oct. 2 represents an opportunity for progressives to come to the nation's capital and rally their faithful.

"Four months ago, one of the major participants called to alert me of the event and to give me the purpose. After listening to a litany of reasons for the march, as well as the various participants, I couldn't help but be as blunt as possible: 'What in the hell is the agenda? A 25-point plan?'

"It's impossible to count the number of marches, rallies and calls to action that I've covered in my 18 years as a professional journalist. And with all certainty, I can tell you that the ones that failed miserably are those with so many reasons given that no one was able to take that mass action of civil disobedience and apply it to legislative action. . . .

"So, on Saturday, Oct. 2, a number of progressive organizations will rally in Washington, D.C. Frankly, I'm uninterested in hearing from 40 different speakers talking about 40 different things. The centerpiece of the rally — essentially funded by labor organizations — should be to pressure Congress to get moving on a massive jobs bill that supporters say is designed to help small businesses."

Pickets Greet Gay Journalists Convening at S.F. Hotel

The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association held its 20th anniversary convention over the weekend in a San Francisco hotel that was the subject of a labor action.

"Although NLGJA understands the importance of collective bargaining and recognizes that worker actions are not to be blithely ignored, it is simply impossible at this late date for us to move this year's convention to another hotel," the association's executive committee said in a statement to members. "Our contract with the Hyatt was signed three years ago. NLGJA was contacted by organizers from UniteHere Local 2 in June, and we have had conversations with them for more than a month.

"A change of venue would violate our contract and require NLGJA to pay the Hyatt a penalty of at least $150,000. In addition, NLGJA would have to shoulder the cost of putting on the convention at a different location.

"Such a financial burden would bankrupt NLGJA. Our organization has no alternative but to stay at the host hotel."

The union, UniteHere Local 2, said on its website, "Just days before Labor Day, over 600 hotel workers in the Bay Area took part in demonstrations at three Hyatt hotels protesting Hyatt's efforts to lock workers into a permanent recession, while hotel management positions itself to benefit from the economic recovery. . . . The San Francisco LGBT Community were in full force."

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., in a statement supporting the workers last month, explained, "The labor contract for more than 6,000 hotel workers in Chicago expired a year ago, and negotiations have been unsuccessful. While the contracts affect workers at several hotel chains, Unite HERE has focused its efforts on Chicago-based Hyatt and the Pritzker family, which controls the chain. Boycotts have been called by workers at Hyatt properties in Boston, San Francisco and San Diego, Calif."

The National Association of Black Journalists had to issue its own explanation this year about its choice of hotel, addressing "some members' uneasiness about the San Diego host hotel and its developer's religious views on same-sex marriage" this year, as President Kathy Times put it in a May message to members.

"Hotel owner Doug Manchester contributed money to Proposition 8, a measure passed in 2008 that bans same-sex marriage in California. While Mr. Manchester owns the hotel, the Hyatt Corporation is progressive and has domestic-partner policies. . . .

"While our organization values the diversity of its members, breaking the legal agreement would cost NABJ $1.2 million. NABJ negotiated the San Diego hotel contract more than five years ago before this issue surfaced," she wrote.

Meanwhile, pop music critic Peter Hartlaub noted in the San Francisco Chronicle how the focus of the NLGJA had evolved.

"Twenty years ago, Oakland Tribune Senior Vice President Leroy Aarons stood before a gathering of editors in Washington, D.C., presented a study on gays and lesbians in the newsroom — then finished by telling the crowd that he was a gay man," he wrote Saturday. "That statement made an impact in the community, and later that year Aarons gathered with other local journalists in his Piedmont home, where they founded the NLGJA.

"Aarons, who later became executive editor of the Tribune, died in 2004. But the positive results of his efforts are clear by looking at the content of the convention, which started Thursday and finishes Sunday morning. There are sessions dealing with the economy, using social media and creating smart-phone apps. There are few sessions reflecting the major struggles of the past. Instead, they've moved on with topics such as '3G Journalism: Filing From Your Phone.' "

Aarons was a co-founder of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

Short Takes

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Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com 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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Comments

ABC & Network TV-Cable News et al Diversity Issue

Ludicrous to hear Bob Murphy being quoted as "interested" in setting up mentoring programs for ABC News to get "Minority" Executive Producer candidates for its News Division. Just promote the already qualified people of color in your News Rooms.

Unfortunately, these networks and Cable Outlets--CNN included--have no desire or will to make that happen. And even more unfortunately, that seems to be the pattern at the new On-Line iterations of of all these major News and their competing "upstart" Journalistic-media platforms/outlets. Little if any Diversity in the key editorial decision-making positions, and/or the "prime-time" purveyors of news/information...

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