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What's Driving the Outrage Over Trayvon?

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Critiques of Media Coverage Move to Quantity, Content

"Seasoned" Producer Fired After NBC's Misleading Clip

Editor Leaves Tenn. Paper, Citing Increasing Demands

AME in Jackson, Miss., Takes Gannett Buyout Offer

Canada Traces Diversity Problem to Lack of Role Models

Essence Wins "Best of Web" Award for Website Redesign

Story Prompts Liberian Pledge to End Genital Mutilation

Exiled Cuban Journalist Commits Suicide in Spain

Where Were the Business Journalists of Color?

Short Takes


Trayvon Martin (Credit: MySpace)

Critiques of Media Coverage Move to Quantity, Content

"In the wake of the media blackout imposed last week by Angela Corey, the newly appointed special prosecutor investigating February's fatal shooting of black Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the media [have] had no choice but to cover the story surrounding the story," Meghan Daum wrote Thursday in the Los Angeles Times. "This would include the widespread public demonstrations, the evolution of the 'hoodie' as a symbolic rallying point, and the emergence of protest T-shirts adorned with phrases like 'I Am Trayvon' and 'Justice for Trayvon,' both of which Martin's mother is trying to have trademarked."

The debate over media coverage of the Martin killing was first over how long it took the story to gain national attention. Now it's about the quantity and content of that coverage. Earlier, the question was, "Where's the outrage?" Now, it's, "What's driving the outrage?"

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reported on Tuesday, "The Trayvon Martin shooting is the public's top story for the second consecutive week. But interest in the teenager's death is deeply divided along partisan, as well as racial, lines. These differences also are apparent in reactions to news coverage of the incident: Far more Republicans (56%) than Democrats (25%) say there has been too much coverage of Martin’s death."

On Tuesday, Columbia Journalism Review spotlighted West Orlando News Online in Orange County, Fla., one of the rare hyperlocal news sites founded by an African American.

From left: Keith Longmore,  Kevin Benz and Shelby SteeleFor founder Keith Longmore, "the mainstream media’s coverage of the Martin case has verged on irresponsible," Alysia Santo wrote for CJR. "Longmore specifically objects to the insinuation that Martin instigated the shooting." Referring to the shooter, neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, the story continued, " '[Media coverage has] all been about this poor Zimmerman, being beaten by a 17 year old kid,' says Longmore. From the media's focus on the marijuana found on Martin and his subsequent suspension from school, to the reports that Martin hit Zimmerman first, Longmore feels the coverage skirts the reality of this situation."

In the New York Times on Monday, media writer David Carr criticized " . . . the same reflexive vigilantism that some are attributing to George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon. All over the Internet and on cable TV, posses are forming, positions are hardening and misinformation is flourishing. Instead of debating how we as a culture are going to proceed, an increasingly partisan system of news and social media has factionalized and curdled."

Responding in the Atlantic under the headline, "In Defense of the Media's Coverage of Trayvon Martin," Elspeth Reeve wrote, ". . . Carr is right about the ugly reactions sparked by the Martin case  — the Daily Caller seems to be implying that some slangy tweets mean the kid deserved to die, for instance — but look away from the Twitter console and get out of the back alleys of the Internet, and the country does not seem so divided by the case. A CNN poll found 73 percent of Americans want to see Zimmerman arrested last week. Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, published a story titled, 'Al Sharpton Is Right' on March 23.

"The Internet may make it easier to find the opinions of jerks — people tweeting slurs against Martin, or threats of violence against Zimmerman — but that doesn't mean there are more jerks because of the Web."

Kevin Benz, chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association, spoke to the issue of craft. "We journalists have not done a good job covering this heated, sensitive set of events," he wrote on the RTDNA site. "We have rushed to paint the story as too simply explained by racism, we have rushed to judgment on whether an arrest should be made, we have given enormous time to the loudest voices and spent precious little time digging for new perspectives or analyzing the laws and community standards in question."

Benz offered some constructive suggestions — six, in fact. Then he added, "Truthful, fair analysis is needed now more than ever. It is time to talk to your newsroom about our journalistic values and principles. It is time to be transparent with our audience, it is time to educate and calm our communities."

Columbia Journalism Review seemed to offer the sober analysis Benz sought. On Monday, CJR put forth a guide "to some of the better reports we've found," adding that ". . . Of all the attempts at gathering information about the killing in one place, Mother Jones has done it particularly well, with an epically long, oft-updated explainer page." CJR also singled out reporting by Frances Robles of the Miami Herald and suggested:

"The time is ripe for a reporter to deliver a current, comprehensive account of the investigation that knits these strands together; makes clear what's known, what's alleged, and what's disputed about [investigators'] actions; spells out what an ideal investigation would have looked like, and even advances the ball by answering some outstanding questions. For example: are there any police photos of Zimmerman that might show his injuries — or lack of injuries — more clearly than the grainy surveillance video we've all been staring at?"

Media Matters for America, responding to a Wall Street Journal piece by black conservative Shelby Steele, identified an additional issue. Have the media explained what exactly people are upset about?

Steele's piece was headlined, "The Exploitation of Trayvon Martin: The absurdity of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton is that they want to make a movement out of an anomaly. Black teenagers today are afraid of other black teenagers, not whites."

Steele, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution who famously authored "A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win" during the 2008 campaign, wrote, "The civil rights community and the liberal media live by the poetic truth that America is still a reflexively racist society, and that this remains the great barrier to black equality. But this 'truth' has a lot of lie in it."

Is that the "truth" the media have reported? Eric Boehlert responded for Media Matters, "It's telling what Steele did not consider to be a tragedy in the Martin case  — the fact that the man who admitted shooting the unarmed teen, George Zimmerman, hasn't been arrested or charged with a crime. Indeed, the lack of an arrest is the central reason why the Martin story erupted into national headlines in recent weeks. And yet Steele, busy bashing Martin's advocates as well as the press, raced right past that salient fact.

"Steele is not alone. Within the conservative media, it's now become commonplace to pontificate about the Martin story (while often condemning civil rights activists as 'race hustlers') without ever mentioning why the story became such a blockbuster; without ever mentioning that the man who shot Martin has not been charged."

"Seasoned" Producer Fired After NBC's Misleading Clip

"An internal NBC News probe has determined a 'seasoned' producer was to blame for a misleading clip of a 911 call that the network broadcast during its coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting, according to two sources at the network," Christopher Francescani and Peter Lauria reported Thursday for Reuters.

The producer was fired Thursday, Brian Stelter reported Friday for the New York Times. Stelter said his information came from "two people with direct knowledge of the disciplinary action who declined to be identified discussing internal company matters. They also declined to name the fired producer.

". . . The people with direct knowledge of the firing characterized the misleading edit as a mistake, not a purposeful act." 

The Reuters story said, "NBC News brass interviewed more than half a dozen staffers during its investigation of the misleadingly edited 911 call placed by George Zimmerman just before he shot the unarmed Florida teenager, said the sources, one of whom is an executive at the network.

"The clip aired on the network's flagship 'Today' morning show last week.

"The edit made it appear that Zimmerman immediately told police that Martin was black, when, in fact, the full tape reveals that the neighborhood watch captain only did so when responding to a question posed by a dispatcher.

". . . Television news veterans in New York said they were baffled over how the error came to be broadcast given the intense vetting such a sensitive story would normally get at a major network such as NBC."

Editor Leaves Tennessee Paper, Citing Increasing Demands

Jimmy HartJimmy Hart, executive editor of the Daily News Journal and DNJ.com in Murfreesboro, Tenn., is becoming director of news and media relations for Middle Tennessee State University, saying he is leaving the newspaper because of the increasing demands of the editor's job.

His departure leaves three fewer African American editors of daily newspapers than  when the National Association of Black Journalists released its last census in August.

Hart, 40, replaces Tom Tozer, who retired from the university in January after almost two decades there, the Cannon Courier in Woodbury, Tenn., reported.

"I've been with Gannett 17 years, here for six," Hart told Journal-isms by telephone. "The industry has obviously changed. . . . It's just a different job than when I started. Less staff. It's more time consuming." One advantage of the media relations job is that it will allow him to stay connected to journalism, he said.

The Murfreesboro paper has a circulation of 12,000 daily and 15,500 on Sunday, Hart said. It is within the circulation area of Gannett's Tennessean in Nashville, and supplies content for that publication.

According to Don Hudson, executive editor of the Decatur (Ala.) Daily, who conducts the NABJ census, 16 African Americans were top editors in August. Two have since taken corporate positions.

Martin G. Reynolds, formerly editor of the Oakland Tribune, was named one of three regional engagement editors for the Bay Area News Group.

Mizell Stewart III, editor of the E.W. Scripps Co.’s Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press, is now vice president of content for the Scripps newspaper group.

AME in Jackson, Miss., Takes Gannett Buyout Offer

Earnest HartEarnest Hart, assistant managing editor/digital at the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., is one of eight Jackson employees taking advantage of a Gannett Co. Inc.-wide buyout, the Clarion-Ledger reported this week.

His departure leaves two black journalists in management at the paper. Grace Simmons Fisher is metro editor. The other, Hart said, is Monica Keener, the online editor.

"Jackson used to be one of the most diverse newsrooms in the country," Don Hudson, formerly the Clarion-Ledger's managing editor, now executive editor in Decatur, Ala., told Journal-isms. "Within the past 1½ years, the paper has lost its top editor, managing editor, business editor, and AME/digital, all African American. The business editor, Kevin Richardson, transferred to a sister Gannett Co. paper in Wilmington, Del."

Hart told Journal-isms by email, "I plan to get away from the daily grind for a few weeks to get some much-needed rest and try to revive a few hobbies, such as golf. I'll also probably start a gadgets blog and look into syndicating my weekly technology column. Then I'll start to explore whatever opportunities are in the job market, with emphasis on technology or website management. Or I might try something unique and totally opposite of journalism for an entirely different experience. I'll keep an open mind."

Canadian Kim Brunhuber covered Inuit performers in Timbuktu. (Credit: Kim Brunhuber)

Canada Traces Diversity Problem to Lack of Role Models

The United States is not the only country acknowledging a diversity problem in its news media.

"Lack of diversity in journalism is as common today as when Kim Brunhuber was in diapers. Brunhuber has come a long way since then, but Canadian media is still overwhelmingly white," Iris Estrada wrote for the King's Journalism Review at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"Anchor for CBC News Now and host of The National, Kim Brunhuber is a Canadian journalist who belongs to a visible minority. [According to his bio, Brunhuber's writing appeared in a recent anthology of the best black Canadian writing.] 'Journalism is about the truth, and you can't get to the truth without truly reflecting the people you are talking about,' he says.

". . . Is it simply discrimination? Unlikely.

"A 2000 study by Laval University showed that the vast majority of journalists across all media were white — 97 per cent, to be exact. In 2004, the Canadian Task Force for Cultural Diversity on Television discovered that visible minorities add up to 12.3 per cent of anchors and 8.7 per cent of reporters and interviewers in English-language news. That same year, John Miller — former director of newspaper journalism at Ryerson University — found that non-white newspaper reporters made up a mere 3.4 per cent. In 2010, CBC/Radio-Canada reported that minority groups — including Aboriginal people — made up 8 per cent of their reporting staff.

". . . Canada’s Employment Equity Act defines visible minorities as people 'who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.' Such people make up more than 16 per cent of the Canadian population, and that fraction continues to grow.

". . . The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission amended the Canadian Broadcasting Act in 1991, committing to reflect the country's racial and cultural diversity through the industry’s employment practices.

". . . The Canadian Race Relations Foundation says the deficiency is due in large part to the lack of training for minorities.

" 'We are constantly striving to have more diversity but our classrooms in Radio and Television Arts are still very white,' says CBC’s Yvonne Colbert, former professor at the Nova Scotia Community College and president of the Broadcast Educators Association of Canada. 'Part of the reason why we don't have people from diverse backgrounds applying to the program is because they don't see themselves on radio and television, and if you don't see yourself there then you're going to think "that's not for me." '

". . . For minority journalists, fighting off allegations of conflict of interest is routine. Brunhuber recalls pitching a protest story that his employers assigned, just not to him. The director thought it was a conflict of interest because the story involved the Black Students Association at Dalhousie University. But Brunhuber wasn’t about to give up his story without a fight.

" 'I guess I'm going to be pretty busy then because I’ll be doing the rest of the stories about white people,' Brunhuber told his superior at the time. 'Obviously it'll be a conflict of interest for white (reporters) to do any story involving white people.' "

Meanwhile, in England, the National Union of Journalists has scheduled its annual NUJ Black members conference for April 14 in London. Among the topics: ". . . in this new, new world — is journalism still predominantly white, male and middle class? And what has changed — are some things still the same as they ever were?"

Essence Wins "Best of Web" Award for Website Redesign

 Essence redesigned its website in June.Essence magazine won a "Best of the Web Award" Tuesday from minonline, "the industry's trusted source on the consumer and b2b [business to business] magazine business," for its website redesign.

Essence.com, feeling pressure from other websites targeting black women, unveiled "a bold new design" in June.

"During ESSENCE.com's relaunch process in June 2011, the team reimagined the site as a beauty shop, where African-American women could gather to set their own agendas on the topics of romance, fashion and celebrity," Essence said this week in a news release. "The resulting new design highlights key ESSENCE franchises within a layout that makes each easy to identify at a glance, going from a blogroll format to a sculpted site that offers the user multiple entry points. In addition, the relaunch gave the new site a full-on celebrity treatment — with online appearances from guest editors Kelly Rowland and Iman as well as its first-ever live stream of its red carpet from ESSENCE Magazine's star-studded Black Women in Hollywood event held annually during Oscar week."

In September, Essence announced that Emil Wilbekin, managing editor of essence.com for two years, would transition "to a new, expanded role at the company — working with ESSENCE magazine, as well as Essence’s signature live events such as the Essence Music Festival and Essence Black Women in Music."

Dawnie Walton, managing editor of Life.com, became managing editor of essence.com in December.

Mae Azango, shown with an unidentified young girl, is skeptical about the Liberian

Story Prompts Liberian Pledge to End Genital Mutilation

"Liberian journalist Mae Azango's courageous reporting on female genital mutilation, which made her the target of threats and ignited international controversy, has forced her government to finally take a public position on the dangerous ritual," Peter Nkanga reported Thursday for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"For the first time, Liberian officials have declared they want to stop female genital mutilation, a traditional practice passed down for generations. Involving the total or partial removal of the clitoris, the ritual is practiced by the Sande secret women's society. As many as two out of every three Liberian girls in ten out of Liberia's 16 tribes are subjected to the practice, according to news accounts.

" 'Government is saying this needs to stop,' Gender and Development Minister Julia Duncan Cassell announced in an interview last week with Public Radio International's 'The World.' The minister was responding to a controversy sparked by Azango's March 8 article, which was published by the leading independent daily FrontPage Africa. The story, headlined 'Growing Pains: Sande Tradition of Genital Cutting Threatens Liberian Women's Health,' explored the practices of the Sande secret society."

". . . Azango welcomed the government's public statement — with a dose of skepticism. 'Implementation is a problem. It's still going on as I speak to you,' Azango told CPJ today. She said the government has yet to prove that the announcement is no more than a public relations exercise. 'They just did that to respond to pressure; the controversy was too much. They were under pressure to say something,' she added."

Exiled Cuban Journalist Commits Suicide in Spain

Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández"On Wednesday morning, exiled Cuban journalist Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández took his own life, according to reports in the Cuban exiled media," María Salazar-Ferro wrote Friday for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"He was the last of more than 20 Cuban journalists to be released from prison and sent to Spain following July 2010 talks between the government of Cuban President Raúl Castro and the Catholic Church. Du Bouchet Hernández, who reported opposition political news, endured inhumanity at home and, ultimately, suffered hardship in exile.

"Du Bouchet Hernández was the director of the Havana-based independent news agency Havana Press," wrote Salazar-Ferro, coordinator of CPJ's Impunity Campaign and Journalist Assistance Program. "He was jailed twice, in 2005 and 2009, on 'disrespect' charges. According to CPJ research, he drew the ire of Cuban authorities after reporting on an unprecedented gathering of hundreds of Cuban opposition activists in 2005. Like most political prisoners, Du Bouchet Hernández was jailed in inhumane conditions that included rotting food and overflowing wastewater."

Where Were the Business Journalists of Color?

Christopher Nelson, foreground, in a hands-on course at the Society of American Busin"I recently had the privilege of attending the Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference in Indianapolis, Indiana as a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow," Christopher Nelson, freelance journalist and graduate student at Georgetown University Law Center, wrote Monday for the National Association of Black Journalists. "It was an enriching experience, a welcome opportunity to have an up close and personal introduction to the world of business and economics reporting.

"Still, one thing struck me while there: the lack of people of color at the conference. Given the importance of reporting on the economy, including jobs numbers, the growth or lack thereof of national and international companies, consumer spending, tax policy, trade policy, and myriad other issues, it was quite startling. So I decided to explore the topic of diversity in business reporting.

". . . Back in late 2008 media columnist Richard Prince used his column to explore whether the state of the economy would make business reporting more attractive for journalists of color.

" . . . who will ensure that communities of color aren't overlooked, that business stories appeal to a wider cross-section of Americans? Will more journalists of color look to business and economics as a specialty?"

Short Takes

  • "Although blacks in America are less likely than whites to be able to afford laptops and personal computers, those that have them use them, with blacks blogging up to twice as much as whites and Hispanics," Steven E.F. Brown wrote Wednesday for San Francisco Business Times. He cited a study by Jen Schradie, a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.

  • "JC Hayward has been on the air in Washington, DC for forty years and is now a beloved fixture in local news. Today, the WUSA-TV, Channel 9 newswoman announced on the air that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer and is planning to share her story with viewers," WUSA announced on Friday. Hayward was inducted last year into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.

  • Al Jazeera is "restructuring" its Washington bureau, cutting technical employees and an undisclosed number of journalists. "We are currently in the process of expanding our Al Jazeera Media Network bureaus across the United States," spokesman Noman Tahir told Journal-isms on Friday. "As a result, we have had to restructure the DC office — which was our largest — in order to improve our US coverage to the world while reallocating our resources. These changes will allow us to accelerate and increase our local coverage from the Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami markets in addition to our hubs in DC and New York. Around two dozen people in our D.C. bureau will be impacted, largely technical staff. Please note, at the same time, in the last year we've opened bureaus in LA, Chicago and Miami, and are looking to add additional staff to NYC and LA."

  • In Atlanta, "Mark Hayes, a fixture on Fox 5’s 'Good Day Atlanta' since 2002, is voluntarily leaving the show, according to a Fox 5 spokeswoman. Friday is his final day," Rodney Ho reported Thursday for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

  • "Josie Tiscareño, who has been with Ahora Utah since its launch four years ago is moving on, Veronica Villafañe reported Thursday for her Media Moves site. "She has been hired as an Editor-at-Large at La Opinión. She starts the new job on April 11. Josie has been the editor of Ahora Utah since 2009."

  • "Robert Johnson, who made his fortune as founder of Black Entertainment Television, is back in the media business, this time with a focus on developing and distributing content 'to all media platforms, including broadcast and cable, DVD and Blu-Ray, digital downloads, and digital streaming,' as he puts it," Gary Arlen wrote Wednesday for Multichannel News. ". . . The newly created RLJ Entertainment, which intends to go public later this year, on Monday revealed that it has acquired Image Entertainment, a southern California movie and TV distributor, and Acorn Media Group, a suburban Washington, DC, distributor known for its library of British TV programming. The new public company will be based in Los Angeles."

  • Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing Co., made Folio: magazine's list of "C-level visionaries" on its annual "FOLIO: 40" list of "the magazine industry's most innovative and distinguished professionals."

  • Thomas Peele, author of "Killing The Messenger: A Story of Radical Faith, Racism's Backlash, and the Assassination of a Journalist," a new book about the Chauncey Bailey Project's investigation into the 2007 killing of journalist Bailey, appeared with Martin Reynolds of the Bay Area News Group in February at the Diesel, a bookstore in Oakland, Calif. C-SPAN2 is airing the discussion Saturday at 11 p.m. ET. It is scheduled to air again Sunday at 2 p.m. and April 16 at 5 a.m. The show also can be viewed via www.c-spanvideo.org and www.booktv.org. The discussion includes a brief history of racism in Detroit and Oakland that helped shape the group responsible for the killing.

  • "This week, the Tucson Citizen, Arizona's leading site for bloggers and citizen journalists, has pulled the plug on one of their most popular and controversial columnists," HuffPost LatinoVoices reported Friday. "David Morales' blog, the Three Sonorans saw over 1.6 million visitors to the site . . . but despite his readership, the threat of a lawsuit by Arizona State Rep. Daniel Patterson became the proverbial last straw for Tucson Citizen editor Mark Evans."

  • "This week, TIME Magazine published [its] list of nominees for 'The 2012 TIME 100 Poll' of most influential people around the world," HuffPost's LatinoVoices noted Tuesday. "The list includes a diverse number of leaders, artists, innovators and icons. Readers can vote for or against anyone in the list. From 195 people, 100 will be declared as the most influential people in the world. Out of the 195 nominees, seven are Hispanic and two are Brazilian."

  • "Central Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo is about the last place one would expect to find a symphony orchestra," according to a news release from CBS News. "Its civil war has raged for generations and monthly incomes there wouldn't be enough buy a cheap used violin. But when a laid-off local pilot's dream of playing classical music met up with a people's desire to transcend their bleak existence, the seed of a musical miracle took root in the capital city of Kinshasa 20 years ago. The result is the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra and a 60 MINUTES story with elements of perseverance, music and joy perfectly suited for an Easter Sunday broadcast. Bob Simon reports 'Joy in the Congo' on 60 MINUTES, Sunday, April 8 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT). Watch an excerpt."

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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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