Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

What's in the Floodwater?

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Environmental Reporters Unhappy With Answers

"It's been more than a week since The Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans turned in desperation to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to answer a basic question: Where are dangerous chemicals leaking as a result of Hurricane Katrina?" the Society of Environmental Journalists said in a news release Monday.

"The paper's lead hurricane reporter, Mark Schleifstein, had been asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that question for days — without an answer. So he filed a request under FOIA. Even though the federal statute provides for 'expedited review' when a situation 'could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety' of the public, he still has not received a response.

"The request by Schleifstein, a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists' board of directors, was followed by similar queries from other reporters.

"A study of SEJ members' experiences with FOIA released today suggests the journalists face a long, frustrating wait — and still may not get the information they're seeking.

"Government compliance with FOIA appears to be deteriorating in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to the SEJ report (PDF) being released today, 'A Flawed Tool — Environmental Reporters' Experiences with the Freedom of Information Act.'

"Volunteers with SEJ's First Amendment Task Force interviewed 55 SEJ members, finding that excessive delays in releasing information are common — with some FOIA requests taking more than a year to fulfill."

Joe Davis, director of the organization's Watchdog Project, said that EPA has since released more figures, but said they were not current enough. Quick information has survival implications "for policemen and rescuers who are wading in this stuff," he told Journal-isms today. He added that "it's also important to know what's in the water elsewhere," near the oil refineries and chemical plants to the south of New Orleans and in parts of the state to the north. "They've not been quick to tell us what chemical problems are resulting from these floodwaters," he said of EPA.

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Keith Clinkscales to Head ESPN Publications

Keith Clinkscales, former CEO of Vibe magazine and later Vanguarde Media, joined ESPN today as senior vice president and general manager of ESPN publishing, Geoff Reiss, ESPN's senior vice president for consumer products, told the ESPN staff.

"In this new role, Keith will be responsible for overseeing all operations of ESPN The Magazine, both domestically and internationally; ESPN Books; and all new publishing related business initiatives, including an emerging line of newsstand specials," he said in an e-mail.

"For the past six months, Keith has been working on a variety of projects for ESPN ABC Sports? new integrated multi-media sales organization. Keith also serves as the treasurer for the Apollo Theatre Board and is the academic director for Stanford University?s acclaimed professional publishing course."

[Added Sept. 21: "ESPN The Magazine saw total paid circulation grow 3.8 percent to 1.86 million for the first half of 2005, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations," Mediaweek reported Sept. 19. "In July, ESPN The Magazine launched a Spanish-language edition, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN books will launch four titles through the rest of the year."]

"Clinkscales's remarkable accomplishments began with a fundamental observation that led him to launch his first publication, Urban Profile," according to a 1999 article in a Harvard Business School alumni publication. (He attended Florida A&M University as an undergrad, graduating magna cum laude.) "In the mid-1980s, while working as an account officer at Chemical Bank in New York, he began to notice a disturbing phenomenon among the media: a lack of balanced journalism relating to African Americans.

"The idea of starting a magazine dedicated to issues affecting young African Americans sparked his entrepreneurial enthusiasm, and with three thousand dollars he collected from fifteen friends, Clinkscales put together a prototype of the magazine. With a cover story titled 'Divided We Fall' and with the 24-year-old Clinkscales listed as editor and publisher, the debut issue of Urban Profile was sent to fifteen thousand potential subscribers. When Clinkscales received three thousand subscription cards back -- an unheard of response rate in the magazine business -- he knew he had found a niche that needed to be covered."

Clinkscales was chief operating officer when Time Inc. and Quincy Jones launched Vibe in 1993. When Time Inc. sold the publication to Jones, Robert Miller and others in 1996, Clinkscales remained one of the owners. He later left Vibe Ventures, forming Vanguarde Media in April 1999.

The following February, Vanguarde made a deal with BET Holdings that gave Vanguarde joint ownership and management of BET's three magazines: Emerge, BET Weekend and Heart & Soul. Clinkscales folded the more serious Emerge that June and later started the lifestyles-oriented Savoy. BET Weekend was shuttered as well.

By August 2000, when he was 36, Black Enterprise magazine included Clinkscales on its list of "movers, shakers, and decision makers poised to dominate the pages of Black Enterprise in the decades to come."

In November 2003, when he resigned as chairman and CEO of Vanguarde Media as it filed for protection from bankruptcy, Clinkscales said the failure of the company that published Savoy, Honey and Heart & Soul magazines was one of finances, not journalism or lack of reader support.

Each of those publications has been sold, but only Savoy has resumed publishing under its new owners.

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BET Telethon Raises $11 Million for Relief Fund

Black Entertainment Television's telethon Friday night for Hurricane Katrina relief has so far raised $11.1 million, spokesman Michael Lewellen told Journal-isms Tuesday.

"The on-line auction goes until 9/16, and wireless donations can be made until 9/30."

NBC, PBS and MTV also staged telethons for hurricane relief, but, Robert Hilburn wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "BET positioned itself over the weekend as the voice of African American compassion. 'There's been a lot of telethons,' rap mogul Diddy said during the 3 1/2-hour broadcast Friday, 'but this is our telethon. These are our people.'"

("Preliminary unaudited tallies from phone and online contributions indicate that the Sept. 9 telethon 'Shelter From the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast' raised an estimated $30 million for the American Red Cross's and Salvation Army's efforts to assist Hurricane Katrina victims," TV Week reported. "Shelter" ran on all six broadcast networks, PBS and dozens of cable networks.)

Meanwhile, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association each established relief funds to aid members affected by the disaster. In addition, AAJA said it would donate $3,000 to the National Association of Black Journalists' Katrina Relief Fund.

Separately, the Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists announced it would host a Hurricane Katrina Relief effort fundraiser for Sheryl Kennedy-Haydel, a past president of the chapter and former business writer for the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.

"Sheryl Kennedy-Haydel and her husband David recently lost their New Orleans home in the Hurricane Katrina tragedy. The couple recently gave birth to their first child, Clark, and is temporarily residing in Atlanta, Georgia with family," a news release said.

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New Orleans Weekly Preparing to Print Again

The New Orleans Data News Weekly, one component of the New Orleans black press, is preparing to print its first issue since Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29, publisher Terry B. Jones said today.

Jones is in Atlanta working out of the offices of the Atlanta Voice, another black paper. He said he has hired a printer in Alexandria, La., to print 20,000 copies of a 16-page issue Thursday night and distribute them in Houston, Baton Rouge, La., and Lake Charles, La., where many of the evacuees have fled.

The paper's staff is "all over the place," with editors and writers in Baton Rouge, Houston, Los Angeles and Denver, he said. The office, in a two-story building situated on a hill, "got about 4 1/2 feet of water" but was not destroyed, Jones said.

Another black paper, the Louisiana Weekly, is publishing online.

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Reporters Face Police Violence, Restrictions

"The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by police violence against reporters in New Orleans and attempts by the authorities to restrict coverage of the aftermath of hurricane Katrina," the group said Friday.

"U.S. and international media outlets have complained of attacks on staff and the confiscation of film of shoot-outs between police and looters in the first days after the storm devastated the Gulf region. They have also cited an attempt to restrict coverage by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)."

Cecilia M. Vega reported in the San Francisco Chronicle today that "On Saturday, after being challenged in court by CNN, the Bush administration agreed not to prevent the news media from following the effort to recover the bodies of Hurricane Katrina victims."

But in the poor, mostly black Bywater district on Monday, she wrote, "that assurance wasn't being followed. [An] 82nd Airborne soldier told reporters the Army had a policy that requires media to be 300 meters — more than three football fields in length — away from the scene of body recoveries in New Orleans. If reporters wrote stories or took pictures of body recoveries, they would be reported and face consequences, he said, including a loss of access for up-close coverage of certain military operations."

Pacifica Radio's "Democracy Now!" reported Monday, "In addition to the thousands of military troops patrolling the streets of New Orleans, there are also scores of private soldiers that are now spreading out across the city, like those from the Blackwater Security firm." Correspondent Jeremy Scahill reported that "we also overheard one of the Blackwater guys talking to, we presume, a colleague, complaining that he was only being paid $350 a day plus his per diem, and that other firms were paying much more. And we're seeing many of these Blackwater mercenaries and other private security agents roaming the streets of New Orleans."

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An E-Mail on the "N" Word Resonates

The e-mail message circulating for the last couple of months is so stunning a reader might suspect it is another urban legend. The picture is what first grabs attention: Black people under a blue awning with lettering that says "Niggers."

A story accompanies the photo, and so far, the only newspaper to publish it is the black weekly the Washington Informer, though the story and photo appear on at least seven Web sites.

"While in Lilongwe, Malawi, I came across a store by the name of 'Niggers,'" bicyclist David Sylvester writes. "That's right 'Niggers!' The other riders, who were all White, could not wait to inform me of this to see my reaction. Initially, I thought that it was a very bad joke but when the other riders were adamant about the existence of the store, I had to see it for myself.

"What I found was a store selling what the owner called 'hip hop' style clothing. It was manned by two gentlemen — one of them asleep! (Talk about living up to or in this case down to a stereotype). I asked the guys what was up with the store name. After hearing my obvious non-Malawian accent and figuring out that I was from America, the man thumped his chest proudly and said 'P-Diddy New York City! We are the niggers!'"

Sylvester, 40, is a personal trainer from Philadelphia who rode his bike across the United States, then last year across Africa to raise money for a scholarship fund honoring a friend, Kevin Bowser, who was killed in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He said today he had raised $30,000 for the Philadelphia Foundation and said he planned to ride across the remaining continents over the next six years.

Sylvester said he wrote the story July 18 but did not circulate it until serving as a motivational speaker at an adult summer school, where a woman referred to her son as her "nigga." "I said, 'what would you do if you saw a store called 'nigger.' One said, 'depends on what they were selling.' I showed her the picture, and she just said, like, 'damn.' But it's not just 'nigger', it's so much more," Sylvester said. "We have lost a sense of humanity and a sense of decency."

He initially sent the e-mail to 35 people in the Philadelphia area, and has since received 600 e-mails in return, he said today. The majority who contacted him agreed with him, he said, but some objected to the mention of P. Diddy's name. They said, "He's making money, so leave him alone," Sylvester recalled. "The Malawians mentioned him — not me," he said, but the e-mailers' message was "it's about the strength of your credit line, not the strength of your character . . . It's how much bling do you have. Now I understand what my father was trying to tell me: If all you stand for is a dollar, then you don't stand for anything."

He said he also had a message for those who have told him that after Hurricane Katrina, there are bigger things to worry about. Speaking of those displaced, he said, "They are already down, and if they are down spiritually and fiscally, and thinking of themselves as -- quote -- 'refugees' and then 'niggers,' it's not going to help matters."

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More Join "Refugee" vs. "Evacuee" Debate

"Vernon Ducre does not believe he is a refugee," Hilary Hilliard began a story Thursday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock.

"He left Slidell, La., on Aug. 29 — before Hurricane Katrina ravaged his neighborhood — and is now at a shelter at the State Fairgrounds in Little Rock.

"'I thought a refugee was someone who came in from another country,' he said. 'We're not from another country. We own land here.'

"He is not alone. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, terminology has surfaced as a point for debate.

"Are people who fled the storm's destruction evacuees? Are they victims? Are they, in fact, refugees from Mother Nature's wrath?

"Everyone has an opinion."

True enough. Through the weekend, the debate over whether news outlets should call those displaced by Hurricane Katrina "refugees" continued. Some who insisted that "refugee" was appropriate accused others of "political correctness" and cited Webster's New World Dictionary. Those who preferred other terms cited the same dictionary, the displaced people themselves and international human rights groups.

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Andrés Martinez Heads L.A. Opinion Pages

Andrés Martinez, editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times, will succeed Michael Kinsley as editorial and opinion editor, the paper announced Tuesday.

Kinsley, a nationally known columnist and former co-host of "Crossfire," said the publisher requested his resignation, the New York Times reported today. Kinsley recruited Martinez, 39, a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, from the New York Times in 2004. Martinez said he planned to continue some of Kinsley's innovations.

The promotion puts a Latino in charge of the opinion pages and an African American heading the news section. In the latest issue of the NAACP's The Crisis, Times editor Dean Baquet told Wayne Dawkins he wanted to make the paper look more like Southern California, and expressed confidence in Metro editor Janet Clayton to help him do that.

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Armstrong Williams Not Alone, Report Says

"The federal Department of Education paid education-advocacy groups that produced Op-Ed columns, ads, and other material, according to a new report issued by the DOE's Inspector General," as Editor & Publisher reported last week.

"This means that former Tribune Media Services (TMS) columnist Armstrong Williams wasn't the only person writing for newspapers while receiving DOE money.

"The report said The Dallas Morning News, The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee, the Mobile (Ala.) Register, and The Grand Island (Neb.) Independent were among the papers that published Op-Eds by authors who failed to disclose they were receiving DOE money. Separately, the office of Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) determined that additional opinion articles ran in papers such as The New York Sun."

However, the New York Sun struck back in an editorial on Monday, saying, " For the record, it is a false accusation, unsupported by the federal inspector general report on the issue," and denouncing Miller.

"We had no idea that Marcela Garcini had 'government financial sponsorship' through her position as director of parent outreach for the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options," the Dallas Morning News said in a Sept. 7 editorial. "In our attempts to reach out to new voices, in this case, we were caught short."

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Investigative Reporter Quit Over Plagiarism Charge

"During the pre-publication review process for a Center for Public Integrity investigative report, we learned that one of our writers, Robert Moore, had taken material from other publications and included it word for word in material he had submitted to us with no indication that it was the work of other writers. We confronted Moore with unambiguous evidence, and insisted he resign. He complied," the outlet for investigative journalism said in a news release Thursday.

Moore, one of the few black journalists to specialize in investigative reporting, left the organization at the end of 2003, a center spokesman said, but the announcement was delayed while the organization reviewed Moore's past work.

A copy editor hired for that purpose, Hope Keller, "told us of the problems with Moore's work on Capitol Offenders, we removed the book from circulation. We are issuing a revised edition which fully credits those authors whose work Moore improperly used. We are also returning the award that Investigative Reporters and Editors bestowed on that book," the release said. The center also said it was revising its fact-checking and pre-publication review process.

Moore, who had joined the organization in 1999, told Journal-isms he was now running a political consulting opposition research firm in Delaware, working with candidates, party organizations and advisory groups, and said he could not discuss what took place at the center.

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Short Takes

  • "New Orleans' WVUE-TV (FOX 8) over-the-air signal is up, low power, as of approximately 1 p.m. Central today," Emmis Communications announced Tuesday. "The programming consists of 15-minute WVUE news updates recorded live every 2 hours and played on a loop. The newscasts are also streamed on the website, www.fox8tv.net. WVUE plans to return to regular programming next Monday, Sept. 19."
  • WSB-TV Atlanta morning and noon co-anchor Warren Savage unexpectedly resigned Tuesday, news director Jennifer Rigby confirmed today. In a farewell e-mail to the newsroom, Savage quoted a rapper who said: "Before I sell out, I get the hell out," a staffer told Journal-isms. Weekend anchor JaQuitta Williams filled in this morning.
  • The National Press Club's annual 5K run and walk Saturday raised more than $50,000, an all-time high, club president Rick Dunham of Business Week estimates. "That should easily fund two four-year, $20,000 scholarships for aspiring journalists of color," he told Journal-isms. "The number isn't final because we (a) still have our online auction continuing, and there's a 2006 Honda Civic up for bids through the month and (b) we don't have all bills paid yet. The Honda itself will raise just about enough to fund one four-year, $20,000 scholarship."
  • "We need to start voting and taking better care of our children if we want to turn Cleveland around, actor-comedian Bill Cosby told a crowd of about 1,300 parents, youths and community leaders Monday night," Emily Hamlin and Robert L. Smith wrote Tuesday in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Columnist Sam Fulwood wrote Saturday that he helped facilitate the appearance after Cosby canceled a previously scheduled one that Fulwood had helped arrange.
  • Black-owned "Granite Broadcasting said Thursday that it reached definitive agreements to sell its two large-market WB-affiliates to private-equity firm ACON Investments for $180 million, a move designed to allow Granite to focus on its Big 3-network-affiliated stations and to pare down debt," Jay Sherman reported Sept. 8 in Television Week. As part of the sale, Granite will sell WDWB-TV in Detroit and KBWB-TV in San Francisco, Sherman wrote.
  • The October issue of Ebony magazine was published this week, a tribute to its founder John H. Johnson, who died Aug. 8 at age 87.

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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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