Blacks Were Largely Absent From Writing B.B. King Story

B.B. King performs "Merry Christmas Baby" at the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington in 2010. The White House paid tribute to King on its home page.
Pete Souza/White House

Cultural, Generational Reasons Offered as Theories

B.B. King, whose "whose scorching guitar licks and heartfelt vocals made him the idol of generations of musicians and fans while earning him the nickname King of the Blues," in the words of Associated Press writer Ken Ritter, died Thursday night at 89. But on Friday, amid a multitude of articles about King, finding an authoritative report by a black journalist was difficult.


The irony is that King was an exemplar of a black art form. Herb Boyd, a veteran New York writer and a black journalist who did write about King, opened his piece with, " 'The blues people have been treated like the Blacks have been — unfairly, and for me it was almost like being black twice,' B.B. King once lamented. . . ."

Boyd shared with Journal-isms a piece he completed Friday and planned to submit to the New York Amsterdam News, where he is often published.


"Young Black Americans are not into the blues as they are with other musical forms, sadly," Boyd said by email. "And that's been a fact for more than a generation. A few of my students had no idea who he was and when they did they confused him with Ben E. King, believing he had died almost two weeks ago. Go figure."

Other black music journalists offered different theories for why bylines of colleagues of color were absent from Friday's King obituaries.


Some were editing the pieces instead of writing them. Many news outlets were merely updating advance obits that had already been written by other writers, and so there was no opportunity for their participation. Some might have been on vacation. Perhaps they were writing for the weekend. Or maybe they just weren't there. Newsrooms don't have the staffs that they used to.

[The weekend theory was true in Norfolk, Va. Rashod Ollison's story appeared on the front page of the Virginian-Pilot on Saturday. "On Friday, the Pilot ran an AP story and online reposted a link to a critical essay I did on King pegged to what turned out to be his last appearance in the area last January," Ollison messaged Journal-isms early Saturday. "That link is reposted with my appreciation in today's paper."]  


The Boston Globe's website ran an appreciation by Renee Graham, a former staffer who took a buyout in 2005. "Saw news of his passing at 5:30 a.m.. got up and started writing. I'm a regular contributor to the Globe's op-ed page, and sent it at 9 a.m.," Graham told Journal-isms by email.

"It was posted on the Globe website by 10:30-11 a.m., and is scheduled to run in Monday's paper as well."


At USA Today, Steve Jones, a black journalist, shared a byline with Jerry Shriver. But, as the tagline explained, "Longtime USA TODAY music critic Steve Jones died in 2013."

The Associated Press story by Ritter ran even on the website of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the black press, although KaiElz wrote an original account for the Chicago Defender. A tagline on the AP story read, "Associated Press writers John Rogers and Mesfin Fekadu in Los Angeles contributed to this report." Fekadu is a black journalist.


Kelley L. Carter, an entertainment journalist who might once have written about King, now helps oversee coverage on a variety of entertainment issues at BuzzFeed. Nekesa Mumbi Moody, formerly the AP music editor, is now global entertainment and lifestyles editor.

Where there are black music journalists at mainstream news outlets, their job descriptions might highlight other music categories. "Gail Mitchell is a senior editor at Billboard, covering R&B/Hip-Hop and other genres," her magazine I.D. reads. "Gerrick D. Kennedy is a music writer for the Los Angeles Times covering pop, R&B/soul and hip-hop," reads Kennedy's.


Yet, as Boyd wrote, King's is an old-school African American story.

"In his autobiography Blues All Around Me with writer David Ritz, King elaborated on his early years and the meaning of the blues, and the history of slavery in his family," Boyd's obituary continued.


" 'My great-grandmother, who also had been a slave, talked about the old days,' King recalled. 'She'd talk about the beginning of blues. She said that, sure, singing helped the days go by. Singing about your sadness unburdens your soul. But the blues shouters hollered about more than being sad. They were also delivering messages in musical code.' These messages took many forms when transmuted through King's musical intelligence and ability, and as his great-grandmother, emphasized the blues was about survival.

" But it wasn't long before the gifted musician was extending the lessons acquired from Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker, Lonnie Johnson, and his cousin, the renowned Booker 'Bukka' White. Given these influences and their instructions, he moved effortlessly from picking cotton to picking the guitar, and by 1940, at 15, he had mastered the fundamentals of the blues. . . ."


Associated Press: Notes From Near and Far on Death of Blues Legend B.B. King

Adam Gopnik, the New Yorker: B. B. King's Inimitable Sound

David Griner and Katie Richards, B.B. King's Warmth, Talent and Laid-Back Charm Made Him the Perfect Ad Star


Sherry Lucas, Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss.: B.B. King dies at 89

Nick Lucchesi, Village Voice: Read About the Time B.B. King Played Rikers Island Right After Attica


Jim Romenesko blog: Today's most popular headline: "The Thrill is Gone"

Tavis Smiley, Public Radio International: A Tribute to B. B. King (audio)

Tanya Somanader, White House Blog: On B.B. King: "The Blues Has Lost Its King, and America Has Lost a Legend"


Billy Watkins, Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss.: B.B. King: A straight-talking blues guy

Obama, Coates Defend Stances on Scolding Black Men

"On Tuesday, Georgetown University hosted President Barack Obama, the columnist E.J. Dionne, Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, and the political scientist Robert Putnam for a conversation on poverty in America," Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote Wednesday in his blog for the Atlantic.


"I found myself most attracted to Obama's understanding of public policy and personal morality. Specifically, Dionne asked the president to address criticism of his Morehouse speech, as well as his general belief in the alloy of progressive policy and moral uplift.

"Here is Dionne's question:

" 'Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote something back in 2013 about your talk about what needs to happen inside the African American community — I know you remember this: "Taking full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people and particularly black youth, and another way of addressing everyone else. I would have a hard time imagining the President telling the women of Barnard that 'there's no longer room for any excuses' — as though they were in the business of making them."


" 'I'd love you to address sort of the particular question about — maybe it is primarily about economics because we can't do much about the other things through government policy, and also answer Ta-Nehisi's critique, because I know you hear that a lot.'

"Here is the president's response:

" 'It's true that if I'm giving a commencement at Morehouse that I will have a conversation with young black men about taking responsibility as fathers that I probably will not have with the women of Barnard. And I make no apologies for that. And the reason is, is because I am a black man who grew up without a father and I know the cost that I paid for that. And I also know that I have the capacity to break that cycle, and as a consequence, I think my daughters are better off. (Applause.)


"And that is not something that — for me to have that conversation does not negate my conversation about the need for early childhood education, or the need for job training, or the need for greater investment in infrastructure, or jobs in low-income communities.

"Later the president refers to this as the 'both/and' approach — discussing both immorality in the black community and possible policy solutions to its dire straits. . . "


Coates also wrote that "the standard progressive approach of the moment is to mix color-conscious moral invective with color-blind public policy. It is not hard to see why that might be the case. Asserting the moral faults of black people [tends] to gain votes. Asserting the moral faults of their government, not so much. I am sure Obama sincerely believes in the moral invective he offers. But I suspect he believes a lot more about his country which he chooses not to share. . . .

"This affliction is not solely Obama's. Consider that in a conversation about poverty, featuring America's first black president, one of its most accomplished progressive political scientists, and one of its most important liberal columnists, the word 'racism' does not appear in the transcript once. That is because the progressive approach to policy which directly addresses the effects of white supremacy is simple — talk about class and hope no one notices.


"This is not a 'both/and.' It is a bait and switch. . . ."

. . . Obama Says Poverty Is Down 40% Since 1967

President Obama said Tuesday that "it is a mistake for us to suggest that somehow every effort we make has failed and we are powerless to address poverty," and castigated Fox News as part of "the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, [leeches], don't want to work, are lazy, are undeserving. . . ."


In his remarks on a panel on poverty at Georgetown University, the president said the conclusion that antipoverty efforts have failed is "just not true. First of all, just in absolute terms, the poverty rate when you take into account tax and transfer programs, has been reduced about 40 percent since 1967.

"Now, that does not lessen our concern about communities where poverty remains chronic. It does suggest, though, that we have been able to lessen poverty when we decide we want to do something about it. In every low-income community around the country, there are programs that work to provide ladders of opportunity to young people; we just haven't figured out how to scale them up. . . .


He also said, "There's always been a strain in American politics where you've got the middle class, and the question has been, who are you mad at, if you're struggling; if you're working, but you don't seem to be getting ahead. And over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there's been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or to be mad at folks at the bottom. And I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, [leeches], don't want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction.

"And, look, it's still being propagated. I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu — they will find folks who make me mad. I don't know where they find them. (Laughter.) They're like, I don't want to work, I just want a free Obama phone — (laughter) — or whatever. And that becomes an entire narrative — right? — that gets worked up. And very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress — which is much more typical — who's raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can't pay the bills. . . ."


Asked for a list of the antipoverty efforts that have worked, a White House aide pointed Journal-isms to an email Monday from Jerry Abramson, White House director of intergovernmental affairs, that listed administration programs. It asserted, "In 2013, more than 1.1 million Americans were lifted out of poverty, led by the largest one-year drop in child poverty since 1966. This reduced the poverty rate significantly, by a half a percentage point. . ."

Charles M. Blow, New York Times: The President, Fox News and the Poor 

E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post: Something is stirring in the religious world

Paul Elie, the New Yorker: The President and Poverty

Georgetown University: Obama at Georgetown: Now Is the Time to Invest in Helping the Poor (video)


Media Matters for America: President Obama Calls Out Fox News For Slanted Poverty Coverage

James Taranto, Wall Street Journal: Obama's Poverty Paradox [access link via search engine]


Erik Wemple, Washington Post: Daily Show's Jon Stewart buries Fox News on coverage of poverty, President Obama

4 U.S. Journalists of Color Chosen as Nieman Fellows

The 13 U.S. journalists selected for the 2016 class of Nieman Fellows at Harvard University will include two African Americans, a Mexican American and an Asian American, the program announced on Friday.


They are:

Debra Adams Simmons, "a senior news executive at Advance Local, the parent company of a group of metro news organizations, who will study the impact of the digital news transformation on newsroom leadership and diversity, media ethics and local communities." Adams Simmons is former editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland.


Mónica Guzmán, technology and media columnist for GeekWire, the Daily Beast and Columbia Journalism Review, who is to study "how journalists can rethink their roles to meet the demands of online public discourse."

Wendi C. Thomas, a columnist for the Memphis Flyer, who "will study how to deepen the public conversation on economic justice using a multimedia news website and civic engagement campaign." Thomas is a former columnist for the Commercial Appeal.


Wonbo Woo, a producer for NBC News, who "will study the way major media events impact communities and examine the collateral effects of competitive news coverage on towns and residents after the spotlight fades."

In addition, Donna Pierce, a syndicated food columnist, was selected as one of six Knight Visiting Nieman Fellows, who join the program "for shorter periods throughout the year to work on research projects designed to advance journalism." Pierce is conducting research for a project on the migration of African American cooks and recipes out of the American South.


Ann-Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman program, told Journal-isms that the program does not compile information on how many journalists of color applied, as other fellowship programs do and her predecessor, Bob Giles, did.

However, Lipinski messaged that, "if you ever have any thoughts on improving recruiting, please let me know. In the meantime, we are writing about some of these issues in the upcoming issue of Nieman Reports. There are some excellent pieces that you and your readers may have interest in." She said the issue is due in mid-June.


Five journalists of color will be among the 12 U.S. fellows in the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships program at Stanford University, and three will fill 12 slots for American journalists in the Knight-Wallace Fellows program at the University of Michigan, those programs announced last month.

Blackistone Joining Washington Post as Sports Columnist

Kevin Blackistone, a commentator for ESPN, a regular panelist on ESPN’s weekday "Around the Horn" and visiting professor at the University of Maryland, is joining the Washington Post as a sports columnist, the Post announced on Thursday.


Blackistone is the second black sports columnist the Post has hired in as many months. Last month, the Post hired Jerry Brewer, who has written for the Seattle Times since 2006, to start in June.

Having two black sports columnists will put the Post on a very small perch. John Smallwood and Marcus Hayes write for the Philadelphia Daily News, apparently the only other mainstream paper to have two black journalists with "sports columnist" in their job description.


Blackistone's is a new position, according to Sports Editor Matt Vita.

The Post announcement said Blackistone "will be writing regular commentary for the Sports section on topics ranging from our local sports teams to the relationship between sports and major social issues. He’ll also be a contributor to Post TV."


Appearing on ESPN, Blackistone stirred controversy in 2013 when he found fault with the sports industry's embrace of military symbolism. At issue was Northwestern's use of American flag and Army designs on its helmets and jerseys for an upcoming football game. Blackistone said he was opposed to the sports-military connection "whether it's the singing of a war anthem to open every game, whether it's going to get a hot dog and being able to sign up for the Army at the same time, whether it's the NFL's embrace of the mythology of the Pat Tillman story."

Vita said of Blackistone in a memo, "He's worked as a reporter for the Boston Globe and Dallas Morning News, where he covered national and regional economics for the business section before being named a sports columnist. In addition to his television work for ESPN, Kevin also has written in the digital arena, for AOL [FanHouse], the Daily tablet and the He's the [co-author of a 2010] memoir of former NFL player Everson Wall's decision to become an organ donor for longtime teammate Ron Springs and he has published numerous academic papers on sports topics, many of which have focused on the lives of black athletes. . . ."


Blackistone told Journal-isms he would continue his ESPN and University of Maryland work.

Michael McCarter Named Interim Editor in Cincinnati

Michael McCarter, who leads the Cincinnati Enquirer's multimedia and visuals team, was named interim editor on Thursday as Carolyn Washburn stepped down as editor and vice president.


"It didn't take me long to recognize Michael's many skills," Rick Green, president and publisher of Enquirer Media for 10 weeks, said in the newspaper. "I've been incredibly impressed by his passionate pursuit of storytelling in new ways, his commitment to staff development and his knowledge of the Tristate. He will be a great interim editor for our team as I find a permanent replacement who will lead our newsroom to new heights."

The Enquirer story also said, "Washburn, Enquirer editor since January 2011, will continue to live in Cincinnati and pursue her passion for the city and its residents in new ways.


"Washburn called it the 'right time for a change.'

" 'I have been a journalist for 30 years and had amazing experiences and know that I made a difference. And I got to come home,' she said. 'But I have increasing passion about some issues in the community that I'd like to be involved with differently. I need to spend important time with my parents right now. And with a new publisher coming in, it's a good time to let him form his own team. I've been thinking for a while about when the time would be right to move to a next career, and this is the right time all around. . . .' "


McCarter, an Atlanta native, joined the Enquirer in 2007.

2 Cops in Fatal Tamir Rice Shooting Still Not Interviewed

"When the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department made its first public comments on Tuesday about its ongoing investigation into the death last November of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, it provided few details," Jaeah Lee reported Friday for Mother Jones.


"Nearly six months since Cleveland police fatally shot Rice at a community center park where he had been waving around a toy gun, questions are mounting as to why the investigation has taken so long, especially given explicit surveillance footage of the shooting and the troubling police record of the officer who pulled the trigger.

"Mother Jones has learned that the two officers involved in the shooting — Timothy Loehmann, who fired the shots, and Frank Garmback, who drove the police car — still have not been interviewed by investigators from the sheriff's department. According to an official familiar with the case, investigators have made more than one attempt to interview Loehmann and Garmback since the Cleveland Police Department handed over the case in January. . . ."


Jarvis DeBerry, | the Times-Picayune: Would we know if white supremacist groups infiltrated our police departments?

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR "Code Switch": N.Y. Police Shooting Case Divides City's Asian-Americans


Geraldo Says ABC Fired Him but Not Stephanopoulos

"Geraldo Rivera sees a double standard at work in ABC News' decision to stand by George Stephanopoulos after the network's chief anchor apologized for failing to publicly disclose $75,000 in donations to the Clinton Foundation over the last three years," Matt Wilstein reported Friday for Mediaite.


"In a Facebook post Friday morning, Rivera claimed he was fired by ABC News in 1985 for making a $200 political donation and wondered why Stephanopoulos isn't getting the same treatment.

" 'In 1985, after fifteen great years, I was fired by ABC News,' Rivera wrote. 'The official reason for my firing was a non-disclosed $200 donation to a family friend running in a non-partisan mayoral campaign in New Bedford Massachusetts.'


"He went on to say that the 'real reason' he was fired was a dispute with network head Roone Arledge over a spiked 20/20 story involving Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys.

" 'The point is ABC treated my undisclosed $200 donation harshly because the network wanted me out for that unrelated reason,' Rivera continued. 'Now ABC is bending over backward to minimize and forgive George Stephanopoulos' $75,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation because he is central to the network's recent success.' . . .”


Dylan Byers, Politico: George Stephanopoulos discloses $75,000 contribution to Clinton Foundation

Joe Concha, Mediaite: ABC Must Bench Stephanopoulos on Sunday Mornings for Failure to Disclose Clinton Donation


Lloyd Grove, Daily Beast: George Stephanopoulos Makes a Passive-Aggressive Non-Apology for Clinton Donation

Howard Kurtz, Fox News: Why Stephanopoulos tarnished his credibility by hiding his Clinton Foundation donations


Jack Shafer, Politico Magazine: The Great Stephanopoulos Mess

Catherine Taibi, Huffington Post: Media Critique ABC News' Knee-Jerk Defense Of Stephanopoulos


Why So Few Are Covering the War in Yemen

"More than 1,200 people have died since Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a military operation in Yemen in March, but the country has become so hard to access that news organizations are finding it almost impossible to cover the conflict," Jared Malsin reported Wednesday for Columbia Journalism Review.


"At the same time, a lack of electricity and poorly developed internet infrastructure are hampering the citizen journalism and online activism that have offered a window into other recent conflicts.

"Yemen's political turmoil has gone underreported for years, but journalists say the current conflagration has made reporting on the country more difficult than at any other time in memory. There are vanishingly few foreign journalists in Yemen as a result of the violence on the ground, access restrictions, and wavering commitment on the part of international news organizations.


"Yemeni journalists, meanwhile, face power outages for days at a time, the threat of food shortages, and the problem of finding sources in a polarized country where violence has hardened attitudes. . . ."

Short Takes

The Native American Journalists Association is seeking to raise $15,000 to provide 10 college students with travel, lodging, food, onsite transportation to cover stories, and for other expenses during the week of NAJA's annual National Native Media Conference, held this year in the Washington area in July. The training is part of a one-year project in which students cover stories about the 2016 presidential race, largely through online and digital communication.


"Television reporter Brittany Noble-Jones today was named the 2015 Emerging Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists," NABJ announced on Thursday. It also said, "Noble-Jones — a general assignment reporter at KMOV-TV, a CBS affiliate in St. Louis — was one of the first journalists to cover the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Her interview with Brown's mother shortly after his death — using the app Instagram — trended worldwide. . . ."

"Bill Cosby almost responded to the rape allegations against him in a new interview with ABC's 'Good Morning America' on Friday," Jessica Goodman reported for the Huffington Post. "The interview, conducted by Linsey Davis, received little promotion. When Davis asked him about allegations that he drugged and raped many women, Cosby dodged the question. . . ."


"A multimedia journalism cooperative in Detroit is receiving an additional $500,000 in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for reporting on the city's financial challenges and recovery," Mike Janssen reported Friday for "The Detroit Journalism Cooperative comprises Detroit Public Television, public radio station WDET, Michigan Radio, New Michigan Media and Bridge, an online magazine. . . ."

"The MOVE bombing was a cataclysm for my hometown, a part of the collective memories of Philadelphians of a certain age," Gene Denby reported Wednesday for NPR's "Code Switch." "I grew up in South Philly, about a 20-minute drive from ground zero, but I was just 4 when it happened, too young to remember the actual day. But as I got older, I would learn in bits and pieces about it, and the central role it played in the history of policing in my hometown. I started revisiting the story of MOVE in earnest again last fall, when the issue of race and policing had started to become a regular feature of the news. . . ."


"Ivan Penn, business reporter for the Tampa Bay Times for the past nine years, has resigned to accept a job covering energy for the Los Angeles Times," Chris Roush reported Thursday for Talking Biz News. "His last day at the Florida paper will be June 12. He will start in Los Angeles on July 13. . . ."

"ESPN's 'SportsCenter' has produced a lot of catchphrases over the years, but perhaps none is as memorable as 'Boo-yah,' " Marissa Payne reported Friday for the Washington Post. "Made famous by Stuart Scott, who died of cancer in January, the hyphenated word will live on forever on ESPN's wall of catchphrases. The network unveiled a memorial plaque to Scott on Thursday. . . ."


Paulo Rogério Nunes, an Afro-Brazilian and former Fulbright scholar, and his team of nine "have built an organization that produces Afro-Brazilian content and journalism on its site Correio Nagô, trains citizen journalists and teaches entrepreneurship," Kiratiana Freelon wrote Wednesday for the International Journalists' Network. "On the eve of the 127th anniversary of slavery's abolition in Brazil — May 13 — Nunes explains why he started the Instituto Mídia Étnica 10 years ago, how it's evolved and where he [sees] it heading. . . . "

"Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced over the weekend that his government would allow foreign journalists to report unrestricted from the country's eastern Papuan provinces, breaking a virtual 50-year blackout of international news coverage of the restive region," Shawn W. Crispin reported Monday for the Committee to Protect Journalists.


Reporters Without Borders on Tuesday called on Burkina Faso's Higher Council for Communication "to rescind the three-month ban on live radio and TV broadcasts announced last week, which constitutes a grave act of censorship in the run-up to next October's elections. . . ."

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