President Barack Obama (center) participates in a meeting on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 10, 2011, in Washington, D.C.
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Voting Rights Act Isn't Only Great Society Law in Peril

Along with the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the Voting Rights Act, this year marks another milestone: 1965 saw passage of the education law designed to help disadvantaged and special-needs children, particularly those of color. The law is up for renewal this year, but moves are afoot to weaken it.

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The law's supporters ask, where's the public concern from the people it is most directly designed to help?

Meanwhile, education writers are abuzz about a piece that asks how the race of those covering education issues affects how those topics are reported.

"There's been a LOT of discussion this past week or so about important issues surrounding race, class, and privilege among school reformers and reform critics," Alexander Russo, a blogger who is white, wrote this month for scholasticadministrator.typepad.com. The piece was republished on Monday by alldigitocracy.org.

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Russo continued, "But what about the editors and reporters who cover education issues — and whose work is read by the public and policymakers who are making real-life education decisions every day?

"The truth of the matter is that it's not just the education reform movement and its critics who are predominantly white & appear otherwise privileged. . . ."

Russo also wrote, "Let's be clear. Many if not most of the journalists writing about education for a national audience are white, too, and do not appear to come from the neighborhoods and schools that they may spend much of their time covering. . . ."

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke Wednesday before the National Urban League's Legislative Policy Conference in Washington.

"We all know that if we are ever going to establish a society that delivers on our national promise of opportunity for all, it's going to be because of the quality — and the equity — of our schools," Duncan said in his prepared remarks. "It's fitting that we come together to talk about this now, since next month will mark the 50th anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act being signed into law — and since the leaders of the 114th Congress have vowed to reauthorize that law, which is now seven years overdue, sometime in 2015.

"President Johnson saw ESEA as the cornerstone of his entire War on Poverty. He said: 'I believe deeply no law I have signed or will ever sign means more to the future of America.' "

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The question at hand is one of money and how it will be allocated. In his talk, Duncan listed educational progress since 1965, but went on, "In 23 states, students from low-income families are being shortchanged when it comes to how their schools are funded — in some places, dramatically so. In these states, districts serving the highest percentage of students from low income families spend fewer state and local dollars per pupil than the lowest poverty districts, even though we know that students from low income families have greater educational needs.

"How many young people are being negatively affected by this underfunding problem? 6.6 million of them.

"And in 20 states, districts with high percentages of minority students are spending fewer state and local dollars than districts with the lowest percentages of minority students. . . ."

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In a column Feb. 20, Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund who has been fighting on behalf of poor children for 40 years, wrote, "Unfortunately the House Education and Workforce Committee, charged to lead in moving an ESEA reauthorization bill in the House of Representatives, just approved a bill (H.R. 5) in a party line vote that fails to target the needs of the poorest children by adding a 'portability' provision assuring these children less help. AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and many others join us in opposing the portability provision.

"The portability provision in H.R. 5 would move us backwards by distributing the same amount for a poor child regardless of the wealth of the district or school she attends. This will unravel the intent of Title I by taking resources away from children in areas of concentrated poverty and offering extra resources to schools and districts with a few poor children who may not need them. . . ."

In all, more than 40 groups, including Edelman's, signed on in January to a document listing "Shared Civil Rights Principles for the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act." [PDF]

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There is more to coverage of education issues than the distribution of funds, however. That's where the composition of the education reporting corps comes in.

Howard Fuller, a 1960s black activist who went on to become Milwaukee's superintendent of schools, and John King Jr., who recently joined the U.S. Department of Education at the deputy secretary's level, spoke Tuesday at a dinner meeting of Washington journalists of color known as the Journalists Roundtable.

The educators' remarks suggested that sensitivity to non-education issues must inform coverage. Fuller, who is active in the school choice movement as chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, praised Michelle Alexander's 2010 book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," as relevant to education. "Jim Crow continues to come to us in different forms," he said.

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Also bearing on education are such social issues as sexual violence and psychological damage that might be inflicted at an early age. Fuller said he has encountered young girls held down by their mothers to be raped by the mother's boyfriends, and a mother who opposed her child going to college because the child might think himself better than the rest of the family.

But education coverage, others have said, is often "siloed" as an entity unto itself, so that the interrelationship with other issues is not reported.

Fuller also raised another racial issue, this one involving the school reform movement of which he is a part. He said the charter-school and school-choice movements are dominated by whites, with too few blacks in leadership positions. He saw a need for blacks within the movement to organize among themselves on behalf of children of color.

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That relates to issues of how to measure progress. "Black and brown people need to have a higher standard," Fuller said, describing himself as "not a voucher person. I'm an educate-black-people person."

The necessity for sensitivity to the culture of the students was obvious. So was the need to report on these issues in ways that reach those most affected.

Paul Delaney, a retired New York Times senior editor who attended the roundtable and has worked in the black press, emailed Wednesday, "one main problem not discussed last night is disappearance & impotence of black press. the biggies — courier, defender(s), afro, etc — would've been on top of some of those issues, but not now; makes big difference. i recall many times black press highlighted a topic that forced white press to take notice. no more."

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King was the first African American and the first person of Puerto Rican descent to hold the education commissioner's office in New York. He said at the dinner meeting, "The urgency is not there. There is not the collective level of outrage proportionate to what's happening."

. . . Does Race Make a Difference in Covering Education?

Blogger Alexander Russo maintained this month that "many if not most of the journalists writing about education for a national audience are white, too, and do not appear to come from the neighborhoods and schools that they may spend much of their time covering. . . ."

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Journal-isms asked three journalists of color whether that makes a difference. They responded by email.

Dakarai I. Aarons

"Alexander has a point, but I don't think there's a universal difference when white reporters cover education stories that involve racial issues. But it does require a heightened awareness and cultural competence from those journalists.

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"Despite the relative lack of diversity among education reporters at national media outlets, these outlets have published and broadcast many, many stories about the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers. I do think the lack of diversity does create an obstacle for news outlets when trying to build relationships of trust with sources and within communities. And there are stories that these outlets are missing because their reporters are often not as socially plugged into communities of color. And it can mean making sure to check in with journalists of color to make sure that certain words or phrases that might be considered offensive by communities of color are not inadvertently printed or broadcast.

"The panel discussion at last year's Education Writers Association National Seminar was very popular, and at this year's National Seminar (to be held in Chicago next month), there's a panel with students of color sharing their educational experiences in their own words. Here's the description:

"Student Voices on Race and Education [April 20]
"4:30 PM – 5:30 PM

"A panel of students tell their own stories about race and education. They offer perspective on stereotypes they see playing out in classrooms, schools and districts. They are a group of African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic students from different schools in the Chicago area."

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Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nikole Hannah-Jones covers civil rights for ProPublica with a focus on segregation and discrimination in housing and schools. She has been honored for a ProPublica series on the resegregation of the country's schools.

"In education, as in any beat, diversity strengthens coverage and can determine what stories are told and how.

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"Does this mean white reporters cannot cover schools that are heavily black/brown and/or poor well, or cannot write about segregation and inequity? Of course not. But we certainly need reporters of color, reporters who have been bused, who have attended segregated schools, who have lived in the types of neighborhoods that are under-resourced and left behind.

"It's nice to say that it doesn't matter, but diversity is not a superficial thing. My experiences absolutely influence how I see education stories.

"Just like my experiences influence my understanding of education, the experiences of white reporters — data show white Americans are most likely to attend heavily white, middle class, typically successful schools — influence how they see and report on education."

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Francisco Vara-Orta

"There are always plenty of stories to go around regarding race and class and often we feel like we can't get to them all if you ask most education reporters. especially with so much data now available. I think my colleagues covering education are overall doing their best amid our many news outlets' shrinking resources and push for digital traffic that sometimes derails more in-depth, enterprise reporting that is needed to scrutinize how race and class are impacting our school system and overall access to college.

"I find my colleagues' approach overall respectful in how they approach covering race and class issues when we debate it in my newsroom and in journalism conferences lately. We all come from different backgrounds often, and I've felt my colleagues, no matter if white or not, get why we need to focus on achievement gaps and the impact that poverty and racism may have on that. There doesn't seem to be resentment or a disconnect in pushing to do stories about race and class on the ground level as reporters.

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"But it can be hard to get the time to deep dive into the topics amid our demands and competition that other beats cause for getting education stories at the forefront of page ones, magazine covers, or website landing. Sometimes we know school board meetings, policy changes, and new education law isn't always the most 'sexy' for editors to put on page one.

"Many of my colleagues know there is only more work to do as the nation's demographics change on reporting on the intersection of race and class, but I find us on the ground to be more united than divisive. I also think to your question, groups like Education Writers Association hold a dozen or so major workshops or seminars that often incorporate race and class in their programming and help all of us better connect with how to cover it. Other minority journalism groups also do the same. Those support groups help [supplement] what sometimes we can get done in the newsroom because of time and financial constraints, and maybe for some, a lack of interest from their bosses.

"But we have a team of three reporters here on the education desk who very often write about class and race issues intersecting with schools and colleges, so that's my prism and know that may not be reflective of others.

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"If there are issues with diversity among our nation's education reporters, that's likely reflective of the larger trend most acknowledge that has caused concern in our industry about newsroom diversity and paying attention to issues in communities of color, those from special needs or LGBT backgrounds, and those impoverished that too often hit us after an incident occurs that then prompts coverage of a topic underreported."

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: Meridian "taxi service".

Editorial, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Another dubious distinction for Missouri: No. 1 in suspensions

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Kevin Gavin, WESA-FM, Pittsburgh: Interview: US Education Secretary Arne Duncan on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Robert Hanna, Max Marchitello and Catherine Brown, Center for American Progress: Comparable but Unequal: School Funding Disparities [PDF]

Marc H. Morial, Huffington Post: Smart Reauthorization of the ESEA Law Necessary for Student Success

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National Black Programming Consortium, American Graduate, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, ETV South Carolina: PBS Film 180 Days: Hartsville Explores How One Town is Besting Poverty to Educate Students [PDF]

Kojo Nnamdi with Howard Fuller, "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," WAMU-FM, Washington: From Black Power to Education Reform with Howard Fuller (audio) (Sept. 9, 2014)

Kyung M. Song, Seattle Times: Tough slog ahead in Congress for No Child rewrite (Feb. 16)

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Sophia Tesfaye, Media Matters for America: Bill O'Reilly Attacks "Restorative Justice" Programs That Reduce Racially Disproportionate School Discipline

University of Chicago: Discipline Practices in Chicago Schools: Trends in the Use of Suspensions and Arrests (March 19)

DeWayne Wickham, USA Today: Time for a non-violent voter revolution

YouTube: Howard Fuller Interview by Milton Coleman (Washington Post) (video) (Sept. 7, 2014)

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NAHJ to Discuss Internal Racism Among Latinos

"NAHJ is taking a stand. We will discuss internal racism and discrimination at our national conference in Orlando this September," Mekahlo Medina, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, announced to members on the NAHJ website on Tuesday.

"We will do more than talk. We will create a task force that we will work to develop a survey on the portrayal of race [in] Spanish language media and general market media. The data will allow us to create training and development for journalists and news managers on how these perceptions shape our decision making processes and ways to avoid it.

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"Additionally, we will also offer this training at our Spanish Language Conference in July and will extend it to any newsroom in America that will take the stand that Univision did last week. . . ."

Medina was referring to Univision's firing last week of Rodner Figueroa, a talk show host who compared first lady Michelle Obama to someone from "The Planet of the Apes." Figueroa wrote an open letter to Obama "insisting that his comment was never intended to be interpreted about Obama herself, but rather the makeup artist's poor effort to copy the First Lady’s look," as Mark Joyella reported Thursday for TVNewser.

Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune: New rule (no, old rule): don't compare black people to apes

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Maria Murriel, WLRN-TV, Miami: Latest Univision Race Gaffe Shows Culture Gap

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: Univision: We didn't receive White House complaint about racist comments concerning Michelle Obama

S. Mitra Kalita Named an M.E. at L.A. Times

S. Mitra Kalita, "a creative force behind the business news site Quartz, with a background in traditional journalism as well," has been named managing editor for editorial strategy at the Los Angeles Times, the newspaper announced Wednesday.

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Kalita, who will report to Editor-in-Chief Davan Maharaj, "will be one of three managing editors in the new structure. Marc Duvoisin, as managing editor for news, will continue to be the senior editor overseeing news and enterprise coverage, a job he has done with great skill. Larry Ingrassia, currently associate editor, will become managing editor for new ventures, focusing on developing editorial products with revenue potential," according to a memo to the staff from Maharaj and Publisher Austin Beutner.

The memo also said, "Mitra will work to develop and refine new styles of journalism similar to those she helped pioneer at Quartz. Launched in 2012, Quartz is known for its lively mix of news and analysis, its Daily Brief of worldwide business news, its creative use of social media and its focus on 'obsessions' of special interest to its readers rather than traditional beats. Mitra will also lead newsroom efforts as part of an enhanced effort at audience acquisition — bringing more people to see our terrific journalism and finding new communities of readers.

"Mitra has a notable record in high-quality journalism. At the Wall Street Journal, she oversaw coverage of the Great Recession, launched a local news section for New York City and reported on the housing crisis as a senior writer. In 2007, she was part of the team that created Mint, a business newspaper and website in India launched in collaboration with the Journal that has become that country's second-largest circulated business newspaper. Before that, she worked for the Washington Post, Newsday and the Associated Press.

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"At Quartz, part of the Atlantic Media family, Mitra was ideas editor and, more recently, executive editor (at large). She was behind some of the site's most viral stories, on subjects as varied as monetary policy and baby blankets, and the force behind Quartz India and the upcoming Quartz Africa. She is the author of three books related to migration and globalization and has taught at Columbia Journalism School, among other institutions. She has won numerous reporting awards and was named one of Folio’s Top 100 Women in Media for 2014.

"Mitra was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in Long Island, Puerto Rico and New Jersey — with regular trips to her grandparents' villages in Assam, India. She speaks Spanish, Assamese and Hindi and studied Mandarin for a year. She lives in Queens, N.Y., with her artist husband and two daughters. She tweets @mitrakalita. . . ."

South by Southwest Gives Diversity Panels More Visibility

"At a time when diversity is an issue facing tech companies large and small, South by Southwest is taking action in the name of inclusivity," Kwame Opam reported Tuesday for the Verge.

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"This year's convention featured a number of diversity-focused panels aimed at women and people of color in media, startups, and engineering, along with, ideally, those charged with hiring them. The panels are all too necessary; in the last year, several notable Silicon Valley companies released diversity reports detailing the racial and gender makeup of their staffs. The findings were almost uniformly dismal.

"SXSW overall has received some criticism in the past for failing to highlight difference, so the event is making strides for the better. That said, it has also become a case study in how much things still need to improve industry-wide.

"South by, like Silicon Valley, has long been a party where most of the guests look and behave the same. That's slowly changing. 'We've been working on this diversity stuff for a long while,' SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest told The Verge. 'Firstly, I would say we've tried to get more women speakers involved.

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"More recently, we've pushed to get more black speakers involved, [as well as] Latino speakers.' Forrest stated that, while there has only been a slight increase in programming aimed at under-represented groups this year, the convention has worked to improve their overall visibility. 'We feel like we've made some progress here, but we still have a ways to go.'

"That there's 'a ways to go' is self-evident at SXSW Interactive, creating a sense of tension between what has and hasn't been done to address the problem. As far as progress is concerned, Forrest remarked that diversity panels that were once shunted off to hotel ballrooms away from the Austin Convention Center are now more centrally located.

"At one such panel, Facebook outlined how it aims to improve engagement with minorities to better grow brand opportunities for its ad partners. . . ."

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Michael Barnes, Austin American-Statesman: Looking ahead to Thursday at SXSW

Julie Walker, The Root: Jesse Jackson: Access to Technology Is the Goal of Our Next Big Movement

White House Removes Office From Jurisdiction of FOIA

"The White House is removing a federal regulation that subjects its Office of Administration to the Freedom of Information Act, making official a policy under Presidents Bush and Obama to reject requests for records to that office," Gregory Korte reported Monday for USA Today.

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"The White House said the cleanup of FOIA regulations is consistent with court rulings that hold that the office is not subject to the transparency law. The office handles, among other things, White House record-keeping duties like the archiving of e-mails.

"But the timing of the move raised eyebrows among transparency advocates, coming on National Freedom of Information Day and during a national debate over the preservation of Obama administration records. It's also Sunshine Week, an effort by news organizations and watchdog groups to highlight issues of government transparency.

" 'The irony of this being Sunshine Week is not lost on me,' said Anne Weismann of the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW.

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" 'It is completely out of step with the president's supposed commitment to transparency,' she said. 'That is a critical office, especially if you want to know, for example, how the White House is dealing with e-mail.' . . . "

. . . Obama Administration Sets Record for Censoring Files

"The Obama administration set a new record again for more often than ever censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press," the news service reported Wednesday.

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"The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn't find documents, and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.

"It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law — but only when it was challenged. . . ."

Are Germans to Blame for Drop in Lester Holt's Ratings?

"Can soul-battered NBC News catch a break or what?," Lloyd Grove asked Tuesday for the Daily Beast.

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"On Tuesday morning, the latest Nielsen ratings were released for the scandal-plagued Nightly News program — which suspended tall tale-telling Brian Williams and replaced him on six-month trial basis with just-the-facts-ma'am Lester Holt — and the numbers were ominous.

"A mere week after the Peacock Network's embattled news division president, Deborah Turness, led the staff in raucous applause for Holt's consistent week-to-week performance at No. 1 since being thrust behind the anchor desk on Feb. 9, ABC's World News Tonight anchor David Muir came within 11,000 total viewers and actually beat Holt in the key 25-54 age demographic.

"Incoming NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack, who'll attempt to right the second-place Today show and revive the ratings-challenged MSNBC cable outlet, will also have his work cut out for him stabilizing the flagship newscast — which may or may not have hit an iceberg last week.

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"The folks rooting for the 55-year-old Holt — a popular, respected figure at NBC as well as the first African-American to solo-anchor any broadcast network's weeknight newscast — would argue that the problem is transitory and would have us blame Germany, the country that invented daylight savings time as a fuel-saving measure during World War I.

"According to the Teutonic Time-Shifting Theory, all three 6:30 p.m. network newscasts lose significant viewership when it stays light outside later. But NBC is supposedly disadvantaged disproportionately because its audience is more prosperous and suburban, given to lovely sunset bike rides and mint juleps on the verandah — while ABC's audience is weighted toward a less affluent, more 'urban,' indoorsy demographic. . . ."

Stephen Battaglio, Los Angeles Times: NBC gives Lester Holt's 'Nightly News' an after-hours ratings boost

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David Bauder, Associated Press: Network News Ratings Fall In Wake Of DST

Scripps-Howard Honors Henderson, Post-Dispatch, Nguyen

Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press, the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Vicky Nguyen of KNTV-TV in San Jose, Calif., were among the winners of the Scripps Howard Foundation's annual Scripps Howard Awards announced Tuesday, "honoring the best work in the news industry and journalism education for 2014."

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Henderson, who won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for commentary and was 2014 Journalist of the Year for the National Association of Black Journalists, "receives the Scripps Howard Award for Commentary and $10,000 for calling local elected officials to accountability with columns that gave a voice to citizens disgusted with crumbling schools and chronic crime."

The Post-Dispatch "receives the Scripps Howard Award for Breaking News and $10,000 for 'The Shooting of Michael Brown,' 24/7 coverage as developments unfolded following the fatal shooting of an African-American teenager by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer."

Nguyen and Kevin Nious of KNTV-TV "receive the Jack R. Howard Award for Television/Cable In-Depth Local Coverage and $10,000 for 'Inside Sysco: Exposing North America's Food Sheds.' Their undercover investigation of the largest food distributor in North America identified unsanitary storage units across the U.S. and Canada, which forced Sysco to change its distribution system and pay a $19.4 million penalty. . . . ."

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Short Takes

"CNN has hired The Washington Post's Nia-Malika Henderson to serve as a senior political reporter on its digital politics team, the latest in an ongoing hiring spree ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign season, the On Media blog has learned," Dylan Byers reported Wednesday for Politico. "Henderson, already a CNN contributor, will now cover the 2016 campaign for CNN's digital and television platforms. She will also cover identity politics for the network, focusing on demographics, race and religion. . . . ." Henderson is to start at CNN on April 6.

"Linda Shockley, managing director of the Dow Jones News Fund, will be presented with the Joseph M. Murphy Award for Outstanding Service given by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA)," the association announced. "Shockley will be honored for more [than] two decades of committed service to student journalism at both the high school and college levels. 'Whether it was fostering projects to promote diversity in newsrooms, advocating for student journalists and advisers or providing education opportunities for both, Shockley has been a torch bearer for the message that the future of journalism is in our high schools today and that journalism does matter,' said Edmund J. Sullivan, executive director of the Association. . . ."

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"The Economist is under fire for running a cover image directly equating Latinos in the United States to one spicy and stereotypical food," Catherine Taibi reported Monday for the Huffington Post. "The cover story, 'How to fire up America,' looks at immigration in the United States and the 'misguided' panic over border issues. 'America needs its Latinos,' the story reads. 'To prosper, it must not exclude them, but help them realise their potential.' . . ."

"The New York Times is adding 20 new online opinion writers, it announced on Wednesday," Hadas Gold reported Wednesday for Politico. "The writers are all on short-term contracts to write once a month or so, and include authors, journalists, academics and at least one mountain climber. Their principal areas of focus will be subjects such as technology and culture. . . ." Included are Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University, cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar, science blogger Razib Khan, mathematics professor Manil Suri, writer Roxane Gay and author Héctor Tobar, a former Los Angeles Times reporter.

LZ Granderson, a columnist for ESPN and CNN, was named Monday as one of eight spring-quarter fellows at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. He "will shed light on the sports world at a time when it is being roiled by issues ranging from domestic violence to homophobia. . . ."

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Hailey Lee, a rotating news associate at CNBC who is producing for "Power Lunch," a live business and investor news show, was named as a representative of the Asian American Journalists Association to the board of Unity: Journalists for Diversity, AAJA President Paul Cheung announced on Tuesday. She succeeds Janet Cho, who resigned in January.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, "Journalist in Danger (JED) and Reporters Without Borders call for the immediate release of Erick Izami, a reporter for privately owned TV station Antenne A, who has been held illegally by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) since his arrest while covering a news conference yesterday afternoon in Kinshasa, the press freedom agencies reported on Monday. Four other reporters — Agence France-Presse photographer Federico Scoppa, two BBC journalists and a woman reporter for Belgian radio and TV broadcaster RTBF — were arrested at the time but were released after being held for a few hours at ANR headquarters. Their phones were confiscated.