Memphis Departure Highlights Decline in Black Columnists

Wendi C. Thomas, left, is shown with local YWCA Executive Director Jackie Williams. While a columnist, Thomas founded Common Ground: Conversations on Race, Communities in Action, a six-week program of the YWCA of Greater Memphis.
Common Ground Memphis
Wendi C. Thomas, left, is shown with local YWCA Executive Director Jackie Williams. While a columnist, Thomas founded Common Ground: Conversations on Race, Communities in Action, a six-week program of the YWCA of Greater Memphis.
Common Ground Memphis

Wendi C. Thomas Leaves Commercial Appeal

Wendi C. Thomas, who was reassigned in June from the columnist's job she held for 10 years, resigned from the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., on Thursday, effective immediately. She was the newspaper's only columnist of color and only female columnist.


Thomas' departure continues a depressing trend. Since 2008, newspapers have laid off, reassigned or retired at least 21 black opinion writers as the industry contracts. The city of Memphis is 63.3 percent black, and Shelby County, which includes Memphis, is 52.8 percent black.

Louis Graham, editor of the Commercial Appeal, announced the news to staffers Thursday in a terse email. "Everyone:

"Wendi Thomas has resigned, effectively immediately. I know you join me in wishing her well. LG," it said. Graham did not respond to inquiries from Journal-isms.

In June, Graham told readers that Thomas would lead "expanded coverage of crime and justice in the Memphis area . . . . Thomas' reassignment is part of the continuing realignment of resources to support significantly increased offerings to readers online and on mobile devices. She will lead a three-member team and continue to write as part of the new assignment."

Chris Davis wrote in the Memphis Flyer, "The change was almost as controversial as Thomas' columns, sparking much public discussion, and Thomas was vocal on social media, complaining about the adjustments to her job description."

Despite her disappointment, Thomas took on her assignment. She was on the front page the day she resigned, with a story right below the paper's nameplate about actor James Woods demanding that the federal government investigate as a hate crime black teens' attack on a white grocery store worker.

"I've got some things in the works, but nothing I can talk freely about. But when I can, you'll be among the first to know," Thomas told Journal-isms by email. "In the meantime, people can follow me on Twitter at @wendi_c_thomas and follow my blog at"


On her blog, she linked to a story about her resignation with the words, "Me. Today. Overdue." and a photo inscribed with, "She decided to live the life she imagined."

Richard Thompson, a former Commercial Appeal staffer who is president of the Memphis Association of Black Journalists, said by telephone that the group had urged the Commercial Appeal in June "to make sure her voice is replaced. . . . Obviously, they didn't listen to us." David Waters, a white Metro columnist, was given more prominence, Thompson said, but there is no substitute for "having an African American columnist in a predominantly African American city."


Families of Slain Journalists Not Following Official Line

President Obama invoked the beheadings of two American journalists in his speech Wednesday night announcing a major expansion of the military campaign against Sunni militants in the Middle East, but family members and others who were close to the two journalists were not following the White House narrative.


"For the President to use Jim's name and other journalists as reason to pursue the stated military policy to 'degrade and destroy the Islamic State so that it is no longer a threat' is an insult to the memory of James Foley and to the intelligence of the American people," filmmaker Haskell Wexler, who worked with Foley in 2012 in Chicago while making a film about protests against the NATO Summit there, wrote on his Facebook page.

Wexler appeared Friday on Pacifica Radio's "Democracy, Now!"

Diane Foley, Foley's mother, "told CNN's Anderson Cooper Thursday night that she felt a great lack of support from the US government to help save her son's life," Catherine Taibi reported for the Huffington Post.


" 'The reality of the bureaucracy,' she said, 'is such that we were not helped.' . . ."

Brian Ross, James Gordon Meek and Rhonda Schwartz reported for ABC News, "The mother of slain American journalist James Foley said she wasn’t necessarily surprised that the U.S. government threatened her family with prosecution should they raise money to pay her son's ransom, but she was astounded by how such a devastating message was delivered.


" 'I was surprised there was so little compassion,' Diane Foley told ABC News today of the three separate warnings she said U.S. officials gave the family about the illegality of paying ransom to the terror group ISIS. 'It just made me realize that these people talking to us had no idea what it was like to be the family of someone abducted… I'm sure [the U.S. official] didn't mean it the way he said it, but we were between a rock and a hard place. We were told we could do nothing… meanwhile our son was being beaten and tortured every day.' . . ."

And Jordan Chariton reported Tuesday for TV Newser, "Speaking with Anderson Cooper last night, a spokesman for the family of beheaded journalist Steven Sotloff claimed the Obama administration hasn't been relaying accurate information to the American people.


" 'The administration has made a number of inaccurate statements,' Barak Barfi said.

"He countered claims the Obama administration made that Sotloff's family had been consistently informed of Steven's status and that Steven and other hostages had been consistently moved by their captors this year. 'We know that the intelligence community and the White House are enmeshed in a larger game of bureaucratic infighting and Jim [Foley] and Steve are pawns in this game.' . . . "


Barfi also said the family now knows Sotloff was sold by "moderate rebels" to ISIS for $50,000 at the Syrian border, Chariton reported.

Emma Bazilian, Esquire Puts 9/11 Story Behind Paywall to Raise Money for James Foley Scholarship


Charles M. Blow, New York Times: The Cost of War

John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable: NAB Donates $10,000 to Honor Murdered Journalists


Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: U.S. prefers to focus on fears, not facts

Reporters Without Borders: ISIS Threatening to Execute Iraqi Journalists

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: What if this doesn't work against the Islamic State?


David Uberti, Columbia Journalism Review: After James Foley: News leaders divided on how to handle kidnapped reporters

Atlanta Hawks GM Takes Indefinite Leave

"Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence Friday, making the move under fire for his racially charged comments about a player," the Associated Press reported.


"Hawks CEO Steve Koonin has resisted calls for Ferry to be dismissed, but said the 47-year-old GM asked for the leave.

" 'My hope [is] that this time away from the Hawks organization allows him the privacy he needs to listen to the community, to learn about his mistakes, and to begin the long process of personal healing,' Koonin said in a statement."


The AP report continued, "Ferry made an inflammatory assessment of Luol Deng during a conference call with the Hawks' ownership group in June as the team was pursuing the free agent. The GM described Deng as someone who 'has a little African in him.'

" 'He's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back,' Ferry said on the call, which was recorded.


"Deng, who was born in what is now South Sudan, signed with the Miami Heat but didn't know [of] Ferry's comments until this week. Deng said he was proud of his African roots, while adding he was 'saddened and disappointed that this way of thinking still exists today. I am even more disturbed that it was shared so freely in a business setting.'

The AP report also said, "Former NBA great Magic Johnson is among those who have recommended that Ferry step down.


"An internal investigation into Ferry's comments uncovered an unrelated email sent two years ago by the team's controlling owner, Bruce Levenson, who theorized that black fans were keeping suburban white fans from attending games. . . ."

Rembert Browne, Grantland: Minority Report: The Real Problem of the Atlanta Hawks Implosion


Ricardo A. Hazell, the Shadow League: Atlanta Hawks Shine Bright Light on Institutionalized Racism Hiding in Basketball

Michel Martin, NPR: 'Ask The White Guy' About The Hawks

Rick Sanchez, Fox News Latino: Atlanta Hawks Owner Isn't The Problem, We Are!

Barry Saunders, News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.: Hey, Atlanta Hawks, forgo the racist memos and just build a winning team


Errin Whack, BuzzFeed: The Atlanta Hawks' Audience Problem Is That It Isn’t Black Enough

6 Networks to Curb Showings of Rice Elevator Video

"At least six television networks said Thursday they plan to stop or minimize airings of video showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice striking his then-fiancee and knocking her unconscious, footage that has called into question how the NFL disciplines players involved in domestic violence," David Bauder reported Thursday for the Associated Press.


"The move comes after the video from a casino elevator showing Janay Palmer crumpling to the floor after a punch has already been seen many times on TV since TMZ released it Monday: During the 7 a.m. EDT news hour on Tuesday, the video clip aired 37 times on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, according to a count by Media Matters for America. In addition, the networks aired an old video showing Palmer outside of the elevator nine times, the group said. . . ."

. . . Ombudsman Says ESPN Needs More Transparency

"In the past month, Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman and Dan Le Batard were briefly suspended by the network in the wake of on-air comments or, in Le Batard's case, an unauthorized stunt," Robert Lipsyte, ESPN ombudsman, wrote Tuesday for ESPN. Others were otherwise disciplined. But Lipsyte wrote that ESPN needs more transparency about the punishment its metes out.


The ombudsman also wrote, "If ESPN commentators can freely discuss and criticize the range of NFL discipline — a year's suspension for marijuana, two games for domestic abuse, nothing for locker-room bullying — then their own punishments should also be aired out. It ensures accountability, offers credibility to the company and gives the audience a reason for trust. . . ."

Lipsyte concluded, "So what does ESPN need? Mostly a better trained and empowered production staff patrolling that electrical dog fence. Behind them, a senior staff willing to stand up to pressure groups and a standards-and-practices editor, sort of a pre-Ombudsman, alerting, coaching and needling the pack to be smarter, less entitled and more sensitive."


Referring to LeAnne Schreiber, a former ESPN ombudsman, Lipsyte went on, "That person's first job would be to convene a team to consistently monitor and update the guidelines. That's critical because, as Schreiber wrote six years ago, 'ESPN's many layers of editors and producers are not all on the same page, not even about some basic principles that define the nature of a journalistic enterprise. … [L]ike the rest of the country, they lack common perspectives, values, frames of reference, sensibilities and verbal manners.

"That variety of voices is one of ESPN's strengths, but it also requires shepherding by means other than suspension and PR-vetted public apologies that more often than not miss the mark, failing both to appease the offended and to teach the right lessons to potential offenders.


"The good news is that kind of awareness already exists. I was impressed by the glossary distributed by the ESPN news desk ahead of the NFL draft and again just before the Aug. 30 cut-down date at which [Michael] Sam might have — but did not — make the Rams' active roster to become the first openly gay player in the NFL (he later signed with Dallas). The document offered proper usage as well as offensive words to avoid.

"That kind of detail combined with some real or hypothetical case histories would go a long way toward buttressing the current guidelines — including some specific directives regarding consequences. Otherwise, it's going to continue to be seat of the pants, which will be increasingly less effective as ESPN continues to go boldly where no network has gone before.


"To be clear, I don't think the system is broken: How many hours of TV and radio, and thousands of print and digital words are produced every day without incident, often with distinction? But the system certainly could be improved. . . ."

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., The Root: We Can't Let Star Athletes Like Oscar Pistorius and Ray Rice Off the Hook


Jarvis DeBerry, | the Times-Picayune: Ray Rice punching video has spawned some tasteless 'commentary'

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the New Yorker: The Oscar Pistorius-Ray Rice Moment

Don Lemon, Don Lemon says Roger Goodell Is Damaging The NFL More Than Ray Rice


Kevin Powell, BK Nation: #whyistayed should also be #whymenabuseandhurt

Mike Reynolds, Multichannel News: NFL’s Rice Recount: The 35% Female Factor

Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press: Why isn't Ray Rice in jail?

Ruben Rosario, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.:  Rice story sounds familiar to abuse advocates


Blue Telusma, the Grio: Why women are throwing the most shade at Janay Rice

Why Hiring 3 Black Journalists Is Still Newsworthy

In an aside commenting on BuzzFeed's hiring of three black journalists this week, Editor Ben Smith said, "I don't think anybody would ask me for comment if we'd hired three white people for those jobs." He continued, "but diversity is something we care deeply about in hiring in order to serve our wildly diverse audience."


A glance at reports from Nick Massella posted Wednesday and Thursday at FishbowlDC underscores why BuzzFeed's hires are newsworthy. Guess how diverse these hires are at Politico Pro, CNN Politics and Time:

Two More POLITICOs Join CNN Politics Digital

TIME Announces 3 New Hires, 2 Promotions

POLITICO Pro Announces 7 New Hires

Meanwhile, Annie Lowrey wrote Wednesday for New York magazine, "It's happening again. There's a list of 'media disruptors.' It's predominantly white dudes. It need not be. And people are fed up.


"For, in the new-media renaissance of the past few years, there are women and minority 'disruptors' everywhere if you only take the time to look."

She added, "There are three pernicious and interrelated phenomena at work here. First, founders are disproportionately white dudes. Second, white dudes are disproportionately encouraged to become founders. Third, white dudes are disproportionately recognized as founders.


"Let's take that last problem first. There's a tendency for the media — indeed, for people in general — to see white dudes as 'founders' or 'entrepreneurs' or 'bosses' or 'disruptors' and to see women and people of color as anything else. The impulse is deep-seated. . . ."

Writing in Borderzine on Friday, Hugo Balta, immediate past president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, contended, "The problem with many of the diversity-driven editorial decisions is that the people leading them are not diverse themselves."


Balta also wrote, "in the drive to compete on the web most news media outlets have lost the fearless independence which once held the powerful accountable and rallied a nation into action. It has been replaced instead with safe analogous content that resembles an assembly line and functions as background noise.

"In reality what will lead news companies to profitable success is a multicultural workforce that's provided with a newsroom environment where taking risks, empowerment and social commitment are encouraged and rewarded."


Kristen Hare, Poynter Institute: Vanity Fair's list of media disruptors is pretty white. Here are a few suggested additions

Some Find Vogue-Anointed Trend Hard to Get Behind

"A link to a Vogue article recently shimmied down my Twitter timeline, aiming to make a case for how now we have entered 'The Era of the Big Booty,' " the posting began.


The article by Erika Nicole Kendall, posted on the NPR "Code Switch" blog Friday, was one of several taking exception to the notion that the "big booty" is fashionable only when it's not on black women.

"Pardon me. I've got to go retrieve my eyes as they've now rolled down the street, around the corner and toward the subway," Kendall wrote.


She added, "By the end of the Vogue article, I came back to the frustrating reality that, again, it's just different for black women — and, for that matter, the people who love us. Our bodies are not regarded the same, are treated as an entirely separate anomaly, undeserving of consideration for changing the landscape of body image.

"Love and appreciation of our bodies isn't sincere or credible enough to get you inside the pages of a fashion staple. Love of our bodies is perverse, gross. When we love our own bodies, it's considered a scientific anomaly. When our partners love them, per Sir Mix-a-Lot, we 'look like total prostitutes,' and that's 'the only reason' why they talk to us.


"When booty comes packaged in 'fun!' 'cute!' and 'exotic!' 'butt selfies!' it's worthy of praise or a multimillion-dollar reality TV series. When it's associated with black women, it's perverted.

"Part of me wonders why we'd ever fight to be recognized in this arena — wanting to be known for our curvaceous figures — but then I realize: the same way that Angelina Jolie made 'full lips' a thing, Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian are being credited with making 'full hips.' It's black women fighting, once again, for the right to be seen in the same spaces we respect and find credible. Our contributions to beauty, to society's collective body image, aren't valid.


"A lack of healthy and diverse representation in media limits how we look at everyone. It affects our expectations. If the average person isn't used to seeing black women in the context of beauty, they'll find it hard to see black women as beautiful. And, in a society where beauty is a prized possession, it's easy to see why we fight for the right to be seen as beautiful."

Yesha Callahan added for The Root, "When social media got wind of the Vogue article, it didn’t exactly go over too well, and the hashtag #voguearticles was created." Some of the entries: "how adele invented negro spirituals #voguearticles," "How Elvis Presley Invented Black Music" #VogueArticles" and "Bo Derek, the Golden Girl of Street Style #VogueArticles."


Candace Amos, US magazine: Vogue Magazine Publishes Article on Big Booty Trend: Critics Slam the Magazine

Stacia L. Brown, Washington Post: How the fashion media erase black women

Bethonie Butler, Washington Post: Vogue's celebration of big butts falls flat and inspires #VogueArticles


Jarvis DeBerry, | the Times-Picayune: Vogue approves big butts; black people already did

Rachel Décoste, Huffington Post: What's Behind Vogue's Booty Blackout?

Jessica Dickerson, Huffington Post: Black Twitter Comes For Vogue Booty Article, Doesn't Hold Back


Robert Longfellow, Vogue Says Big Booty Is Now In, Gets Dragged By Black Twitter

Short Takes

"Last Saturday an editorial cartoon ran on the Lancaster New Era editorial page," John A. Kirkpatrick, president, and Barb Roda, executive editor, wrote to readers of the Pennsylvania newspaper and website on Thursday. "It compared a slave ship packed tight with human beings brought to America for a life of forced servitude with the discomfort of airline seating. To somehow link the inconveniences of air travel with slavery in general and the slave ships in particular was not only just plain wrong it was deeply hurtful to our African American community and all those who understand the horrors inflicted on the men and women forced into the slave trade." The paper apologized. The offending cartoon.


Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose cover story for The Atlantic, "The Case for Reparations," "single-handedly reinvigorated the debate surrounding compensation for what he called the 'multicentury plunder of black people in America,' " was named the top-ranked honoree for The Root 100 2014 by The website names "the most influential African Americans 45 and under." Also on the list are Roxane Gay, [Wagatwe Wanjuki], Jamilah Lemieux and Brittney Cooper, who "used their platforms — from the ivory tower to — to insist that issues affecting black women specifically not be lost in the public discourse about race. . . ."

"Journalism is expensive. As big publishers close bureaus and slash staff, they're leaving major areas and big issues uncovered. And crowdfunding platform Beacon has been quietly picking up some slack," Ricardo Bilton wrote Thursday for "While the site — a sort of Kickstarter for journalism — has been largely focused on helping solo writers fund their projects since its launch a year ago, it has more recently entered the big leagues, with mainstream outlets like The Huffington Post and popular niche site TechDirt tapping the platform for funding. . . ."


" 'America By The Numbers,' hosted and led by award winning journalist Maria Hinojosa, looks to be the first national series to examine how a burgeoning minority population is changing everyday life in the United States," Bryan Llenas reported Friday for Fox News Latino. "The series will have eight-half hour episodes and will premiere on WORLD Channel on October 2nd and on PBS NewsHour Weekend on October 4th. . . ."

"Among immigrants, Asian immigrants have consistently been among the fastest to naturalize, waiting an average of five to eight years, compared with a decade or more for immigrants from North America," [PDF] according to a portrait of Asian American and Pacific Islanders by Karthick Ramakrishnan and Farah Z. Ahmad for the Center for American Progress. "In addition, since 2008, there have been more immigrants coming from Asia than from any other region in the world, including Latin America. A significant number of Asian immigrants are undocumented: 1.3 million were undocumented in 2011, or one in every eight of the 10 million foreign-born Asian Americans living in the United States that year. Viewed another way, Asian Americans account for about one in every nine of the total unauthorized immigrant population in the United States. . . ."


"The interview might have taken place on the 'O’Reilly Factor' set, but it was Fusion's Jorge Ramos doing the interrogating in an interview between Ramos and Bill O’Reilly that aired last night on Fusion," Jordan Chariton reported Wednesday for TVNewser. " 'You’ve destroyed President Barack Obama. In almost every single show you criticize President Barack Obama and you didn't do the same with President George W. Bush,' Ramos said to O’Reilly. 'Yes I did…I was hard on Bush and I was hard on Obama,' O’Reilly shot back. 'No you were not, I saw one of your interviews, it was kind of weak with President Bush,' Ramos responded. . . ."

In Cincinnati, "Starting Monday, September 22, Mark Hayes joins the WLWT News 5 Today team as co-anchor," WLWT announced on Thursday. "WLWT News 5 Today airs weekdays from 4:30 – 7 a.m., and leads into NBC's Today from 7 – 9. . . . Hayes was most recently a morning anchor at KXAS-TV, the NBC affiliate in Dallas. . . ."


The Senate approved three members of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Board Thursday, including David Arroyo of Brooklyn, N.Y., senior vice president for legal affairs at Scripps Network Interactive. From 2008 to 2012, Arroyo chaired the Board of Latino Justice, formerly the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Dru Sefton reported Thursday for

Summarizing an incident in the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), Reporters Without Borders said Friday, "An armed robbery at TV journalist Elie Smith's Brazzaville home in the early hours of 10 September, during which Smith's sister was raped, is suspected by Smith's media colleagues of being a government-orchestrated act of reprisal."


"Venezuela's oldest newspaper is shutting down because of a lack of newsprint and a difficult economic climate as the country grapples with chronic shortages," the Associated Press reported Thursday. "El Impulso announced Wednesday that it will stop circulation because of falling advertising, mounting inflation and a lack of basic materials. The daily has reported on the western city of Barquisimeto for 110 years. . . . ."