The National Association of Black Journalists has given NPR its "Thumbs Down" award for 2014 over its cancellation of the multicultural show "Tell Me More" and NPR's elimination of 28 positions across its newsroom in an effort to cut costs.
The "Best Practices" award went to Al Jazeera America as a network "committed to creative, compelling, character driven storytelling which provides a depth and breadth about the news of the day, but also stories which have until then gone untold."
The awards were announced in news releases late Saturday, a day after "Tell Me More" ended its seven-year run before a live audience at its Washington studios. The show was canceled as part of efforts to resolve a $6.1 million budget deficit.
NABJ President Bob Butler said in a release, "The importance of public media to make a concerted effort to be distinctive in its storytelling methods, to offer its audiences depth by featuring untold stories, and to as an end result diversify and expand audiences was best exemplified by a show like Tell Me More and how the program sought to operate. [NPR] has as two of [its] stated goals . . . to 'expand, diversify and engage our audiences' and 'grow net revenues.'
"One however cannot [supersede] the other and greater care should have been taken to preserve Tell Me More as an example of what NPR’s new core should be and as . . .a representation of a truly superb way in which public media can embrace diversity.
"NABJ is mindful of NPR's other [initiatives] such as the Peabody award-winning 'Race Card Project' and ['Code Switch.'] These programs are worthy of praise and should be supported. Still the opportunity cannot be [lost] to encourage National Public Radio to live up to the [company's] full potential and be standard bearers and to be the company which in everything it does [shows] others in public media and media at large how to make sure journalism and media are inclusive and really do provide a service to the public. . . ."
Kinsey Wilson, NPR's executive vice president and chief content officer, told Journal-isms in May that while economics was not the sole driver of the decision to cancel the show, "Tell Me More" was a $2.1 million a year operation that was losing $1.5 million annually. A show such as "Fresh Air" was raising 28 percent more — via corporate contributions, programming fees from member stations and philanthropic and foundation support — than it cost.
NPR promised a wider role for Martin, who is to appear on its most popular daily news shows, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," conducting live events in partnership with member stations and remaining active in the digital space.
On the final broadcast, guests praised the show's uniqueness as a vehicle for multicultural views, as others have done since the cancellation was announced on May 20.
In a separate announcement, NABJ said of Al Jazeera America, "Since [its] launch AJAM has assembled an exceptional team of managers such as Kim Bondy, senior executive producer of the network's flagship news magazine America Tonight, [and] talented anchors and correspondents such as Richelle Carey, Sarah Hoye, Jonathan Martin, Soledad O'Brien, and Randall Pinkston.
"The network is committed to creative, compelling, character driven storytelling which provides a depth and breadth about the news of the day, but also stories which have until then gone untold.
" 'In a landscape in which news is costly to produce we applaud Al Jazeera America's dedication of resources to telling stories which are important and relevant with an eye [toward] context and not just content,' said NABJ President Bob Butler. 'We hope that AJAM's enthusiasm for telling great stories with great people will allow the network to both thrive and shine.' . . ." '
Al Jazeera America has been struggling with low ratings since its debut on Aug. 20, 2013, but executives have said they are willing to give it time to build an audience.
Praising its role in covering the Gaza crisis, David Zurawik wrote in the Baltimore Sun on July 3, "It has been a rough year for the organization, with lower ratings than even some of its harshest critics predicted and layoffs in April. But if anyone with an open mind was looking for evidence as to how the presence of Al Jazeera America enriches the landscape of broadcast news and offers viewers the chance to be better informed about the Middle East, it was on display last week. . . ."
The Thumbs Down Award is "given annually for reporting, commentary or other content found to be racially insensitive, or for practices at odds with the mission of the National Association of Black Journalists."
The Best Practices honor is "presented to a news organization for exemplary work in covering issues of great significance to the black community or the African Diaspora and/or for its efforts in increasing diversity among its newsroom staff and management."
Monica Anderson, Pew Research Center: As news business takes a hit, the number of black journalists declines
Alan Greenblatt, NPR: With Final Broadcast, 'Tell Me More' Bids Farewell
Baxter Holmes, Boston Globe: Former Celtics see city's legacy in context of history
Michel Martin, "Tell Me More," NPR: Before Final Sign Off, Michel Martin Challenges Listeners To 'Tell Me More'
Bryan Monroe, Ann Simmons and Ron Mott with Tom Ashbrook, "On Point," WBUR-FM Boston: Our Guests From A Special NABJ Edition Of Week In the News (audio)
Elizabeth Ann Thompson, Huffington Post: 10 Things you Should Know About the 39th Annual NABJ Convention and Career Fair #NABJ14
When the National Association of Black Journalists was only nine years old, Andrew Young put the organization in the news when, in the 1984 presidential campaign, he said at NABJ's convention in Atlanta that Democratic candidate Walter Mondale's bid for the White House was being run by a group of "smart-ass white boys who think they know it all."
NABJ is now 39, and politics has undergone a sea change with the influx of unprecedented campaign cash and the election of the nation's first black president.
And Young, former aide to Martin Luther King Jr., ambassador to the United Nations, Georgia congressman and Atlanta mayor, says he was correct about Mondale and politics back then.
"Unfortunately, I was right," Young, now 82, told Journal-isms Friday as he returned to NABJ's convention, this time to Boston's John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center to discuss issues affecting young black men. "Mondale let the experts there take over the campaign and put the money into television and did not get out the vote, and there were a lot of problems."
The consultants that Mondale hired were more interested in enriching themselves by becoming embedded in a culture in which one day they spend money on television ads and the next appear on television as talking heads, according to Young. In his own successful run for Congress in 1972, he had secured a 72 percent turnout, he said. Mondale lost the election to Republican incumbent Ronald Reagan.
NABJ Members Vote to Penalize Errant Board Reps
While national politics was on the agenda at this year's NABJ convention, with appearances by GOP Chairman Reince Priebus on Thursday and a remote, technically challenged Friday appearance by his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, NABJ's own politics took priority. So did the networking and job-hunting that many have come to expect from the nation's largest organization of journalists of color.
A 12-member activist group of longtime members, including former NABJ presidents, continued its push for transparency and accountability by successfully proposing resolutions imposing penalties on errant board members who do not post minutes or financial reports on time and requiring the board of directors to post an itemized list of expenses.
Some scolded the board for failing to consult the membership before voting this week for a memorandum of understanding to explore a joint convention in 2016 with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
Les Payne, a founding member and early NABJ president, said, "We need to be concerned about who is an ally and who is a rival." He put Hispanics in the latter category. Others said that while they would not oppose the joint convention, they were concerned that NAHJ, under a previous administration, had sided against NABJ during its difficulties with the Unity: Journalists of Color coalition. Both NABJ and NAHJ eventually pulled out of Unity.
Despite those rebukes, however, the NABJ leadership won a key vote among the overall membership — not merely the stalwarts who attended its annual business meeting. Members voted to revise the NABJ constitution by adjusting membership categories, allowing the president to serve more than one term and creating a new position of vice president-digital. The vote was 193 to 46, according to Crystal Garner, reporting in the NABJ Monitor, the student convention publication.
The board's choice of Darryl R. Matthews Sr. as executive director won unusual kudos from members at the Friday business meeting lasting nearly four hours as he reported on management problems he had uncovered and said he intended to be forthcoming because "an informed membership is a happy membership."
Joe Davidson, a founding member, took to the microphone to declare, "I have never been as impressed with an executive director's report. It was long, but it was worth it."
Among other items, Matthews reported that the organization faced an unforeseen $68,000 bill from the New Orleans Marriott for 400 room nights for a 2014 convention that will not take place. NABJ had been scheduled to convene in New Orleans this year but moved up its New Orleans conference to 2012 after it pulled out of the Unity: Journalists of Color coalition in 2011.
Matthews also found that "NABJ has conservatively paid thousands of dollars in sales taxes for goods and services purchased because it has not and did not have a tax exempt sales certificate on file in the state where these purchases occurred nor have we required the host chapters to secure one where we conduct our national conventions," as he put it in his written report.
He added, "This is a tremendous loss of revenue because of the increased expense," but that "A tax exempt [sales] tax certificate was obtained for this convention."
Under the resolutions passed at the business meeting, neither the executive director, office staff nor board of directors may process expenses of board members who do not post a summary of the quarterly board meetings within two weeks and the full minutes within 30 days.
Noncompliant board members also must abstain from voting on any NABJ issue for six months after "their dereliction of duty," according to the language in the motion. The status of noncompliant board members must be noted on the NABJ website, as Joshua Jamerson reported in the NABJ Monitor.
"That move came after some members — including past president Vanessa Williams, who submitted the motion on behalf of a 12-member bloc — became frustrated that minutes from the board's January meeting hadn't been posted online," Jamerson reported.
"Secretary Corey Dade compiled minutes for the April board meeting in New Jersey, and those are available on the NABJ website. However the minutes from the board’s January meeting have not been released.
"Dade said he is still working with former executive director Maurice Foster on hammering out details on some 'financial information, some fundraising-related information.' "
Matthews urged the group of NABJ activists to take down nabjboardwatch.org, a website that NABJ leaders have said contains misinformation and is harming the organization.
The executive director said that he met with executives of the Taproot Foundation, a nonprofit organization offering management assistance, and that they were concerned "about the disparaging nature" of the site. "Taproot executives said, 'This site needs to come down immediately. You will not attract significant funding opportunities with this type of notoriety,' " Matthews reported.
Drew Berry, a former broadcast executive and interim executive director of NABJ and a force behind the website, praised Matthews' selection and his transparency as evidence that the website was doing its job. "If [board] members do what they're supposed to do, there is no need for NABJ Board Watch," Berry told Journal-isms. He said Matthews' presentations were a sign of "integrity and where we need to go. The transparency has to continue."
Butler later told Journal-isms that the NABJ Board Watch was not responsible for positive change. "Nothing could be further from the truth," he said. "Not only do I deny that they have produced these changes, but by publicizing these charges, they have cost the organization money [from funders]. All they have done is hurt NABJ. That's total bullshit."
Matthews told Journal-isms that convention registration stood at 2,057 as of Thursday. It usually grows as the conference continues. Total registration was 2,207 in Orlando in 2013 and 2,399 for New Orleans in 2012. As the news industry has contracted, NABJ membership has declined. "The prospecting and retention of members is paramount," Matthews told board members.
James Edwards, WGBH-TV, Boston: At The Crossroads, Black Media And Community Journalism
Seth Prince, sports editor at the Oregonian in Portland, has accepted "a great job with Student Media at the University of Oklahoma," he told colleagues. Prince is Cherokee and Choctaw. He is to be digital and design adviser.
Maxie C. Jackson III, who in April 2013 left the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, where he was president and CEO, has been named manager of 90.3 WCPN ideastream in Cleveland. "ideastream is a public service, multiple-media organization with a mission to strengthen our communities," according to a news release. Jackson has also been senior director, program development for New York Public Radio (WNYC), and radio program director for WETA-FM in Washington.
Sylvester Monroe, veteran journalist at such publications as Time, Newsweek and Ebony and most recently senior editor at American Public Media, based in Los Angeles, is joining the Washington Post as an assistant foreign editor, Monroe told colleagues. He said he starts Aug. 25.
Fannie Flono, associate editor at the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, where she writes editorials, is retiring after 30 years there, she told Journal-isms. "I don't have any plans," Flono said, adding that she was awaiting "the next chapter" and that "I hope they replace me with a female and another minority."
"Less than two years after being named Editor of Spanish-language daily La Opinión, Reynaldo Mena is no longer with the paper," Veronica Villafañe reported Thursday for her Media Moves site. "His last day was yesterday. The same day, impreMedia, the paper's parent company, announced that Gabriel Lerner was promoted to Editorial Director, replacing Mena. . . ."
Jose Antonio Vargas, the journalist-turned-immigration activist, is relocating to San Francisco. "I made a big personal decision, which is better for my health and creative being: I am coming home — home being the SF Bay Area, where my family and family of friends live," he told social media colleagues. "Ten summers ago, I left San Francisco and moved to Washington, D.C., where I lived for five years. Then I moved to NYC, where I've lived for the past five years. Now it's time to come home. I will still be traveling a lot but, starting in August, my shoes will be in one place in San Francisco. . . ."
"Ken Armstrong, an investigative reporter for The Seattle Times, will join the staff of The Marshall Project in the coming weeks, Marshall Project editor-in-chief Bill Keller confirmed Tuesday," Benjamin Mullin reported Thursday for the Poynter Institute. Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, told Journal-isms in March that site founder "Neil Barsky and I agreed from our first conversation that The Marshall Product would recruit a diverse staff. The criminal justice system, which will be the focus of our reporting, touches people of color disproportionately, as is distressingly evident from the population of our overstuffed prisons, the profiles of the victims, and the impact on families and communities." However, Simone Weichselbaum, formerly of the Daily News in New York, is the only black journalist hired to date.
Eva Rodriguez, who oversaw coverage of Europe and the Americas on the foreign desk of the Washington Post, is leaving the Post to become a senior editor at Politico magazine, Post editors told staffers on Thursday. She is the second Latino journalist who has announced plans to leave the newspaper recently. Ernesto Londoño, a reporter and former foreign correspondent, is joining the New York Times editorial board. Rodriguez has been at the Post since 2007 and has been an editorial writer and deputy editor of the Style section.
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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.