- Meddling, Arrogance, Unprofessional Gossip Cited
- Memphis Paper Going Deeper in Reporting on Itself
- Geographic’s Race Problems: Omission, Mindset
- L.A. Times Debuts Spanish-Language Edition
- Trump Helps Deflect Coverage of Police Killings
- Telemundo Rides Latinos’ Shifting Preferences
- Covering White Supremacists Takes Emotional Toll
- Getler, Diversity Champ at Washington Post, Dies
- O.J. Simpson Says He Hasn’t Watched O.J. Shows
- More Layoffs Hit Chicago Tribune Newsroom
The executive director of the National Association of Black Journalists, in office only since October, has delivered a blistering letter to “select NABJ Board Members, Founders and Partners” asserting that the “degree of bad business culture,” exemplified by board members’ meddling behavior, is great enough to warrant recruiting an outsider “to facilitate the necessary organizational turnaround.”
NABJ, founded in 1975, is the oldest and the largest of the journalists of color organizations, claiming 3,500 members last June.
However, as Executive Director Sharon Toomer wrote in beginning her seemingly unprecedented five-page letter, obtained by Journal-isms, the turnover in executive directors has been high. Six people have held the job since 2009, counting those who served as consultants or held the role on an interim basis.
That “is a clear indicator that the organization’s challenges are not [those] of one person in the executive director position, or national office staff, but its governing body — the board of directors and the overall system of governance and culture the board oversees, implements and operates within,” Toomer wrote.
“Since I have been in this position, I have witnessed and observed conduct toward staff, members and even fellow board members that are disruptive, destructive and a disservice to the mission, necessity and value of this nonprofit organization. For example, a board and its leadership that [are] prone to undermining tactics and backbiting, which creates an environment where a lack of trust is pervasive, effectively compromising systems and infrastructure integrity throughout all organizational operations.”
At another point, Toomer wrote, “Regrettably, there is not even one board member who I would address to take this matter toward substantive fixing. It is my assessment, based on firsthand experience and observation, that the board is not self-aware enough to recognize its own flaws or its contribution to perpetuating a profoundly troubled culture. Or, as bad, the board may recognize the cultural deficiency and not think it is an albatross around progress, or they are either intimidated by an individual board member’s authority and don’t want to poke that authority for fear of retaliation in whatever form it takes. . . .”
NABJ announced last September that it had hired Toomer, “an accomplished media executive and nonprofit leader,” after an extensive national search that Toomer’s letter said cost NABJ $40,000.
“We are excited that Sharon will be joining us at this critical time in NABJ’s history,” NABJ President Sarah J. Glover said in NABJ’s news release.
“Her combined fundraising, organizational, executive management, journalism, and public affairs experience and skills make her a dominant force. Sharon is experienced, visionary and passionate. We feel confident that she will serve us well in the implementation of NABJ’s strategic plan and be an impactful leader that shapes the national office as NABJ continues to grow and evolve.
“NABJ is so very fortunate to have Sharon onboard.”
However, Toomer portrayed Glover, a social media editor for NBC-owned stations, as part of the problem. Glover is the first NABJ president to serve a second term, due to a change in NABJ’s constitution.
“One of my first observations as executive director was the disregard and abuse of national office staff,” Toomer wrote. “In fact, at my first introduction to national office staff, the board president berated staff in my presence for not making sure she was taken care of at her reception in New Orleans (at the 2017 convention.) It was a dehumanizing spectacle, and a show of abuse of power.”
Further, “the board, without my input and despite several requests to review the document before it was finalized, implemented significant changes (reductions) in employee benefits . . . “
Before she arrived, Toomer added, the board decided to end its relationship with JoAnne Lyons Wooten, a former executive director who had been serving as development director, “leaving a four-month vacancy in a critical coverage area of operations, especially as it relates to fundraising around the annual convention — our signature program, which generates the majority of NABJ’s revenue. . . .
“I was not afforded the opportunity to evaluate Lyons-Wooten . . . I have learned there was no basis for ending Lyons-Wooten’s tenure. The decision to do so has severely weakened our operations. . . .”
In perhaps NABJ’s most unpopular move under its current board, the association in January turned down a $250,000 scholarship grant from Facebook to award students over the course of five years. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Native American Journalists Association, Asian American Journalists Association and National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association accepted the money.
NABJ agreed in February to follow suit, but the episode demonstrated “[p]erhaps one of the most egregious examples of the board undermining my role/leadership as executive director,” Toomer wrote.
“The board [perpetuated] a false narrative regarding how we came to an initial decision. Several board members and NABJ members have indicated that the perception is that I alone made the decision to decline to accept Facebook’s $250,000 grant because they would not agree to a reasonable 20 percent administration fee. The board president could, but has not, clarified that she, in fact, on December 20, 2017 gave me the authority to decline the grant based on the administration fee not being included. . . .”
Toomer also accused other board members of unprofessional conduct. “Certain influential executive board committee members poison the well by instigating . . . discord in emails, text, online chats and by phone; mocking a former board member by circulating a compromising image; and engaging in bullying, scapegoating, plotting and gossip that is not only damaging to NABJ’s reputation, but also embarrassing and shameful overall. . . .”
The attitude behind such actions affects the organization’s bottom line, Toomer said. “Though the organization has worked through its financial challenges, I have learned in my interactions with funding partners NABJ’s reputation has taken a hit. Questions of relevance and diminished return on investment are the feedback I have heard from our sponsors. A sense of ‘entitlement’ and ‘arrogance’ are the choice words I have also heard to characterize NABJ.”
The missive from Toomer was not intended as an evaluation of Glover’s presidency, which NABJ provided in an October release announcing her reelection.
“Touting zero-based budgeting, Glover said her first two years as president were spent erasing a two-year, six-figure deficit and providing accountability, while also laying the groundwork for innovative and industry-challenging programming. Both NABJ conventions in 2016 and 2017 set attendance records for the association.
“Glover founded the NABJ Black Male Media Project, which launched nationwide thanks to the dynamic activation and collaboration of 21 NABJ chapters, all of whom hosted concurrent programming on June 10, 2017. Other notable accomplishments in her first term include: development and implementation of the NABJ Strategic Plan 2017-2020; eradicated deficit spending; led the board in its quest to expand NABJ investments with a $500,000 allocation; and co-founded the Poynter-NABJ Digital Leadership Academy. Her primary goals for her second term are to obtain a seven-figure, multi-year grant for NABJ, develop a new website and mobile app, expand the national office staff, further results-driven media advocacy and create a multifunctional jobs program. . . .”
Asked to respond to Toomer’s letter, Glover said by email Saturday, “This is a personnel matter and should be honored and respected as such.” The issue was said to have dominated a board conference call.
The board is scheduled to meet next weekend in Detroit, site of its Aug. 1-5 convention.
Toomer’s letter concluded, “As uncomfortable as this is to write and perhaps, for recipients to read, I wholeheartedly believe this is an opportunity to turn around this organization by doing the essential internal work required to be who and what we say we want to be.
“Led by an objective facilitator, it is my strongest professional recommendation to to he board, founders and partners [to] come to the table to chart a course of action that will be to the ultimate benefit of NABJ, its stakeholders and its mission. . . .”
“It was Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech,” David Beard wrote Wednesday for the Poynter Institute. “It was perhaps the greatest speech ever given in Memphis. ‘I have been to the mountaintop,’ thundered the civil rights leader, just a day before his assassination.
“The reporter from the local Commercial Appeal newspaper on April 3, 1968, didn’t write those words. Noted instead on the skimpy, un-bylined story on page 11: the ‘disappointingly small crowd.’
“Two years before the National Geographic opened its archives to a historian and broadcast its findings — of an appalling legacy of racist coverage and characterization — the Memphis paper did its own look back on 175 years of history. This Sunday, the Memphis paper is going deeper on its spotty record of covering civil rights in the 1960s, says Mark Russell, the paper’s executive editor. [Story, “Memphis sanitation strike met with hostility, misunderstanding from media”]
“Russell encourages other editors across America to show transparency, to dig into their old stories to examine their publications and broadcast stations’ role in the past — and, frankly, to apologize for failings. The National Geographic puts it this way: ‘To rise above our past, we must acknowledge it.’
“ ‘We need to tell our story,’ says Russell, the former Orlando Sentinel editor and the first African-American to lead the Memphis paper. ‘The power is that we tell people what we were and what we’ve become. But be unsparing in telling people what you were, don’t sugarcoat it, because that won’t work.’
“Even with the benefit of hindsight, Russell cannot fathom why his paper and its departed cousin, the afternoon Press-Scimitar, did not put the speech by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning King on Page One. He can’t speak to why his 1960s editing predecessors consistently refused coverage to Memphis minister James Lawson, the veteran civil rights leader who invited King to help the city’s striking sanitation workers. . . .”
In its special “Race Issue,” due out in print on March 27, National Geographic Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg acknowledges the magazine’s racist past, but the real problems were of omission and, as throughout the U.S. media, lack of diversity and the requirement “to embrace the culture of white supremacy,” according to the Geographic’s first black staff writer.
Charles E. Cobb Jr. is a former field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, co-founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and author of the 2014 book, “This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible.”
Cobb wrote this assessment for Journal-isms:
“First let me say that I have not yet seen the April National Geographic issue on race.
“But let me note here, however, that I was that magazine’s first Black staff writer and was there for twelve years (1985-97); seventeen counting the freelance years which for me began with the magazine in 1980.”I was not contacted by anyone associated with putting out this issue. Strange, and I think journalistically sloppy. Minimally, the question of whether nonwhite writers and photographers were ever on staff should have been raised by someone in preparing this issue. Even now, I remain the only Black staff writer National Geographic has ever employed. Make of that what you will. [Debra Adams Simmons, who is African American, began in July as executive editor, culture.]
“Anyway, without question the Geographic’s roots in colonialism and imperialism cannot be denied; and white supremacist images and words infected the magazine for decades. But unlike, say, the Washington Post, which was also blatantly racist for decades, the Geographic struck a particular tone, manifesting an almost romantic fascination with the exotic. It certainly believed that ‘civilization’ was the product of the so-called superior western mind but did not feel that this attitude contradicted ‘exploration’ of, and even affection for, what they considered a largely primitive but exotic non-European world.
“In any case I think it is a waste of time and thought to dwell much on this. It is a bit too easy to say, ‘We’re not like that now.’ Greatly needed though is a larger discussion about how white supremacy has functioned in this country, especially in media, and the depth of the white supremacist sensibility. We do not have space for that here.
“Although 21st Century Fox now owns the Geographic, I think my experience there still has some relevance. Writing for the magazine I did not find racist images and text to be as big a problem as omission. The most difficult stories to persuade the magazine to take on were stories about Africa that were not natural science stories. One exception, however: Egypt, always popular with the magazine’s readers.
“The Geographic finally did a story about Black America — Harlem, in 1977, written by Frank Hercules and photographed by Leroy Woodson, both Black, both freelancers. But stories about Black America were the toughest sell of all although I did manage to have published a story about the blues that was very popular. Ironically I kind of backed into doing that story. I initially proposed a story about Louis Armstrong who had just passed away. No interest. Then jazz. No interest. I think a blues story conjured exotic Negroes in the minds of the editorial decision-makers. That was acceptable and they went for it.”I once told the editor of the magazine while commenting on a Caribbean story that I did not much care for, that I was willing to be the ‘Black Writer’ at the magazine. He replied he did not want me ‘just’ doing that and sent me off to Paris.
“Let me say this as a kind of final word although I could go on for thousands of words: The problem of race at the Geographic is the same throughout U.S. media. Few Blacks in decision making positions and to rise through the ranks you have to embrace the culture of white supremacy. This problem is even worse for Latinos and Asians who are almost completely invisible at every level of media.”
Susan Goldberg with Brooke Gladstone, “On the Media,” WNYC-FM: National Geographic Examines Its Racist Past (audio)
Matt Philbin, NewsBusters.org: Slate Writer: NatGeo’s ‘Race Issue’ Not Good Enough
Victor Ray, Washington Post: National Geographic acknowledges its racist past, then steps on its message with a cover photo
“The Los Angeles Times is expanding its brand to include Spanish-language print and online properties,” Veronica Villafañe reported Friday for her Media Moves site.
“The paper, which also owns Hoy Los Angeles, is officially launching Los Angeles Times en Español on Saturday, March 17.
“The Hoy Fin de Semana Saturday edition, which has a circulation of 840,000 home delivered copies, will be rebranded and relaunched as Los Angeles Times en Español Fin de Semana.
“Already in beta testing for the past couple of months, the company will also officially debut its global online news platform Los Angeles Times en Español. The site will include translated content from the LAT’s English-language journalists, as well as Hoy staff. . . .”
“As the video begins, Edward Minguela, 32, is standing on the sidewalk. His hands are in the air,” Wesley Lowery wrote Tuesday for the Washington Post. “Three Camden County, N.J., police officers approach from all sides with their weapons drawn. They’d received an anonymous tip about a man with a gun.
“Minguela, who seemed to fit the description, is unarmed. The first officer to reach Minguela grabs him from behind and slams him to the ground. The officer then curls a fist and starts punching — landing a dozen rapid blows to Minguela’s head as two other officers help pin the man to the ground.
“A surveillance camera mounted to a nearby liquor store captured the Feb. 22 beating frame by frame, the latest addition to a familiar genre stretching from Rodney King to Alton Sterling.
“Unlike those other videos, you probably haven’t seen this one.
“Police violence — beatings, Taserings, killings — and criminal justice reform more broadly were arguably the leading domestic news storyline during the final two years of the Obama administration. The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and others dominated headlines, inspired nationwide protests and brought on a pro-law-enforcement backlash that helped elect President Trump. Now the issue has all but vanished from the national political conversation.
“It’s not because police violence has stopped. As of Thursday [March 8], 212 people had been shot and killed by American police officers so far this year, according to The Washington Post’s police shooting database — about the same pace of three fatal shootings per day that The Post has recorded since we began tracking police shootings in 2015.
“And it’s not because reporters have abandoned police accountability: Recent months have seen intensive investigations from BuzzFeed, the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Tampa Bay Times and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, among others. Several Post reporters, myself included, spent 2017 investigating what happens to ‘bad apple’ police officers after they are fired. As it turns out, they often end up right back on the job.
“The first of several reasons policing reform has lost our national attention is obvious: Trump. The election of a reality television host under a cloud of Russian interference — whose White House is plagued by scandals, constant turnover, policy reversals, leaks and staff infighting — is deservedly the drama at center stage. Cable news stations, the political press corps and social media networks have covered Trump above all else. As a result, they no longer play the same role in amplifying the cause of police reform. . . .”
Lowery also wrote, “What’s more, unlike President Barack Obama, Trump isn’t interested in police reform. The Obama administration oversaw a significant reduction in federal incarceration, scaled back federal drug prosecutions and went further than any other modern White House in its efforts to reform local police departments. Trump, by contrast, has encouraged officers to rough up ‘thugs’ they take into custody, telling an audience of officers last year, ‘Don’t be too nice.’ His attorney general has openly heaped scorn on the legitimacy of his predecessors’ investigations into local police forces, ordering a review of each of those probes and declining to open new ones.
“And unlike Obama, who was immediately and persistently asked to weigh in on issues of race and policing — from Henry Louis Gates’s arrest to Trayvon Martin’s death to the Ferguson protests — Trump faced no such questioning when police in Texas shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards last April or when a video of an Arizona officer fatally shooting unarmed Daniel Shaver was released last year. . . .”
Casey Blake, Citizen-Times, Asheville, N.C.: Shameful police brutality isn’t ‘all in your mind’ now (March 2)
Gene Demby, “Code Switch,” NPR: How Segregation Shapes Fatal Police Violence (March 2)
Elie Mystal, Above the Law: Virginia Police Are So Casual About Violating This Mother’s First Amendment Rights They Must Not Know Those Exist (March 1)
“Five years ago, Telemundo had less than half the audience of rival Univision and was headquartered in a former shoe warehouse in a neighborhood that flooded each time a hurricane blew through Miami,” (paywall) Keach Hagey reported Friday for the Wall Street Journal.
“Today, the Spanish-language broadcaster owned by Comcast Corp. . . . is nipping at long-dominant Univision’s heels in the ratings, consistently beating it in the 10 p.m. time slot with edgy narconovelas —soap operas about Mexican drug lords — aimed at a new generation of bilingual Latinos. Next month, Telemundo employees from six scattered offices will move into a new $250 million headquarters as the broadcaster gears up to air the 2018 FIFA World Cup for the first time, after decades of the soccer competition airing on Univision.
“Meanwhile, Univision Communications Inc.’s finances have come under strain, and people close to Univision say one contributing factor has been the growth of Telemundo. Last week, Univision scratched plans for an initial public offering and announced Chief Executive Randy Falco would depart earlier than planned, at the end of this year. The company is also weighing cost cuts.
“Hispanic media haven’t been spared the ratings declines that competition from streaming services has brought to the entire television industry. But Telemundo, backed by the firepower of its corporate parent, has seized on shifting preferences among the U.S. Hispanic population to claim market share from its closest competitor. . . .”
Hagey also wrote, “The Telemundo network is on track to nearly double its net operating revenue since 2014 to $844 million this year, according to estimates from Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence. During the same period, Univision’s dropped 6% to $949 million, according to Kagan. . . .”
“Michael Edison Hayden was one of the first foreign journalists on the ground after the Nepalese earthquake in 2015 — the ‘ground was still shaking’ when he arrived, he said,” Avi Asher-Schapiro reported Thursday for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “He’s reported from the disputed territory between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, and gone door-to-door in Phoenix, searching for a mass killer. But, Hayden said, reporting on the far-right white identity movement in the U.S. has been his most traumatic professional experience.
“The Newsweek reporter said he has become accustomed to anonymous threats — both veiled and explicit — and has weathered a deluge of menacing messages about his family, including an incident in which his parents’ home address was circulated on far-right chat rooms. Late last year, he saw an anonymous post in an online forum urging someone to throw a molotov cocktail through his parents’ window.
“Conversations CPJ had with over a dozen editors, reporters, and journalism security experts show that Hayden’s experience is not an outlier. The work takes a concerted emotional toll, and is replete with digital and at times, physical, threats — threats that are especially challenging for freelancers and newsrooms with young or green staff, and without dedicated security and digital experts. . . .”
“Michael Getler, a Washington Post foreign correspondent and editor who later led the Paris-based International Herald Tribune and served as an incisive in-house media critic at The Post and PBS, died March 15 at a hospice center in Washington,” Bart Barnes reported Thursday in the Post. “He was 82. . . .”
“Mike’s lasting legacy was his stewardship of the newsroom’s first serious push for greater diversity by race, age and gender,” Bill Elsen, a retired Post editor who worked under Getler, wrote on Facebook. “In November 1993, his 33-member newsroom task force, comprising six committees, released ‘Challenge and Change,’ a 90-page report recommending 92 ways to improve newsroom operations. Most were put in place. The main recommendation was to establish a deputy managing editor position overseeing a new Newsroom Personnel Office. He filled the job expertly, with vigor and compassion.”
Milton Coleman, an African American who had been Metro editor, was the Post’s choice for the job, which he held until his retirement at the end of 2012. He succeeded Getler as deputy managing editor when Getler became ombudsman.
Elsen also said of Getler, “Unlike some of his management peers, he understood how to listen, how to deal with people’s feelings and how best to resolve touchy situations. He was a hell of a guy. I’m proud to have worked for him in the personnel office and later as editor of his weekly, in-house ombudsman’s report.”
Joe Ritchie, a Hong Kong-based editor for the New York Times International Edition who was Knight chair in journalism at Florida A&M University, recalled a 1995 trip to Washington he led for Knight scholars at the school. “Mike put together a daylong program for them — 11 students ... involving active seminars in different WPost news departments....and a luncheon....it was an amazing day,” Ritchie messaged.
“I think Mike was one of the real diversity champions at The Post when he ran the training stuff.”
A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. April 13 at the Newseum in Washington.
“In his first substantial interview in a decade and his first extensively about football since the [1990s], Simpson spoke to The Buffalo News earlier this week,” Tim Graham reported Friday for the News.
“Simpson had myriad other opportunities. Representatives say he has been approached by all the serious news programs, the gossip shows, Oprah Winfrey, the whole media gallery. They say he’s been offered big money to tell his story. He declined them all.
“ ‘I get so many offers to talk,’ Simpson, 70, said at the Las Vegas house where he has been staying, ‘but everybody wants to talk about the crap.’
“A February interview request from the town where he starred for the Buffalo Bills appealed to him.
“There were ground rules: No video; no sensationalized promotion of the interview; questions should be limited to his playing career. . . .”
Graham also wrote, “Simpson insisted he doesn’t watch anything about his notorious life, not ‘O.J.: Made in America,’ the 2016 ESPN documentary that won an Academy Award, not the 2016 FX miniseries ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,’ not Sunday night’s Fox program.
“ ‘I watch nothing of me,’ Simpson said, between sips of his McCafe coffee. ‘I didn’t watch it because I knew they were all haters, and people will say things that are just not true, and there’s nobody there to challenge them, and that would piss me off.
“ ‘So why? It’s a beautiful day. I’m about to go play golf. Why should I have some crap in my mind? You’ve got to let it go.’ . . .”
Simpson also acknowledged that he might have CTE, the degenerative brain disease, and said he disagrees with quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem to protest police brutality and other outrages.
“I think Colin made a mistake,” Simpson said. “I really appreciate what he was trying to say. I thought he made a bad choice in attacking the flag.
“I grew up at a time when deacons were in the KKK. I don’t disrespect the Bible because of those guys. The flag shouldn’t be disrespected because of what cops do. The flag represents what we want America to be.”
Maryalice Demler, WGRZ-TV, Buffalo: The O.J. Simpson Interview (video)
“Chicago Tribune staffers bid farewell to more of their colleagues as another wave of layoffs hit the newsroom today,” Robert Feder reported Thursday for his Chicago media website.
“ ‘Everyone who walks out of the newsroom with their things gets a round of applause,’ tweeted Tribune reporter Peter Nickeas. ‘Nobody has communicated to the newsroom about what’s going on.’
“Marisa Kollias, vice president of communications and public relations for parent company tronc, would not confirm the number of layoffs. . . .”
“ ‘The Chicago Tribune is reshaping its newsroom and making important steps in our ongoing effort to become more a digital enterprise,’ Kollias said in a statement. ‘Excellence in journalism remains our top priority. The newsroom is redefining jobs and structure so that people are in the best position to create and deliver news content for the rapidly changing demands of our audience.’
“It marked the second round of layoffs in five months under publisher and editor-in-chief Bruce Dold. . . .”
Richard Prince’s Journal-isms originates from Washington. It began in print before most of us knew what the internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a “column.” Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.
Send tips, comments and concerns to Richard Prince at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Journal-isms is originally published on journal-isms.com. Reprinted on The Root by permission.