The new CEO of NPR says, "I made diversity a key part of my pitch to the NPR board" to get the job and that "this is a big part of my agenda." He even wants to reach low-income listeners.
Gary E. Knell, appointed Sunday to a job he begins in December, leaves an African American in his place in the top job at the Sesame Workshop, where Knell has been president and CEO. Sesame Workshop's properties include public television's "Sesame Street" and its international co-productions.
Mel Ming becomes the first African American to lead a children's programming operation. He told Journal-isms, "What Gary and I tried to do . . . is to have inclusion be a value of the enterprise. If you get more voices in what you do, you can [relate] better with the audience. I believe that, and he believes that."
Knell, 57, spent Monday at NPR's headquarters in Washington and said he had been briefed on NPR's diversity issues, which stretch back more than 20 years. As past and present NPR employees of color told Journal-isms in January, when Ellen Weiss resigned as senior vice president for news, the NPR corporate culture is seen as the chief impediment to greater diversity.
"We've got to look at this from a programmatic perspective and a staffing perspective," Knell said. That means making NPR more attractive to audiences of color as well as looking at age diversity, he said. In answer to a question Tuesday, he said there is even place for a children's service at NPR.
Citing the nation's changing demographics, Knell said that when former hockey star Wayne Gretzky was asked the secret of his success, he said he skated to where the puck is. "We need to skate to where the audiences are going." People of color are greater users of mobile phones, Knell noted, and "NPR needs to be a player in that." Knell said he uses NPR's iPad app to listen to the jazz programming on KPLU, an NPR station in Tacoma, Wash.
Univision, the Spanish-language network, reaches low-income people in greater numbers than others, Knell added, and NPR, too, must think about targeting low-income audiences.
Ron Grossman of the Chicago Tribune wrote in March, "According to NPR, the median income of listeners is $86,000, compared to a national average of $55,000. A quarter of the population has a college degree, compared to 65 percent of public-radio listeners. A large percent of NPR's audience reports being professional."
Knell said he stopped by "Tell Me More," the multicultural daily news magazine hosted by Michel Martin, after having been a guest on the show. "That is the little engine that could," he said. "They are very scrappy" and want to be marketed more aggressively. "And I'd be glad to do that," he said.
"Tell Me More" is carried by 100 stations. WJCT in Jacksonville, Fla., and KERA in Dallas recently dropped the show. It has been picked up by WCPN in Cleveland; KUHF in Houston; Essential Public Radio in Pittsburgh; KLCC in Eugene, Ore.; and WNMU at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, according to NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher.
But while "Tell Me More" might be a diversity success, diversity advocates were stung in December 2008 by NPR's decision to cancel the African American-oriented "News & Notes" (along with "Day to Day,") and to lay off Doug Mitchell, who trained scores of young journalists, many of color, as part of the Next Generation Radio project. The network was attempting to forestall a $2 million deficit by reducing its workforce by 7 percent.
Is Knell in favor of restoring such a project?
"Philosophically, yes," he said. "I've got to look at the budget. That's a big priority, teaching young people how to do great radio."
Ming remembers when he was chief financial officer and Knell was general counsel at New York public station WNET in 1988. They attended diversity training there, conducted by B'nai B'rith. "It was one of those life-changing experiences," Ming said. Attendees discussed "how to get people not to be afraid of what they don't know. It changed our mental maps."
Years later, when Ming joined Knell at the Sesame Workshop, Ming knew that at such workplaces, "people tend to ask themselves 'Is he here because he's black or because he's good?' Often how that question is answered depends on the record the leader puts in place.
"I am CEO because I had the support at the top," Ming said of Knell. "He gave my performance an opportunity to be evaluated based on the merits."
NPR is still recovering from the fallout that accompanied the firing a year ago of Juan Williams, the African American who was under contract to NPR as senior news analyst while he worked as a pundit on Fox News Channel. NPR unceremoniously let Williams go after he said on Fox that Muslims dressed in "Muslim garb" on planes made him nervous. An uproar ensued and NPR CEO Vivian Schiller and news director Weiss lost their jobs.
Williams, who was then awarded a contract with Fox News worth nearly $2 million, undertook a campaign denouncing NPR that culminated in a book published in July, "Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate."
Knell said he had been a longtime listener of Williams, associating him with his "great friend" Orlando Bagwell and others who worked on the PBS series "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years," for which Williams wrote the companion book.
Has Knell read the new Williams book?"
"I'm waiting for him to send me a copy," Knell said.
Leader Charges "Unnecessary Rush," Lack of Due Process
The board of directors of the Native American Journalists Association narrowly voted against an invitation by Unity: Journalists of Color, Inc., to the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association to join the coalition, and its president said Wednesday that she voted against it on the Unity board "because of the failure of UNITY leaders to follow due process, to consider the policy implications and to present a plan for adding a new member organization."
Darla C. Leslie's statement Wednesday is the most extensive on the issue by a member of the Unity board, which announced its decision to include NLGJA on Sept. 19. President Joanna Hernandez decided to keep secret the votes of the Unity board members in order "to allow the board members a level of anonymity in their vote so [as] to prompt honest and open discussion."
That decision met with criticism by Gregory H. Lee Jr., president of the National Association of Black Journalists, among others, who called it "a prime example" of the lack of accountability that helped drive NABJ away from the coalition.
However, in answering a question from Journal-isms about Leslie's statement, Hernandez Wednesday disclosed the vote totals.
"On Sept. 10, Sharon Chan authored and e-mailed a motion to the UNITY board to invite NLGJA to the UNITY board," she said, referring to the Unity vice president and immediate past president of the Asian American Journalists Association. "That motion was seconded by Mekahlo Medina" of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. "Voting was done via e-mail and ended Sept. 12. The results of the electronic vote was 7 yes, 2 no, 2 abstentions and one board member did not vote. So the motion to invite NLGJA passed by a majority vote.
"On a Sept. 15 conference call, Michele Salcedo," president of NAHJ, "presented a motion to reconsider the electronic vote to invite NLGJA to UNITY; and Darla Leslie seconded. The result of the vote to reconsider the invitation was 4 yes, 7 no and 1 abstention. The motion failed, therefore the Sept. 10-12 electronic vote was confirmed to invite NLGJA.
"So to answer your question, the Sept. 10-12 vote to invite NLGJA passed by a majority vote, and the Sept. 15 vote to reconsider the invitation failed by a majority vote," Hernandez said.
Here is the text of the NAJA release:
"Native American Journalists Association President Darla C. Leslie expressed her concerns last week to National Association of [Lesbian & Gay] Journalists President David Steinberg about the process leading up to NLGJA being asked to join UNITY: Journalists of Color.
" 'I was one of two UNITY board members who voted against officially moving to include NLGJA as a member organization of UNITY,' Leslie said. 'The reason I voted against inclusion is because of the failure of UNITY leaders to follow due process, to consider the policy implications and to present a plan for adding a new member organization. Overall, I can say there was an unnecessary rush by UNITY leaders to make this decision, and that is why I reached out to David Steinberg.'
"NAJA became aware on Aug. 19 of the UNITY discussion about asking NLGJA to become a member organization from a post to the UNITY board of directors' forum on Facebook. So much contentious discussion ensued as to whether a vote could be taken over so important a question over Facebook. Board members asked to move the conversation to email.
"Still UNITY provided no report about the implications of this addition, including how the division of proceeds from Unity 2012 would happen with a new member, and what the overall impact would be.
"On Sept. 10 Leslie received by email a motion to invite NLGJA to join UNITY. Still lacking information about process, Leslie was one of two who voted against moving forward with the invitation.
"While the vote passed 9-2, there remained concerns on the UNITY board of directors about process. A board conference call was called on Sept. 15, where another vote was taken on the same question. This time the question about whether to invite NLGJA to become a member organization failed, 7-4.
"Without explanation, the UNITY executive board opted to dismiss the Sept. 15 [vote], and proceed with an invitation based on the Sept. 10 vote.
"Leslie continued to press for full disclosure about actions of the UNITY executive board, but never received what she called, 'a solid response.'
" 'I question whether UNITY is following due process or its own policies and procedures in this invitation,' Leslie said. 'UNITY is considering veering from its mission when it considers dropping the word 'Journalists of Color,' and that should only happen through an open and fair process. NAJA and the other UNITY member organizations need a complete analysis about the impacts of adding a new member group, UNITY is going to fail in its fiduciary responsibility to its three remaining members.'
"NAJA is the only one of the remaining three UNITY member organizations to call a vote of its board on this issue. In August NAJA became aware of a discussion between UNITY and NLGJA through the posting of an article by an NLGJA student journalist. Knowing that this issue would be contentious if it progressed, Leslie asked for a NAJA board vote based on her concern about the lack of communication on this subject.
"Four NAJA board members voted against, three voted yes and one abstained.
"On Friday, Sept. 30, Leslie reached out to NLGJA President David Steinberg about her organization's concerns on the process. And she invited NLGJA to work with NAJA to expand the relationship between the two organizations.
"NLGJA President David Steinberg said he shared similar concerns, but looks forward to working with NAJA.
" 'I appreciated Darla reaching out to me to explain NAJA's concerns about the vote to invite NLGJA to join UNITY,' Steinberg said. 'I share her desire to focus on making UNITY a success, and NLGJA looks forward to working with our friends in NAJA and the other UNITY partners to promote diversity in the media and to encourage a complete, fair and representative coverage of our communities.'
"Leslie has also reached out to National Association of Black Journalists President Greg Lee, and shared concerns about the process. On behalf of NAJA, she expresses the hope that NABJ will rejoin UNITY, and that NAJA and NABJ continue through their related missions and their shared members to build their relationship.
" 'NAJA is devoted to fair representation in the news media for all, but as an organization, NAJA must remain committed to due diligence, recognizing that the mission of organizations like NAJA and UNITY should not change unless approved by the membership,' Leslie said. 'The mission and membership of UNITY should not change without an open and responsible process that respects all.' "
Steinberg told Journal-isms, "I did speak with Darla and she let me know about her concerns. I appreciated her willingness to reach out to me.
"The quote is accurate, but the characterization that NLGJA has concerns about the legitimacy of its invitation to join UNITY is not accurate.
"We were not part of UNITY's internal discussions. We were invited to join UNITY by its president on the behalf of its board and we accepted."
"Abdul Fattah Jandali, a young Syrian Muslim immigrant in Wisconsin, never met his son Steve Jobs. When a baby was born to the 23-year-old Jandali - now known as John - and his 23-year-old German-American girlfriend, Joanne Schieble, in 1955, there was no chance he'd be able to grow up with his biological parents," Shirin Sadeghi wrote Wednesday for New America Media.
"Joanne, who belonged to a white, conservative Christian family could not convince her parents to marry an Arab, a Muslim, according to Jandali, who called her father 'a tyrant' in a New York Post interview in August 2011. In fact, according to Jandali, she secreted off from Wisconsin to liberal San Francisco to sort out the birth and adoption without letting either him or her parents know.
"And so it was that a nameless Arab American baby was adopted by an Armenian American family. Clara Hagopian and her husband Paul Jobs had been married around seven years and had not been able to conceive. The little bundle that would be Steve, was very much wanted in the Jobs household.
"Steve Paul Jobs, as they named him, grew up without ever knowing his biological father. It seems he had no interest in knowing him later in life, either. When, in August 2011, the London tabloid The Sun, contacted Jandali, he publicly reached out to Steve saying, 'I live in hope that before it is too late he will reach out to me. Even to have just one coffee with him just once would make me a very happy man.'
"But Steve never replied. Less than two months later, he has passed away."
Mark Curnutte, a white reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, first met the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth shortly after arriving in the Ohio city in 1993. He interviewed the civil rights leader for "A Polite Silence," a seven-day series about race relations in the city for which Curnutte won the 1994 Unity Award from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.
"I didn't fully understand who he was historically. He was not the type of person to promote himself," Curnutte, 49, said on Wednesday. After he learned of Shuttlesworth's background, Curnutte said, he engaged the clergyman and took in lessons that guided his reporting on topics that include the Cincinnati Bengals — Curnutte was the NFL beat writer — and undocumented immigrants.
"For someone of that stature to start educating a white journalist and not judge me says a lot about him, and I'll always be grateful," Curnette told Journal-isms. "It opened my eyes. You appreciate people on the margins and their struggle and their fight." Telling their stories becomes "one of the highest callings of the profession," the reporter said. Shuttlesworth taught him that "each life deserves dignity."
On Wednesday, Curnutte contributed to his newspaper's story on Shuttlesworth's passing.
"On his 80th birthday, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was hailed in his native Alabama as a 'black Moses' whose fearless courage a half century ago helped lift the civil rights movement from a Southern skirmish into a national crusade that forced America to examine its soul," the story by Barry M. Horstman began.
"Described in a 1961 CBS documentary as 'the man most feared by Southern racists,' Rev. Shuttlesworth survived bombings, beatings, repeated jailings and other attacks - physical and financial - in his unyielding determination to heal the country's most enduring, divisive and volatile chasm.
" 'They were trying to blow me into heaven,' Rev. Shuttlesworth, who spent most of his adult life in Cincinnati, said of those who violently opposed him in Birmingham and throughout the South. 'But God wanted me on Earth.'
"Wednesday morning in Birmingham, God called Rev. Shuttlesworth home, ending a remarkable and inspiring 89-year life that left Alabama and the United States forever changed - if still short, an African-American president notwithstanding, of a society where skin color is irrelevant in shaping life's opportunities and challenges."
In his 1999 biography, "A Fire You Can't Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham's Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth," Andrew M. Manis, an associate professor of history at Macon State University in Georgia, describes Shuttlesworth's alliance with the Rev. Emory Jackson, editor of the black Birmingham World, during the Birmingham struggles.
"His life was one press release after another," Manis told Journal-isms on Wednesday, "always using the press to let the authorities know what he was going to do next, where he was going to attack the segregation next. It got the message to 'Bull' Connor and the others so they could never say he snuck up on them," referring to the arch-segregationist Theophilus Eugene "Bull" Connor, the city's commissioner of public safety.
Still, Manis said, Shuttlesworth was "a bit formal" in his dealings with white reporters. Unlike the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., "his full-time occupation was not as a civil rights leader. He always was an active pastor. Shuttlesworth was the kind of person who wouldn't analyze anything without using theological, pietistic language." Most reporters "did not want that kind of language," preferring King's more intellectual approach.
Shuttlesworth's approach was fine with Curnutte. "Rev. Shuttlesworth gave me my first introduction to Martin Luther King III," Curnutte said. "He said I was a courageous journalist, and I couldn't believe it. I thought I was just being fair. So many white people had tried to kill him. Here is a man seeing me on my own merits, not giving the interview to the black newspaper. And if he had, I wouldn't have blamed him."
* Fred A. Bernstein, New York Times: Derrick Bell, Law Professor and Racial Advocate, Dies at 80 [Oct. 6]
* Melanie Eversley, USA Today: Civil rights 'dean' Joseph Lowery celebrates 90th birthday
"It is our contention that newspapers, radio, and television played a pivotal role in perpetuating racist views among the general population," Juan González and Joseph Torres write in their new book, "News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media," to be officially published Oct. 24.
"They did so by routinely portraying non-white minorities as threats to white society and by reinforcing racial ignorance, group hatred, and discriminatory government policies. The news media thus assumed primary authorship of a deeply flawed national narrative: the creation myth of heroic European settlers battling an array of backward and violent non-white peoples . . . it has persisted as a constant theme of American news reporting from the day of Publick Occurrences, the first colonial newspaper, to the age of the Internet."
The 378-page book by González, a columnist for the Daily News in New York and former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and Torres, government relations manager for the advocacy group Free Press and former NAHJ deputy director, started life as a pamphlet titled, "How Long Must We Wait: The Fight for Racial and Ethnic Equality in the U.S. Media," distributed at the Unity 2004 convention.
A Ford Foundation grant in 2005 enabled the two to flesh out the project. "I think you and the readers of your column will find many important revelations in the research we've done as well as in our analysis of why the struggle to achieve media diversity has encountered so many obstacles for so long," González wrote Journal-isms.
The book also attempts to "sketch the origin and spread of the system of the news in the United States, retracing how the media came to exercise such enormous sway over public life," according to its introduction. It also aims "to unearth the saga of this 'other' American journalism, to collect in one place and preserve for future generations some of the achievements of those editors and journalists of color who repeatedly challenged the worst racial aspects of our national narrative."
The book tour begins Oct. 20 in New York and continues to San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz, Fresno, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Northridge and San Diego in California; Albuquerque and Santa Fe in New Mexico; Dallas and Houston in Texas; Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Denver in Colorado; and Washington, D.C.
"A letter signed by 3 Florida Hispanic Republicans urging a boycott of Univision's planned Republican presidential debate is gaining the support of White House candidates, while triggering a defiant letter in return from the largest Spanish-language television network in the United States," Phil Keating and Serafin Gomez wrote Tuesday for Fox News Latino.
"At issue is whether Univision offered to drop or soften a story about the drug arrest and conviction of Florida's US Senator Marco Rubio's brother-in-law in exchange for Rubio agreeing to sit down for an interview on a show where immigration issues were likely to come up. Rubio, a Cuban-American from Miami, opposes the Dream Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for many young immigrants.
". . . So far, 4 candidates have jumped onboard the Univision debate-boycott: Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Utah Governor [Jon] Huntsman."
The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council Tuesday announced the completion of deals for six radio stations donated to MMTC by Clear Channel Communications in 2010.
"All of these buyers are either minority or women owner/operators or they are non-minority buyers who have committed funding for minority training and mentoring initiatives," the announcement said. "MMTC has entered into local marketing agreements (LMAs) which include a future option to buy the stations with four of these broadcasters. MMTC will remain the licensee of the stations until these sale transactions have closed. Two of the stations will be sold to and immediately operated by the new owners."
The six are:
* KFXN-AM, Minneapolis. "Xeng Xiong and Kongsue Xiong operated an on-line radio station for Hmong residents and run a small business in the Twin Cities. Their on-line station has moved to KFXN AM, where they operate an LMA for MMTC. KFXN AM will broadcast information and entertainment in the Hmong and Laotian languages as they strive to promote social cohesiveness and understanding in Minneapolis."
* WHJA-AM Laurel, Miss., and KYHN-AM, Fort Smith, Ark. James Hardman, a minority broadcaster from Tulsa with decades of experiences, "will program the stations targeting the African American community. He plans to buy the stations from MMTC in 3-5 years."
* WNRR-AM, North Augusta, S.C.: "Renee deMedicis is operating WNRR as an LMA and [plans to] purchase the station from MMTC in 2012. Ms. deMedicis and her husband have extensive experience in radio sales and programming. Ms. deMedicis owns and operates an advertising agency in North Augusta. Both are on air personalities, sell advertising, serve the community and are working to grow the station." The station can be accessed at http://www.wnrr1380.com/.
* WTOC-AM, Newton, N.J.: "Dr. Hector A. Chiesa and his non-profit organization, Radio Vision Cristiana . . . will purchase as soon as the assignment application has been approved by the FCC. The station is currently silent in preparation for Radio Vision to launch their Spanish Religion format. Radio Vision currently owns another station in New York."
* KMFX-AM, Wabasha, Minn., currently WBHA-AM: "Alan Quarnstrom and Q Media Group purchased KMFX from MMTC in June. As part of the purchase price Q Media and MMTC allocated funds for the purpose of initiating and/or maintaining training programs targeted at women and minorities who wish to manage or otherwise participate in the operations of broadcasting stations, broadband systems or any other medium of mass communication."
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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (www.mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.