Ouster of Black Faculty Member at Fla. School for Journalists Results in Backlash Among Community Members

Generic image of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Generic image of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Mentors, Mentees Follow Kenny Irby to New Program

The Poynter Institute is facing a backlash after forcing out Kenny Irby, its only African American faculty member, last month amid financial challenges.


Some black community members have objected so much to Poynter's change in a mentorship program started and run by Irby that by Irby's count, all but two of the mentors refused to work without him.

On Friday, the school for journalists appointed another African American to lead The Write Field program, which uses writing to connect with middle-school African American youth in St. Petersburg, Fla., the Poynter Institute's hometown. Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times.

Irby, with the allegiance of most of the mentors and students, is planning a new program apart from Poynter, to be called Men in the Making and expanding beyond middle schoolers simply to "children that have needs."

"It's not the name that makes the program," Luke Williams, St. Petersburg's assistant police chief for uniform services, told Journal-isms by telephone regarding Poynter's plans.

"It's the relationship between the mentors and the mentees. That's the part they don't understand." Williams, who like Irby is African American, helped to start the program in 2011 in reaction to the murders of three police officers, one of them by a 16-year-old boy.

"They made a business decision, and they didn't think through the impact," Williams said of Poynter's decision to let Irby go.


Irby told Journal-isms, "Poynter made its decision and we're moving forward."

Kelly McBride, Poynter's vice president for academic programs, said by telephone that Poynter "has always been committed to the program" and that unlike Irby, who was a full-time faculty member, Christopher Warren, the mentorship program's new director, is a contract worker. She said she was confident that Poynter would find new mentors.


Of those mentors who departed, Warren said in a conference call with Journal-isms and McBride, "They have chosen allegiance to a man. I have allegiance to a community." He warned, "This isn't just a hot, juicy diversity morsel of the moment. There are children involved. This back and forth only serves to scar them."

Williams said, however, "The kids are going to be well taken care of. We will continue to be committed to these boys. Don't believe the hype." The assistant chief and others told of children reacting emotionally at a Dec. 5 meeting when they were told that Irby was leaving Poynter.


Warren said he, too, heard from a parent and child who were "broken over this" and wanted to stay with Poynter. Warren is a mentor in the program.

For the year ended in December, Poynter reported losses of $2.26 million compared with nearly $3.5 million in the previous year.


Irby had been a fixture at Poynter since 2000. Since April 2012, he had been senior faculty, director of diversity programs and community relations, and since 2010, senior faculty for visual journalism and diversity programs. In 2013, Karen Dunlap, Poynter's first African American president, announced her retirement. Keith Woods, dean of faculty, also African American, left for NPR in 2010.

Dunlap and Irby were enthusiastic about the mentoring program, Williams said, but once Dunlap was replaced by Tim Franklin, a former editor of the Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel and Indianapolis Star, and who is white, enthusiasm waned. He and McBride were rarely seen at mentorship functions. Franklin "made it clear he didn't want this if Poynter had to fund it," said another founder, the Rev. Clarence Williams, like Irby an AME minister. "And all they were doing was providing the space."


Clarence Williams said the mentors were fighting not only disinterest by the new Poynter leadership but also a perception by outsiders "that they were just hopeless," referring to the students.

McBride denied any change in enthusiasm for the program. "One of the things that changed was we brought a different level of fiscal accountability to our grants programs," she said. Irby was not alone in raising funds for The Write Field. "It was absolutely a concerted effort."


The idea behind the program, forged after discussion with fellow police officers, Luke Williams told Journal-isms, was that "we never really had something on making academics cool."

Irby wrote about the origins of The Write Field in a piece for Poynter in 2014:

"The graduates are the latest class to complete The Write Field, a program that has its beginnings in 2011. In that year, the nation turned its attention to St. Petersburg and the murders of three police officers, one of them by a 16-year-old boy. At about the same time, a report found Pinellas County, Florida, had one of the nation’s highest dropout rates among black male students.


"Poynter and several community partners, including the Tampa Bay Rays Foundation, Wells Fargo and Blue Cross Blue Shield, responded with an innovative new program focusing on minority boys. Poynter launched the pilot program, bringing 27 African-American and Hispanic middle school boys to the institute on Saturdays to work on their writing, their character development and, in the end, their confidence and prospects for success.

"For 10 Saturdays starting in September, the 33 boys, 7 junior mentors (graduates of the program) and 12 community mentors (police officers, teachers, local journalists, professionals and businessmen) gathered at Poynter for breakfast. It's an integral start to the day since 90 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch at school. After the meal, I, as the senior mentor, and up to two Poynter faculty members launch a rigorous day of learning.


"The writing lessons focus on research, language, writing and reading. Typically, Poynter prompts the students to write in this way: see something, hear something, do something, write about it. One week, the group listened to three National Public Radio stories. The boys then deconstructed the interviews, with a visitor from NPR explaining the interviewing process: who the characters were, the context and the conclusions. Then the students wrote about similar challenges they faced in their lives, and they interviewed each other. . . ."

Samantha Hogan, Current.org: WHYY introduces cameras to classrooms as gateway for young storytellers


Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press: Bing offers mentees the practical gift of better sight

NABJ Founders See "Back to the Future" on Diversity

The National Association of Black Journalists commemorated its 40th anniversary on Saturday in Washington, the city of its birth, with 11 of its 44 founders present and the uncomfortable but unchallenged sentiment that the push for newsroom diversity is going backward.


Joe Davidson, a columnist at the Washington Post, said he saw the shift at the Post, where Kevin Merida, the first African American managing editor, just left for ESPN. Milton Coleman, a retired senior editor at the Post, said last month, "I don't think anyone else who's black will ever rise to [that] level at the Washington Post."

Davidson said the founding of NABJ is a testament to "the need to organize" at all levels, including within newsrooms, to confront current conditions.


Paul Delaney, a retired senior editor at the New York Times, said that he had just attended a holiday party of Times staffers and that "it's really back to the future" on diversity. "We're back to pre-1960s," he said. "Why do we need NABJ? That's why we need NABJ."

In 1968, the Kerner Commission report on the causes of urban rioting the previous year estimated, "Fewer than 5 percent of the people employed by the news business in editorial jobs in the United States today are Negroes."


The 2015 newsroom diversity census of newspaper and online newsrooms conducted by the American Society of News Editors put the percentage of blacks in newsroom jobs at 4.74 percent.

William Dilday, who was general manager of WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss., at NABJ's founding, told the nearly 100 attendees at the AFL-CIO building reception to continue their vigilance. "If we take our feet off the pedal and stop kicking butt, it's going to our butts that get kicked," he said.


Les Payne, a former editor and columnist at Newsday, told of serving in Vietnam in 1967 on the staff of Gen. William C. Westmoreland and encountering Washington Post reporter Jesse W. Lewis Jr., who is black. Lewis wrote two stories that caught Payne's attention. One noted that Westmoreland had only one black person on his staff of 500 and the other that a division in Saigon was flying the Confederate flag.

When President Lyndon B. Johnson read those stories, he called Westmoreland at 3 a.m. "and chewed his ass out.


"That's when I learned the influence of journalism," Payne said.

Mekahlo Medina, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, called the founders' statements "an amazing testament not only to journalism but to people of color. When NABJ speaks up, people listen."


NAHJ and NABJ are planning a joint convention in Washington Aug. 3-7.

Julie Schwietert Collazo, alldigitocracy.org: Declines in news industry diversity, and credibility, likely go hand-in-hand


Wayne Dawkins, alldigitocracy.org: Founders View Journalism Industry 40 Years after Formation of NABJ

John Eggerton, Multichannel News: Diversity Warriors: Three Power Players Explain Media's Struggle to Reflect the True America


Ayana Jones, Philadelphia Tribune: Black journalist group works to close deficit

Politico Media staff: The 60-second interview: Ellen Pollock, editor of Bloomberg Businessweek


Climate Agreement Falls Short of Goals of Native People

"But when it comes to key points that the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) came to Paris to negotiate, it falls far short of their goals."The global Paris agreement struck by nearly 200 countries on December 12 is heralded as the first climate agreement to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions," Terri Hansen reported Monday for Indian Country Today Media Network.


"Indigenous Peoples who participated in the process had pressed for inclusion of indigenous rights in the legally binding operative section of the agreement. Although the phrase 'rights of Indigenous Peoples' is included in the non-binding preamble in response to consistent pressure that Indigenous Peoples had placed on state [country] negotiators during the conference, the wording agreed to 'was far weaker than what we had called for,' Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council told Indian Country Today Media Network.

" 'The final agreement says in the preamble that states "should" respect, promote and consider these rights among others in carrying out climate related ' Carmen said. 'We recognize that even including this wording was a struggle that required strong advocacy by a group of supportive states, although other states resisted this inclusion until the end.'


"On the upside, this is the first time that the rights of Indigenous Peoples have ever been included unqualified in a legally binding U.N. treaty, Carmen said. . . ."

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., National Newspaper Publishers Association: Climate Change and Black America (Nov. 24)


James Estrin, "Lens" blog, New York Times: Climate Change and Coal Mining in India (Dec. 8)

Indian Country Today Media Network: Indigenous Peoples Know How to Care for Our Planet: Justin Trudeau at COP21 (Dec. 3)


Media Matters for America: On Face The Nation, Meteorologist Dr. Marshall Shepherd Explains How Historic Climate Agreement Will Have Positive Cascading Effects For Decades

Chaz Tedesco, Fox News Latino: The Clean Power Plan would make the air Latinos breathe significantly cleaner (Dec. 2)


5 Ways to Avoid Islamophobia in Your Coverage

"It is the duty of journalists to inform and educate," Gabriel Arana wrote Monday for the Huffington Post. "But when it comes to Islam and the Muslim community — in the U.S. and across the world — news outlets have far too often served to spread misinformation and perpetuate prejudice.


"Whether it's networks running segments asking if Islam is a violent religion or anchors demanding Muslim guests account for the acts of religious extremists, Islamophobia crops up in coverage whenever terrorism or the Middle East are in the news.

"Some of the bad coverage is the result of willful prejudice and ignorance; it's hard to imagine any amount of information getting the Sean Hannitys and Bill O’Reillys of the world to stop spreading hate.


"But a good portion of the problem simply stems from journalists not knowing enough, which leaves them ill-equipped to report on everything from the Syrian refugee crisis to the Paris attacks. While no sector of the profession is immune from Islamophobia, the problem tends to be particularly pronounced on television, where presenters are often tasked with filling in airtime in an information vacuum.

"Here are five ways journalists — particularly those who report on issues that touch on the Muslim community — can make sure they're accurately representing a community made up of 1.6 billion people worldwide.


"1. Visit A Mosque . . .

"2. Be Careful Whose Views You Give A Platform To . . .

"3. Challenge Prejudice And Debunk Outright Lies . . .

"4. Choose Your Words Carefully . . .

"5. Provide Context . . ."

Jenice Armstrong, Philadelphia Daily News: Recognize Muslim holidays too

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: When terrorists become "loners".

Tammerlin Drummond, Oakland Tribune: Trump anti-Muslim rhetoric deja vu for Japanese-Americans


Janine Jackson, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting: After San Bernardino, Some Reporters 'Poke Around' — While Others Follow the Money

Michael Lozano, Long Beach VoiceWaves: 'They Call Us Terrorists' — Islamophobia in CA Schools (audio) (Dec. 7)


Rubén Rosario, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.: Muslims wary of homegrown radicals, bigotry here

News Outlets Differ on Whether Scalia's Words Were Racist

"The perils of analyzing Supreme Court arguments, especially if you're not in the chamber and don't know your stuff, are ample," James Warren wrote Thursday for the Poynter Institute.


"They were underscored Wednesday with suggestions that Justice Antonin Scalia was being racist in questions he asked in a big affirmative action case. Mother Jones and The Hill jumped to that de facto conclusion. (Mediaite) 'Justice Scalia Suggests Blacks Belong at "Slower" Colleges,' declared Mother Jones. The New York Daily News said the same, even tagging Scalia a 'Supreme Dope' on this morning's front page. (Daily News)

"In fact, Scalia was citing serious academic work on affirmative action, even if his hands weren't totally clean. Fortunately, there are terrific Supreme Court analysts, such as Lyle Denniston, who actually was there and offered the proper context without letting Scalia totally off the hook for questioning that 'became quite clumsy.' (SCOTUSblog)


"Scalia alluded to a theory called 'mismatch' as he declared, 'There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to — to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less — a slower-track school where they do well.' (The Washington Post) The New York Times duly noted that one Scalia remark 'drew muted gasps in the courtroom.' (The New York Times)

"But 'far from being racist, that proposition is an acknowledgment of racial inequality — and it's central to the argument for racial preferences. Those preferences wouldn't be necessary if applicants from all racial and ethnic groups possessed exactly the same paper credentials.' (The Los Angeles Times) Unfortunately, the digital age brings a few too many reporters sitting at desks and doing facile, Twitter-friendly rewrites of stuff they know little about.' "


Afi-Odelia Scruggs, Washington Post: Dear Justice Scalia: Here's what I learned as a black student struggling at an elite college

CNN Producer Files Discrimination Lawsuit

"A black CNN writer/producer Ricky L. Blalock filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against CNN" in federal court Thursday, Rodney Ho reported Friday for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


"Blalock, 51, who has worked at CNN since 2010, claimed he and other black employees were passed over for promotions.

"He said he is the only black male writer producer in Atlanta out of more than 75 writer producers at CNN Center (though there are black females).


"Blalock filed a similar complaint in August with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and said he was subsequently passed over for a higher level job, which he believes was given to an under-qualified white woman instead."

Ho also wrote, "In Blalock's lawsuit, he said he asked a question directly to CNN president Jeff Zucker in an open employee meeting about the 'disappearance' of blacks in key management roles at the company, reflecting those concerns.


"He said in December, 2014, after his direct supervisor (also black) filed a racial discrimination charge against CNN and was soon pushed out. He said the supervisor was the only black executive producer within CNN's primary U.S. locations at the time. The lawsuit claims other instances of other blacks being denied 'on the job' training as well. 

"Blalock is asking for compensatory damages of at least $500,000."

Serena Williams Is S.I. Sportsperson of the Year

"We will look back on 2015 as a transitional year in sports," Jay Busbee wrote Monday for Yahoo Sports.


"Remarkable young talents like golf's Jordan Spieth and basketball's Stephen Curry surged to the top of their respective sports. The U.S. Women's National Team captured the World Cup. American Pharaoh won the fabled Triple Crown, the first horse to do so in a generation.

"But one athlete rose above them all with a combination of skill, will, grit and tenacity. Serena Williams posted a season for the ages, and Sports Illustrated has named her its Sportsperson of the Year for 2015.


"In 2015 Williams hit this rare sweet spot, a pinch-me patch where the exotic became the norm,' Sports Illustrated's S.L. Price wrote in announcing Williams' honor. . . ."

Max Cacas, Veteran Broadcaster, Dies in D.C. at 61

"Max Cacas, a veteran broadcaster in public and commercial radio in Washington, D.C., died suddenly of a possible heart attack Tuesday, according to his wife, Lisa Myers, in a Facebook post," Tyler Falk reported Friday for Current.org. "He was 61.


"Cacas worked at NPR as a news producer and operations manager for 10 years, from 1985–95. He went on to work in various capacities in radio and journalism throughout the Washington area, most recently as a host and producer for a radio program produced by AFCEA International.

"He also worked for Public Radio International, Federal News Radio, WTOP and The Freedom Forum, and taught audio production classes at the University of Maryland.


"Jay Kernis, former s.v.p. of programming at NPR and a colleague of Cacas', said in a tribute on Facebook that Cacas 'was one of those staff members who would and could do everything. He loved radio, loved producing, loved the machinery and the techniques, loved being in the studio and in the field. He seemed to know everyone in the business and what was going on in public and commercial radio.' . . ."

AFCEA International: Max Caucus bio [PDF]

Death notice

U. of Detroit Honors Late Sports Producer Reggie Hall

"In almost all instances, when a team decides add a patch to its jersey, it's to honor a former playing great, or legendary coach, or even the franchise owner," Joey Yashinsky reported Friday for Deadline Detroit.


"In the case of the University of Detroit men's and women's hoops teams the rest of the year, they'll be adding a patch honoring Reggie Hall, one of the school's most passionate supporters.

"It was announced this afternoon via the @DetroitTitans Twitter feed that the teams' uniforms will be adorned with the initials TR, for 'Titan Reggie,' a man described often as the 'heart and soul of the U of D basketball program.'


"The Titan alum and well-known Detroit TV sports producer passed away early Wednesday. There was a video tribute in Hall's honor at that night's game against Toledo, which the Titans won in dramatic fashion. Coach Ray McCallum said after the game that the team broke the huddle that night with, '1-2-3…Titan Reggie!' . . ."

Chris Ariens, TVSpy: WXYZ's Reggie Hall Dies Following Car Accident

Short Takes

After a jury found former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw guilty of 18 charges related to sex crimes involving black women, Benjamin Crump, an attorney with the National Bar Association, called the case the "biggest rape case America hadn't heard about," KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City and K. Querry, Adam Snider and Kristen Shanahan reported Friday for KFOR-TV. "He said he couldn't believe the national media wouldn't cover the story of a 'serial rapist with a badge. Their lives matter. Their experiences matter,' he said. However, he said that does not take away from the victims' strength to come forward. 'We're celebrating their courage for telling their story," Crump said.' . . ."


"Maureen Dowd, the liberal New York Times columnist, may be averse to public speaking, but she's got a ton of material,certainly enough to keep a roomful of movers and shakers chuckling in New Orleans on Thursday," Andrew Vanacore wrote Thursday for the New Orleans Advocate. She mentioned "the portentous moment of her first private meeting with President Barack Obama. 'You are really irritating,' said the president, who, according to Dowd, has since banned her from White House briefings for political columnists. While she was digesting that opening line, Dowd said, Obama repeated himself: 'You are really irritating.' . . ."

Continuing a series examining the human cost of reporting the news around the world, Dana Priest wrote Friday for the Washington Post of "a deeply institutionalized system of cartel censorship imposed on media outlets in northeastern Mexico abutting the border of Texas. How it works is an open secret in newsrooms here but not among readers. They are unaware of the life-and-death decisions editors make every day not to anger different local cartel commanders, each of whom has his own media philosophy. Submitting to cartel demands is the only way to survive, said Hildebrando 'Brando' Deandar Ayala, 39, editor in chief of El Mañana, one of the oldest and largest newspapers in the region with a print circulation of 30,000. . . ."


"The OU Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication's new assistant dean will begin her position Dec. 21 and is looking forward to working with students," Dayten Israel reported Friday for the OU Daily at the University of Oklahoma. "Yvette Walkeris currently the night news director and director of presentation and custom publishing at The Oklahoman and was recruited to the newspaper by Gaylord's interim dean, Ed Kelley, in 2006 when he was editor of the newspaper, according to an email from Kelley to Gaylord faculty and staff. She believes their work together allowed Kelley to see her capabilities, she said. . . ."

Irving W. Washington III, deputy director of the Online News Association, has been chosen a Punch Sulzberger Program fellow at Columbia University Journalism School. "The program immerses high ranking news media executives in the use of strategy, innovation, marketing, demographics, journalism values and other critical approaches to help resolve challenges confronting their organizations and create long-term performance and change within their organizations," according to its website. Doug Smith, executive director, told Journal-isms by telephone that the program selected 23 fellows in 2015.


Veronica Zaragovia, a freelance public radio reporter who most recently covered state government and health care for KUT, the NPR member station in Austin, Texas, has won the Jacque Minnotte Health Reporting Fellowship, the Radio Television Digital News Foundation announced on Monday. RTDNF awards a $2,000 cash fellowship to a journalist in radio and television with fewer than 10 years of experience. "As the public radio community makes concerted efforts to diversify the voices on air, I feel so motivated and determined to continue my work as a Latina covering health care because of the Jacque I. Minnotte Health Reporting Fellowship, whose aims are so important to me . . ., " she said in the announcement.

"Univision Digital, the digital division of Univision Communications, today appointed Hilda García to the newly created position of VP of digital local media," TVNewsCheck reported on Thursday. "She is based in Miami, reporting to Borja Echevarria, VP-editor in chief, Univision Digital, and to Kevin Mills, VP of digital strategy. A journalist and multimedia executive with experience in online reporting, content production and digital marketing, García will lead Univision's local digital teams across the country. . . ."


"Geraldo Rivera has sued Cumulus Media, claiming that the company backed out of a $600K deal for him to host a daily news radio show," Chris O'Shea reported Monday for FishbowlNY. "Rivera threatened to sue the company weeks ago; now it’s official. . . ."

"President Barack Obama hopes to visit Cuba in 2016, but only if the conditions exist for meeting with dissidents on the island, he said in an exclusive interview with Yahoo News released on Monday," the EFE news agency reported. The news service also said, " 'I've made very clear in my conversations directly with President (Raúl) Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba,' the U.S. president said. . . ."  Cuba is ranked 169 of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index.