Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, broke with protocol and delivered a campaign-style speech to the National Association of Black Journalists in New Orleans Saturday night as the association's annual awards banquet got underway.
Jarrett ticked off what she considered the Obama administration's accomplishments and said, "We need journalists who will make people think, who will connect the dots, look past the distractions."
At such occasions, speakers traditionally wish the organization well and speak to an issue of journalism. Veterans said they found the remarks inappropriate.
Some rolled their eyes. "Why not just send a [campaign] video?" one said. "That was out of line," said another afterward.
NABJ President Gregory H. Lee Jr. and Executive Director Maurice Foster each said they did not know what Jarrett was going to say.
However, Foster added that Jarrett "has been a good supporter of NABJ. . . . She's always lent herself to project the image of NABJ in a positive light and the good things that we do. Her connection with us and her family connection to the organization is something to be appreciated." Jarrett is the divorced daughter-in-law of the late Vernon Jarrett, a legendary Chicago journalist and an NABJ founder.
On Saturday afternoon, Jarrett spoke with members of the Trotter Group of African American columnists and with regional reporters, and again outlined what she considered the Obama administration's successes, among them funding for historically black colleges and universities; health care reform, which she said will disproportionately help African Americans; and reducing disparities between penalties for possession of crack and for powdered cocaine.
Jarrett acknowledged, however, that "the unemployment rate is far too high in the black community" and that it was "fair criticism" to say the administration had not done a good enough job of selling its health care plan.
To address such shortcomings, the president has begun to spend more time away from Washington, Jarrett said, and in a second term would do more of the same. The administration would "think of more creative ways of getting the message out" and is "beginning to understand how to use the social media that we hadn't taken advantage of," Jarrett said.
"It is difficult to take a complicated issue and make it simple. The Republicans in Congress have been very effective at this," Jarrett said. Citing GOP use of the term "death panels" in the health care reform debate, she said Republicans "use scare tactics. . . . That dishonesty actually hurts the American people."
Registration stood at 2,345 at noon on the convention's final full day, Foster told Journal-isms, compared with 2,401 at the same time last year in Philadelphia.
Lee said in his remarks that NABJ had sent a message to news industry doubters who believed "we could not pull off a successful convention" after breaking away last year from the then-Unity: Journalists of Color coalition and putting on the event with relatively short notice. "We have done so," Lee declared. "We must disassociate from old habits that no longer helped us," he said at another point.
He also reaffirmed NABJ's commitment to "never comprise the basic tenets of NABJ. . . .Quite frankly, news executives have gotten lazy and don't care about diversity," Lee said. ". . . I've got news for you companies that are ignoring diversity. We see you, and we're coming after you."
After an NABJ commission recommended Tuesday that for now, the association should not rejoin Unity, members and the NABJ leadership barely broached the subject. Instead, the annual membership meeting was dominated Saturday by efforts from stalwarts to hold the leadership accountable for providing members with financial and other information in a timely, digestible way.
In major awards, ABC News senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas, named Journalist of the Year, told the crowd Saturday night, "You can succeed no matter what . . . your background. Turn your weaknesses into strengths." Thomas urged attendees, "Do not yield when you find yourself the only one in the room, and you know what I'm talking about."
Monica Pearson, anchor at WSB-TV in Atlanta and recipient of the NABJ Legacy Award, said, "It's not about you but about the stories that you tell." She advised, "Please be a well-rounded person who doesn't mind sharing what you've learned. Reach back, pull up and push forward."
DeWayne Wickham, USA Today columnist and an NABJ founder, said that "mentoring is the most important gift that black journalists from my generation can give those who came behind us."
As reported on Friday, Republicans declined or did not respond to invitations to appear at the convention, leaving a clear field for such Democrats as Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; Obama administration press contacts, who appeared together on a panel; campaign officials who made themselves available, and Jarrett.
However, on Thursday, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat, abstained from partisan themes when he introduced an opening NABJ session that addressed the killing of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. He pointed out New Orleans' high murder rate and noted that the victims were disproportionately African American.
From 1979 through today, New Orleans has experienced an average of about 241 murders each year, the mayor said, holding up three thick folders containing files on murder victims.
"If the Ku Klux Klan killed 200 black kids on the streets of New Orleans, this city would be in lockdown," he said. "If 200 white kids were killed, there'd be hell to pay," he said.
Landrieu implored the journalists, "You have the power to move people and make people see. Tell the stories of these young people who take and are taken for all America to see. With your help, we will save the next generation of young black men."
Talia Buford and Jennifer Epstein, Politico: Jarrett: 'Coarseness' fuels anti-Obama outbursts
Kevin Merida, Washington Post: Obama has 'genuine love for black community,' senior adviser says
Bryan Monroe, CNN.com: Jarrett to NABJ: White House bracing for health care decision
Raycom Media, Inc., an employee-owned company that owns and/or provides services for 48 television stations in 36 markets and 18 states, is praised by the National Association of Black Journalists in a new report that evaluates the management diversity at four national media companies.
The others are Allbritton Communications Co., Journal Broadcast Group and Sinclair Broadcast Group.
The four firms "employ 350 men and women in the positions of general manager, news director, assistant news director, managing editor, assignment manager, executive producer or web manager. However, only 12% of these managers are people of color, a figure that is consistent in NABJ studies of other television newsrooms from previous years," according to the report, released Friday at the NABJ convention in New Orleans.
The report continued: " . . . NABJ understands that a lack of diversity in management does not mean a station's coverage and hiring will be unfair. But it believes the workforce, including managers, that reflects the marketplace gives a station the best chance to air accurate coverage of communities of color.
"The concern is many of the stations owned by these companies fall short of that NABJ standard. 41 of these companies' 68 stations (60%) have no diversity in management at all, despite having stations located in diverse markets such as Memphis, Baltimore, Little Rock and Las Vegas.
" . . . Raycom Media comes the closest to meeting NABJ's diversity index with 16% of its television newsroom managers being people of color, and 19 of the company's 32 stations having at least one person of color in station or news management."
Paul McTear, CEO of Raycom Media, is quoted as saying, ". . . With the majority of our stations being in small to medium markets it can be a struggle to attract managers of color. But we believe our internal management training and leadership classes, actively promoting managers from within and a continuing NABJ partnership will help in our efforts."
Raycom Media approached NABJ in 2011 for help in improving its overall newsroom diversity, the report said.
Bob Butler, NABJ's vice president for broadcast, said in the document, "in the 5 years we've been doing this report, this is the first time a television group has been so open and cooperative. I hope other companies follow Raycom's example."
Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (www.mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.