Were They Gay? Who's Sure? Who Cares?

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Rumor, Fact Follow Sherman Hemsley, Sally Ride Deaths

On Facebook Tuesday, Joyce Ladner, a former interim president of Howard University, posted a notice about the death of actor Sherman Hemsley of television's "The Jeffersons" and praised him as "out and proud." Friends approved with a "like." No point in being in the closet one's whole life, wrote Ladner.

The blog post the retired administrator referenced never offered evidence that Hemsley was gay, although it said, "[Hemsley], who never married, was reportedly an out and proud gay man. He had no children." It did not identify the source of the "reportedly."

Hemsley, who was 74, died in his El Paso, Texas, home the day after Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space, succumbed after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Ride waited until her death to announce that she was gay. Ride's 1982 marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley ended in divorce five years later.


David Crary wrote Wednesday for the Associated Press, "As details trickled out after Ride's death on Monday, it became clear that a circle of family, friends and co-workers had long known of the same-sex relationship and embraced it. For many millions of others, who admired Ride as the first American woman in space, it was a revelation — and it sparked a spirited discussion about privacy vs. public candor in regard to sexual orientation."

The initial reports were low-key. "Most obituaries, including those in The New York Times and The Washington Post, placed the revelation in the traditional place for survivors — the penultimate paragraph," Kelly McBride wrote Tuesday for the Poynter Institute.

Still, the two deaths raise questions about the relevancy of sexual orientation in an obituary and the criteria for including it. The questions are raised in an era in which the distinction among "citizen journalists," social media and traditional news outlets is blurring.

Ride's family disclosed her orientation in a statement announcing her death, acknowledging her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy.


There was no such verification with Hemsley. However, the Advocate, a gay magazine, printed rumor. "While there was no official confirmation during his lifetime, there was frequent speculation that Hemsley was a gay man," Jeremy Kinser wrote. "A 2007 VH1 story that listed three favorite allegedly gay black actors from the past put Hemsley in the top spot. The story also references a frequent but unsubstantiated rumor that Hemsley's sexual orientation led to problems on the set with Jeffersons costar [Isabel] Sanford."

Most traditional news outlets left Hemsley's personal life alone. "Hemsley's sexual orientation didn't come up last night, though there's no bar to reporting in an obit that a person was gay, if we have a solid source," Paul Colford, director of media relations for the Associated Press, told Journal-isms via email. "See Sally Ride coverage.


"With this in mind, AP would need better sourcing than what's in your links: '… there was frequent speculation that Hemsley was a gay man' … 'a frequent but unsubstantiated rumor …' "

David A. Steinberg, copy desk chief of the San Francisco Chronicle and president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, agreed. He said he was speaking for himself, not for the association, which has taken no position on the issue.


"I think, in general, someone's sexual orientation and relationship status should be treated the same whether the person is gay or straight," Steinberg said by email. "If it's appropriate in one case, it is most likely appropriate in the other.

"The Sally Ride situation was pretty straightforward: She disclosed the information posthumously in the announcement from her family. I think the New York Times handled it about right in the context of an obituary. We also included the information in the traditional place, at the end, as we would with anyone else.


"The next day, however, The Chronicle ran a front-page piece: GAY RIGHTS/Sally Ride 'never hid,' was just very private.

"With Hemsley, I think it's more difficult. You can't ask him, and he never said anything on the subject. Again, just personal opinion, but I'm not sure an obituary is the place to include rumors, never confirmed, about someone from decades before."


Daniel Borunda wrote the story of Hemsley's death for the El Paso Times. "We had heard that he had a girlfriend," Borunda said by telephone. "We really don't know much about his personal life. I don't have anything on him.

"It's one of the things he liked about El Paso. People don't like to pry. They wouldn't pester him about stuff. That's what his friends were saying."


It was a sentiment Ride would likely appreciate. "In an email today, Sally Ride's sister, Bear Ride, explained why the former astronaut kept quiet about her sexual orientation," Alan Boyle wrote Tuesday for NBCNews.com.

" 'In her inherent Norwegian reticence — in this and so many aspects of her personal life (wrestling with pancreatic cancer, for example) — she just didn't talk much (see Norwegian comment, and add to that the typical tight-lipped scientist thing),' Bear wrote. 'If you read interviews from years and years back, you'll see that there was always a major frustration that she didn't comment much on "how it feels to be the first American woman in space" — she just didn't think that way. She wanted to get the job done. Her personal feelings were just that: personal. Not right or wrong — simply Sally. Everyone who knows her well really got that about her.' "


Brooke Cain, News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.: Networks schedule marathons of 'The Jeffersons' and 'Amen'

Eric Deggans blog, Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times: RIP Sherman Hemsley, the man behind the unlikeliest icon of black achievement, George Jefferson


Tom Joyner, blackamericaweb.com: Movin' on Up

Rich Juzwiak, Gawker: Gay or Not Gay? Sherman Hemsley

Ronda Racha Penrice, theGrio.com: Sherman Hemsley dead: How George Jefferson helped black America 'move on up'


Jermaine Spradley, HuffPost BlackVoices: Remembering George Jefferson, Television Icon

1,000 Hear Raspberry Eulogized for Traditional Values

More than 1,000 friends, colleagues and admirers came to Washington's stately National Cathedral Thursday to honor William J. Raspberry, the retired Washington Post columnist who died at 76 of prostate cancer on July 17.


They heard him eulogized as a pundit who liked to defy expectations, an upholder of traditional values, a wise dad and a newsroom resource who at the Post complemented Robert C. Maynard, a co-founder of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education who was a reporter and later ombudsman at the Post.

"Like his contemporary, the late Robert C. Maynard," said Dorothy Gilliam, a Post veteran and board member of the Maynard Institute, "Bill was dedicated to improving the quality of journalism. Bill's approach was to improve the presentation and the representation of diverse ideas. Bob impacted the media industry directly, training journalists and managers of color and also trying to improve coverage of minorities in media.


"But it was really because both Bob and Bill were so extraordinarily good at what they did that they paved the way for a large community of minority journalists who applauded their brilliance and their fearlessness."

Donald E. Graham, chairman and CEO of the Washington Post Co., and Vernon E. Jordan Jr., a former president of the National Urban League, mentioned Raspberry's independence of thought.


"He toed no one's party line," Graham said. "No one ever told Bill Raspberry what to say. He never modified an opinion to please a boss, to sell a column or to become a TV star. He was a leader of no group whatsoever. He was happiest rowing against the current of everyone else's opinion."

Jordan, who said he and Raspberry were the same age and met 46 years ago, said the columnist "told some unpleasant truths" and "had a way of telling you to go to hell and look forward to the trip."


Raspberry's conservative streak was a good thing, the Rev. Canon John T.W. Harmon said in his homily. "Reading Raspberry is very much like listening to your mother and father, your Sunday School teacher and pastor all at the same time. . . . He would write often about the value of the good old days. He was writing and speaking of the old-time religion . . . teaching ethical pride" as well as ethnic pride.

Raspberry's column ran in the Post for nearly 40 years before he retired in 2005. More than 200 newspapers carried his syndicated columns. "I was in awe of Bill's prowess as a writer," Gilliam said. "He was a master of precision with prose and always to the point. His readers quickly knew how he felt."


"If we are very fortunate," Graham said, "we learned from him. We learned how to think, we learned how to write, we learned how to listen, and above all, perhaps, we learned that you can stand up for your views and still respect the views of others and respect the people who disagree with you."

The Post sponsored a reception at the Post building attended by past and present employees, other journalists, community members and politicians. It did the same exactly a month ago, on June 26, for a roast and tribute that raised more than $40,000 for Raspberry's BabySteps foundation, which teaches parenting skills in Raspberry's hometown of Okolona, Miss. "He always said, 'Where are all the fathers?' Raspberry's son Reginald Harrison said at the service. "Keep donating to BabySteps. Donate until it hurts."


John DeLashmutt, head usher for the nearly three-hour Episcopal service, counted the attendees at 1,019. [Added July 26]

Joel Dreyfuss, theRoot.com: We Need You Now, Bill Raspberry!

Robert Fleming, Black Star News: William Raspberry: Maverick of The Black Press

Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe: The rush to politicize a tragedy

Erica Taylor, The Tom Joyner Morning Show: Little Known Black History Fact: William Raspberry


"This is Digital First, Fool"

Martin G. Reynolds, former editor of the Oakland Tribune and now engagement editor in the Digital First West Region, delivered a comedy rap at a ceremony for winners of the Bay Area News Group's quarterly awards. It was posted online Tuesday. Reynolds also owns Bop City Pacific, whose mission is "to capture life, politics, passion, angst, joy, pain, love and family [within] the lyrics we write, the songs we produce and the performances we present." Reynolds has told the Los Angeles Times, "Being a journalist has helped me become a better songwriter, and being a lyricist has helped me become a better journalist." (Video)


22% Take Advantage of Early Voting in AAJA Race

Some 248 members of the Asian American Journalists Association — about 22 percent of the 1,138 who are eligible — have cast absentee ballots in the AAJA's national elections, Executive Director Kathy Chow told Journal-isms on Wednesday. Early voting closed July 16; voting reopens on-site next week at the Unity Journalists convention Aug. 1-3 in Las Vegas.


Paul Cheung and Janet Cho are running for national president in a replay of the 2009 contest for vice president-print. Cho beat Cheung then by one vote, 165 to 164. AAJA currently has 1,675 members.

Although their contest is not as contentious as that taking place in the National Association of Hispanic Journalists — on Wednesday, one campaign  accused the other of tweeting false statements at #electNAHJ12 — there are clear differences between Cheung and Cho.


For example, Cho, as an AAJA representative to Unity: Journalists of Color, Inc., voted against changing its name to Unity Journalists, a request successfully made by the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the coalition's newest member.

Asked his position on the name change and the admission of NLGJA to Unity, Cheung, global interactive editor for the Associated Press, told Journal-isms by email in May, "Since NLGJA's admission to UNITY and the name change are decided already, it's vital for me to focus on the goals of my presidency: how to include more minorities and journalism leaders in shaping the future of our industry."


Cheung's supporters include George Kiriyama, national vice president for broadcast; Sharon Chan, Unity vice president and former AAJA national president; Contreras of NAHJ; and Virgil Smith, vice president, talent acquisition and diversity at Gannett Co. Inc.

Cho's supporters include Peter Ortiz, NAHJ representative to the Unity Journalists, who hailed her vote to keep "Journalists of Color"; Esther Wu, former AAJA national president; Rene Astudillo, AAJA national treasurer and former executive director; and Corky Lee, "undisputed, unofficial Asian American photographer laureate."


Asked why Journal-isms readers should care about the outcome, Cheung replied with this message:

"My goals for AAJA are based on cumulative conversation and feedback from AAJA members as well as my personal observations since I have played a very active role in many of AAJA's signature programs.


"I think it's very important for everyone in our industry to care about who is elected president for all the various diversity journalism organizations.

"AAJA is here to provide:

"A means of association and support among Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) journalists


"Encouragement, information, advice and scholarship assistance to AAPI students who aspire to professional journalism careers

"An awareness of news media and an understanding of how to gain fair access

"Guidance to news media organizations that stray from accuracy and fairness in the coverage of AAPIs


"If elected, I will make sure that AAJA plays a leadership role and works hand-in-hand with media companies and entrepreneurs to build a sustainable future for journalism. Supporting AAJA is a smart business solution and not a cost center.

"For more about my goals for AAJA, please visit http://pcheung630.tumblr.com"

On her campaign page, Cho, a business reporter for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, wrote:

"The Asian American Journalists Association is and has always been exceptional because our members are exceptional. Every day, via their web sites and social media, AAJA members break news, mentor students, flag outrageous coverage of Asian American issues, and share amazing stories and images in imaginative new ways.


"Over 15 years on AAJA's National Board, I have served as your National Secretary, your National Vice President for Print and your AAJA representative to the UNITY Board. I co-founded the Florida Chapter, spearheaded fund-raising drives, and wrote last year's book commemorating AAJA's 30th anniversary.

"I am grateful to have served with leaders who care deeply about this organization and its future, and I promise to continue their legacy of integrity, commitment and accountability."


Q&A with AAJA National presidential candidates

Guild Concerned About Diversity After Detroit Buyouts

"M.L. Elrick, vice chairman of the Free Press unit of the Detroit Newspaper Guild, says he's worried about the talent the paper will lose after its next round of buyouts," Mallary Jean Tenore wrote Tuesday for the Poynter Institute. "On Monday, management offered buyouts to 155 people at the Free Press, the Detroit News and the Detroit Media Partnership, which oversees their joint business operations."


In an email interview, Elrick wondered how diversity will affect the Free Press.

" '. . . One of the great casualties of the newspaper economic crisis has been staff diversity. We used to hear about it all the time. Now? Never,' Elrick said. 'It is, of course, possible that folks talked about diversity when I was out of earshot, but it's definitely not like it was. It seems these days that bosses mainly care about color when it comes to inks: red, black and green.' "


Bill Shea, Crain's Detroit Business: Early retirement offer made to 155 News, Free Press, partnership employees

Toronto Star Apologizes for Cartoon of Black Child

"The Toronto Star has issued an apology for a Michael de Adder editorial cartoon that ran last week after a gang related shooting left two dead and over 20 injured — including a toddler," Alan Gardner reported Wednesday for the Daily Cartoonist. "The cartoon depicted a toddler with a captions that read: 'Injuries to expect before they are two: Boo boo from high chair; mark from tricycle; head laceration from a medium caliber bullet.' Readers objected to the use of the word 'they' and the depiction of a black child.


"The Toronto Star wrote:

" 'Quite a few readers found the cartoon, coming right after the Scarborough incident, very upsetting. Some told us in letters to the editor, emails and phone calls that by portraying the child as identifiably black and using the word 'they,' it fed into racial stereotypes at a time when emotions were running particularly high. Some even thought it was making light of the shooting, as though subjecting a 22-month-old child to this kind of violence (as happened in Scarborough) isn't serious.


" 'That was the last thing that de Adder, and the Star, intended to convey. In hindsight, though, we should have been more aware that the cartoon could be read in a way that would reinforce stereotypes.'

"In a blog post on Michael's website, he dissected the creation of the cartoon and his thought process as he drew the cartoon. The original wording said, 'injuries expected before children are two:' but he changed the word 'children' to 'they' because it looked better visually. And also, to me, it fit the flavour of the parenting books 'What To Expect.' "


Detroit's Diana Lewis Retiring After 44 Years

"Diana Lewis, a fixture on WXYZ-Channel 7's evening newscast, will retire in October after 44 years on television, she told Crain's Tuesday afternoon," Bill Shea reported Wednesday for Crain's Detroit Business.


"The Detroit ABC affiliate will announce her decision today.

"Lewis, 69, will co-anchor the station's 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. 'Action News with JoAnne Purtan' for the final time Oct. 4, she said. No replacement has been announced.


"She joined WXYZ on July 4, 1977, and co-anchored the evening news with Bill Bonds. She left the station for a few years in the mid-1980s before returning to Detroit.

" 'I am very excited, very grateful. I thank God I am healthy, I feel good. I am looking forward to the next chapter in my life. I did it my way,' she said. 'I can look in the mirror and say, "I am fulfilled." It's been 44 years. It's time for a new chapter for me. I want to relax and cook and do some things with my husband.'


" . . . The Pennsylvania native began her TV career in 1968 as host of the African-American community issues show 'Black Book' on Philadelphia's WPVI-TV — filling in unexpectedly for Maya Angelou, who had become ill. Lewis later worked as a weekend news anchor and consumer reporter at KABC-TV in Los Angeles.

" . . . Lewis and her husband, Glenn, have two daughters: Donna, who works at Henry Ford Hospital, and Glenda, a reporter and anchor at WXYZ.


"Diana and Glenda Lewis became the first mother-daughter team to anchor a newscast when they did the 11 p.m. telecast on Mother's Day 2004."

Victor Blackwell to Be CNN Saturday Morning Co-Host

"Victor Blackwell will join CNN as an Atlanta-based anchor and correspondent, co-hosting CNN Newsroom Saturday mornings with Randi Kaye, it was announced today by Ken Jautz, executive vice president of CNN," CNN said on Wednesday.


"Blackwell comes to CNN from WPBF 25 News in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he served as an anchor for the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts. He has been honored with an Emmy award, several regional Emmy nominations, two Telly awards, several Associated Press awards and honors from the Society of Professional Journalists.

"He also earned the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award and the UNITY Award, both from the Radio Television Digital News Association, for a special report on the disproportionate [dropout] rate amongst young black men."


Sarah Glover Joins NBC in Social Media Post

"NBC10 Philadelphia announced today that Sarah Glover has joined the station as Social Media Editor effective July 24, 2012," WCAU-TV announced on Tuesday.


"Glover joins NBC10 from the Philadelphia Daily News where she was originally a staff photographer. Her role there grew to include shooting, producing and editing video for the web. In 2010, Glover led the Daily News video team on the 'Tainted Justice' series, which earned the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. Her responsibilities at the Daily News eventually expanded to include developing various social media and multimedia practices for the paper.

" 'NBC10's presence in social media continues to grow,' said Anzio Williams, Vice President of News for NBC10 Philadelphia, 'We're excited to have Sarah on board and look forward to her creative input as we explore new ways to engage our viewers online.' "


Glover is president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and former secretary of the National Association of Black Journalists. Corey Dade, a current NABJ board member, wrote on Facebook, "She proves that people with strategically important skills that are in demand can withstand the industry churn and emerge on top!"

Short Takes

"MaSovaida Morgan, an alumna of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute (2006), has received a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar Award to enable her to study at University of the Arts London on one of the most prestigious and selective scholarships worldwide," the Fulbright Commission announced on Monday. "As a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar, Morgan will pursue a M.A. in Publishing from London College of Communication, one of University of the Arts London's six colleges. Morgan graduated summa cum laude from Savannah State University in 2008, where she received a B.A. in Mass Communications with a concentration in print journalism. She served as editor-in-chief of the infrequently published student newspaper, The Tiger's Roar, and designed and edited the university's creative arts journal, Estuary.


"Stella Foster, the often blunt-speaking Sun-Times columnist known for punctuating her pieces with 'Yeah I said it,' announced Friday she's retiring after nearly 43 years at the paper," the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Friday. " 'You know I've been at the paper for four decades or more and I've been at the paper for four decades or more and I've been on deadline all my life,' she said. 'I'm leaving because it's time to leave. … I'm retiring to relax and enjoy myself.' She notified Sun-Times newsroom management Friday that her last day will be Aug. 6th." Media writer Robert Feder said Wednesday that Foster's announcement caught her bosses by surprise and added, " . . . Sun-Times editor-in-chief Jim Kirk said the paper will be looking for new ways to cover the African-American community."

In Kansas City, veteran political and city hall reporter Chris Hernandez will be leaving his position at KSHB next month after eight years to become marketing director at Kansas City's Unicorn Theatre, sources told Bottom Line Communications, John Landsberg of Bottom Line reported on Tuesday.


CNN's "Black in America: The New Promised Land — Silicon Valley" and " I Am American, I Am Muslim" from WFDD-FM in Winston Salem, N.C., are among six winners of the 2012 National RTDNA/UNITY Award, developed by the Radio Television Digital News Association and Unity Journalists "as part of a shared commitment to achieving diversity in the newsroom through developing news content and editorial staffs that reflect the changing face of America."

"Cable programming dominated the recently announced Emmy Awards nominations, including a near sweep of the best drama series category and multiple nominations for nearly 40 cable shows," Thomas Umstead wrote Tuesday for Multichannel News. "The medium also had a strong showing in another important category — nominations for actors and actresses of color."


The Public Relations Society of America "views the issuance of a news release as giving implicit consent to re-use and publish the news release's content," Gerard F. Corbett, the society's 2012 chair and CEO, wrote Friday. "Certain exceptions would apply; attribution is recommended, for example, when a direct quote is re-used, or facts and figures are cited. But is it really necessary to attribute dates and times or other general information contained within a press release, when this information is provided specifically for the purpose of publication? Not really." Steve Penn, formerly of the Kansas City Star, is suing the newspaper after being fired for using press releases without attribution.

"Today the AP's global news staff received an update of the social media guidelines that were last revised in January 2012 [PDF]," the Associated Press announced. "The main changes, revealed in a note to staff by AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin and AP Deputy Managing Editor for Standards Tom Kent, are new guidance on live-tweeting news events and updated advice on following politicians' social networking accounts."


Tracie Powell deconstructed for the Poynter Institute the backlash over Ebony magazine's online Q&A with Genarlow Wilson, who was convicted of felony aggravated child molestation in 2005. Ebony.com told readers that the now 27-year-old is about to graduate from Atlanta's Morehouse College, "the black Harvard of the South." Powell wrote, " . . . Providing context, even in a simple pull-out box containing a brief summary of the legal questions and findings in the case, may have saved Ebony some grief. Not all, but some."

"Bounce TV, the broadcast TV network for African Americans, has acquired the television rights to four packages of African American-skewing motion pictures in individual, multi-year licensing agreements with Walt Disney Studios, Miramax, Sony Pictures Television and MGM Domestic Television Distribution," TVNewsCheck reported Wednesday. Check the linked story for some of the titles.


John Atta Mills, president of Ghana, died unexpectedly on Tuesday, and Ghana's former Vice President John Dramani Mahama has been sworn in as the country's new leader, Michel Martin said Wednesday on NPR's "Tell Me More." Mahama is the author of a new autobiography, "My First Coup D'Etat: And Other True Stories From the Lost Decades of Africa," and news organizations that interviewed him about the book suddenly found themselves having interviewed the new president. Among the outlets were "Tell Me More" and theRoot.com.

"It could be said that Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega dodged a bullet when he was sentenced to only 18 years in prison," Charlayne Hunter-Gault wrote Tuesday for theRoot.com. " . . . But it can't really be said that Nega dodged a bullet, because the 18-year sentence is really a death sentence — in effect for his work and for freedom of speech in Ethiopia. For that was Nega's crime: telling truth to power."


In Mali, "Members of state security forces have tried to suppress the publication of information regarding abuses in the aftermath of the failed counter-coup," Human Rights Watch reported Wednesday. "They have called in for questioning or visited the offices of at least five journalists and two civil servants who were investigating the coup, the treatment of detainees, enforced disappearances, or the existence of a mass grave. While the journalists and civil servants did not suffer any physical aggression during the questioning, they reported being pressured to reveal their sources, drop their investigations, and desist from publishing or speaking about the events."

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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.

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