“BET announced the departure of two of its top executives this week: its longtime president Stephen Hill and head of original programming Zola Mashariki,” Ramin Setoodeh reported Friday for Variety.
“Hill, a prominent fixture at BET since 1999 known for [his close] relationships to talent, issued a hasty farewell email. Insiders say he was fired abruptly from the Viacom-owned network, for reasons that still remain unclear.
“But according to sources with knowledge of internal discussions, Mashariki was caught off guard by public statements issued by the network and its CEO Debra Lee, which indicated she was out too. Mashariki sent her colleagues an email this week, notifying them that she’s been on medical leave since February after being diagnosed with breast cancer and that she planned on returning to her job.
“A spokesperson for BET said that she’s no longer employed. ‘These claims misrepresent the facts and are without merit,’ the rep told Variety. ‘We strongly deny any allegation of wrongdoing.’
“Mashariki and her lawyer didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“ ‘I’m concerned that there was a reference to me, as Stephen’s departure is a separate issue from my status at the company,’ Mashariki wrote in an email obtained by Variety that she sent to more than 40 colleagues after Wednesday’s statement. She said that she’d just undergone ‘another surgery.’
“ ‘It’s a painful recovery for me,’ she wrote. ‘It has also been hard on my children.’
“ ‘Here are the facts,’ Mashariki continued. ‘My job is protected by the Family Medical Leave Act and related statutes (FMLA) and I have a contract in place. Viacom/BET are aware that I am scheduled to return on April 11 and that my medical leave may need to be extended depending on the progress of my recovery.’ . . .”
Norma Torres-Folk was one of the audience members who went to the podium Friday to remember Claude Lewis, the pioneering Philadelphia journalist who died at 82 on March 16.
Much of what was said in that standing-room-only assemblage of about 125 reflected the changing environment for black journalists since Lewis left high school in 1953 and went to work as a copy boy at Newsweek.
What Torres-Folk related in the “open mic” section of the memorial service on the Villanova University campus seemed to speak to how much had not changed.
“Two young kids” were killed in Torres-Folk’s Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood, she said. Terence L. (“Tee”) Ryans and Darren E. (“Skeets”) Norwood had been born on the same day. And now both were dying on the same day. They were 14 years old.
“How would this look in the paper unless somebody like Claude Lewis wrote about this?” Torres-Folk asked, reflecting the “there they go again” posture that some community members still maintain in evaluating coverage of their neighborhoods.
Lewis justified her trust, Torres-Folk said. Neighborhood people still have that clipping, from Sept. 2, 1990, on their refrigerators.
Anecdotes might be the best way to relay how Lewis was portrayed on Friday.
Much was about Lewis as family man and great-grandfather. But the bulk revolved around his status as the first black columnist at a mainstream Philadelphia newspaper, the Philadelphia Bulletin, and as a co-founder of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists.
He was one of a triumvirate of black journalism pioneers in the city; the others were Acel Moore and Chuck Stone. (Interestingly, neither Lewis, who joined in 1967, nor Orrin Evans, hired in 1962, was the first African American journalist at the Bulletin. John S. Durham was an assistant editor there in the 1890s.)
“In 1965, the Evening Bulletin hired Mr. Lewis away from NBC for the city staff,” Bonnie L. Cook wrote March 16 in her obituary for the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Mr. Lewis started out as a general assignment reporter, but in 1968, George R. Packard, then the managing editor, invited him to write a column three times a week.”
Lewis was too much for the staid editorial page, Packard told the gathering, so Packard created space on Page 3 for Lewis and three other news columnists. His was “the first important voice to question the tactics” of then-Mayor Frank Rizzo.
The paper’s publisher sent word to Packard that he had been told that Lewis was a secret member of the Black Panther Party. The information turned out to come from the publisher’s secretary, “who refused to reveal her source.” Readers liked Lewis’ column.
To protest the Vietnam War, Lewis urged that readers not buy Christmas presents that year. The newspaper’s advertising manager, cognizant of how much of the paper’s revenue came from retail stores, “ran into the newsroom asking, ‘Who does this guy think he is?’ ”
White colleague Kathryn Watterson, also known as Kitsi Burkhart, became fast newsroom friends with Lewis. She recalled assistant city editor Leonard Murphy calling out to her, “Don’t you have any white friends?” Similarly, one day in the newsroom when she and Lewis were talking, Murphy hollered at Lewis, “Why don’t you talk to a black girl for a change?” Lewis yelled right back, “Hire a black girl, and I’ll be happy to talk to her.”
Watterson recalled Lewis telling her that when Murphy died, he attended the funeral, and when he looked into the casket, he saw that Murphy was wearing a “White Power” pin in his lapel.
“He was messing with us right until the end,” Lewis said.
Broadcaster Mark Howard, who hosted the Sunday morning television talk show “Inside Story,” told the group that after NABJ was founded in 1975, Lewis was asked how he would react to a “National Association of White Journalists.” “You may already have done that,” Lewis replied, referring to the existing journalism organizations.
Another friend remembered how, living in suburban Willingboro, N.J., Lewis went outside in his robe and slippers to retrieve the newspaper one day and was arrested, handcuffed and placed in a police car.
The Bulletin folded in 1982, and Lewis eventually went to the Inquirer, retired Daily News columnist Elmer Smith recalled. But that was not the first time Lewis had been in the Inquirer newsroom. Before the Bulletin’s demise, Lewis was offered a job by the Bulletin’s archrival. “People stood up and cheered” when Lewis entered the newsroom. “But he turned down the job,” Smith said. “He wouldn’t be a part of rejoicing at the death of the Bulletin.”
As a fifth-grader at P.S. 23 in the South Bronx, Lewis established a relationship with poet Langston Hughes. The teacher, Aenid Anthonyson, invited the then little-known Hughes to come to the school. There, he invited eight or nine students to write poetry. Hughes and Lewis became pen pals, and Lewis went twice to Hughes’ home with poetry submissions. After noting the quality of Lewis’ poetry as well as his persistence, Hughes gently advised Lewis to consider journalism. Bob Anthonyson, whose mother taught that fifth grade class, told Friday’s gathering that his mother kept up with Lewis over the years. She wanted him to deliver the eulogy at her funeral, and he did.
Ray Didinger, who worked with Lewis at the Bulletin, remembered advice that Lewis gave the rookie sportswriter when he told Lewis that he would be covering high school sports.
“When you cover the game, if one of the players fumbles, give the name of the guy who recovered the fumble,” Lewis advised. Don’t say who fumbled.
“These are kids.”
“What he said was so right on,” Didinger said.
The sportswriter followed that advice throughout his high-school coverage.
But all bets were off, he said, when Didinger covered the pros.
- Sarah Glover, Facebook Live: Claude Lewis service (video)
- Ayana Jones, Philadelphia Tribune: Journalists seek to bridge technology, community gap at summit at Penn
- Claude Lewis, Philadelphia Inquirer: Flag doesn’t represent him (Jan. 4, 2002)
Terry Tang, who as a deputy editorial page editor and an Asian American is the only woman of color on the New York Times masthead, is leaving April 30 to become director of publications at the American Civil Liberties Union, Tang told Journal-isms on Friday.
Tang was named to the deputy’s position in 2012 by Andrew Rosenthal, the previous editorial page editor. Her Times career at that point numbered 15 years, and included “stints on the metropolitan, business and editorial desks and also involved building its online presence,” an announcement said at that time.
James Bennet, who became editorial page director last year, told Journal-isms by telephone that he plans to fill Tang’s position and is “looking for qualified candidates.”
More media outlets are writing about missing black and brown teenage girls, especially those in the District of Columbia. Still, critics accuse the news media of not reporting enough about the issue. But there is disagreement about what, precisely, they should report.
“The Washington Post takes the issue of missing children seriously,” a Post spokesperson told Journal-isms by email on Monday. “We’ve written a great deal about the issue in D.C. and have reported that the majority leave voluntarily and are found or return very quickly. We make great effort to track these cases around the region and write about them if the children are in danger.”
A CNN spokeswoman told Journal-isms by email on Wednesday, “The story has been done on television both [on] CNN and HLN and on CNN Digital.”
At USA Today, “According to our reporters, D.C. police say there’s no real uptick,” a spokeswoman said by email Wednesday. “Social media is being used more to push out missing report notices.” She attached a link to two stories from USA Today’s website: One was headlined, “Where are they? Outrage over perceived increase in missing black, Latina girls in D.C.” from WUSA-TV in Washington on March 24; a second was a Newsy video from the same day, “Why are black children going missing in D.C.?”
The case against the media was outlined by refinery.com and cited Monday by Media Matters for America:
“Cases in which young, attractive white women from middle- or upper-class households go missing tend to get much more media attention than instances where women of color disappear — especially if they are from low-income families. The late PBS reporter Gwen [Ifill] coined the term ‘missing white woman syndrome’ to describe this phenomenon. [The National Association of Black Journalists, in 2012, awarded its “Best Practices” award to TVOne’s “Find Our Missing,” which bucked the trend. The series ended in 2013.]
“Think of all the media coverage about the case of Karina Vetrano, the 30-year-old jogger who was brutally beaten, raped, and killed in Queens, NY, last August,” the Refinery29 story continued. “Now think of Marilyn Reynoso, the 20-year-old Latina from the Bronx, NY, who disappeared in late July, and whose body was found about a week later. It’s likely that you have not heard about Reynoso, even though her disappearance and murder occurred at around the same time as Vetrano’s, because it wasn’t widely publicized.
“The disconnect in how the media [report] about the violent crimes against white women versus women of color is incredibly problematic, particularly when you consider that about 40% of all the missing people in the U.S. are people of color, according to the figures offered to the [Washington] Post by Derrica Wilson, co-founder of the Black & Missing Foundation.”
Complicating the coverage issue is that it is being driven by social media, which has not always been accurate. Still, social media includes journalists, and some have offered thoughtful reflections.
“Unfortunately — many of these cases are domestic in nature with kids who either choose to leave home; or have families who do not want to talk about the issue once the kids return home,” wrote Manuel McDonnell Smith of WCAU-TV in Philadelphia. “In which case we usually respect that request. As a working Assignment Editor; I don’t think there’s a conspiracy to ignore Black and Latin missing kids.
“Trust me, if there was a pattern, people would be all over it in a hot second. Maybe the better story would be to profile the conditions in which so many teens feel the need to leave their homes; and is there an adequate safety net to assist families before it gets to that point?”
Nicki Mayo, a Baltimore multimedia journalist, responded, “Some kids play pranks and that makes it hard to run with every kidnapping claim. So we have to wait for verification from local law enforcement.
“Meanwhile as a national news person I know more about those Missing now returned Chibok Girls that Boko Haram’s regime abducted than these missing DC girls. And THAT came from an aggressive #BringBackOurGirls hashtag social media campaign.
“So today’s social media campaign is #MissingDCGirls. Look whatever it takes to make people freaking care, I’m for it.”
Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy, in a March 14 column, agreed.
“Sharece Crawford, a member of an Advisory Neighborhood Commission in Southeast Washington, said she believed that more black girls were getting involved with gangs and also being forced into prostitution,” Milloy wrote.
“ ‘What we need is a citywide alert about the dangers out here and how parents can protect their children,’ Crawford said. ‘Residents are very worried. They are wondering if the city is taking this seriously. They say things like, “If white girls were disappearing uptown, there would be a state of emergency.” ‘
“They have a point. If cars of a similar make and model were disappearing from the more affluent neighborhoods of our city, there would probably be more outrage. Owners of vehicles popular with thieves would be warned through various media outlets and automobile associations.
“Not so when it comes to black girls from more disadvantaged communities. Their family and friends often suffer in silence.
“When hundreds of girls — and boys, too — are reported missing, we should all be concerned. Is their home life so horrible that they must flee? Has poverty and desperation made them vulnerable to enticements that lure them into the city’s burgeoning sex trade?
“Either way, something has gone awfully wrong. . . .”
- Amanda Batchelor and Shyann Malone, WPLG-TV, Miami: Local 10 News crew finds 10-year-old boy reported missing in Miami Gardens (March 15)
- Julia Craven, Huffington Post Black Voices: There’s A Bigger Story Behind The Viral Tweets About Missing Black And Latinx Teens In DC (March 24)
- Ebony: Washington, D.C. Mayor Creates Task Force, Issues Plan to Find Missing Teens (March 24)
- Sam Ford, WJLA-TV, Washington: Is there an uptick in the number of missing children in DC? (Feb. 3)
- Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press: Black lawmakers call on FBI to help on missing black girls (March 23)
- Noel King, “1A,” WAMU-FM, Washington/NPR: Missing Children You Don’t Hear Much About (March 23)
- Sean King, Daily News, New York: It’s no accident that we hear so little about missing black girls in this country (March 22)
- Courtland Milloy, Washington Post: Girls go missing and a community struggles to make sense of it all
- Courtland Milloy, Washington Post: Black teens are reported missing — and far too few people notice (March 14)
- Donna M. Owens, Essence: ESSENCE Special Report: How D.C.’s Disappearing Girls Highlight The Nation’s Black and Missing Problem (March 24)
- Mary Annette Pember, Indian Country Media Network: ‘We All Know Someone’: Tribal Community, Advocates Seek to Honor Missing and Murdered Native American Women (March 21)
- Julia Reinstein, BuzzFeed: Here’s What’s Actually Going On With The Missing Black Girls In DC (March 24)
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times: Girls Go Missing, and Washington’s Racial Divide Yawns Wider
- Pam Vogel, Media Matters for America: The Viral Story About Missing Black And Brown Girls In D.C. Reveals A Huge Media Blindspot
- Clinton Yates, the Undefeated: When black girls go missing in Washington, D.C., too many questions, too few answers (March 24)
“The last time Lydia Polgreen felt boredom — real boredom, the soul-crushing kind — she was 21 and working for a company in suburban Virginia that helped applicants for H-1B visas,” Aaron Hicklin wrote Friday for Out magazine.
“The job was a stopgap between college, where she’d studied Marx and Hegel, and a hazy, uncertain future in which she imagined she might teach philosophy. In the meantime, there she was toiling in some random job, waiting for each day to end. ‘At some point I thought, This can’t be how my life is going to go. This isn’t for me,’ she recalls. ‘I’m not a person who should ever be looking at the clock, waiting for things to be over — that’s not my destiny.’
“A friend was interning at Washington Monthly, a small policy magazine in D.C., and offered to get Polgreen in there, too. But the position was unpaid, and Polgreen had no money. ‘I was completely penniless, and had student loans to pay off, so I was like, There’s just no way I can work for free. But then I thought, Well, maybe I can find a waitressing job at night. And that’s what I did.’
“The internship led to a poorly paid job, which led, via reporting gigs in Florida and upstate New York, to The New York Times for a trainee program designed for applicants like her ‘who didn’t have the kind of background or résumé that you would typically have to get hired at the Times.’ By this Polgreen means black, queer, and from a family of limited means — all the things that made her atypical at the paper. . . .”
Polgreen was named editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post in December.
Hicklin also wrote, “In July 2015 the Post, under then-editorial director Danny Shea, had announced it would cover [Donald] Trump only as an entertainment story, describing his run for president as a sideshow. There was a certain logic to this — wall-to-wall press coverage had made Trump omnipresent — but for many, the decision reeked of liberal condescension and made The Huffington Post seem out of touch. It could not, of course, sustain that position.
“Shea left last summer, shortly before [then editor-in-chief] Arianna Huffington. Now Trump is the only subject on the table, and likely to stay that way for some time. ‘We shouldn’t lose our sense of outrage through repetition,’ Polgreen tells the assembled reporters, encouraging them to find ‘hyper-local stories’ that epitomize her drive for ’empathy journalism.’
“She highlights her point with a story in that day’s New York Times, about a popular Mexican restaurateur in a small Illinois town. A community linchpin, who brought fajitas to firefighters and supported local charities, he was now in custody and facing deportation. Although many locals supported Trump’s stance on immigration, they made an exception when the target was someone they knew.
“For Polgreen it was a perfect illustration of one of her core convictions. Abstract beliefs often change under the cold hard light of reality. ‘The fact is that if you’re confronted, face to face, with racial diversity, with queerness, with a person you love with HIV/AIDS, it’s very hard to remain hateful,’ she tells me later. . . .”
- Corinne Grinapol, adweek.com: Lydia Polgreen Covers Out
Almost 50 Years Ago, the News Industry Was Called Out on Race. How Should That Be Commemorated?
It will be 50 years next March since the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission, shook the news media with its declaration that “the journalistic profession has been shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring, training, and promoting Negroes.”
The Kerner report also said, “News organizations must employ enough Negroes in positions of significant responsibility to establish an effective link to Negro actions and ideas and to meet legitimate employment expectations.”
The report led to training programs for journalists of color and increased hiring. In 1978, the American Society of News Editors set a goal of achieving parity in newsrooms with the percentage of people of color in the general population by 2000. Twenty years later, the goal was changed to 2025. The 2000 goal was not met, but “diversity” is now part of industry language and outreach efforts continue. Ethnic diversity now also includes Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans.
How should the news industry commemorate this 50-year milestone?
Richard Prince, author of “Journal-isms” and a member of ASNE’s Diversity Committee, is submitting ideas to the organization and would like to include those from readers.
Please send to journal-isms-owner (at) yahoogroups.com by Friday, April 21.
Chapter 15 of the Kerner Commission report, “The News Media and the Disorders,” is here.
A brief summary of Chapter 15 is here [PDF]. (Go to Chapter 15)
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