Returning Nov. 6

Paper Runs Letter Claiming Blacks Are Nearly 50%

. . . ‘The Best We Can Do Is Watch for Red Flags’

New America Media Closing After 45 Years

NPR Brass Knew of Complaints Against Oreskes

Puerto Rican Media Firm Lays Off 59 Journalists

Percentage Speaking Spanish at Home Dips

Arellano Ends His ‘¡Ask a Mexican!’ Column

Media Favor Certain Native American Narratives

‘Forbidden Stories’ to Carry On Work of the Slain

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"Mary Mary" is in its final season.

The reality TV series “Mary Mary” is in its sixth and final season.

Paper Runs Letter Claiming Blacks Are Nearly 50%

Steve Guinn, a white, 80-year-old Phoenix retiree, thinks there are too many African Americans — women, in particular — on the television channel he watches. Not that he objects to having them on television, just not when he’s trying to enjoy “NCIS” and “Law and Order,” he told Journal-isms by telephone on Wednesday.

Guinn watches “WE TV,” which stands for ‘Women’s Entertainment TV,” in order to see the “Law and Order” shows to which he is “addicted.” He has to endure programs such as “Mary Mary,” a  reality TV series chronicling the lives of Erica and Tina Campbell, sisters and members of the contemporary gospel group by that name, and seeing black women with pink, green, blue and yellow hair and whose “English grammar is deficient.

“I’m not casting criticism,” he adds, but “the commercials are the biggest offenders.”

So Guinn wrote a letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic, which published it Monday.

By my count, nearly 50 percent of the folks in commercials are African Americans,” it began. “That is not the ratio of the general population. It is an attempt to be politically correct, but a feeble one.

“There are few Asians, Native Americans or Latinos. African Americans are way more sensitive and activist about their image.

“Does this diversity in advertising create more sales for the advertised product? I don’t think so, but that is only my opinion.

“Mixing a social issue with product promotion may only dilute the product message.”

The Republic published the letter under the headline, “Letter: Why are there so many black people in TV ads?”

Asked about that “nearly 50 percent” figure, Guinn says, “I’ve not researched that number, but I believe it’s awfully close.”

Andrew Rojecki, an associate professor of communication at the University of Illinois-Chicago, is co-author of “The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America,” published in 2000.

He and co-author Robert M. Entman found that in their sample of 1,620 ads on ABC, NBC, and Fox, African Americans appeared in 32 percent of them.  Additionally, 3.3 percent of the ads featured only black actors, 28.7 percent featured both black and white actors, 58.8 percent featured only whites, and 9.1 percent had actors of an “East Asian facial cast.”

Rojecki said by email on Wednesday that while he and Entman had not done follow-up research, “The thing to keep in mind is that the present media environment is sliced and diced demographically such that specific programs may have a different representation than others. In this respect the 50 percent figure, if accurate, may be misleading.”

It’s difficult to find any authoritative source that puts the number of blacks in television commercials near 50 percent.

It is a figure, however, that has been bandied about by white supremacists on sites such as Stormfront or a Rush Limbaugh fan page.

Guinn says those sites are interpreting what he sees the wrong way.

For newspapers, the question is whether such letters deserve fact-checking and publication. At a time when disinformation is in the news, are letter writers entitled to their own set of facts as well as opinions?

Phil Boas (Credit: Radio-Canada)

Phil Boas (Credit: Radio-Canada)

“We do fact check letters, but we do not vet them with the kind of rigor we would, for instance, a news story or editorial,” Phil Boas, editorial page director of the Arizona Republic, told Journal-isms Wednesday by email. “Letters to the editor are not considered authoritative. They reflect an opinion, the public pulse, if you will. Often those public opinions are highly controversial.

“In the case of this letter, the reader cites numbers based on his own count, which of course are unverifiable. The next question becomes is the issue a real one, one that is discussed in legitimate forums. And a quick survey of the web shows us that the issue has been discussed in responsible places:

“You’ll see the topic of minority overrepresentation in commercials and programming discussed on NBC, CNN, UCLA going back years… ”

Boas enclosed such pieces as “Race becomes more central to TV advertising,” an Associated Press story from 2009; “African Americans Remain Overrepresented on Television and Concentrated in Situation Comedies, UCLA Study Finds,” a university news release from 2002; and “TV too diverse? Why it’s only a start,” an opinion piece from CNN in 2015.

Boas continued, “Our next question became, is the letter racist? As I went through the wording of the letter, I found that the reader is animated by his concerns about the politicalization of advertising, political correctness, social issues. In other words, he seemed to be barking against what he believes is Madison Avenue social engineering.

“Two editors independently chose the letter for publication. I chose it for print. Another editor chose it for online. Interestingly, we both came to learn afterwards we disagree with the letter writer — that even if blacks were overrepresented in his own personal survey of ads, so what? Why is that a bad thing?

“We had put it out there for discussion.

“One of our reporters found the letter offensive and thought it represented the viewpoints of the alt-right or messaging you would find on racist message boards. I found the concerns legitimate, but a bit extreme. I didn’t think the letter revealed a white supremacist point of view. But I was open to evidence that I was wrong.

“I showed the letter to two of our editors who are minorities, who said they don’t believe the letter is offensive. They both would have published it.

“I later showed it to a third editor, however, who is also a minority, who felt it did not pass the test for good taste, that it was ambiguous enough that readers could find it offensive. I thought she put in a powerful way: ‘How would a 14 year old African-American girl reading that letter feel about it, about what it says about her?’

“I found that argument persuasive and decided to pull it from the Internet.

“I think my final decision was the right one, but I still have doubts. A conversation had begun. The letter writer was starting to get some good push-back from our readers. Sometimes that’s how people learn and society progresses.”

. . . ‘The Best We Can Do Is Watch for Red Flags’

Journal-isms asked members of the former Association of Opinion Journalists, now part of the American Society of News Editors, about the fact-checking practices for letters at their news organizations. Here are some responses:

Chuck Frederick, editorial page editor, Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune:

Chuck Frederick

Chuck Frederick

“As the editorial page editor, all the fact-checking of submissions falls to me. . . . It’s amazing how many writers will make outrageous claims in a letter and then balk when I ask them for any sort of documentation to substantiate it. Which I do. A lot. I’m happy to do some googling, etc., but it’s on them as the one making the claim to provide the proof. I had a guy last week yell at me that apparently I don’t read my own paper closely enough. Actually, I read it quite closely and was able to figure out how he mixed up some of his numbers with regard to a proposed sales tax. If a loopy claim can’t be proven or substantiated we don’t publish it. We let the writers know. Usually they’re not too happy, but hey, that’s how it goes.”

Jackman Wilson, editorial page editor, Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.:

Jackman Wilson

Jackman Wilson

“We can’t check every assertion in our letters to the editor. We also feel we should be generous in drawing the line between fact and interpretation — for instance, we know the statement ‘President Trump was born in Russia’ to be untrue, so we would not print a letter making that claim. We might, however, publish a letter that accuses President Trump of governing as though he were from Russia.

“The best we can do is watch for red flags — assertions of fact that seem implausible or unfamiliar. The ’50 percent of characters in commercials are African-American’ claim is one such statement. In those cases it’s a good idea to ask the letter-writer to provide a source or link. Letter writers’ response seems to fall into two categories: 1) We don’t hear back from them because they can’t provide supporting evidence, or 2) They understand that we’re trying to boost their credibility and welcome the chance to say where their information came from.

“A problem can arise when letter-writers provide sources or links that they accept as legitimate, but which look to us like something from the paranoid fringe. This is not really a new problem. Would we print a letter that based its arguments on information culled from ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’? No. We try not to print letters from its modern-day equivalents, either.

“We can rely to some extent on the self-correcting nature of the letters columns. If a letter makes a claim that is untrue and we don’t catch it, other letter-writers will be quick to blow the whistle. They’ll also expose questionable sources.

“In the end, we should remember that we’re working for the readers, not for letter-writers, and try to serve them as best we can.”

Susan Parker, engagement/community content editor, Daily Times, Salisbury, Md.:

Susan Parker

Susan Parker

“There is little time for fact-checking at our lean organization. If there’s just one or two questions that can be easily verified, I will check myself or ask the writer for sources, especially if it’s a regular contributor.

“If the questions involve the primary gist of the letter, it doesn’t see the light of day, because no one on our staff has time anymore to spend hours tracking down facts or sorting through conflicting information on various websites.”

Jay Jochnowitz, editorial page editor, Times Union, Albany, N.Y.:

Jay Joichnowitz

Jay Jochnowitz

“We also have too little time and staff for extensive fact-checking. We do sometimes do our own search if it seems like something we can quickly resolve, or ask the author for his or her source(s). But generally we tell letter writers that we don’t use letters that require inordinate amounts of fact checking or which rely on self-reported facts, such as a personal anecdote or their account of a meeting that our paper didn’t cover.

“We explain that the letters column is largely a forum for readers to talk about articles and issues that have already run in the paper and with which other readers are familiar. That way, they can focus on their opinion.

“If a person sends us a letter to the editor that’s unusable but looks like a potential news story, we either forward it to news or suggest the writer contact a news editor directly.”

Gary Crooks, opinion editor, Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

“Essentially, this. I ask for sources. If they just give me someone else saying the same thing without sources, not good enough. If they say, ‘just watch (fill in the blank)’ … nope. Don’t have time (one-person shop). If they’d like to resubmit without that point, that’s available.

Gary Crooks

Gary Crooks

“The catch in that letter is ‘by my count.’ Could be true given limited time frame or perception. Then again, it makes for a weak letter, and I would reject it if some data couldn’t be supplied to strengthen a shaky assertion.”

Responding to Jochnowitz, Crooks added, “That self-reporting point is an important one. I get many disappointed writers who don’t understand why information must be confirmed. We don’t use self-reported letters. I’ve linked to this column before.”

The Feb. 19 column noted that since the November election, “Calm, substantive argumentation has been overwhelmed by full-on personal attacks from writers of all political persuasions.”

In its letter-writing instructions, it said, “We may bypass your letter if it’s filled with information we can’t readily confirm.”

New America Media Closing After 45 Years

Sandy Close

Sandy Close

New America Media, which describes itself as “the nation’s first and largest collaboration of and advocate for ethnic, community, minority, and bilingual media sources,” is closing Nov. 30 after 45 years, the organization and its parent, Pacific News Service, announced Wednesday.

For 45 years, Pacific News Service has pioneered new ways to diversify American journalism and communications,” Board Chair Lawrence Wilkinson said in the announcement.

The news release continued:

“Wilkinson is chairman of Heminge & Condell, a strategic advisory and investment firm, and co-founder of Global Business Network (GBN).

“ ‘Long before terms like civic engagement, youth media, collaborative reporting, and inclusive journalism were in vogue, PNS and NAM were inventing how to implement them,’ noted fellow board member James Bettinger, longtime director (now emeritus) of the John S. Knight Stanford Journalism Fellowship program.

“Funded by foundation grants and contracts, the news and communications agency launched many successful projects that pushed journalism’s boundaries.

“ ‘We’ve always aspired to do more than our resources allowed,’ said NAM Executive Director Sandy Close. ‘We grew too fast, and were reluctant to cut off programs after their funding expired. We reached a point where we were not sustainable, as currently constituted.’

“Of all PNS’ initiatives, none was more ambitious in scope and impact than New America Media. Founded 20 years ago at a Chinese lunch in San Francisco for some 24 ethnic media reporters, it was inspired by PNS’ search for more effective ways to report on an increasingly diverse America.

“ ‘How could a mainstream news service like ours do its job when there was no longer a mainstream?’ Close said. ‘We decided to seek out partnerships with ethnic media outlets that would allow us to share content about and between the Bay Area’s growing racial and language groups.’

“The founding lunch opened the door to a parallel universe of journalists and media makers hungry to transcend their cultural silos and expand their coverage. Ethnic media leaders realized that, after years of being ignored by the mainstream media, they could gain visibility and respect by coming together. . . .”

 

Michael Oreskes, flanked by Richard Prince and Laurence Kaggwa, retired Howard University journalism professor, at the Journal-isms Roundtable in June 2015, He called diversity a "journalistic imperaitve." (Credit: Jason Miccolo Johnson)

Michael Oreskes, flanked by Richard Prince and Lawrence Kaggwa, retired Howard University journalism professor, at the Journal-isms Roundtable in Washington in June 2015. He called diversity a “journalistic imperative.” (Credit: Jason Miccolo Johnson)

NPR Brass Knew of Complaints Against Oreskes

NPR’s senior management was aware of multiple harassment complaints by women against its top newsroom executive during the past two years but took no action to remove him from his job until news reports about his conduct appeared on Tuesday,” Paul Farhi reported Wednesday for the Washington Post.

“The public broadcasting organization formally severed ties on Wednesday with Michael Oreskes a day after The Washington Post reported that he had been accused of making inappropriate advances toward two women when he ran the New York Times’ Washington bureau nearly two decades earlier.

“NPR itself reported Tuesday night that a third woman, a 26-year-old assistant producer named Rebecca Hersher, had complained to NPR’s management about a sexually oriented conversation that Oreskes initiated in October 2015.

“NPR’s chief executive, Jarl Mohn, and chief legal officer, Jonathan Hart, were aware of all three allegations against Oreskes but didn’t act to remove him until Tuesday, following publication of The Post story.

“Oreskes’s behavior, and organization’s response to it, has stirred a virtual rebellion in NPR’s newsroom, particularly among female employees. In a draft petition signed Wednesday by dozens of women, including some of its best-known hosts and correspondents, the women wrote: ‘We are profoundly concerned by how NPR has handled sexual harassment reports and senior management’s insufficient efforts to create a workplace environment free of harassment and one that ensures equal opportunity for all employees.’ . . .”

Oreskes was named to the NPR position in March 2015 when he was senior managing editor of the Associated Press. He was previously executive editor of the International Herald Tribune and deputy managing editor of the New York Times. When he joined the Journal-isms Roundtable in June of that year, he said he had worked with at least half the people in the room.

Active in news industry organizations, Oreskes has been a diversity champion. “It’s a journalistic imperative to address” diversity, Oreskes told the journalists. “That’s the only way we’re going to reach the future. It’s as important as anything we’re doing.”

Asked about diversity then by Southern California Public Radio, Oreskes said:

This is a huge challenge, and it isn’t just NPR’s challenge. This is a challenge the entire news industry — newspapers, radio, television broadcasts — all of us are facing this problem. We simply have not been able to find the people of color that we ought to have to represent the communities that we cover. And that’s a real problem, and it’s been a problem for some time now, and I’m sad to say it’s gotten worse.

“The recession did a lot of damage to a lot of newsrooms and unfortunately we lost more people of color than we lost total numbers. I served a couple of years ago with Milton Coleman who was the deputy managing editor of the Washington Post on a commission that looked at this issue of diversity, and it was quite sobering and upsetting because we really are going in the wrong direction. So yes, NPR has a challenge, and so does the whole news industry. I think we have to look at this all together, and we have to look at some creative approaches because the old approaches simply aren’t working.”

While conducting search and rescue in the mountains of Puerto Rico, a Black Hawk helicopter from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations located this home a half mile from its peek with HELP painted it is roof.

While conducting search and rescue in the mountains of Puerto Rico, a Black Hawk helicopter from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations located this home with HELP painted on its roof.

Puerto Rican Media Firm Lays Off 59 Journalists

A GoFundMe campaign established this week to financially support the 59 Puerto Rican journalists laid off on October 26 by GFR Media Enterprise (publishers of El Nuevo Día and Primera Hora) is beginning to trend online,” Latino Rebels reported on Wednesday.

As the campaign’s page states:

“Layoffs occurred amidst one of the most difficult periods in Puerto Rico’s history since the island was battered by Maria, and while those employees worked tirelessly and risked their lives to keep the country and the world informed.

“Among those fired include graphic designers, pressers, mechanics, journalists, cartoonists and office clerks. They are talented people, who were behind each written article, cartoon, graphic design and news piece… every day doing more with less and doing their best to tell the story from every corner in Puerto Rico. They are fathers and mothers who dedicated years of service to GFR Media and are left with no means to support themselves or their families.

“Furthermore and for the first time, while enduring the aftermath of hurricane Maria, workers were laid off without receiving their severance packages established under the rule of law and through a [legally] binding collective bargain. . . . “

Pew-Spanish Speaking

Percentage Speaking Spanish at Home Dips

The share of U.S. Latinos speaking español at home has gone down in the last 10 years, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by Pew Research Center,” Carmen Sesin reported Wednesday for NBC News Latino.

“In 2015, 73 percent of U.S. Hispanics spoke Spanish at home, which is down from 2006 when 78 percent spoke the language.

“While the share of Latinos who speak Spanish at home has declined, there are more Hispanics speaking Spanish in the U.S. because the population has increased. More than 37 million Hispanics speak Spanish in the U.S. and Spanish is still the most common non-English language spoken in U.S. homes. . . .”

Arellano Ends His ‘¡Ask a Mexican!’ Column

Gustavo Arellano

Gustavo Arellano

Dear Readers: Many of ustedes must be scratching your heads right now,” Gustavo Arellano wrote for the Oct. 26-Nov. 1 edition of alibi.com. “ ‘What happened to ¡Ask a Mexican!’ you’re preguntando yourselves. ‘Who the hell is this cholo nerd where the Mexican logo used to be?’

“It is I, gentle cabrones: your eternal Mexican. Gustavo Arellano, child of immigrants from Zacatecas, one whom came to el Norte in 1969 in the trunk of a Chevy driven by a hippie chick from Huntington Beach.

“And I’m triste to say that this columna is coming to an end. Ustedes probably don’t know this, but my day job during the life of ¡Ask a Mexican! was at OC Weekly, an alternative newspaper in Orange County, California, where I was born and raised (don’t believe The Real Housewives of Orange County: there’s a chingo of raza here). I started as a staff writer, then became managing editor, then was editor for nearly six years until October 13, when I resigned instead of laying off half my staff, just like the Weekly’s owner wanted me to. No me rajé, and I’ll never regret quitting my dream job because I know I did the right thing.

“But with me leaving the Weekly, I also must leave behind ¡Ask a Mexican! See, I don’t own the trademark to the title, and I’m can’t pay muchos pesos for something that the Weekly’s owner (or the ones before him) should’ve given to me as a gift for 13 years of being the hardest-working Mexican this side of Beto Durán. . . .”

Media Favor Certain Native American Narratives

Native Americans once owned the land in the United States, it was theirs before the white settlers arrived,” Zeenat Hansrod reported Wednesday for the French broadcaster RFI. “They are the First People, whom archaeologists believe have been on the North American continent for some 50,000 years.

Jenni Monet

Jenni Monet

“Today they represent less than one percent of the United States’ total population. An estimated 2.7 million tribal citizens associated with 567 federally recognised tribes.

“Tribal issues hardly make it into the US mainstream media. When people outside the US read, listen or watch news about the country, it is as if America’s First Nation have become a ghost nation.

Levi Rickert, the Michigan-based founder, editor and publisher of multimedia news platform Native News Online, says that is primarily due to the size of the Native American population.

Kevin Abourezk, who is based in Nebraska where he is the managing editor of Indianz.com, a Native American online news site run by the Winnebago Tribe, believes it is because there are so few Native Americans in mainstream media.

Jenni Monet (www.jennimonet.com) is an award winning Native American independent journalist from the Laguna Pueblo tribe. She has been working as a journalist for 19 years, most of it spent covering indigenous issues across the world.

“ ‘There is a serious need for the indigenous narrative. [It] is the most chronically under-reported narrative in mainstream today, not only in the US but around the world,’ she says.

“She points out that out of the hundreds of tribes living in the United States, only a tiny fraction of them attracts the attention of the media: the Lakotas, the Navaho Nation or the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

“ ‘It is not a mistake that these tribes are among the most popular in the mainstream because the mainstream goes towards the familiar. They like the poverty out of the Lakotas because it is so blatant. The cyclical nature of it is so raw. They like the Navaho Nation because it is so mystical with medicine-man and the south-west desert…

” ‘They like the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma because who doesn’t firmly believe they have some ounce of Cherokee ancestry in their family lineage? These sorts of narratives as told by outsiders themselves have just been perpetuated for decades.’

“For Kevin Abourezk, who is from the Rosebud Lakota tribe, it is often difficult for Native journalists to get editors of non-native media to accept their story ideas.

“ ‘Editors are acutely aware of who their readers are and [what] they want to read,’ he explains. According to Abourezk, in areas where there are a significant number of Native Americans like Gallup, New Mexico or Rapid City, South Dakota, tribal issues will get more coverage. He says it is reflected in publications like the New York Times or smaller ones like the Sioux City Journal. . . .”


Credit: Committee to Protect Journalists

‘Forbidden Stories’ to Carry On Work of the Slain

Reporters Without Borders and Freedom Voices Network announced Tuesday the launch of Forbidden Stories, “a project that aims to secure the data and information of threatened journalists and, when journalists are arrested or killed, to continue and publish their investigative reporting.

“All journalists who feel threatened will be able to use encrypted communication to protect sensitive information and put their ongoing investigations in a safe place,” the groups said.

“Their stories will be secured and will never be published without their agreement. If something happens to them, Forbidden Stories will be in a position to finish their investigative stories in accordance with their instructions and to disseminate them widely thanks to a collaborative network of media committed to defending the freedom to inform. Forbidden Stories ensures that stories survive beyond borders, despite governments and despite censorship. . . .”

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists published its 10th annual Global Impunity Index, “a ranking of countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go free. Seven countries on this year’s index have been listed every year since the index launched a decade ago — including Somalia, which is the worst country for unsolved murders for the third year in a row.

“Impunity thrives in conflict environments, where powerful actors often use violent intimidation to control media coverage, while weak-to-nonexistent law and order increases the likelihood of attacks. Justice for over two dozen journalists murdered in Somalia in the past decade is one casualty of prolonged civil war and an insurgency waged by al-Shabaab extremists.

“The war in Syria pushed that country into the second worst spot on the index, compared with third last year. Third on this year’s index is Iraq, where journalists are menaced by the militant group Islamic State and state-backed militias, among other groups.

“Fighting between political factions in South Sudan, number four on the index, is the backdrop behind a 2015 ambush during which five journalists were killed. Threats from violent extremist groups operating beyond the reach of authorities underpin high impunity rates in three other countries on the index: Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. . . .”

Short Takes

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