Death of A Journalist

 gwen-ifill-1955-2016
There is no connection between my career as a journalist and that of an accomplished and inspirational icon like Gwen Ifill except for this one personal anecdote.

In 2008, I was an attendee at the UNITY convention in Chicago. UNITY was where four journalism organizations, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian-American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association held one joint convention. It was like a Woodstock for news scribes and it was glorious.

One afternoon, I’m walking through the convention center on my way to a seminar and approaching in the other direction was Gwen Ifill. I stopped her and told her how much I admired and respected her. She smiled a pleasant smile and accepted my fanboy platitudes, shook my hand and went on her way.

That’s my personal Gwen Ifill story.

I recall how Ifill moderated the 2004 vice-presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards and she asked a question about the high rate of HIV-infected Black women which clearly neither Cheney or Edwards were prepared to answer.  These powerful White men were stunned into silence and mumbles, by an intrepid Black woman doing her job and doing it well.

Discomforting the comfortable: That’s what a real journalist does and Ifill was a real journalist in an age where they’re in scant supply.    Gwen Ifill always treated journalism as a profession worthy of respect and she worked hard at The Boston Globe, The New York Times, NBC News and PBS to earn it.

Now more than ever we needed Ifill’s kind of clarity and integrity and with her loss we’re all a little poorer for it.

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To Be Or Not To Blog?

This is an opportunity for me to take a short victory lap (because I hate to run) over a personal accomplishment for The Domino Theory.

Based in no small part from the higher profile given to my blog post review of Fruitvale Station being featured on the Word Press Freshly Pressed page, I rocketed to 500 “follows” in three months.    What really blows my mind is I’ve been grinding away at this blog since 2008 and I didn’t get to 100 Follows until June of this year.

What’s really been a surprise is it hasn’t stopped.   At the rate the follows have been coming I may hit 600 before Thanksgiving and that is something to be thankful for.

Fame, if not necessarily fortune at long last!   Yay! You like me! You really like me!

Trophy Case

But seriously, folks.   I can’t individually thank every one who has subscribed to my blog.   I am truly touched by the vote of confidence because everyone I know who does this has those moments where they get that sneaking sensation they are only talking to themselves.    Well, if I am I hope the conversation is at least interesting.

I’m not exactly sure where I’m going to go next with this blogging thing.    While I’m very good at saying precisely what I think about Ted Cruz,  Kanye and Kim or bad jazz, I would really like to transition to more serious, less frivolous, subjects.    I think of myself as a  good interviewer (though I hate transcribing interviews) and next year I’m going to get back to doing more of them.   If I want to raise the profile of The Domino Theory one way to do it is by talking with people I want to know more about  because nobody else seems to be talking to them for me.

Journalism as I know it is in a state of flux.   Anyone who tells you they know what happens next is lying to you and themselves.   What is known is the readership that faithfully followed newspapers, magazines and print is gone and they aren’t coming back.   They are accessing information and entertainment on handheld devices, on their phones, and via other means that doesn’t depend on dead trees to get the point across.

Even the best blogs can’t come close to what the Washington Post, TIME or Newsweek did when they were required reading.   Blogging is not the first draft of history.    It’s the immediate reaction to history as its made.   I know for a fact a lot of trained journalists absolutely despise bloggers and it doesn’t matter how polished or professional the prose and the presentation is.   They will never consider it a legit option to classic print, radio and television news media.

I don’t either.  Not yet anyway.  I’m not a blogger trying to create journalism.   I’m a journalist who blogs and this is still very much a work in progress, but I’m still excited by the possibilities.   If you gave me a million dollars and told me, “Go make some journalism” I wouldn’t start a newspaper.   I’d create a blog.

Since I have one already maybe the best bet is to keep trying to make it better and if it becomes something more like journalism and something less like blogging, that’s not a bad thing.   This is as much an experiment as it an experience.

Thanks again for your support.  Going forward I hope to give you even better reasons to continue doing so.

Objective Journalism? Never Touch the Stuff

The National Association of Black Journalists meets for their annual convention.   This year it is being held in Orlando, Florida and in the wake of the George Zimmerman acquittal, Florida is not the happiest place on earth for many activists.   In fact, many are calling for a boycott of the Sunshine and Negro Hunting State.  Outgoing NABJ President Greg Lee told The Huffington Post the convention will go on as scheduled because canceling it would bankrupt the group.

“If we were to do something such as boycott, it would basically bankrupt our organization and it really defeats the purpose and takes away a powerful voice,” said Lee. “We had to look at the long-term view. Our organization is very vital to our nation, to our community in making sure that our stories are being told. … If there was no National Association of Black Journalists, you wouldn’t have had the Trayvon Martin story out there.”

That’s a stretch.   NABJ doesn’t publish any newspapers or magazines or produce any television or radio programs.   The Black press and the blogs like this one were way out in front of the Trayvon Martin story before the mainstream media woke up to it.   I’ve been a member of NABJ off and on (current status: off) since 1992 and not once have I ever thought of  NABJ as “very vital to our nation.”   If you’re not a journalist the odds are pretty good you’ve never even heard of the NABJ, let alone consider them “vital” to America.

nabj-logo

That piece of b.s. by Lee aside, I agree with the decision not to cancel the convention.

Florida is not the most popular place in America based upon the Zimmerman jury essentially saying young Black males can be hunted down and killed with impunity and no fear of legal sanction. That’s a sobering message many in the Black community are not feeling and they won’t be feeling much love for NABJ for going to Florida.

But cancelling out would send the organization into a financial tailspin it might never pull out of. The contracts that sent NABJ to Orlando were signed years, not weeks or months ago.  NABJ will take heat for going to Orlando, but that criticism will fade while a decision to scrub the convention would have immediately devastating effects.

That doesn’t mean NABJ is exempt from the burning issues of the day even though some members think it should be as this guy did on the organization’s Facebook page:  I think it’s weird that as a journalism organization, some are wanting us to show a bias of this nature in the first place. It’s like we forgot what we do because the outcome of a trial wasn’t what we personally wanted…

What I think is weird is anybody working in this business who thinks the public doesn’t already thinks journalists are biased.  They should because we are biased.   I’m just honest enough to admit I am and I’m fine with being so.

I try to be fair, balanced, accurate and tell the story as straight-forward as I can when I am wearing my journalism hat.

But I’m not objective. I’ve never tried to pretend I was. It’s fine with me if you think you are, but whomever it is that’s writing your checks probably isn’t.

One of my greatest influences in journalism was Hunter S. Thompson. Reading Thompson was like going from bubble-gum pop music to Miles Davis. You learned there was more to journalism than AP style and the inverted pyramid of telling a story. You could also words as scalpels or bludgeons as the need arose.

I think some Black journalists are scared of being seen as Black and only want to considered journalists.   That is neutering yourself in search of validation from someone else.  Swear you don’t put your Blackness  before Journalism!  Swear it!!  Journalism is thy God and thou shalt have no other gods before Journalism.

This was Thompson take on being an objective journalist from his book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.

“Objective journalism is a pompous contradiction in terms.”

“So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here–not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.”

Agreed and seconded.  Objective Journalism belongs in the same place as Oz, Narnia and Atlantis. It’s a mythical place where many seek and few find. Think of yourself as “objective” if you want. It doesn’t mean your editor or publisher shares your philosophy.

It is drilled in the heads of journalists that we must be balanced about all things as if the news were a pie that can be cut in perfectly equal sections.  Every story isn’t balanced and the other side of the argument is often stupid, crazy or flat-out wrong, but you must present it so you can say at least you were “objective.”

I’m calling bullshit on that.  Thompson placed a greater value on honesty than objectivity and it’s worked for me as it worked for him.

You should be fair.  You should strive to be accurate.  You must always be honest.  If you can be objective, that’s nice, but it runs counter to everything I know about human beings and I doubt you really are.

For the Love of Dirty Laundry

Even when the room is full it’s empty.

This was not prompted by any event specific event being bandied about on the television, on the radio or online.   Think of this as a primal scream from a particularly dark night of the soul.   No single event set me off.  It’s more of a cumulative effect of overexposure to too much raw bullshit being passed off as “news.”

I’ve come to a realization.   It isn’t original or even profound.  It just took me a while to recognize it even when I was having my nose rubbed in it.

The Washington press are lapdogs to power and privilege, starved for the newest “scandal,” live on the table scraps from their favorite insiders like John McCain and Newt Gingrich and do a lousy job of investigative journalism, interviewing and simple reporting.

As time goes by, I have less and less regard for the incestuous insider relationship between Washington-based “journalists” and the political power hub they slavishly bend the knee to.

If a Washington-based talking head tells you it’s freezing outside and there’s a snowstorm coming, open all your windows, put on a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses and plan for a picnic at the beach. They lie, they deceive and they mislead.

What attracted me to journalism in the first place was I believed in how it was the unofficial Fourth Estate that served as part overseeing the Presidency, Judiciary and Legislative branches.

The press loves to quote Thomas Jefferson’s “…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter” because it make them feel good about themselves.  What the press prefers to forget is Joseph Pulitzer’s admonishment that “A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself.”

If we’re not there yet, we’re well on the way to getting there, folks.

As just another cash-feeder to their corporate owners (CNN, Fox, MSNBC and the three network news programs, I’m looking at you) the first thing to go in these sleek, but stripped down to little more than fancy studio sets and movie special effects is foreign bureaus because who cares about what’s going on in Asia or Africa?  The next is anything that smacks of investigative reporting and documentaries.   The last and most obvious is even the thinnest pretext of objectivity.

We’re not mad as hell, but they’re trying to drive us mad as hell.

Coming from someone as opinionated as I am and as distrustful of the protestations from the press of their “impartiality” that might sound funny, but there’s nothing amusing about it.  As a calling I don’t know anyone still with a job feeling real comfortable about it.   As a craft, journalism is killing itself with its own unprofessionalism and sloppiness.  Reference CNN’s absolutely abysmal coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing where mistake after mistake after mistake was made for the evidence of  this.    I’ve had it up to here with the whole “get it first now and we’ll get it right later” mindset.

When the most sensible “journalist” is Jon Stewart that is a sure sign how lousy the profession of journalism is because  typically I cannot stand Jon Stewart.

At this time, I’m struggling not to give in to the prevailing sentiment that what we laughingly call “the mainstream media” is only concerned about superficiality, scandal, sex, sleaze, celebrity and mindless amusement of the masses while the critical, complicated and difficult decisions and issues go ignored and unreported.  And I’m losing that struggle.

I’ve never been more unhappy about the state of journalism or more depressed to be a journalist.   I hate to think that Sarah Palin was right.  About anything.   But she wasn’t all wrong when she dubbed the press “the lamestream media.”

We call it news, but only because that’s better than calling it what it has become; infotainment on a level that Network could only hint at.  Once upon a time  Paddy Chayefsky‘s Network was hailed as dark satire.   Now it’s  Monday night programming on cable news.

Not a real journalist but more respected than those who are.

I make my living off the Evening News
Just give me something-something I can use
People love it when you lose,
They love dirty laundry

Well, I coulda been an actor, but I wound up here
I just have to look good, I don’t have to be clear
Come and whisper in my ear
Give us dirty laundry

Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em when they’re down
Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em when they’re down
Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em when they’re down
Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em all around

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who
comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam
in her eye
It’s interesting when people die-
Give us dirty laundry

Can we film the operation?
Is the head dead yet?
You know, the boys in the newsroom got a
running bet
Get the widow on the set!
We need dirty laundry

You don’t really need to find out what’s going on
You don’t really want to know just how far it’s gone
Just leave well enough alone
Eat your dirty laundry

Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em when they’re down
Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em when they’re down

Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em when they’re down
Kick ’em when they’re stiff
Kick ’em all around

Dirty little secrets
Dirty little lies
We got our dirty little fingers in everybody’s pie
We love to cut you down to size
We love dirty laundry

We can do “The Innuendo”
We can dance and sing
When it’s said and done we haven’t told you a thing
We all know that Crap is King
Give us dirty laundry!

~ “Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley & Danny Kortchmar

Nate Thayer Bites the Hand That Doesn’t Feed

Mr. Thayer doesn’t do freebies.

The sad story of one Mr. Nate Thayer and his experiences with The Atlantic magazine will sound very familiar to any freelance writer whose hopes of writing for a major, high-profile publication were dashed by the sad reality of learning they weren’t going to be paid for doing so.

Thayer’s somewhat tense exchange  with an editor of The Atlantic went viral and provided an example of the freelancer’s frustration in finding paying markets for their work.   Thayer published the entire correspondence on his blog.

Thayer: Hi Olga: What did you have in mind for length, storyline, deadline, and fees for the basketball  diplomacy piece. Or any other specifics. I think we can work something out, but I want to make sure I have the time to do it properly to meet your deadline, so give me a shout back when you have the earliest chance.

The Atlantic: Thanks for responding. Maybe by the end of the week? 1,200 words? We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. I understand if that’s not a workable arrangement for you, I just wanted to see if you were interested.

Thanks so much again for your time. A great piece!

Thayer:  I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children. I know several people who write for the Atlantic who of course get paid. I appreciate your interest, but, while I respect the Atlantic, and have several friends who write for it, I have bills to pay and cannot expect to do so by giving my work away for free to a for profit company so they can make money off of my efforts. 1200 words by the end of the week would be fine, and I can assure you it would be well received, but not for free. Frankly, I will refrain from being insulted and am perplexed how one can expect to try to retain quality professional services without compensating for them. Let me know if you have perhaps mispoken.

You don’t give your magazine away, so why should you expect writers to give you their work for free?

She hadn’t misspoken and Thayer went nuclear on The Atlantic after the editor-in-chief, James Bennett said in a statement,  “The case involving Nate Thayer is unusual. We did not ask him to report and write an original piece for us, but we did ask if he’d be interested in posting a condensed version of an article he had already published elsewhere, which we would have done with full credit to the original publisher. We rarely do this outside our established partnerships, but we were enthusiastic about bringing Thayer’s work to a larger audience — an outcome, I guess, we have now, backhandedly, achieved. We’re sorry we offended him.”

For their part The Atlantic says Thayer did not inform them he would be publishing the entire correspondence.   Thayer’s response to New York magazine was both more colorful and far more profane.

I was under the assumption that such practices were abolished when the [13th] amendment to the Constitution was ratified,” he said. “I don’t need the exposure. What I need is to pay my fucking rent. Exposure doesn’t feed my fucking children. Fuck that!” Thayer said adding he could  not afford to go online . “I actually stick my fucking computer out the window to use the neighbor’s Internet connection. I simply can’t make a fucking living.”

As a freelancer myself, my sympathies are decidedly with Mr. Thayer.  However, I don’t know if I would have disclosed and published the exchange with the editor.   Perhaps Thayer will find more paying opportunities coming his way as a result of going public with his beef, but I’d bet there will be as many editors who will lose his address because he aired his grievance in this way.   There is a reason you don’t crap where you eat.

Anyone who has been a freelancer for any length of time knows how it feels like you’re beating your brains out in hopes to land a paying gig.   Whether Thayer has enhanced or lessened his chances remains to be seen.    Every writer who places a value on their work wants to get paid for it.  But does publicly trashing a magazine help your chances?

Probably not, but  Thayer is my new, if slightly tarnished, hero! He said in print what I know by heart.   I would sooner line the walls of a gas station men’s room with my writings than to give them to a millionaire like Arianna Huffington  who can afford to pay me, but won’t.

The hell with exposure. I can’t EAT with “exposure” and I can’t pay my BILLS with “exposure.” The idea that I should give away my stuff for free is ridiculous. Unless you and I are friends or we have some sort of arrangement, I could see doing freebies, but otherwise, I’m no different than any other professionals and PROFESSIONALS get paid!

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Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Journalists

If you're in journalism you're on your way up or on your way down.

On the last night of this year’s National Association of Black Journalists convention my wife and I were sitting in the lobby of the Philadelphia Marriott hotel chatting and having drinks with from some colleagues commiserating about the sorry state of journalism and our place in it.

One subject that invariably comes up during these gatherings of the journalistic tribes is how hard it is to make a living as a journalist anymore.  Newspapers have gutted their staffs, the number of places where you can go online to write for are tightening their belts and the ones that pay for content are tougher than ever to break into.   It’s a buyer’s market and a lot of journalists are being shut out of it.

The cliche was “last hired, first fired” but now there’s no security for anyone.  Whites are just as likely as Blacks and Latinos to be shown the door when the next series of cuts, layoffs, buy outs, early retirements and firings come along.   Maybe it used to be the bottom feeders were the ones who had the most to worry about when they were called into the boss’ office on Friday, but now anybody can get kicked to the curb at any moment.  Job security is a joke and the few left standing doing double and triple-duty are like the last survivors in The Walking Dead.  Their time is coming soon and they know it.

I got a good laugh at the convention when I was informed the title “freelancer” is passe.  Now the vogue term is “entrepreneurial journalist” and your business is selling Brand You.  You have to have a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter and Linkedin account.  You should have streaming media of your television and radio appearances and you should be ready to strut your stuff and show you’re a 21st Century Renaissance Man ready, willing and able to navigate the brave new world of the new media world.

Which is a crock.  You can paint your body red, white and blue, stick a flag in your navel and call yourself Yankee Doodle Dandy.  It matters less what title you go by than it does whether there are any opportunities available.  If there aren’t does it really matter what’s on your 500 free Vistaprint business cards?

There’s still work for journalists, but what work there is may not be permanent, may not be where you want to go or the type you want to do.

Listen to the optimists and the great recession sounds like a great opportunity. This is the time for the creative class to brand itself! A day job, they say, is so 20th century – as quaint and outdated as tail fins and manual sewing machines.

Thanks to laptops, cheap Internet connections and structural changes in the world economy, we’re living in a world of “free agents” – “soloists” who are “self-branding” and empowered to live flexible and self-determining lives full of meaning. We are all citizens of Freelance Nation — heirs not to the old-school stodgy, gray-flannel-suit Organization Man but to the coonskin-capped pioneers and rugged, self-made types who built this country.

Maybe Clark Kent should be Superman full-time.

But for those who must actually scrape together work in this new “gig economy” – architects, filmmakers, writers, musicians, bookstore managers, graphic designers and other downsized members of the creative class, folks made obsolete by the Internet and the current predatory style of corporations – Freelance Nation is a place where they fight to keep a home or medical insurance.

Some are losing their houses. Others are watching marriages go up in smoke or falling into heavy drinking. Still others are couch-jumping for months or years at a time. Or they’re veering close to bankruptcy because of the risk of living without medical insurance. Call it the new creative destruction.

Matthew Wake had paid his dues. Post-college, he’d worked as short-order cook, waited tables, worked construction and clerked in record stores. While he was living in New Orleans, playing guitar in bands, a girlfriend suggested he might try something less financially risky than piling into a van to play small clubs across the South: music journalism.

Wake didn’t walk right into a staff job – he wrote copy for a bank, freelanced for papers for free, sold ads and sat through three-hour town-planning meetings, all ways to break in. But after a few years he became a writer, and later editor, at several Southern papers. For his latest job, he was a staff writer at a weekly in Greenville, S.C. The paper was owned by Gannett – a famously profit-driven company. “Every quarter was like a Friday the 13th horror film,” he recalls. “‘Am I gonna be the guy that Freddie gets?'”

One day in June, he and his colleagues were called into a room and told the paper was eliminating its arts and entertainment staff: The weekly would recycle copy from other papers in the chain. It was one of about 20,000 layoffs at Gannett under former CEO Craig Dubow, who retired last month due to medical issues and left the company with a $37.1 million golden parachute.

“First,” Wake says of his life post-job, “I went through my savings the way Jane’s Addiction goes through bass players. I hit up tons and tons of publications – local, regional, national. What I’ve observed is that as times get tough, freelance is the first thing they cut.” And publications are shrinking. “Spin just went bimonthly. The Rolling Stone I get in the mail is about as thin as a brochure. There will be more rats fighting for that same piece of cheese.”

Unpleasant as working for Gannett could be, Wake lived in a three-bedroom house, buying CDs or heading to bars when he wanted to. Now, he’s moved back to his hometown – Huntsville, Ala. — and has taken a room in the house he grew up in, now owned by his attorney brother. He writes for pay when he can, and lives off what he makes taking care of his 91-year-old grandmother. “It gives me something to do so I don’t have to go back to waiting tables,” he says. “I just turned 40.”

It’s hard not to feel like he’s going backward. When Wake had a job, he was able to make some forays into collecting art. “Now I have the same Stones poster I had in college… Do I go into PR? Marketing? I go from interviewing Slash to writing copy for a Denny’s menu? It’s gonna be a weird world for a while.”

As long as there are people willing to read, there will always be a need for people willing to write.  Whether or not anyone will pay you for your words is another matter.  There will always be a place for writers, but I’m not so sure there will always be one for journalists.   It feels like an endangered profession.

This month counts as a good one for me.  I submitted an article to The Root and they published it.  It only took ten months since the last one they accepted.

You owe anyone money they’re willing to wait ten months before they get it?  You can make a nice living as a freelancer, but it’s going to take a lot of writing for $25 bucks here and $100 bucks there before you make any money at it.   That is if you can find a publisher who doesn’t expect you to write for nothing.

I wouldn’t tell a student today looking at a career to consider journalism.  No way.  If they ignored my advice and pursued the profession anyway, I’d tell them they better have a strong minor to fall back on.  Clark Kent needs Superman more than the other way around.

Reporters should be considered an endangered species.

Like Cornbread Soaked in Olive Oil: When the Black Journalists Met the Greek Oprah.

Queen Arianna invites Black journalists to join her empire.

It occurred to me though I wrote about going to the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Philadelphia I never said anything about actually attending the convention.  Setting all the Al Sharpton drama aside, it’s worth getting into.

As much as it will distress the convention officials we didn’t stay at the official convention hotel, the Philadelphia Marriott as it was priced a bit out of our budget and since nobody pays my way to these gatherings of the tribe but me, what’s out of our budget is always a major consideration.

We stayed at The Independent, a smaller boutique hotel minus all the trappings of a major chain (no valet service, no on site gym, no parking garage and no hotel bar), but without the jacked-up prices you get for those luxuries.  The Independent was clean, comfortable and austere.  I wanted something close to the convention site because in its sprawling Center City area Philadelphia is a walking city.

The first full day of the convention kicked off with an opening ceremony and this year’s featured an address from Attorney General Eric Holder followed by a plenary session dubbed “A Conversation with Arianna Huffington,” a title that proved misleading.  It was more of a monologue than a dialogue.

Anyone who has followed this blog knows I have issues with the president and editor of The Huffington Post.  Mostly because she’s a cheap exploiter of writers and journalists who reeks of hypocrisy even while she pumps out a pseudo progressive political slant uncomfortably juxtaposed with a heavy dose of brainless celebrity worship.

Waiting for me at the hotel was a box of flyers from the The Newspaper Guild and the National Writers Union I was going to distribute at the convention asking Huffington to create a business model that promotes paying the HuffPo’s unpaid writers, photographers, cartoonists and other contributors.   Queen Arianna has shown no interest in channeling any of the $315 million AOL coughed up to buy the HuffPo into the pockets of those whose labor made the news aggregator valuable in the first place.

That morning I arrived at the cavernous Philadelphia Convention Center and left the flyers in key spots where others could find them including outside of the main ballroom where Huffington was scheduled to appear.  Representatives of the Newspaper Guild showed up to hand out more information to the attendees as well.  Many NABJ members have no idea of how sketchy Queen Arianna’s journalism practices are.

My anticipation was instead of facing questions from an audience of experienced journalists, Huffington would duck the inquiries about her wretched labor questions.   That anticipation was  confirmed.  Huffington only submitted to a few Twitter questions asked by moderator Lester Holt.  No live questioning from the floor.  That limited the scope of questions to what could be fitted into 140 characters and there was no chance to ask follow-up questions.  Queen Arianna had made sure she had a built-in escape hatch and NABJ apparently agreed to the kid gloves treatment.

Huffington fielded one question about her no pay for play practices and she blandly deflected the criticism by boasting the HuffPo has 1,300 paid staffers and nobody forces anyone to write for them.  She stuck to her standard line how contributing to the HuffPo provides a “platform” for aspiring writers, journalists and bloggers.

“People can choose to participate in the platform, if they have something they want to write that requires wider distribution, or not to participate in the platform,” Huffington said. “We are not dependent on them.”

I call bull.  Huffington built her business on the backs of the  unpaid writers she now claims she isn’t dependent upon.  Her background is one of a status-seeking socialite, not a crusading publisher.

Huffington asked her Black staffers in the audience to stand up. One of her newest hires is Christina Norman, the former CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network, who was ousted from her position by Oprah.  Norman, who will lead the HuffPo Black Voices division is considered a major “get” by Huffington whose aspiration of creating a similar media empire lays bare her ambitions of becoming the Greek Oprah.

The two most powerful women in the media battle for global supremacy.

Huffington’s pretense as a progressive crusader is undercut by her overbearing superiority complex, barely concealed disdain for working people and phony aristocratic bearing which is never too far from swaggering into view.  Huffington is one of the most powerful women in the world and a media mogul.   She has a way to go before she becomes the universal brand that Oprah is, but don’t doubt her desire to hold the crown of Queen of All Media exclusively for herself.  She has the ambition and has already demonstrated the ruthlessness.

It was a mistake in the first place to invite a poseur and exploiter like Huffington to speak at NABJ’s convention.  What she does is the antithesis of serious journalism.  To allow her to do nothing more but announce the HuffPo was seeking contributors (unpaid,  of course) to the newly revamped AOL Black Voices site was an insult.

Attorney General Holder was left with the thankless task of being the warm-up act for Queen Arianna and brought with him a videotaped greeting to NABJ from President Obama.  Otherwise, the news value of the opening ceremony was pretty much nil except for former NBC Universal chief diversity officer Paula Madison pledging $100,000 to support the 2012 NABJ convention in New Orleans.

Madison, whose family holdings include the Africa Channel and the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks, was motivated by her wish to support NABJ which will be competing with the UNITY 2012 convention in Las Vegas for sponsors and attendees.   NABJ split from the UNITY coalition of minority journalism organizations over differences in finances, accountability and respect.    The fallout from this messy divorce hung over the entire convention and had prompted the New York Times to announce they would be attending the UNITY gathering instead of NABJ next  year.

Madison told the audience, “To every NABJ member who is wavering whether to make a choice between UNITY and NABJ, let me just say to you: If you are three blocks down the street, and folks can’t see your gender, they can see your skin color.”

The message was clear.  UNITY is nice, but you’re first, foremost and always Black and that precludes fanciful notions of reaching across the table to other groups of color.

“No matter how you define yourself, you are defined by the rest of the world as black,” Madison said.

The only decision I’ve made about NABJ in N’awlins or UNITY in Vegas is I don’t see myself in either place next summer.  Attending these conventions are expensive propositions when you’re footing the bills to be there.   The story of why NABJ split from UNITY is a long and winding road that probably needs its own post, but it comes down to the usual reasons.  Money, power and respect and the NABJ board felt it was getting enough of any of the three from UNITY.

More about that in Part 2 and how that messy separation turned what should have been a routine one-hour board meeting into a three-hour soul-searching of what NABJ stands for and where its priorities should be.

NABJ officials join Arianna in cheesin' for the camera

Keith Olbermann: Worst Person in MSNBC’s World?

A suspension now and permanent vacation later?

You’ve probably heard by now how Keith Olbermann, the host of MSNBC’s Countdown was suspended indefinitely without pay for not disclosing campaign contributions he had made to three Democratic candidates.

Some people are very unhappy with this decision.   There are calls for a boycott of MSNBC and petitions are floating around the web demanding Olbermann’s immediate reinstatement.

I think some good people are missing the point here.

I’m sorry that Keith Olbermann got suspended, but even outspoken and opinionated TV talking heads need to maintain some pretense of credibility.  He had a clear conflict of interest and saying others have made contributions to candidates without disclosing them is no justification or excuse.  Olbermann should take his lumps and hopefully return wiser from the experience.

There is no single agency or board that oversees journalistic practices.  The Society of Professional Journalists has a code of ethics to guide professional journalists ow, but they are more suggested rules for the road instead of policies and protocols to be followed or face consequences for violating them.

Journalists should:

—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

On some of the journalism boards, there’s been much discussion as what the proper role of a journalist is exercising their political views. Some go so far as to say they do not vote so as not to tarnish their image of impartiality.

I wouldn’t allow the fact of being a journalist go so far as to self-disenfrachise. I vote and I have my political perspective. But I’m not signing any petitions or joining any Facebook pages to support Olbermann. He screwed up. He can’t slam Fox for their shaky journalistic practices and then get caught in a sketchy situation like this.

The problem with journalism is unlike practicing law and medicine, there’s no oversight board that cites acts of journalistic malpractice. ANYONE from a blogger to Andrew Breitbart can claim to be a “journalist.” Those of us whom are feel annoyed by those who are not. If standards and ethics mean anything, it means when you cross the line, you get pimp-slapped so you stay in your lane.

Olbermann contributed to a candidate and then interviewed him afterwards and didn’t disclose the contribution. Is giving $2400 to three separate Democratic candidates a firing or suspendable offense?   Not really, but though Olbermann has never concealed his liberal bias giving money to a candidate and then turning around to interview him without disclosing the contribution is a big no-no.

Lean forward and chill out

What was most embarrassing to MSNBC should have been the incredibly sloppy Election Night coverage  by the team of Olbermann, Lawrence O’ Donnell, Rachel Maddow and the always overwrought Chris Matthews.   You could almost hear their collective gnashing of teeth as Democrats fell across the country as results rolled in.

It was tough to watch MSNBC’s editorializing-as-reporting style  come totally unglued.    I clicked over to Fox News but had to eject due to the barely concealed happiness of the hosts to the Republican wave and ended up at CNN which seemed to have no less than 12 “expert” commentators crowded around two tables with Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper barely controlling the yammering and jockeying for face time.

But Olbermann’s stumble into overt activism is hardly a unique case.

Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation gave $1.25 million to the Republican Governors Association and another $1 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during this past election. More likely than not, if you saw an independent attack ad against a targeted Democrat, the fine print at end indicated it came from the RGA or the Chamber of Commerce and in part financed by Fox News.

According to Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, some 30 Fox News personalities have endorsed, done fundraisers and endorsed Republican candidates in more than 600 cases across 47 states. Karl Rove and likely 2012 presidential candidates, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee work for Fox and were aggressively campaigning for Republicans this year.

What’s “fair or balanced” about that?

Rachel Maddow is right when she says Fox is “a political operation” and not simply just another cable news network. That’s what happens when you hire an old Richard Nixon staffer and put him in charge. You get a lot of advocacy and not much journalism.

You also get cheerleaders instead of journalists.