Fixing the Diversity Problem at Digital Media Startups

Tags

, , ,

This week allDigitocracy Founder Tracie Powell spoke with Gabriel Arana, senior editor at The American Prospect, about the lack of diversity in journalism, particularly among digital media startups such as Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com and Ezra Klein’s Vox.com.

Video courtesy of BloggingHeads.TV.

Fixing the diversity in journalism problem

Why Journalists Should Care About Today’s Net Neutrality Ruling

Tags

, , ,

By Tracie Powell

Internet service providers, like Verizon and Comcast, can give preference to some content owners over others or block them, a federal appeals court ruled this morning.

Quite simply, this means, internet service providers can pick and choose the content consumers see and how they see it. The ruling, Verizon v. Federal Communications Commission, is a setback to what is more commonly called, “net neutrality,” the principal that Internet service providers should enable equal access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.  The court states that the Federal Communications Act does not allow the FCC to force internet service providers to make their networks equally open to all.

Why journalists and journalism organizations should care: For independent or small-scale content owners, this means it will be that much harder to reach the consumers you’re targeting. For news organizations, already strapped for cash, this means now having to pay to play on the super-information highways in order to reach consumers, or worse, having your content blocked altogether because the internet service provider favors another company over yours. Advocates argue it will also stifle innovation.

“This ruling means there is no one who can protect us from ISPs that block or discriminate against websites, applications or services,” according to media advocacy organization Free Press in an email blast about the ruling. Free Press has been warning of the threat for more than two years.

The court did allow that internet service providers will have to disclose their practices to users. During the holidays Republican members of congress announced plans to update the federal communications law. A more modern law that takes into account the changing media landscape, they said. Congress first passed the Communications Act of 1934, which created the FCC, and to encourage and regulate electronic communication in the United States; the law was revised in 1996. Signed by then President Bill Clinton, the initial purpose of the current law was to deregulate the converging broadcast and telecommunications industries.

Under a more modern communications law, congress could give the FCC power to make and enforce rules that would require telecom companies to keep their networks open; or congress can bend to the will of the telecom lobby, and allow the court’s ruling to usher in a new era of unequal access to the internet. Public hearings on this matter promise to be top news in months to come.

UPDATE: This afternoon Comcast released a statement that the cable provider would continue to play by open internet rules, at least through 2018, per an agreement it made with the government when it merged with NBCUniversal.

Notes:

This story is developing, Will update once I read the ruling further. 

This post also appears on the NABJDigital Blog.

 

Latinos absent on major news shows, time for serious change in 2014

TMPunplugged Admin:

“How can we as Latinos be 50 million strong in the U.S. and still be ignored by the major news outlets. How can we still not be the lead players on some of these networks?”

Originally posted on Latino Communicators:

During the holidays, I watched a lot of news programs and talk shows.  I concluded AGAIN that Latinos are no where to be found.

Watch most national news shows, talk shows and morning shows and you won’t see any Latino on-air talent. That goes for cable too.

Clarification–I’m talking about permanent on-air Latino talent on the news desk like on Good Morning America or 60 Minutes. I know there are  a few Latino correspondents at ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN, but not on the anchor desk. That’s where we need change.

It reminds me of the late 1960′s and 70′s when I was a kid.  No Latinos were on TV then. But this is 2014? Everyone talks  and writes about “diversity” and even major media companies claim they want “diversity”, but let’s be real, there isn’t such a thing on television.

How can we as Latinos be 50 million strong…

View original 233 more words

10 More Journalists & Trends to Watch in 2014

We’re a little late to the listicle party, but want to still weigh-in on the 10 journalists and journalism-related trends to watch in 2014. Here’s the who, what and why. Take a gander and leave us your thoughts.

Roland Martin is probably one of the busiest journalists in the business. Roland MartinStarting at 6 a.m., he helps a daily morning radio show on Radio One; after that he anchors a daily morning news show on TV One. Armed with a substantial web and social media presence, Martin is one of the few journalists of color who isn’t just talking the talk about building a brand, he’s done it. We’d like to see if his brand-building prowess translates into overall success for the network, especially at a time when most all other black-oriented news shows have gotten canceled.

al-jazeera-asenap-chaske-spencerAl Jazeera America is a news organization that has assembled the most diverse news talent in the business: From the only covered co-host on U.S. television, Malika Bilal, to former PBS anchor Ray Suarez, the network has the goods — and the cash flow — to make itself a success. Despite all its promise, however, Al Jazeera America’s ratings are so low that “they are considered a ‘scratch’ and aren’t reported by Nielsen,” The New York Post revealed in November. Part of the reason is because of obstacles telecom companies (i.e. Comcast and others) have erected that are impeding the network’s reach. The Qatar-based network recently launched a new YouTube channel in hopes of regaining some of the viewers it may have lost when Al Jazeera America’s executives transitioned from an online-only presence to cable television. Whether this is a strategy that will work is a question we hope gets answered in 2014.

Matt Thompson, Manager of Digital Initiatives at NPR, launched Code Switch in April 2013 with a $1.5 million grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In December NPR announced it had received $17 million in grant money, some of which will go to operate Code Switch. It will be interesting to see what Thompson does with the additional funding. With its blog and cross-pollination into other NPR programs, Code Switch has cracked open the door to new audience members for NPR, but it has not yet become destination reading for many. Thompson and NPR haven’t quite broken out of the box. In fact, NPR can be quite confined and stuffy at times. Let’s see if this money can help overcome, at least the perception, of that stuffiness.

Don LemonDon Lemon broke free of the restraints of conventional journalism in 2013 and fully embraced opinion journalism, not only on CNN where he had been a reporter, and later a weekend anchor, since 2006, but on the Tom Joyner Morning Show where he reaches a primarily black audience. Not all of Lemon’s opinions, however, have been welcomed by radio listeners or TV viewers. Lemon’s move poses two important questions for 2014: Will this more personality-driven journalism over straight news reporting be a blessing or a curse for Lemon’s career, and can respectability politics take you to the next level?

David Steinberg

Can David Steinberg, a copy editor at The San Francisco Chronicle, lead UNITY in living up to its mission?

UNITY: Journalists for Diversity witnessed the departure of its second largest contingent in 2013 when the National Association of Hispanic Journalists voted to leave the alliance in October (the National Association of Black Journalists, the largest association for journalists of color, left UNITY two years earlier). 2013 was also the year UNITY elected David Steinberg its first white president, prompting questions of whether the organization had permanently lost its way. UNITY’s founders, NABJ’s Will Sutton and NAHJ’s Juan Gonzalez, promptly pronounced UNITY dead. None of this has stopped Steinberg and the remaining alliance members – the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association, or the Asian American Journalists Association — from moving forward with plans to re-establish itself as the premier journalism advocacy organization lobbying for diversity inside newsrooms and in news coverage. We’ll get a good idea as to whether UNITY can live up to its promise in 2014. 

Matt LauerMatt Lauer had a tumultuous 2012 that carried over into 2013 with ratings of NBC’s Today show flattening and viewers still angry with him (right or wrong) over the perceived poor treatment his former co-host Ann Curry suffered. Lauer’s $25 million contract is up this year and we’re interested in seeing whether he stays or goes. The contract isn’t even up yet and already media observers are picking his replacement. Stay tuned…

Katie CouricKatie Couric lost her host gig at ABC, but got another at Yahoo News. We’re not sure whether this was the smartest business move on Yahoo’s part, but it will be interesting to see how Couric translates her mega legacy media skills to Yahoo’s mega digital news platform. Eric Deggans of National Public Radio described this merger as two monster brands “in search of a purpose.” This may very well be true. Still, we’re anxious to see whether Couric and Yahoo can help bolster each other’s staid media profiles, or sink under each other’s weight.

Robin RobertsRobin Roberts‘ sun rises just as Matt Lauer’s and possibly Katie Couric’s could be setting. ABC’s Good Morning America host just signed a new contract worth up to $20 million a year for up to five years and came out publicly about being gay. Roberts, who underwent a bone marrow transplant last year, expressed gratitude in a recent Facebook post for her restored good health and acknowledged the support of colleagues, friends and family including long-time girlfriend, Amber. Good Morning America is the most popular morning show on network television, and Roberts is one of the most popular morning show anchors. How bright will her star shine?

Fusion

Jorge Ramos anchors Fusion’s prime-time news programming.

English-language Hispanic media is on the rise. One need only look to ABC and its creation of Fusion in partnership with Univision to see that this is true. The Miami-based network, which targets young Latinos, launched in late October but hasn’t caught fire just yet (like Al Jazeera, viewership is so small that it isn’t measured by Nielsen). But ABC and Univision are betting big “with original programming including a live morning show, news programs anchored by Univision veteran Jorge Ramos, a lineup of young broadcasters and a humor block created in Los Angeles that includes a puppet talk show and animation helmed by the former head writer of The Daily Show,” reports The Miami Herald. If Fusion catches on the way Latin soap operas have in the US, then consumers will certainly see more Hispanic news media populate the landscape.

HuffPost LIVE just gets it: Diverse hosts, including co-founder Marc Lamont Hill, and expert panelists, incorporation of community engagement through social media tools including Google Hangouts and Twitter, and cutting-edge topics. With its truly integrated approach to news, HuffPost LIVE is receiving a growing and record number of video views, according to Poynter Online: “A record number of video views in November (just under 109 million, 510 percent more than this time last year, Sekoff said), which beat the previous record set in October, which beat the previous record set in August.” Although HuffPost LIVE has yet to make a profit, it is also receiving increased attention from advertisers. Poynter reports that Citi, for example, just renewed its sponsorship of a music series, with events scheduled to run through April.

Where are all the black tech innovators in America?

Tags

,

By Mike Green

Mike GreenWhere are black tech innovators in America?

It’s a good question that was raised in Silicon Valley two years ago when Angela Benton met legendary investor Mitch Kapor and founded NewMe, the first accelerator in Silicon Valley focused on black startup founders. Soledad O’Brien’s “Black in America” series catalyzed a national debate when it spotlighted the NewMe Accelerator and the controversy over a dearth of black tech talent in Silicon Valley. Earlier this year, Chad Womack, Ph.D., National Director of STEM Education at the UNCF (United Negro College Fund), made it his personal quest to address the question. And that was the genesis of the idea to produce an unprecedented gathering of HBCU leadership in Silicon Valley.

Connecting the Disconnected:

The challenges facing the landscape of tech innovation and economic inclusion are difficult to ignore. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, America has come to realize it cannot achieve its economic competitiveness goals when so much of its talented landscape is producing so little. For example, black entrepreneurs represent the fastest growth rate of entrepreneurship in the nation at 60 percent, which is more than triple the national average (18 percent). Yet, all U.S., black-owned businesses combined (1.9 million) produce less than 1 percent GDP, and so few jobs that the numbers register as statistically nil.

The work of The America21 Project to change the economic narrative across the nation has expanded awareness for long-term investing in establishing inclusive economic frameworks across an increasingly multicultural 21st century America. President Obama continues to point to STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math), innovation and high-growth entrepreneurship as the pipeline for producing much-needed jobs and increasing the nation’s overall economic competitiveness. Yet, in Silicon Valley, the top region in the nation for tech innovation and investing in high-growth enterprises, knowledge of the fastest-growing landscape of entrepreneurs also registers as statistically nil.

The UNCF recognized the problem of disconnected innovation landscapes (HBCU and Silicon Valley) and sought to address it by bringing them together.

HBCU Innovation Summit:

Fast-forward to late October 2013. Delegations of presidents, provosts and deans from 17 HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) landed in Silicon Valley to attend the inaugural four-day HBCU Innovation Summit that would introduce a 21st century vision for a collaborative relationship between the landscapes of HBCU innovation and the number one hub of innovation in the world, Silicon Valley. This historic relationship, made possible through collaboration between Stanford University and the UNCF, led by Dr. Michael Lomax, would establish a promising foundation upon which a national framework for economic inclusion may soon be built.

2013-12-08-FacebookUNCFLeadersHBCUPresidents.jpg

UNCF leaders pose with HBCU leadership at Facebook during the HBCU Innovation Summit, Oct 29 – Nov 1, 2013. From left (front row): Maxine Williams, head of Global Diversity at Facebook; Dr. Michael Lomax, CEO of UNCF; Dr. Beverly Tatum, President of Spelman College; Ken Tolson, Advisory Committee Member, White House Initiative on HBCU; From left (back row): Dr. Chad Womack, Director of STEM Education and Merck Fellows Program at UNCF; Dr. David Wilson, President of Morgan State University; Dr. Carlton Brown, President of Clark Atlanta University; Dr. Karl Reid, Vice President at UNCF.

Tech Innovation Leadership:

Ironically, one of Silicon Valley’s top tech innovators is an HBCU alum. Today, John Thompson sits on the board of Microsoft and is the CEO of Virtual Instruments in San Jose. He is formerly the CEO and Chairman of the board of Symantec, a company he led for 10 years, starting just before the turn of the turn of the century. At the time, Thompson was the only black man in America leading a major technology company, which he grew into a global giant worth more than $6 billion. In 2005, he led a merger with Veritas worth $11 billion. Thompson is a product of Florida A&M University (FAMU). His story is just one of many black innovators that, if known, could raise national awareness and greater interest in investing in developing an economic infrastructure connected to local innovation ecosystems and resources that could bolster the landscape of black innovation. The HBCU Innovation Summit could be a catalyst for generating awareness and strategic alliances across disconnected sectors of society.

HBCU Ice is Cool:

Dr. Womack, the architect of the HBCU Innovation Summit, introduced his vision for the HBCU Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship (ICE) collaborative during the summit at Stanford. Through the UNCF’s 21st century visionary HBCU ICE platform (currently in planning / fundraising stage), the landscape of faculty and student innovators across HBCU campuses can partner, collaborate and compete in a knowledge-based, tech-driven, globally competitive innovation economy. The idea of such a strong collaboration of HBCU schools, producing a pipeline of productivity and deal flow, was so compelling that it attracted the Kapor Center for Social Impact, Google, Facebook, Andreesen Horowitz, Texas Instruments, Silicon Valley Bank, NorTech, and even the White House, to the summit (see a full list of partners and sponsors here).

2013-12-08-ChadWomackSherylSandbergKenTolson550w.jpg
Ken Tolson, Advisory Committee Member to the White House Initiative on HBCU (left) and Chad Womack, PhD, National Director of STEM Education at the UNCF (United Negro College Fund) pose with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, during a visit to Facebook headquarters by attendees of the HBCU Innovation Summit, Oct. 29 – Nov 1, 2013.

Inclusive Competitiveness:

Nearly 100 attendees, including more than 50 HBCU delegates, were hosted by the Stanford Center for Professional Development and Stanford’s National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (EpiCenter).

Already there’s a noticeable positive impact from the summit, as leaders from tech-based economic development organizations, federal agencies, private equity, technology corporations and national foundations are becoming aware of the significant amount of black entrepreneurial talent that’s been hidden in America’s blind spot for decades. As media produce more stories, profiles and features focusing on HBCU innovation, the activity could facilitate a national awareness that serious solution-oriented approaches to America’s economic competitiveness problem starts with inclusion.

The HBCU Innovation Summit was a good start that enlightened leaders from two disconnected sectors of society of possible solutions inherent in their collaboration. The summit also included the vision of Johnathan Holifield, Esq., Vice President of Inclusive Competitiveness at NorTech, a tech-based economic development powerhouse covering 21 counties in northeast Ohio. Holifield is the “Father of Inclusive Competitiveness,” and is fueling a growing awareness of investment opportunities in economic inclusion frameworks across the TBED and iBED (Innovation-based Economic Development) landscape.

2013-12-08-JohnathanHolifieldandCarltonBrown600w.jpg
Johnathan Holifield, Esq., Vice President of Inclusive Competitiveness at NorTech (left), shakes hands with Dr. Carlton Brown, President of Clark Atlanta University, during the HBCU Innovation Summit at Stanford University, Oct. 29 – Nov. 1, 2013.

Investing in Inclusion:

With so many foundations, policymakers, corporations and investors seeking answers to developing a stronger landscape of economic inclusion via STEM education, the UNCF has established itself as a leading legacy institution connected to the landscape of HBCU with the right vision at the right time. It’s time to invest in scaling up the HBCU ICE collaborative. Given the intermediary reach of the UNCF to dozens of HBCU institutions that represent key channels to R&D, tech transfer and high-growth entrepreneurship in black America, investing in the HBCU ICE infrastructure and establishing a flowing pipeline to productivity could be considered a 21st century national economic imperative.

With the author’s permission, this is excerpted from a post that first appeared on Huffington Post Black Voices. Mike Green is an award-winning journalist and founder of The America 21 Project, which helped to organize the HBCU Innovation Summit. 

All photos by Dwayne Johnson and Mike Green.

GOP Launches Modernization of Communications Law Using A Dry Erase Board, Markers & YouTube

Tags

, , ,

By Tracie Powell

House Republican leaders Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) sat in front of a dry erase board with the hash-tag, #CommActUpdate, written in marker, to talk with former Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell (a GOP appointee) via Google Hangout about updating the 1996 Communications Act.

If ever there was an oxymoron.

It is also symbolic of what’s wrong with Washington, especially when it comes to crafting federal communications legislation. Forget for a moment the competing imagery of the low-tech crudely written upon dry erase board versus the high-tech broadcast on Youtube. What about the fact that they sat there talking to each other and at consumers– who apparently are the people the leaders want to reach since they posted the video publicly? No two-way communication and no engagement, no bipartisanship. Just three white guys talking in front of a couple of webcams.

In fairness, both Upton and Walden urged viewers to tweet them using the hash-tag to provide feedback on what lawmakers should take into consideration in next year’s hearings about modernizing the telecom law. He is particularly interested in what legislators can do “to lower costs and to have more devices, better tools, to communicate,” Upton said.

Congress first passed the Communications Act of 1934, which created the FCC, and to encourage and regulate electronic communication in the United States; the law was revised in 1996. Signed by then President Bill Clinton, the initial purpose of the current law was to deregulate the converging broadcast and telecommunications industries. It also allowed for more media cross-ownership, which critics blame for the concentration of media by a powerful few at the expense of women and minorities.

The Republican leaders said they want the law updated by 2015, just in time for the 2016 general election.

McDowell, the former FCC commissioner, said during the Google Hangout that the 1996 law is regulated by an agency created in 1934, which means “what we have now are different technologies treated differently based on their old history,” he continued. “Some of this is based on the Ma Bell phone monopoly that no longer exists.” McDowell, who now works for the Hudson Institute, pointed to cable and broadcast companies that are heavily regulated, but video service providers that are online where there is no regulation.

Though no Democrats participated in the hangout, AdWeek reported that Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the chairman emeritus of the commerce committee cautioned his Republican colleagues to approach modernizing the Communications Act with great care and attention to detail. “This will affect a rapidly changing industry, with many jobs and billions of dollars in investment at stake,” Dingell said. “We should approach this in a balanced fashion in order to preserve and promote American leadership in the telecommunications industry.”

Republicans should be applauded for taking on the task of updating communications law and regulations. But if they are serious about getting new rules on the books for emerging technologies, start by using current ones more effectively. Next time at least give viewers a good, old-fashioned power-point presentation.

You can watch the Google Hangout below:

Journalists are increasingly playing a role in creating branded content

Tags

, , ,

By Tracie Powell

When it comes to blurring the lines between advertising and news content, some journalists are leading the way.

native adsIn the past, news organizations worked extra hard to keep their news and advertising departments separate. But the digital age, and the increasing importance of native advertising to news gatherers’ bottom line, is changing all of that. Mashable’s Chief Strategy Officer, Adam Ostrow, said earlier this week that reporters and editors at his company create advertising content, which helps them tell “deeper” stories.

“What we try to do at Mashable is to marry the themes, ideas, and topics that are relevant to brands with editorial content that isn’t promoting the brand, talking about their products, but aligns with the themes that they’re interested in,” Ostrow said at workshop on native advertising hosted by the Federal Trade Commission earlier this week.

Read the rest of the story in the Columbia Journalism Review here.

 

Yahoo serves up the same old recipe with Couric pick

Tags

, , ,

Katie Couric

Katie Couric set to become the new face of Yahoo News.

By Tracie Powell

Katie Couric’s brand has underwhelmed and under-performed ever since she left NBC’s Today Show in 2006. Yet Yahoo now thinks she’ll be a big eyeballs and revenue draw as its new global news anchor. She might bring some initial attention to the aging Internet company, but I write why it probably won’t work in the long-term in this weekend’s The Washington Post.

Can Couric attract a younger, more diverse mobile-first audience to Yahoo? And why that’s important. READ HERE

 

 

 

 

5 Specific Ways The Flint Journal Can Do Better

Tags

, ,

By Afi Scruggs

Marjory Raymer Flint Journal

Marjory Raymer, editor of The Flint Journal, apologized for the newspaper’s journalistic lapse but failed to say what corrective actions she would take.

Although the furor is waning over the Flint Journal’s handling of Councilmember Wantwaz Davis’ criminal past – the newspaper did not report that he is an ex-felon until the day after the election – one question remains: How will the newspaper prevent a similar lapse? Editor Marjory Raymer apologized to readers, but she has not said what the paper will do to prevent similar episodes from happening again.

I’ve come up with five suggestions that will work for the Journal, and for any news organization that is serious about covering its communities. Notice I didn’t say, “serious about covering minority communities.” That’s because news is news and best practices have no color.

  1. Reinforce Journalism 101 and review the news drivers: At least two sources say Journal reporters covered forums where Davis spoke openly about his imprisonment. But that fact wasn’t tweeted before the election, let alone reported. Whether blaming incompetence, inexperience or negligence, one thing is clear– the newspaper’s staffers don’t recognize news. So take them back to school. Remind them of the seven criteria that determine newsworthiness: Timeliness, proximity, prominence, magnitude, consequence, uniqueness, and conflict.
  2. Make reporters and editors check the newspaper’s archives: Davis noted the Journal had covered his murder case back in 1991. Sure enough, the newspaper quoted from its archives in its post-election day story. In the pre-Internet era reporters routinely pulled stories – actual hard copies – from the newspaper’s library. The advent of keywords and tags makes searching the archives so easy it ought to be standard procedure, especially when writing about political candidates.
  3. Get reporters on the streets: If the Journal resembles its sibling publications, reporters aren’t in the office much. When the parent company, Advance Publications, cuts newsroom staff, it also frees them to work remotely. That means journalists can file stories remotely, from home or a favorite coffee shop. Encourage reporters, photographers and even editors to work the neighborhoods and show their faces in places they would generally ignore. Community engagement should not be limited to social media; in-person interaction goes a long way.
  4. Increase the diversity of your news staff: I can’t report the demographics of the Journal’s newsroom because the paper doesn’t participate in the American Society of Newspaper Editor’s annual census on newsroom diversity. But two-thirds of the 25 Michigan newspapers in the 2013 listing have no minority news staffers. If that’s true of the Journal, its editors must ask how a virtually all-white newsroom can cover a city that’s almost 60 percent African American. But diversity shouldn’t be limited to race and ethnicity; it also means representing diversity of thought, which can lead to identifying stories others miss. The Journal obviously needs savvy, experienced journalists who can recognize a good story when they see it. In other words, the news staffers should be young and old, African American, Latino/Latina, Asian and White, white-collar and blue-collar – at least, but also possess different levels of experience that can enable reporters to learn from each other and develop a set of best practices when it comes to identifying news.
  5. Repair the brand: Right about now The Flint Journal is the media’s version of the Healthcare Marketplace. The news outlet’s local readership won’t forget about this debacle. The paper needs to do more than post an apology on its site. Its senior leadership should ask what community leaders and activists want from the paper. Then tell the public how the Journal will fill gaps and improve coverage – and do what you say. It’s a cliche but true: Actions speak louder than words.

Guest blogger Afi Scruggs is a freelance digital journalist and commentator.

Why The Flint Mich. Journalism Fail Was Journalistic Neglect

Tags

, , , , , ,

Flint City Council member Wantwaz Davis

Flint City Council member Wantwaz Davis.

When traditional media falls short in its responsibility to inform the public, a ritual invariably follows: Acknowledgement, apology and promise to improve.

The same old routines resume, however, after the rite– until the next breakdown.

That’s why I’m rolling my eyes at The Flint (Mich.) Journal. The paper failed to provide the most cursory of local election news coverage of a convicted murderer who ran and won a spot on the city council.

Wantwaz Davis will represent the city’s predominately African American fifth ward after beating the incumbent by 71 votes. Davis served 19 years for second-degree murder and was released on parole in 2010.

Although Davis had been open about his past throughout the campaign, the paper didn’t report about him until the day after the election. The story informed readers that Davis was one of two newly elected council members with a criminal record. On Nov. 8, the paper’s editor, Marjory Raymer, apologized to readers.

“We reported (Davis’ prison record) the same day we discovered it. However, we did not inform voters – the way we all wish we could have – of that information before they went to the polls on Tuesday,” she said. “We can’t change what is. What we can do is acknowledge we should have done better and pledge to you that we will do better.”

Raymer hasn’t responded to my request for an interview, but we see things differently. The newspaper’s failure is more than incompetence.

It’s neglect.

The Flint Journal’s debacle is just another journalism failure that minority communities have endured for years. Over and over we’ve seen minority coverage limited to spot news, usually short hits about crime or some other dysfunction. Longer stories are bound by a couple of narrative frames: Disadvantaged people overcoming obstacles; disadvantaged people overcome by obstacles.

Admittedly I’m viewing this situation from Cleveland, about 240 miles southeast of Flint, but my perspective isn’t shaped by location. It’s shaped by my experience as an African American news producer and consumer. The Journal’s transgression is part of a pattern that stretches past Flint to my town, which is served by the Journal’s sister newspaper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and beyond.

That kind of disdain adds a ring of insincerity to apologies like Raymer’s. Here’s why: The paper may not have known about Davis’ past, but voters did.

He told them, over and over, in interview after interview, and at forum after forum.

Local radio host Tom Sumner says he interviewed Davis, as well as other candidates, during the primary and the general election campaigns. According to Sumner, Davis played up his past.

“It was his narrative. It was ‘I turned my life around, so I could turn the city around. I could be a mentor to young people to keep them from making the mistakes I made,’” Sumner recounts.

Local activist, Kathryn Blake says Davis spoke at numerous events that The Flint Journal covered.

The Flint Journal knew (about Davis’ background) before the election,” she says. “We had candidate forums here. The Flint Journal was there.”

So why did the newspaper fail to do its job? Jack Lessenberry, a prominent Michigan commentator blames drastic newsroom cuts.

“To save money, Advance Publications, the parent company of The Flint Journal, laid off more than a third of the staff four years ago,” he writes. “They cut home delivery to only three days, later four days a week.”

Sumner concedes that the paper’s staff is thin and inexperienced. But he thinks the paper made a news judgment that came back to bite them.

“I think they didn’t expect (Davis) to win. I don’t think they took him seriously enough as a candidate,” Sumner says.

I don’t think the paper took the community seriously enough to cover it correctly. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time; sad to say, it won’t be the last.

Guest blogger Afi Scruggs is a freelance digital journalist and commentator

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers