Saturday, December 20, 2008

Plans for SoCon'09 Announced

Big news out of the ATL today-- the plans for the biggest social networking gathering in the Southeast were announced. This year's SoCon09 will be held February 6-7, 2009.

It was based on my posts and my experience two years ago at SoCon '07 that this web log is as updated as it is.

SoCon (stands for "Southern Connection") started out in 2007 as the "UnConference" because it wasn't about formal academic presentations or panel discussions. The idea was that everyone who came was expected to participate.

Read more about how it all came together on Jeff Haynie's blog.

Then see all the Reflections from last year's conference. I missed this one. But, it looks like it was even better than the 2007 gathering.

The gathering brings together bloggers and social networking, social media enthusiasts from all over the region.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day- The Voting Experience

Well, the early morning excitement about the beginning of Election Day has subsided. I've voted and now it's time for a little reflection on the entire experience, which took all of about 75 minutes.

Even though I got there as polls were opening, by the time I got the Bobby Miller Recreation Center and parked and (at an adjacent baseball field), it was at least 7:05 when I got in line.

Still, I could tell the line was moving pretty well. The amount of time it took the mark the ballot-- LESS than five minutes, even with the local races.

But, was it worth it standing in line for an hour- absolutely! At some point, that wait, that one day being late to work every four years is worth it.

In such an important election, the inconvenience of waiting in line an hour is minor when it comes to deciding the course of our nation and its standing in the world.

I awakened before 4:30 a.m. as I was so psyched up for today (and had a lot of things to do this morning). Now, almost 5 hours later, I'm still psyched.

But I feel a sense of accomplishment-- that I've done my part as a citizen.

No matter how much we journalists talk about the election as a news story. There's something different when for a period time (i.e. this morning)you become a citizen and stand in line with other more "high-profile" people in your community. Voting is the ultimate equalizer.

Thank God for the orderly, organized manner that we do our civic duty here in Alabama.

Regardless of who wins, it's already been a good day.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Broadcast Educators from Southeast Tackle HD Radio, Digital Conversion

COLUMBIA, SC-- Another story of record attendance here in the South Carolina Capital as the biggest Broadcast Education Association District II meeting takes place here for the first time.

As the largest group of electronic media faculty, the Broadcast Education Association has encouraged fall district gatherings in addition to its annual spring convention, which is held each April in conjunction with the National Association of Broadcasters and the Radio-Television News Directors Association in Las Vegas.

The most successful of these gatherings has, by far, been our District II, which includes those from the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida. The first three District II conferences were held on Middle Tennessee State University campus from 2003 to 2005. In 2006, we hosted the gathering at the University of Alabama and last October, it was hosted by Valdosta State University in South Georgia.

Under the direction of the District II board representative Augie Grant, this year's gathering was held in conjunction with the Annual Convergence Conference with a joint banquet last year featuring Daryn Kagan, a former CNN anchor and now operator of a inspirational Web site,

While the two gatherings were held on the same weekend, one could come away with a totally different set of outcomes-- things to change and update in his/her teaching.

Today, one full panel of representatives from local television and radio here in Columbia and two research paper presentations focused on the February 17, 2009 transition to Digital Televlsion and the growing audience for Hyper Digital (not High Definition) Radio.

Those were clearly very timely topics and warrant follow-up from those of us in the classroom and in conjunction with those in industry.

I have much more to say as I reflect on the BEA District II meeting. But, I must move on to other pertinent tasks this evening.

More later.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Stephen F Austin State Shows Out

COLUMBIA, SC-- Much of the academic conference focuses on individual academic paper presentations. In this arena, those presentations have focused mostly on convergence.

But, what we're seeing this afternoon is a divergence of the way convergence is playing out at a smaller state institution. Hundreds of our nation's universities and colleges are just like Stephen F. Austin State.

SFASU brought six members of its faculty for the conference. They've just finished their panel presentation and are taking questions.

This was definitely a unique type of presentation.

Near Record Attendance Here in Columbia

COLUMBIA, SC-- I'm told about 80 people have registered for this year's Convergence Conference and if I heard nothing else-- I'm gotten an earful on the latest data for what newspapers and televisions are doing with their Web operations.

More details later, but as you see from the photo above, there are more people than we've had before engaging in this type of discussion about what's happening online.

I'm ducking out of that session, Newsroom Practices on Convergence" to make this posting. The photo shows what I could see from the back of Salon A here at Conference Center portion of the Clarion Hotel in downtown Columbia.

It's nice to have wireless so that these types of updates are do-able.

Greetings from the South Carolina State Capital

COLUMBIA, SC-- It's become a tradition for me-- for the last six years -- except one-- I travel to the Palmetto State to get the very latest updates on multimedia journalism, convergence and cross-media news gathering.

The experts in the field converge on the University of South Carolina campus to talk about their latest research, challenges in teaching in this area and what's likely to happen in the next few months.

Fortunately, the annual convergence conference calls on our Fall Study Break at the University of Alabama and University of South Carolina.

The conference is always a chance to get multiple "take-aways" to carry to my students.

Next fall, the 2009 gathering will be in November and hosted by our friends at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada Reno

In addition to my postings from my Twitter page, I'll be posting several times this weekend from The Convergence Conference.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

2 Million Student Newspaper Subscribers?

It might seem far-fetched. But, the head of the one of the nation's leading grant-making corporations thinks we could see two million students subscribing to local and national newspapers.

This week in a lecture at Howard University, Dr. Vartan Gregorian suggested that in any School of Journalism, every teacher should have one local and one national paper and students should have one local and one national paper subscription that is included in their student activities fee.

Would that actually work?

As journalism instructors, we work hard to get our students interested in reading the newspaper, any newspaper instead of relying only on what they can find in the online environment.

Some have argued that educational strategy of forcing readership of the print edition is "old school" or a lost cause?

Apparently Gregorian doesn't think so.

Gregorian was the first distinguished lecturer in the distinguished lecturer series hosted by the Howard University Johnson H. Johnson School of Communication's Preparing Future Journalism faculty program.

Full disclosure: I am a proud 1992 graduate of the Howard School of Communications!

Go Bison!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

CNN's Rick Sanchez Creates Moments with Social Networking

Former WSVN-TV (Miami/Ft. Lauderdale) anchor Rick Sanchez has a saying-- "Television is about the moments it creates."

Tonight Sanchez, who's now at CNN, created several of those moments by integrating the technology of social networking with the traditions of a scheduled news program.

Sanchez doesn't have one of the signature spots on CNN yet-- but he is the weekend evening anchor at the Atlanta-based cable news network where he does two editions of "CNN Newsroom."

On the night after the network broke the story of Barack Obama's choice for a running mate, the network moved into a whole new territory of technology by inviting viewers to comment on replays of the major political speeches of the day-- from Springfield, Illinois.

As Obama's running mate, Delaware Senator Joe Biden gave a speech that Sanchez and his staff replayed in its entirety with breaks and interruptions for viewers and a panel of guests to comment.

It was a revolutionary move. While it's obvious to anyone that the goal of interactivity to hold on to one's audience, we cannot discount the significance of tonight's event.

Sanchez (and more likely his producers) are to be commended for going this route in their reporting.

The real challenge will be seeing how well this is replicated next week when the Republicans have their big announcement of a running mate for John McCain.

News cycles and interest shift and change so it's who knows what else might be competing for the media spotlight a week from now.

Nonetheless, Sanchez and his crew at CNN Newsroom have shown that it can be done-- news operations integrating social networking not only in their coverage plans, but in the plans executed for presenting the news.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

From Asheville to the "Villes" of Tennessee

ASHEVILLE, N. Car.-- As the saying goes, "all good things must come to an end." I hate to begin this morning with a cliche. But, it's appropriate as we think about this last day of summer break and the end of my road trip.

I decided to sleep late this last day-- getting a 10:30 a.m. start from Asheville, NC headed west to Sevierville,Tenn then Knoxville, Tenn where I will pick up I-75 and start south.

While we'll certainly make some quick stops in "Big Orange" country (U. Georgia and U. Alabama fans don't like Big Orange Country as much-- it's where "Rock Top" reigns), the only scheduled stop is back in Northeast Alabama where I am scheduled for a late lunch (probably more like early dinner) with a colleague at Gadsden State Community College in Gadsden, Ala.

I've been through Gadsden before, but never done much stopping there.

I'm looking forward to going by the "Smokies" of East Tennessee. It was my first exposure to "The Volunteer State" a decade ago when a good friend of mine lived in Knoxville. She worked in Sevierville and I would catch her at work.

As I depart Asheville and Western North Carolina, I leave with plans next summer to come directly to Asheville and spend at LEAST a full day -- maybe even two at The Biltmore. Time didn't permit me to linger as long as I would like here. But, now I have something to which to look forward in 2009. In addition to my first trip to New England (I have a conference next August in Boston), I will plan to take the long route back here -- and make Asheville a major destination.

Finally, a photo along the banks of Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Thanks to my host, Dr. Calvin Hall for taking this picture.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reflecting on Rocky Hock

EDENTON, NC-- The journey to Edenton, NC turned out to be well worth the drive -- the production of "Under His Wings" was great and the people were just fantastic.

Before the 2 p.m. performance of the production of the play based on the biblical story of Naomi, Boaz and Ruth, my brother (in the orange striped sheet) and I posed for a photo with members of the cast and crew at the Rocky Hock playhouse.

The Rocky Hock Playhouse was founded in May of 2000 by Jeff (who stands next to me in the picture) and Gloria Emmerich (standing next to my brother) and has become one of America's most unique full time professional Christian theatres, one published report indicates.

The Emmerichs write and produce five original musicals each year. Gloria Emmerich is the writer of King David, Simon Peter (Fisher of Men), Paul (Fearless Lion of God), Noah's Incredible Cruise, Heaven Came Down, Out of the Darkness, and Jacob, Prince of God. The Emmerichs hire actors from across the United States to perform in their Broadway style Christian musicals.

The Rocky Hock Playhouse is a stock company theatre and is located near Edenton, North Carolina. The Emmerich Theatre Production Company’s first musical in Northeast North Carolina was Under His Wings (the Love Story of Ruth and Boaz).

A Mountaintop Experience in North Carolina

ASHEVILLE, North -- Tonight I'm back in Asheville after three or four years. I'm been here before as I take the "scenic route" back to Alabama. But, in the process of today's visit, I witnessed some parts of North Carolina I've never seen before.

The communities in the Western part of the state-- are quite exciting to visit.

Still need to produce all the photos-- but today I got the chance to drive up to meet a friend in Boone, NC. In the process, I visited Winston Salem where Winston Salem State University is located. I walked the streets of Boone, NC and the campus of Appalachian State.

Then, after all of that, I drive around some winding roads as I made my first voyage along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Linville, NC. All of sudden I look out the window and realized I was no surrounded by trees-- but look out to seeing the clouds and looking DOWN and seeing trees.. I realized I was in the upper elevations of Mountains.

I've been into the mountains of Arizona-- to tour the Grand Canyon, the mountains of Utah (near Brigham Young University) to the Sundance Resort and the Rocky Mountain State Park in Estes Park, Colorado.

But, I had never seen the mountains with the hiking trails in Western North Carolina.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Excited about Edenton

RICHMOND, Va. -- From the hometown/homebase for this week, we are setting out on a one-day excursion to Edenton, NC for a family trip to a Christian playhouse.

There is a play (I'm sure what) that my mom has picked out for both my brother and me to see. But, the big story won't be the play, it will be traveling to the Northeastern region of North Carolina.

We've never done this trip from Richmond, Va. to Virginia Beach, Va. (where my brother lives) to Edenton, NC.

You may recall, in an earlier post, I talked about getting lost in Hampton Roads, Va. heading to the Virginia Beach last December. We're hoping for smoother travels today.

The Web site for the Rocky Hock Playhouse says it's in historic Edenton. So, we might even encounter some history of North Carolina.

For me, this will be the first of two trips to North Carolina. The second will be to the Western portion of the state.

Of course, the biggest benefit of today's venture won't be the destination, it will be the fact that my parents and my brother and I will actually do something together that's not on a holiday or a birthday or a special occasion.

And, to God be the glory we have wonderful travel weather (Sunny, low 80s) today.

On to Edenton.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Second Favorite U.S. City-- Washington DC

WASHINGTON-- I have to say my hometown-- Richmond, Va. is my absolute favorite city. After all, it's where my roots are. But, by far, my second favorite city is Washington, DC.

After spending four years of my life-- some of the best years I might add-- here, there is nothing like being in the media capital of the world.

This view of Pennsylvania Avenue says it all.

To be able to catch a train and in minutes be on Capitol Hill or at the U.S. Supreme Court or sit in on a planning meeting for the next day's edition of The Washington Post, which was only a short walk from my dormitory during Freshman Year.

My rather last-minute decision to attend Howard University was, in part, due to my love for the media-- for journalism, for news and there's a lot of it in this town.

When I was here, I didn't have a car. so, I had to know how to use the Metrobus and Metrorail to get around. Low and behold today, I passed the G2 Bus. It's still called the G2 and it still runs between Howard University and Georgetown University.

I can remember having a couple of dates by bus. We went out for the evening to Georgetown.

Those were the days.

Almost everytime I come home to Richmond, I make time to venture up to my second-home to see what's happenin' -- usually on a Sunday morning for church here at Metropolitan Baptist Church in NW Washington, DC.

This Sunday was no different. After flying into Dulles (from Chicago), I stayed overnight and made my way to Sunday service and Sunday School at "Metropolitan."

Then, I couldn't be walking distance from the Howard U. campus with making a brief stop there. I took just a minute to talk on "the Yard" (a quadrangle on the main campus around which are the major academic buildings in the College of Liberal Arts.

And, wouldn't you know-- the 11 a.m. chime of Founder's Library Bell Tower -- just brought back memories of being here more than 16 years ago-- from 1988 to 1992.

I know I'm home when I'm here.

After brunch back at the hotel, my latest trip to the nation's capital ended with a
visit to the newest museum --- and the most relevant one for me-- the Newseum.

It's the world's biggest interactive museum-- a testament to journalism of the past, present and future.

What a site to behold. I am officially a member of the Newseum now. If time permits, I may even come back here later this week.

For now, I have a video by which to remember my virgin voyage. I posted it on my YouTube Channel.

Working in the Windy City

CHICAGO-- I came for a journalism educators' conference. But, it was not a relaxing trip. With four presentations over three days and countless people to see, my latest trip to the Windy City has been a lot more work than play.

The Marriott Chicago Downtown is located on the "Magnificent Mile," the "main drag" if you will for downtown -- North Michigan Avenue. I've been here at least twice before and stayed at a different hotel. I think this time, I had the best view of the city-- from the 39th floor.

This is the biggest conference of the year for those of us who identify journalism as our main teaching area. The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication has an accreditation arm and publishes the major academic journals in journalism.

This year's gathering was in Chicago and during that time, I had a chance to visit the Chicago Tribune along with give presentations on ethics and college newspapers, minorities and health communication and technologies and local television news.

It was also a reunion opportunity as one of my high school teachers was given the one of highest honors for diversity in journalism-- the Robert Knight Multicultural Award. I took time to pose for a photo with Prof. June Nicholson from Virginia Commonwealth University and Dr. Calvin Hall, who chaired the Knight Awards committee.

We had beautiful weather. But, other than the meeting down the street from our hotel at the Chicago Tribune, I only managed to get out as far as a few blocks in search of the right dinner venue with some friends on Friday night.

Next time I come here, I will have to leave more time for fun.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Unique Evangelism Experience- The Billy Graham Library

CHARLOTTE-- Well, the chance to see the special place dedicated to the career of Billy Graham came at the end of the day this past Monday.

It's taken me two days to get around to capturing the 90-minute experience in a posting. But, it almost requires more than one posting to really recount what it was like on the grounds.

The first mistake I made was arriving too late in the day to have the necessary time to go through all the exhibits. I was expecting a place with lots of books and perhaps a few displays. What I got was by far the most state-of-the-art testimony to world evangelism that I have ever seen.

I stress testimony because that's what the library is really all about. When I went through the entrance, I was directed to an area where five people began to share their testimonies of how Jesus came into their lives.

A talking cow actually greeted me- talking about the days of Billy Graham on a milk farm. Then, the cow encouraged me to proceed to the theatre for the videos.

It turned out to be the first of at least 4 such theatres that are located throughout the library where you can hear the voice of The Rev. Billy Graham as a narrator explains the significance of that phase of Graham's ministry.

The two biggest things I remember from those exhibits were the film ventures that Rev. Graham started (didn't know that he was a filmmaker too) and the story of how he met his late wife, Ruth Bell.

For a moment, I thought -- well if Rev. Graham can have such an encounter that leads him to his wife, what can't I? It's all about trusting God.

At the end of the visit, the five people who shared their testimonies each come back and finish their stories and end with an invitation for those visiting to accept Christ.

We were given cards to express our interest in accepting Christ. I re-dedicated my life to Jesus Christ and there was a prayer partner there to pray with me over my decision.

You can't help but re-dedicate yourself to your own ministry when you go through something like the Billy Graham Library. I came away with a bag of literature to read -- and a couple of CDs.

One of the biggest takeaways was a copy of Graham's latest book, The Journey and the magazine of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

After I have read these resources, I want to go back to the Library for another visit soon.

Monday, August 04, 2008

My first visit to Clemson University

Clemson, SC-- For more than a decade, it's been just an exit off of Interstate 85 as I commuted between my home in Richmond, Va. and Georgia-- where I both worked (at WXIA-TV in Atlanta) and went to school (at the University of Georgia).

Today that exit was a destination enroute to my lunch venue-- Clemson University as I made my way to Charlotte, North Carolina.

I had a particular reason for wanting to visit Clemson this time. The athletic powerhouse has been a perennial backyard non-conference rival for the Georgia Bulldogs.

But, in less a month, the boys from my present academic home-- The University of Alabama Crimson Tide will have a season opener against the Tigers of the ACC (not to be confused with the Tigers of the SEC-- the ones on the Plains).

No, I didn't visit "Death Valley," the nickname for the Clemson Football Stadium (also the nickname for the LSU stadium).

This short 30-minute walk across the center of campus took me to none other than tha library-- and a gave me a chance to get a few photographs of this nice academic setting that is kind of off the beaten path.

Yes, if you're driving down I-85 or up I-85, you see the "Clemson University" signs. But, then you don't figure out until you're off the interstate that you have to drive 11 miles to get to Clemson and the campus, which is one of two major research universities in the Palmetto State. (The other is its arch in-state rival in the Midlands, the University of South Carolina in Columbia)

Because it hosts a convergence journalism conference each fall, I make the trek to the University of South Carolina at least once (last year I went twice) a year.

Check out one of my last postings from there.

Two big things I learned today on my short trip to Clemson-- it used to be a all-male military school and its location is kind of different-- in Pickens County, SC (I didn't realize there was a Pickens Gounty SC like we have a Pickens County AL) and it's near Sandy Springs, South Carolina.

I had fun visiting this ACC school. Now let's see what happens when the Tigers come down I-85 to meet the Crimson Tide August 30 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Gearing up for Billy Graham's Library

Tomorrow is a day I have anticipated for months-- the day I get to visit the new Billy Graham Library. Last summer, I watched like many Americans as one who is the greatest evangelist of our time, The Rev. Billy Graham, mourned the passing of his wife Ruth.

Her death came just a few weeks after the Billy Graham Library was dedicated in May 2007. In dedicating the library, Graham's son, Franklin, reminded us this is not a monument to Billy Graham, it's a place for ministry.

A few years ago, I wrote about the coverage of Billy Graham's New York crusade, one that was expected to be his last.

Every Saturday night on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, we can see vintage videos of Billy Graham Crusades. His message, some preached 30 years ago are as relevant today as they were then.

There are not many Americans who God has given influence with so many generations of leaders. He's called and deserves the title of "America's pastor."

Three former presidents-- President Bill Clinton ,President George H.W. Bush and President Jimmy Carter-- all attended that dedication.

15 months later, I'll have a chance to experience the ministry of the librsry.

I expect the Library will be a testament to this unique calling and unique ministry.

We'll update you from there tomorrow.

Road Trip Updates Begin Today

As we start the next phase of Summer Break, we're hitting the road and posting from a number of locations online..

Here's the travel itinerary:

Monday, August 4 Billy Graham Library Charlotte, NC

Thursday, August 6 The Magnificent Mile Chicago, IL

Sunday, August 10 The NEW Newseum Washington, DC

Saturday, August 16 Blue Ridge Mountains Asheville, NC

We'll also do updates at points in between. More later today from our first stop on the road.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Link Between Domestic Oil and Shield Law?

Well, it was debated on the floor of the U.S. yesterday. But, to date, there is no Federal Shield Law.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists Web site, the Senators vote to proceed with S. 2035, the Senate version of the Free Flow of Information Act, only received 51 votes. 60 votes were needed.

The 43 U.S. Senators who voted against it, including the two from the Staet of Aalbama, we're told voted "NO" because they wanted to amend the bill for increased domestic oil and gas production.

A federal shield law would give journalists the right to refuse to reveal information and sources obtained during the newsgathering process with a few notable exceptions, including where national security is at issue.

We've got to continue to push for this. I guess I'll go online and contact my two U.S. Senators.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More Progress in Diversity with NBC Appointment

What a great way to start my day-- with news of NBC's choice to succeed the late Tim Russert-- Mark Theis Whitaker, formerly of Newsweek Magazine, will be assuming the role of NBC Washington Bureau Chief.

The news was actually announced yesterday by officials at the Peacock network. It landed in my e-mailbox this morning in a message from Broadcasting & Cable Magazine.

What is particulary rewarding are the kind of qualities that Mark's superiors see in him, as were outlined in their statement. Here's what NBC President Steve Capus had to say about Mark Whitaker:

"the truth is, he is the ideal candidate for the job, and that was evident the minute we took stock of potential replacements. Mark's got all of the components that will assure his success -- a commitment to journalistic integrity, political savvy, a keen eye for the future and a management style that is inclusive and fair. He is exactly what the bureau needs."

Like many others (including on-air talent) who wear two hats in these lean, mean economic times in our industry, Whitaker will continue as senior vice president at NBC even as he assumes day-to-day management of Russert's beloved Meet the Press and election coverage.

In facts, holding both jobs is probably not a bad idea at all.

The timing of this announcement is uncanny, purely coincidental nonetheless. It came a day after the conclusion of the UNITY Journalists Convention days after results of a survey of 61 network-owned stations was released by National Association of Black Journalists.

Whitaker (at least at one time) was a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. I'm not sure if he still is. (Full disclosure: I am a member of NABJ)

According to the NABJ study, "Among 58 news directors, 17% were non-white: eight were African American, 1 was Hispanic and 1 was Asian. All the news directors of color worked for NBC or Fox."

Let's be clear-- we're talking about LOCAL STATION management and Whitaker will be a network manager. But, there's a related/key point here about diversity in those with decision-making authority-- those calling the shots, doing the hiring and firing.

Last week, the UNITY alliance of minority journalism organizations also launched its "Ten by 2010: Transforming Journalism Through Diversity Leadership" initiative.

The goal of "Ten by 2010" is to have 10 media companies commit to selecting at least one high-potential manager of color and to promote that employee to a senior management position by midyear 2010. Participants will receive customized training to help prepare them for specific senior level positions.

The first two companies to sign on were reportedly Gannett and The New York Times Company.

Technically, Whitaker has been at NBC in senior-level position since 2007. So he would not be counted in this new initiative.

In fact, were it not for Whitaker, NBC might not have committed to a most aggressive weeklong series of reports last November airing on its top-rated NIghtly News program, African American Women: Where They Stand.

While Whitaker certainly was not the only one responsible for a decision about the series, it certainly didn't hurt that he was a part of the discussion.

Value-Added Beyond Skin Color

Caution: This does not mean that just because a news manager is African-American that he or she will automatically push African-American issues.

The real value in Whitaker's ascension to the coveted leadership role at NBC's Washington Bureau is that in an historic election like we'll have this year with an African-American as a likely candidate from a major political party, there will be another African-American heading up the coverage at the nation's top television network.

But, Whitaker's multimedia background is also a value to add. As he described in a 2002 blog posting, Whitaker spent much of his career on the print side as the editor at Newsweek Magazine from 1998 to 2006.

Before joining NBC in 2007, he was VP and editor-in-chief of new ventures at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. The graduate of Harvard College, who worked on the famous Harvard Crimson, made history last decade as the first African American editor of major newsweekly in the U.S.

Not only does Whitaker bring this new media, digital ventures background, he also has been tried and tested through some pretty heated fires.

Many will remember the 2005 controversy where Newsweek ran an item in its Periscope section, based on a single anonymous source. The story said the U.S. military had desecrated the Quran in front of Muslim detainees in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba

Whitaker was the one who had to defend his journalists' decision in a barrage of media interviews. But, he got through that experience, landed on his feet.

It's that kind of experience that not a lot of journalists of color in high-profile positions have had. The journalists at NBC will, no doubt, be in the spotlight as they cover this campaign. Whitaker knows how to handle the attention.

Hopefully now you see why this week's announcement at NBC is that much more gratifying and inspiring for other black journalists like myself.

Having worked at two NBC affiliates producing local news programmed around Meet the Press, I considered Tim Russert a colleague. I even got a chance to meet him when he and his son, Luke, came to our Atlanta station, WXIA-TV, to do an edition of Meet the Press a few years ago. So, I was hit REALLY hard by his sudden death in May.

But, the bitterness of Russert's loss is little less painful now knowing that Russert's successor at the NBC Washington Bureau is such a seasoned journalist, who just happens to be an African-American brother.

Already one of at least two African-American VPs at NBC (Lyne Pitts heads up the network's strategic partnerships and production operation), Whitaker won't be the only African-American key manager at the NBC Washington bureau, which shares a building with its top-rated owned-and-operated station, WRC-TV. As I noted in a previous posting last week, Camille Edwards is the vice president of news for WRC-TV.

That's progress!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

UNITY Presidential Forum-- What Really Happened

Since my last posting, I had a chance to view in its entirety a tape recording of today's presidential forum at the UNITY Journalists convention. You sometimes get a completely different view of event after it has concluded than you get if you're reporting -- live blogging or posting as I was during or minutes after it is over.

You know, after watching this 43-minute affair, I've got to return to the same concerns I raised in my earlier posting two weeks ago about the value of an event like this for UNITY Journalists of Color.

During my live blogging this morning, I wondered if the four minority journalists groups were purposely rotating in asking questions. When it ended somewhat abruptly at 43 minutes after the hour, it was quite apparent why.

There was ONLY time for four questions from the audience. When you look at the tape and hear Suzanne Malveaux "tease" he topics of some of the four audience questions, it's quite clear that this was a carefully choregraphed, highly-produced forum, exactly the kind of event that many have criticized when it comes for live, made-for-TV campaign events.

Listening to some of the Barack Obama's answers, it was quite clear he was playing to the cameras, which took his message to the American voters instead of giving frank answers that he would have given in a closed-door, off-the-record session.

Presidential candidates don't have time to do off-the-record sessions, especially not after coming off a whirlwind trip to Europe and the Middle East. I doubt Obama would have bothered to show up if he was not going to be on in a live, televised event.

So, besides asking why John McCain did not agree to partipate, we have to ask what does UNITY Journalists of Color, Inc. get out of this?

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, one of the four minority journalist groups participated in this alliance.

We can answer that question by looking at the topics that were addressed by the "questioners" (designated representatives of NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA and NAJA)

Based on Brian Bull's question, we got one presidential candidate to articulate his position on reparations and apologies to minority groups.

Leonard Pitts' question forced Obama to clarify some of his positions on Muslims in the U.S.

It looks like at least one major newspaper has turned a story based on Pitts' question.

John Yang shined the spotlight on affirmative action and the presidential candidates' differeing positions on anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives.

And, Diane Solis' question about whether we should have more immigration allowed Obama to reiterate his position on immigration policy.

Besides these topics, many of which the hosts also asked follow-up questions, did we learn anything new?

Or, was that even the purpose of this gathering at the UNITY Convention? I'm trying to think if I had gone to the convention, would I have hung around to this forum on the last day of the conference and eventually come away feeling cheated?

The reality is most likely (and I have not spoken with officials at UNITY), CNN, by providing what it called "exclusive" live airing of this event, was in the driver's seat.

In reviewing the videotape, I noticed that Wolf Blitzer, host of the Sunday talk show, Late Edition (in which this program aired) had just enough time to do a quick "round-Robin" with his panel of reporters in the final 10-12 minutes of the hour. The show ended nice and neatly at 1 p.m.

As a TV producer, I am keenly aware of the timing necessary for a news broadcast.

But was that timing the BEST thing for the 6000 journalists of color? Our goal as journalists of color should not be to just ask the same questions that our colleagues ask, harp on the same issues over and over that our colleagues of the lighter hue address.

There's plenty of time for that. We've heard endless debates about immigration and the War in Iraq. The question about apologies for Native Americans began to go into NEW issues, which have received little or no coverage during the campaign.

Will there be a time for this kind of exchange?

Beyond the minority journalists' gathering, many of the American people are asking for more frank and honest exchanges between the candidates rather than made-for-TV network events (i.e. televised debate) that carefully orchestrated to only cover certain issues and, hopefully, win ratings.

Black in America- Obama-style

Now that the much-talked about and anticipated presidential forum at the UNITY Journalists convention is over, we have to ask ourselves, what did we learn?

Well, at first, my response would be-- NOT MUCH.

Perhaps it was naive of me to think that the black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian-American journalists, who reportedly numbered 6000, at the UNITY Convention would plow some new ground today.

They stuck with the same basic questions any journalist would ask after a candidate returns from an overseas trip. (This I will address more in a separate posting later)

Instead, what we got was a reminder of what it means to be Black in America and run for political office.

There have been blacks in political office since the Reconstruction period. But, never before have we seen a high-profile political campaign involving an African American candidate as we do now with Senator Barack Obama.

That's why I noticed at three (3) times in this morning's questioning the Illinois Senator in answering questions fired back "why am I being asked that question" (Implying that his opponent was not asked that)

It's the whole concept of the double-standard where a candidate is treated differently from his opponent. Obama clearly believed the questions about his shifting positions on Iraq, his overseas trip and constant false reports of his being Muslim were questions that his opponent, Senator John McCain did not receive.

I am not saying that those questions were not fair questions-- but the fact that the candidate suggested he was being asked questions his opponent was not (being asked) raises the issue of how one's racial background influences the direction of a political campaign.

The "unknown" factor plays prominently in the debate about Obama's supposed shifting positions, the crowds and media interest in his trip to Europe and the Middle East and the discussions about his religious affiliation.

When a candidate of color tries to break the racial barrier, he or she can expect the "unknown" factor to bring with it a double standard in how his/her campaign is covered.

The questions by the journalists may be fair questions, but they are being asked because the candidate is different and that exposes the double standard-- treating a candidate differently.

It's just one key observation one can make as a result of today's forum at the UNITY Journalists Convention.

43 minutes later-- it's over

Well, I thought this would last at least an hour. But, it's appparently over. Malveaux thanks Obama for taking the journalists' questions. And that's it.

Was this over-sold? Maybe CNN oversold it. I was expecting more.

11:40 Obama says "he's too black"

Suzanne Malveaux asks about an encounter he had with NABJ last summer on whether he's "black enough"

Now Obama jokes that he's "too black"

11:38 On affirmative action

The last question from the audience-- a member of the Asian American Journalists Association, John Yang (NBC News) asks Obama to respond on an affirmative action ballot issue..

On affirmative action...

Obama says: "It is not just a quota." It is acknowledging and taking into account some of the difficulties communities of color have had to deal with.

Affirmative action is not going to resolve the problems with Race in America.
There have been times when people have viewed affirmative action as a shortcut.
The Ward Connelley initiatives are designed to drive a wedge between people.

(He's an opportunity for aome additional reporting-- research)

11:33 Pitts' first question

It looks like there is a rotation-- Leonard Pitts from the National Association of Black Journalists queries Obama about his distancing himself from Muslims in order to dispel rumors that he himself is a Muslim.

Obama says:
"This is a classic example of a No Win situation. I try to correct something that is false and people say why"

Obama responds:
"I just don't like the idea of somebody falsely identifying my religion. I suspect you wouldn't appreciate that either. If you were a Muslim and people sais you were a Christian, I suspect you would want to have that corrected too."

EXAMPLE #3- Double Standard. "I just ask that I am treated like other candidates"
when it comes to my religion

11:30 NAHJ gets the next question

Wonder did UNITY plan the questions so that each of the four groups gets a chance to ask a question, in rotation. THe first question came from a NAJA member. The second from the an NAHJ member.

NAHJ member asks about immigration.

11:25 Should U.S. apologize to Native Americans?

Wisconsin Public Radio journalist gets the first question. The question of apologies for past wrongdoings to minorities starts things off?

This questioner asked about apologies to Native Americans. This is particularly interesting given the ongoing debate about reparations for African-Americans.

Obama wants to meet regularly with tribal leaders. Obama throws in a statement about Native Americans -- for action, deeds.

"I'm more concerned about concerned about delivering a better life"

Suzanne takes a step further and brings in the reparations discussion.

Obama says schools in inner city and jobs for the poor is best reparations.

Obama: "Dealing with the legacy of discrimination will cost millions of dollars." All Americans need to be invested. How do we get every child to learn (applause)

11:20-- the first segment

Looks like the moderators (not sure who the male co-moderator is) have focused primary attention on the foreign trip. They're planning to take questions from the audience now. IT will be interesting to see where the first audience (of journalists) questions fall in terms of topics.

11:18 a.m. CDT

First commercial break-- We have the live feed-- on, let's see what happens off-air.

11:16 a.m. Double Standard?

OK-- from the first few answers, I hear a theme-- something that has come up twice in his answers. Obama's responding to questions about his foreign trip, questions about his remaining steadfast in his position on Iraq-- Why were those same questions asked of Obama? (on position on Iraq) McCain visited the same places after securing the GOP nomination. Obama acknowledges that he did his trip WELL. Audience applause.

11:10 Foreign policy credibility

The ultimate question from the week-- does this trip make an impact on the perceptions of Obama's foreign policy expertise. It seems that's taken the focus in these first few minutes. Obama's statement that he knows what he's doing draws applause.

11:07 LONG Answer

He's been speaking for almost 10 minutes just to answer the first question. Perhaps this long-form type of q-and-a is the way things will go.

11:05 What he's wearing

Is it me, or have Obama moved away from the dark suit and red or blue tie with his appearances? I have seen more and more video of him wearing different colored suits this summer. During the debates (in the primary campaign), he used to wear the same colored suits.

A superficial question, perhaps, but one worth noting. He's wearing a tan suit and burgundy tie today.

11:02 Polite applause, a few cheers

At least from the way he was received when he took the stage, it doesn't look like this is a pep rally. The first question is asking Obama to reflect on the trip.

10:59 a.m. CDT Malveaux to moderate

We're minutes away from the start of the forum at UNITY. A familiar face in the presidential campaign, Suzanne MAlveaux (formerly of NBC) will be moderating the forum. She's doing a microphone check even as she hits air.

Obama Speaks At Unity- a Live Blogging Event

The Timing of today's forum at the UNITY Convention presents an opportunity for storytelling in a format that is more and more common in Web journalism.

It's called live blogging. Instead of waiting until after an event has concluded, the blogger provides commentary as the event is happening.

The goal is not to digest it all, think and then post. Instead, the immediate reactions are sent like text messages. The short entries include time stamps and can provide an interesting reading experience after-the-fact for those who attended the event or those who missed it.

Today we will be live blogging as a viewer of the Obama event at the UNITY Convention.

You will be able to follow the postings as they will have the graphic that appears in this posting.

As the UNITY Journalists' media release indicated, this is one of the first national appearances Obama is making following his whirlwind trip to Europe and Middle East last week.

Obama as Jackie Robinson of our era?

It's an Unusual Sunday morning for me. I'm on vacation and not in church as I would normally be heading at this hour-- Sunday School to be exact.

But today I will be watching the live transmission of Barack Obama's forum at the UNITY Journalists convention. What was originally billed as a forum with both presidential candidates has turned out to be an appearance by one of the candidates as the one of the culminating events of the convention.

I commented earlier on the concept of having a live televised forum versus an off-the-record session with minority journalists.

Now, the Associated Press this morning has moved an interesting advancer on the ethical dilemma facing minority journalists-- do we cheer or remain dispassionate, objective observers?

The article posted on Editor & Publisher's Web site quotes Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts (who was honored this week by the National Association of Black Journalists) as saying the following in the A.P. story:

"Barack Obama is the Jackie Robinson of our era," said Pitts, the columnist. "There's no getting around that, there's no asking people not to respond to that. ... Journalists are recruited from the human race. And as long as they're recruited from the human race they're going to have emotions, and they're going to have feelings."

Yes, I know who Jackie Robinson- the baseball player is. But, does the fact that an African-American making history allow us as journalists to step out of our role as reporters and writers, fair and balanced as we cover one of the biggest stories of 2008 or our lifetime?

I say NO, even for those of us who are not working in daily journalists. While some of my professor colleagues- at the university have actively campaigned for one of the presidential candidates, as a journalist teaching students how to objectively cover the news, I can't afford to be a groupie or a political advocate.

I would suggest my colleagues at the UNITY convention, even if they are not turning (or publishing) a story on today's Obama forum, will be wearing their professional journalists hats at today's forum. It's not a pep rally for Obama.

But the issue of race once again has introduced an interesting dilemma for journalists of color-- who might personally carry some pride in seeing a black candidate make it this far while at the same time recognizing the candidate deserves the same objective vetting as any political candidate to be the leader of the free world.

We'll see what happens today.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What We Saw About Blacks in America

Part 2 of the CNN landmark documentary, Blacks in America, took a different approach than part 1. But, the end result was same-- a more complete picture of an aspect of society that often is uncovered.

Almost the entire first hour of tonight's installment focused on two African-American men who were attending Little Rock Arkansas' Central High at the same time as the school was being integrated.

For those of who did not live during the Civil Rights era, we often think of those figures from that era as being mythic and near-perfect because of their place in history.

What we saw in part two were two men who had the greatest intentions of achieving in spite of the color of the skin. Both eventually have achieved great things, but they are not without their imperfections.

Sometimes in television news, we want to focus on the extremes-- all good or all bad. In these brothers' stories on CNN's "Black in America" documentary we saw the good can also be sprinkled with the bad when the reality of raising a family in an imperfect world hits.

I could see myself in so many of the stories in this second installment. I vividly remember having a very heated discussion with my sisters at Howard University about the possibility of marrying outside of one's race. That issue came front-and-center in the experiences of one of the families features in the second installment.

Multimedia Journalism Milestone on CNN

Those of us who research, teach, follow closely the area of media diversity have been eagerly awaiting what happened Wednesday night on CNN.

Black in America,a two-part documentary hit the airwaves and broadcast journalism with a slam.

I'm not usually one to lavish a media outlet with praise. But I think CNN's producers and photographers, the entire documentary staff deserve the pat on the back when you look at the breadth and depth reflected in Part I of this journalism effort.

According to Soledad O'Brien (who was interviewed on My Urban Report), the idea for the documentary was the brainchild of her bosses, Mark Nelson (Vice President and Senior Executive Producer of CNN Productions) and Jon Klein (CNN President).

I show those guys pictures because an important ingredient in a major effort like this is the commitment of management of staffing resources, man (or to be more politically correct "person" (hours) for months of reporting.

According to O'Brien the CNN Management felt that African-Americans were featured in coverage that was too shallow.

I agree. That's a problem with coverage of most racial minorities in this country.

The important thing to recognize, as it was indicated in CNN's promotions, this was not a show for African-Americans to see themselves.

It was a production for ALL Americans to see what their fellow citizens experience every day.

The sheer number of stories that were told in the two hours was unprecedented. And, the tensions and troubles that were unearthed in the interviews was exactly what was needed to tell the "full story."

My favorite story was one about the biracial couple-- The Rasmussens (I'm not sure I spelled their name correctly) who had a biracial son who identified with his white father, who told him he is actually both black and white.

The Rasmussens' struggle over the racial identity question is one that our entire nation will struggle with if, in fact, a man from biracial parents is elected to the White House.

While the over-the-air documentary was GREAT journalism-- the multimedia presentation of this story on CNN's Web site is worthy of note. The entire series of iReports from several historically black colleges is worth looking at.

After the special aired on Wednesday, I must have spent a couple of hours looking at the Web-only reports, extended interviews and the feedback.

That's after I watched the preview for the two-day documentary on iTunes last (Tuesday) night.

CNN has set the bar pretty high for part two.

We'll see what happens.