Journey to the Mile High City Just 5 Days Away

In just five days, George Daniels will join more than 2,000 attendees at the AEJMC Convention in Denver, Colo. In addition to giving two presentations, participating on a panel discussion on multimedia journalism, Daniels will also travel to Colorado Springs, the home of Focus on the Family.

The countdown is on — five days from now I will making my second trip to the “Mile High City.”  The occasion is the nation’s largest gathering of journalism and mass communication instructors.

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication is closely aligned with the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC), which decides whether or not my academic unit is accredited.

AEJMC also has more than 3,000 members who teach at colleges and universities in all 50 states and many countries outside of the U.S.

I go to many conferences and meetings over the course of a year. But, this one is by far, the MOST important for what I do to help students enter media careers.

The duration– FIVE DAYS– is hardly enough time to get up-to-speed on current issues related to journalism and mass communication instruction, present results from two research projects on which I’ve been working and become acquainted with the media-related issues in the state of Colorado.

During that time, I will spend a half-day in Colorado Springs where we will visit the headquarters of Focus on the Family.  We’ll participate in a dialogue with media media management educators at The Denver Post which is now the Mile High City’s only major daily and take a short ride across town to the Cable Center.

Lots of excitement and anticipation about what’s to come over the next week.

Ten Lessons in the “Teachable Moment” of the Breitbart-Sherrod Fiasco

This week’s controvery involving Shirley Sherrod based on a video posted by Andrew Breitbart, the NAACP says, provided a “teachable moment.” Let’s list 10 lessons that might be a part of that teachable moment.

This week’s firing and then attempted re-hiring of the Department of Agriculture’s Shirley Sherrod has left many with lots of apologies.   Not the least of whom is President Barack Obama.

For background on this story sparked by a video posted by blogger and journalist Andrew Breitbart, I suggest reading  the New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s piece, which puts this all into context.

And to understand Mr. Breitbart’s side of the story, POLITICO.com has provided a thorough treatment of his response to all that has happened.

It helps to understand he believed he approached this entire story from the perspective of trying to do JOURNALISM.   Rather than to villify him (as many have done this week),  I am going to take him at his word.   (I know some will argue I’m being naive)

Now that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the White House has apologized ,my purpose in this blog post is consider the “teachable moment” to which the NAACP (and some others) refers in its statement.

As a journalism instructor, I made reference to this story in my summer class this week and most of the students oblivious to all that ‘s gone on.  So, I will be using this as a lesson planner for weeks and months to come.

What will I teach?

Lessons for Journalists

1.  Consider the Implications of Your Story

As journalists we got into this field to have an impact.  We want people to read and talk about our work.  But, do we want people to get fired over it?  Well, perhaps if  we think we’re correcting an injustice.

When we hit “PUBLISH” or save, we could be doing so without thinking about our source material and what the impact or implications of our story could be.

2.  Advocacy Journalism Comes With a Price

I believe Mr. Breitbart has particular prospective, just like some of our journalist colleagues at the Fox NewsChannel or MSNBC or CNN.   They are on the air, online and have an audience because of their viewpoints.

But, this advocacy works comes at a price.   It seemed that Mr. Breitbart received threats from many of those who didn’t know how else to respond to his reporting.   That is the price of taking your journalistic work and making it a tool to advocate for change.

3. Everyone has an Agenda and Your Story Could be Part of It

Even if we take Mr. Breitbart at his word– that he was trying to provide a side of the story that the “liberal” media ignored,  a well-meaning story can end up being used by others as part of their agenda.  This is especially true of blog posts and web-based media.   These are easily accessible and can be drawn into a political firestorm.

4. Multiple Sources Can Always Help, Not Hurt

Instead of just using the video to support his point, Mr. Breitbart might have been better served to interview others in the NAACP unit.  I am hard-pressed to find any serious, well-sourced news content that shows Mr. Breitbart did much more than post a video clip.

His comments to POLITICO.com this week are the best illustration of the journalistic work he was providing.

His various interviews are floating around the Web.  But, there is no substitute for a written narrative with multiple sources that is verified.

Even if you are doing so-called “advocacy journalism,” you need to be committed to doing it right.

5.  Check Your Motives

I believe Mr. Breitbart had a deeper political motive than just telling the story of how some civil rights organizations are themselves racists.   I think defending the Tea Party activists was probably as important as getting the story right.   Some have said there was “retribution” involved in his reporting.

If you are committed to ethical journalism, you should be about “minimizing harm”  not CAUSING harm.   Consult the Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Code for more on this.     It seems Mr. Breitbart does more to cause harm than minimize it.

Lessons for Citizens,  Government Officials and Civil Rights Organizations

6.  Don’t get snookered by ANY MEDIA outlet

THE NAACP says it was “snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart”    I’m ashamed to even report this as I am  a life member of the NAACP.

After such a great 101st Annual Convention two weeks ago in Kansas City, how can the nation’s oldest, largest civil rights organization get “snookered?”

Well my gut tells me the NAACP leadership is STRUGGLING TO PUT ITSELF OUT THERE! It’s trying to be on the cutting edge, remaining relevant in this fast-paced age of Twitter or Facebook.

After all the back-and-forth battles between the NAACP and the Tea Party during the convention, the NAACP placed itself back in the news.

Instead, this organization in which I grew up as a youth council and college chapter member as well as a member of the National Youth Work Committee has a BIG BLACK EYE!

This is a shame.

But, the teachable moment is to not let a media outlet guide your statement.  Instead,  you MUST take a step back and consider the issues carefully before responding.

7. Wait before responding

As the  saying goes, SILENCE is golden.   Well, that sometimes can be the best thing to do until you have looked at the full issue and decided how to handle it.  Obviously, Secretary Vilsack got egg on his face as well.

One Chicago Tribune columnist has called Vilsack President Obama’s “Fall Guy.”

As late as Wednesday this week, I heard Democratic Party Strategy Donna Brazile on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation say how she WAITS before responding to allegations involving race or racist statements.    She does let the 24-7/instant news environment of Twitter or Facebook guide what should be a thoughtful process when addressing what W.E.B. DuBois has called “Problem of the 20th Century”  (The Problem of The Color Line)

“We shouldn’t constantly react to issues of race or racism with recrimination,” Brazile said. “We need to listen. We need to understand. We need to respect each other.”

Brazile is right and we should heed her advice.

FYI:  10 years into the 21st century and RACE IS STILL THE PROBLEM of the 21st Century.

8.   We’re not yet “Post-Racial”

A Reuters article this week pointed out how much President Obama has been plagued by race-oriented issues even as he tries to focus attention on his agenda.

Based on Ms. Sherrod’s comments in several interviews and the comments of Mr. Breitbart, we have a LONG WAY To go in the way we talk about race.

The idea that because there is a multi-racial (or bi-racial) president of the United States that we are BEYOND race as a barrier or issue is ridiculous.   A blind person can see that (or hear it from the cacophony of messages this week)

I know President Clinton called for a National Conversation on Race last century.   And, President went to Philadelphia to make his address on race after the Rev. Jeremiah Wright incidents.  But, these events do not signify that we’ve made much progress.

We learned that both in the debate over the NAACP Resolution and this week in the controversy involving Ms. Shirley Sherrod.

9.  Deeper Political Implications are ALWAYS at play

In re-reporting Mr. Breitbart’s comments and the video he posted, several people have made reference to what he has done before.  They always focus on the fact that he appears on “conservative” news outlets.

What we’re really seeing here is that there political implications for this entire debate that must be brought front-and-center.

No matter whether you are a so-called “conservative Republican”  or “Liberal Democrat”  (Both ends of the spectrum),  you have to consider the deeper political implications when a controversy like this arises.

10.  It’s about dollars and cents

I believe at the root of this is who will be in control in Washington.  If you happen to disagree with the current administration in The White House or those who are in the majority on Capitol Hill, you will do whatever you can to discredit them and those who form alliances with them.

I learned a long time ago in my Introduction to Political Science Class as a freshman at Howard University in the late 1980s that politics is about who has the the authority to allocate resources, who will influence policy and inherent those in a “fog of rhetoric” and conflict.

(Dr. Ibrahim Gambari, my Poli Sci professor would be proud of me for remembering that after 20 years– and having my textbook to strengthen my argument)

Will NAACP’s Resolution be This Summer’s Big Race-Related Story?

There’s some ignorance on both sides of the debate over the NAACP’s Tea Party resolution. But, the issue could wind up being the Race-related story of the year.

I’ve been eager to weigh in on the NAACP’s resolution on Tea Power movement as the debate both on TV and online has been interesting to watch, to say the least.

There’s ignorance on both sides and some notable truths that have come out in the arguments, some of which have little to do with race.  We’ll address those truths in another post.

The media coverage of this week’s 101th National Convention of the NAACP rivaled, if not exceeded, the coverage of last summer’s centennial gathering of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.

As a life member of the NAACP, I was particularly interested in watching some of the discussions about social media and new ways to reach out to new members.

But, the debates about the Tea Party seemed drown out other discussions that surely went on during the week.

Thanks to the hometown newspaper in Missouri’s largest city,  The Kansas City Star, I was able to find some reporting on OTHER convention events and happening.

From the plight of minority workers helping to clean up the oil spill to education as the civil rights issue of our time,  other issues like my issue of use of social were addressed during the gathering that ended Thursday.

Why The Tea Party Was THE STORY

Those of us in journalism know exactly why the tea party resolution towered over other happenings as the story of the week.

There were the news values of conflict (NAACP vs. Tea Party, liberals vs. conservatives), proximity (resolution was proposed by the Kansas City NAACP), and impact (would the NAACP negatively affect the viewpoints of the hundreds of thousands of Tea Party supporters)

Both the USA Today and The New York Times have offered front-page treatments on who’s in the Tea Party and

These leading news organizations, which often drive the media agenda, established that any and everything having to do with this movement should be among the issues covered in our newscasts in the pages of our newspapers.

The NAACP resolution represented a new angle on a story that continue until the Nov. 2 mid-term elections.

What About the Race Issue?

As I watched the seemingly non-stop coverage on TV earlier this week, I was taken back to last summer when we saw the news media cover the incident involving Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and his arrest by a white Cambridge police officer.

The controversial arrest and what it says about race and class are the subject of a new book by Charles Ogletree, The Presumption of Guilt.

I just got my copy yesterday and am reading it now.

Of course, the so-called Beer summit involving the officer, Sgt. James Crowley, President Obama and attended by Vice President Joe Biden, was a story in and of itself.

The summit elevated what might have been a little-known police incident to a national discussion about how whites and blacks interact, especially when law enforcement is involved.

This time, it’s those racist depictions of President Obama that are at issue in the NAACP’s resolution.  Instead of limited the discussion to just those depictions, many of the news reports on this week’s resolution went further into talking about how whites respond to allegations of racism.

Should an entire political movement be branded as “racist” because of the actions of a “fringe” element looking mostly for media attention?

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous emphasized over and over that his organization was not calling all members of the Tea Party racists.

“We have no problem with the Tea Party.  We hav ea problem with the Tea Party tolerating racists in their ranks,” he noted in an interview with ABC.

He made a similar statement on CNN’s Larry King Live this week.

Jealous, in fact, has written another piece Friday post-convention for CNN.com.

(He’s a former journalist and knows the importance of putting out his thoughts firsthand)

Resolution’s Impact?

Having attended multiple NAACP conventions as a member, I know that most of those resolutions that are passed by delegates don’t go very far beyond the convention.   They are intended to state the position of the organization on major issues of the day.

The language of the final resolution won’t be released until later this year after it is finalized.  But, the effect of the media coverage before and after the resolution passed  may be much greater than the resolution itself.

NPR shines light on access issues for reporters covering Oil Spill– Where was SPJ?

NPR’s David Folkenflik reports on challenges journalists face in gaining access to cover the Gulf Oil Spill. Including no journalism groups such as SPJ or any of the groups focused on ensuring journalists access to vital information, the news report raises a question of relevance for professional journalism organizations.

Talk about glaring omissions.  I couldn’t believe National Public Radio’s David Folkenflik managed to produce a story about reporters’ lack of access to areas around the BP Gulf Oil spill and never talked to (or at least included in his report) any of the journalism organizations whose main focus is to press for access to information.

Instead, the story, which aired on today’s  Morning Edition, featured the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed a complaint with nine Louisiana parishes.  According to Folkenflik, Marjorie Esman, executive director of the Louisiana ACLU,  had received complaints from all kinds of journalists who say they’ve been prevented from taking footage or reporting in public spaces such as roads or beaches.

My QUESTION IS:  Why didn’t those journalists contact SPJ or other journalism organizations?   Why was ACLU their first option?

I write this post as a member of the SPJ’s National Board of Directors.    When we talk about the relevance of professional journalism organizations such as SPJ and RTDNA (Radio-Television Digital News Association), it is stories such as Folkenflik’s that raise the question — why aren’t journalists actively seeking our help in such matters?  Perhaps we’re not viewed as viable enough to spur action on the part of local governments or global corporations?

While SPJ has not been completely silent on issues related to the coverage of the spill, it should have been a central force in the ongoing discussion about acess to information on this story.   In a June 7 news release, the leadership of SPJ joined other journalism organizations that called for President Obama to ensure access to monitoring data.

Seems to me SPJ and other groups may have an image problem.  Do journalists see us a first responder when issues of access to information arise?   Why or why not?     Maybe I’m over-reacting, making too much of one story.  Or maybe we as an professional organization need to a better job of conveying to working journalists that we ARE there and available to go to bat for them.

NPR, Gospel Today remember Walter Hawkins

National Public Radio and Gospel Today include remembrances of Bishop Walter Hawkins.

How gratifying to hear what’s become my favorite morning news program, NPR’s Morning Edition, provide a remembrance for Gospel Music Great Walter Hawkins.

I’m sure many of urban-oriented morning radio programs also mentioned it.   Will have to listen for that a little later.

Still haven’t found much reported in the mainstream media about this.  Not much time to look as I am about to hurry off to my summer school class.

Gospel Today also posted an obituary on its Web site overnight.

Perhaps the STRONGEST remembrances of Bishop Walter Hawkins will come from the thousands of Tweets we saw yesterday along with the messages on Facebook.

UPDATE: AP reports Hawkins’ death

After hours of searching, thanks for a journalist colleague, CNN’s Roland Martin includes a link to a mainstream news organization’s reporting of Bishop Walter Hawkins’ passing.The San Jose Mercury News carries an Associated Press wire report that Martin linked to in his Tweet. The A.P. report has a timestamp of 8:29 PDT, which would have been within the last half-hour.

After hours of searching, I’ve found the first confirmed news report of Bishop Walter Hawkins’ death.

A  fellow journalist,  CNN’s Roland Martin,  includes a link to a mainstream news organization’s reporting of Bishop Walter Hawkins’ passing.

The San Jose Mercury News carries an Associated Press wire report that Martin linked to in his Tweet.  The A.P. report has a timestamp of 8:29 PDT, which would have been within the last half-hour.

The A.P. report quotes Bishop Hawkins’ brother, Edwin Hawkins, who explained that Bishop Hawkins had been suffering from pancreatic cancer, something I’m sure many who love his music would not have known.    He died at his home in Ripon, Calif.

As I noted minutes ago in a post, the mainstream media seemed a little slow to post an obituary on Bishop Hawkins’ death, even as thousands sent Tweets on Twitter and updates on Facebook.

I definitely trust Roland’s reporting, even if it’s just a link on Twitter.

(I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Martin ONCE at an Society of Professional Journalists convention when he was an editor at the Chicago Defender, now at CNN)

Thanks Roland for giving us this info!

Love Center Ministries Confirms Walter Hawkins’ death at 61

After several area of unconfirmed reports of the death of Bishop Walter Hawkins, moments ago (10 p.m. Central Time), the Web site of his church, Love Center Fellowship, updated with a simple message “We Are Celebrating the Homegoing of Bishop Walter L. Hawkins May 11, 1949- July 11, 2010”

As a gospel music fan, I have been watching all evening as thousands of Tweets have been sent on the reported passing today of Gospel Music Legend Bishop Walter Hawkins.

WALTER HAWKINS as Trending Topic

I first learned of the breaking story because “Walter Hawkins” was a trending topic, an indication on Twitter of how many tweets are being sent on an issue.

Moments ago (10 p.m. Central Time), the Web site of his church, Love Center Fellowship, updated with a simple message “We Are Celebrating the Homegoing of Bishop Walter L. Hawkins May 11, 1949- July 11, 2010”

This is reminiscent of those reports of  Michael Jackson’s death in June 2009 that were taken as truth hours before our mainstream, trusted news outlets reported the death.

As I mentioned in a post last year,   I think we have to exercise EXTREME caution when believing stories like this before they are  confirmed.

At least we know the Tweets are not rumor, but fact now that the Love Center Ministries has confirmed it.

Mainstream Media Slow Again?

But, as of 10 p.m. Central Time this evening, there was still  a paucity of reporting on the major news Web sites about this.   Just checked those in the Oakland area,  which are still not carrying this story.

A tribute video to Bishop Hawkins has already gone up on YouTube.

His Wikipedia page was updated several hours ago.    The Wikipedia page notes that Gospel legend Shirley Caesar was the one who announced this news on her Facebook page about four hours ago.

And lots of Friends have posted items on Walter Hawkins’ Facebook fan page.

I guess nowadays, that means it’s true?

I believe Shirley Caesar is one we can trust.

Perhaps this lack of “official” information has more to do with it being a Sunday night or that Gospel music is still a niche genre with which those in mainstream American culture are less familiar?

I know we can’t compare Bishop Hawkins to Michael Jackson.  But, the diffusion of information on this breaking story is reminiscent of what happened last summer.