Times Writer, Movie Star Brian Stelter to Appear at AEJMC Conference Wednesday

New York Times Media Reporter Brian Stelter will appear on an 1:30 p.m. AEJMC Panel Discussion on “Social Media on Crisis Coverage and Crisis Management During ​a Natural Disaster.”


ST. LOUIS– Even though I haven’t yet seen his performance in the new Page One film, Brian Stelter will be making an appearance Wednesday here at the AEJMC Annual Conference.   So I’ll at least get to hear the New York Times media reporter in person.

You may remember earlier this summer I did an analysis of Stelter’s tweets during the Joplin, MO tornado.

On Wednesday, he talks about the “Impact of Social Media on Crisis Coverage and Crisis Management During a Natural Disaster.”  The 1:30 p.m. session occurs exactly 24 hours before I lead a session on the teaching aspect of extreme weather.

In an interview published by Dailyactor.com last month, Stelter  said Twitter  is:

  1. An early warning system for breaking news
  2. A tool for interacting with readers
  3. A great way to promote and improve our work.
We’ll look to see WHAT ELSE he says about this particular social media outlet on Wednesday.

Tuscaloosa Minister Addresses Gay Marriage, Prepares Me for Teaching Touchy Subject

An Alabama pastor addresses same-sex marriage in Sunday message as same-sex couples in the state of New York marry and I prepare to teach a mass communication unit on media representation of the LGBT community.

On the same day as hundreds of same-sex couples began marrying in the state of New York, my pastor here in Tuscaloosa, Ala. devoted some time in his Sunday sermon to the subject on which many even in the Body of Christ (the Church) have been silent recently.

Bishop Earnest L. Palmer

“If God created the institution of marriage, He created it not blindly, but with intent and purpose,” said Bishop Earnest L. Palmer, senior pastor of Cornerstone Full Gospel Baptist Church, where I am a member.

“Just because it [same-sex marriage] becomes law in New York and in four other states, those of us in the Body of Christ need to hold on to what God has said about this institution… It is what God says that counts.”

Even as he preached today, Bishop Palmer knew that he would be treading into some controversial waters that may upset some.   But, that was exactly the point.

“I hope I’m making some people think.” he said as he presented his sermon “Blessed by the Blood” this morning.

Bishop Palmer’s words could not have come at a better time for me as I as a journalism and media instructor strive to make “some people think” too.

This won’t be the first time I have shared my religious views in class at the same time as I explain how I operate as a journalist and media professional.

The students will be thinking as I facilitate a unit this Thursday in my Race, Gender and Media class at the University of Alabama.  The unit focuses on media coverage of sexual orientation and recent events involving those in the lesbian gay bisexual transgender (LGBT) community.

New York Times Photojournalist Chester Higgins captured the nuptials of John Sullivan (left) and Robert Lane earlier today in Bronx, NY where same-sex marriage is legal.


As chair of the Society of Professional Journalists National Diversity Committee, I of all people need to be in a position to help students in a mass communication course understand the difference between one’s personal beliefs and values and the professional responsibility and sensitivity that our ethical standards as journalists (or filmmakers, PR practitioners, advertising professionals) demand.

In my recent “Communication and Diversity” course in the spring, a student expressed outrage that I did not warn him that I would be showing video of a same-sex couple kissing as  part of the class.   The excerpt of  was meant to showcase one of several types of diversity reflected in CNN’s 2010 hourlong special “Gary and Tony Have a Baby.”

I had to explain that slice of American life did not warrant a disclaimer any more than a heterosexual couple kissing did.    These are the kinds of lessons that we are challenged with sharing.

Andrew Sullivan’s essay “Why Gay Marriage is Good for America”  in this week’s Newsweek Magazine is one article my students are required to read as we examine how the LGBT community has been presented in not only the news media, but also other types of the entertainment media, particularly on broadcast and cable TV as well as in motion pictures.

We’ll also screen “Gary and Tony Have a Baby,”  a project that I praised in an earlier post here because of its ability to place the experiences of same-sex couples at the center and largely ignore all the political and religious debates that distract.

Just because you responsibly reflect opposing points of view and different aspects of American life in your mass media product does not mean you have to personally agree with all of those specific points of view.   In fact, in the case of a journalist presenting the news objectively, your personal opinion is irrelevant anyway (unless you’re writing an editorial or column).

But, at the same time, your experiences like the one I had in the teachings of my pastor, are important to bring to the table in developing a diverse media product.

It’s not about whether you personally are conservative or Christian or liberal or agnostic.  The right thing to do is to tell the stories of gay couples in New York and filmmakers like Maurice Jamal,  featured recently on the NPR Program, Tell Me More.


I don’t think there’s an iota of homophobia in the comments of Bishop Palmer or anyone else who voices opposition to the concept of gay marriage.

Often those who support laws like the one in New York say those who seek to  define marriage between one man and one woman are being homophobic.

Webster defines homophobia as “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality.”

Having and sharing a personal belief about homosexuality does not make one irrational.


Like abortion or immigration, same-sex marriage, and race, issues related to one’s sexual orientation are always touchy subjects on which to teach.

Classrooms on college campuses are the best places to have discussions about the subject, not just for the sake of talking, but for the sake of preparing graduates to take action as they produce work in their chosen profession.

Most of the recent research shows an increasing number of  younger people like those undergraduates in my class don’t have hang-ups about same-sex marriage.

But, I think it’s important to STRESS its OK to have and express an opposing viewpoint.  We should not  silence those students who personally disagree with same-sex marriage  in the same way many gays and lesbians were silenced or felt like they could not be open about their sexual orientation.

It’s a delicate, but important balance for those of us preparing the newest generation of media professionals to  strike as we talk about one of the biggest issues in the news in 2011.

What Does It Mean to Have 500 Quality Twitter Followers?

Reaching the 500-follower threshold on Twitter providers an occasion to reflect on this particular social media journey from January 2008 to July 2011.

I reached what I consider to be an important milestone this past week-  500 followers on Twitter.

I like to say that really means 500 people or at least 500 Twitter accounts that are registered to track what I have to say.

No, I don’t use any automated techniques (that I know of) to attract followers.  So I believe these are 500 QUALITY followers– mostly people I know and have met.

Should I be excited?

Well, I am happy that I have an audience of those who actually care about what I have to say.   Unlike my fellow broadcast journalists who occupy anchor chairs and never tweet but yet have double the number of followers, I actually do use the resource once in a while.

While I do occasionally post updates on Facebook, I am far more likely to provide useful information on Twitter with a 140-character tweet.

This picture shows University of Florida's Julie Dodd, who here in January 2008 introduced me to Twitter. Today I have more than 500 followers on Twitter.

The Lady Who Made It Happen

I credit University of Florida Journalism Professor Julie Dodd with my being on Twitter.

It was her  “Staying on Top of Technology” session at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) Midwinter Meeting of the Scholastic Journalism Division where she introduced the concept of microblogging and the Twitter tool.

After that introduction at The Poynter Institute  in January 2008, I came back to Alabama and started my account.  Three-and-a-half years later, I finally know how to use Twitter and people are following me.

Tightening Up on Twitter as You Teach It

I frequently quote my colleague, Sybril Bennett (Belmont University) who says Twitter is about research, relationships and reputation.

Dr. Syb (as she’s known in the Twitterverse) is right on!

This summer, I’ve strengthened my understanding of Twitter thanks to people like Robin Ware of  The Ware Agency, who showed me how those in the faith-based community are using Twitter.

In 2011, I’ve been sending more direct messages and engaging in exchanges with followers.

After a project earlier this year where I tracked Brian Stelter’s tweets in the aftermath of the Joplin tornado, I learned how a very busy media reporter for The New York Times takes the time to respond to Tweets.

He and National Public Radio’s David Folkenflik have taken the time to respond.

If they can respond, so can I.

An Ambitious Twitter Class Project

This week we’re going to another level with Twitter as my University of Alabama students in a short summer course on  Race, Gender and Media class are forming a network on Twitter to engage in the Twitterverse.

I suggested that we all follow each other.  (No, that’s now why I’m at 500 followers.)   To date, I can only count two of my 500 followers from this particular class exercise.

We’re hoping that in addition to extending class discussion, we can engage some of those who have created the documentaries and news products we’re screening in the class.

Researching  Tweets

I just learned today that there’s some interest in a research project I’m doing to look at how we as mass media researchers MEASURE our tweets.

An abstract on that topic has been accepted for presentation at an academic conference in October.

I’ll be re-linking with my colleague, Natalie Brown, to look at one of those measures.

So, 500 Followers– just an indication of what is to come for me in this medium.

New York Times Article Captures Culture in Bus Crash

The New York Times’ David Chen added to our knowledge of Asian American culture in his March 15th story about the relationship between casinos and buses like the one involved in a fatal crash last weekend.

As one who closely monitors how the media reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our nation,  I was gratified today to read David Chen’s story on the Asian American culture that is tied to last Saturday’s fatal bus crash that claimed at least 15 lives.

New York Times photo by Andrew Sullivan appeared on the Web, but not in today's print edition.

The article didn’t carry with it any art, but the pictures that Chen paints in the story are strong enough without visuals.

This photo accompanied the web version of Chen’s story.

He explains the link between the casinos and the Asian Americans from the New York area who frequent them.

This story was not about the horrific crash scene.   We’ve heard about and were deeply saddened by the events.  But, the rest of America may not be as informed about why people would be riding on a tour bus overnight, many on a regular basis.

Chen’s story gives us a window into this part of the world here in our country.

Here’s an interesting excerpt from the story that grabbed my attention.

Culture is one reason gambling is so popular among Asian-Americans, especially Chinese-Americans. Asian-Americans, carrying on a tradition from their homelands, embrace games of chance and skill like mah-jongg, both to make a bit of money and to be sociable; Las Vegas has long counted on a strong Asian clientele.

Chen also reflects generational diversity in this story as he explains the elderly Asian American population who is not typically on social media outlets such as Facebook.   (We tend to think everyone is– NOT TRUE!)

The casinos use targeted advertising to the Cantonese speakers and Mandarin speakers.

It is rare for most us to see this type of diversity within the Asian American community explained as Chen does.

From his LinkedIn profile, we can see that Chen spent two years in Far East as an Associated Press writer in Hong Kong.

I learned a lot today.    Definitely a story to showcase on the Society of Professional Journalists’ diversity committee, which I chair.

Front-row seat for Friedman’s Alabama visit leaves one in deep thought

Would you drive three hours to just  to see a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist?

That’s apparently what one couple did in order to attend tonight’s 7 p.m. lecture by New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman here at the University of Alabama’s Sellers Auditorium.

It was his second public event of the day as he spent time answering students’ questions in a student-only forum earlier this afternoon.

A handful of students came out tonight.  But, it was the folks off-campus, faculty and host of UA administrators who nearly filled the largest venue in the Bryant Conference Center.

I was pleased to be on the front row as Friedman laid out the major tenets of his latest book, Hot, Flat and Crowded.

I had not read the book.  So I found the presentation somewhat interesting, but not nearly as intriguing as his responses to some of the questions from those in the audience.

A Call to Students

One student asked Friedman what they could do to “redefine green”

“The idea you don’t have a single solar-panel roof on this campus is a travesty,” Friedman said.

He also challenged students to launch some type of intra-campus competition to conserve electricity.

Finally, he suggested students get politically involved.

“Get off of Facebook and into somebody’s face,” Friedman said. “Your world may be digitial but politics is still analog.”

A Call to America

Another attendee tonight queried Friedman about ways to build consensus on some of the issues he raised.

“I really think we need a serious third party, ” Friedman said as he described what he thinks America needs is  a “shock to the system.”

Friedman was not really impressed with the Tea Party, which he called the “Tea Kettle Party” because he perceived the loose confederation of groups as “letting off steam, but without an engine to take us anyplace.”

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)