Friday, December 05, 2008

Black journalists fire shot across Gannett's bow

One of the most powerful minority journalism trade groups has just issued a public challenge to the company as it cuts 2,000 jobs in this week's big layoff. Referring to Gannett's Task Force on Newsroom Recruiting, Retention and Diversity, the 3,300-member National Association of Black Journalists says in a statement today:

"NABJ asks that this committee and others like it review Gannett’s diversity numbers after the conclusion of the most recent cuts. NABJ is willing to do our part. This organization is available to aid the industry in any way we can to recruit and retain black journalists. We must all work to reverse this disturbing trend. The question is: Will Gannett and other industry leaders continue their commitment to diversity in difficult economic times?"

As near as I can tell, Gannett was the only company NABJ singled out. In any case, it's a safe bet the company doesn't want NABJ -- or any group -- holding a National Press Club news conference to announce a you-know-what of newspapers, TV stations, and their advertisers.

Earlier: At Unity '08, the color of sponsorships is green

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.


  1. Nice press release, but it is too damned late, NABJ. The deed is done. The concern should have been made public in October, when the cuts were first announced.
    The organization is coming late to the party.

  2. Really - THIS is what we're going to worry about right now?

    These special interest groups really have narrow thinking.

  3. ah Lawyers.
    How about retaining ANY semblance of a workforce. Color notwithstanding.

  4. 5:18 PM
    You say "special interest groups."
    This is the first one I've seen.
    Are there others besides this one that are watching the mix of Gannett layoffs?

  5. As a laid off employee (who happens to be white), I am outraged that this is what it has come to. I was laid off, despite my vast experience, great reviews and the support of almost everyone I work with. I and people like me are the ones who need an organization screaming murder.

    These cuts should be based on qualifications and business needs, period. Both those things were ignored in my case and I was let go for less than honorable reasons.

    And just for the record, in my rather large shop, not one black journalist was released.

    This is total b.s. and adding insult to injury. Have some heart for the qualified folks of any color who got cut.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. I just removed a comment that included the phrase "evil black female AME'' and the name of that woman's newspaper. Please do not post such personal attacks.

  8. The NABJ can go to hell. Groups like them have done irreperable amounts of damage to journalism. They're a gigantic part of the reason the public doesn't trust us. We can't afford their sort of ginned-up bellyaching any more They should be told to shove it, and damn the "ramifications."

  9. All the employees we lost were women.

  10. More than a few let go at HNT-CN this year were black.

  11. I'm looking at our paper's list and, hmmmm, don't see any black names there. This is a company who has kept a no-talent black female AME for years, who has had more complaints given to HR than any previous employee. She managed to get all the old white folks shoved out, or into inferior positions, so she could promote black staff members. Shouldn't the black journalists be concerned that it takes TALENT to work for a newspaper, not just the right skin color? Talk about reverse discrimination!

  12. "People see what the want to see and disregard the rest" - Paul Simon. The statement is not a shot a Gannett. They are simply stating that they hope the company keeps it commitment do diversity during a difficult time. It says nothing more or nothing less and does not even hint at a boycott.

    Full disclosure I am not Craig Debow and I am a paid subscriber ($20) to the blog. I just think we lose credibility when we read things that are not there.

  13. Can you imagine starting anything as silly sounding as "National Association for White Journalists."

  14. If you want to see if the the same number of white versus minority journalists were laid off, just run another one of your polls and get the self-reporting aggregate, but do focus on newsrooms instead of the total since we are dealing with a journalism organization that wants to "help." I'd be interesting because my guess is that the numbers of the white versus the minority is pretty even given the overall diversity of the company.

  15. As much as I think organizations that draw attention to a reporter's racial or ethnic background are silly, I have to say that ANY group that causes public relations trouble for Gannett is good in my book. Go NABJ!

  16. From Tim Chavez at

    Jim, good piece.

    The Tennessean has a long legacy of not having a black journalism legacy in a city with a 25 percent African-American population and in a state that was blessed with the great Ida B. Wells.

    I've written about the many black journalists -- who felt the need to leave -- to advance on my blog site.

    Thanks for all your are continuing to do.


  17. Minorities have been given special treatment by Gannett for years. I have worked with many good people in Gannett that have been diverse and I have worked with bad people that have been diverse and had they been white they would have been put on a PIP and fired if they did not improve.
    this was not the case.

    I was point black told by another Gannett paper "I love your stuff" but that I could not be hired because I was white.

    The NABJ can kiss my ass.

  18. Give me a break. I actually feel like being black HELPED some people keep their jobs at my paper.

  19. given that there will be NO "racial" majority group in the u.s. in a couple of decades, assuming that an overwhelmingly white staff will be able to report adequately on its community is absurd.

    i'm old enough to remember being the only woman in the city room after 7:30 p.m. guess how much news of greater interest to women than to men made it into the national or local sections in those days.

    good luck reporting fairly and adequately on latinos if your staff has no one who speaks spanish well enough to be understood.

    and if your community is 20 or 30 or whatever percent black or any other nonwhite group, you'd better have enough staffers of that group to represent you -- not just at work, but in their daily lives -- if you want readers from that community and credibility within it. people with a news tip are more comfortable calling someone they've seen in their church or the supermarket or at the community center than a stranger of another color.

    and in case you're wondering, i'm white, 64 and just "retired" via volunteering for a layoff.

  20. I am a minority journalist (not black) who has always resented being defined by my skin color and ethnicity. I absolutely believe that ability and talent should be the two most important attributes to consider while deciding whether to hire a person. I agree with the 5:37p poster's final graf: "This is total b.s. and adding insult to injury. Have some heart for the qualified folks of any color who got cut." Sir, I am truly sorry you got cut. And if you got cut BECAUSE you are white, that's a damn shame. If you have evidence that you were laid off whereas a comparably paid but less-competent person of color was retained I urge you to take action. It's admirable that the NABJ decided to speak up. But this is NOT the time to be advocating specifically for one ethnic group. Such a stance makes it seem as though the NABJ could care less about anyone who isn't black. The NABJ would've been better off making a strong statement in support of ALL journalists, regardless of skin color.

  21. From a minority journalist: More power to the NABJ and hoping that AAJA follows suit.

  22. ASNE doesn't tally corporate totals in its annual survey, but you can see paper-by-paper results here:

    A corporate tally last done in 2005 for the Knight Foundation showed Gannett well ahead of a backward industry in getting its newsrooms to reflect their communities:
    (scroll down for corporate ranking)

    Opinions vary on how well Gannett carried out that effort.

  23. If "you know what" is boycott, local folks already are at the APP in NJ. Most staff and their extended families are getting canceling subscriptions, and friends now have joined. My dentist told me today he will cancel, and will turn the ad rep (another new one) away.

    This was once a much beloved major New Jersey newspaper, until Gannett bought it for its Wall Street strip-and-flip show. Long-time readers are pissed to see long-time staffers ditched so callously.

    I hope NABJ already knows that of the three I know of in the last newsroom layoff at APP in August, two of three were racial minorities. Is the bloodbath over yet this time?

  24. Ahhh, Jim.

    Now we see what your readership is all about.

  25. 12:10 am. Can you be more specific? Is my readership different from Gannett's workforce overall -- and if so, how, please?

  26. 5:26 PM wrote:
    You say "special interest groups."
    This is the first one I've seen.
    Are there others besides this one that are watching the mix of Gannett layoffs?

    No, I meant in general society - everybody is so splintered now that they miss the big picture.

    In this case specifically, instead of the group worried about the future of all journalists (i.e., will there be a newspaper industry in 15 years?), its members are more concerned about how many black journalists were laid off. What?!?

    Honestly, as others have pointed out, I bet being a minority saved a lot of people from layoffs this week. Is that fair? That's a topic for another discussion.

  27. This kind of B.S. Is exactly why I refuse to join AAJA. The notion that a journalist should want to be called anything other than a journalist is dismaying to me. I am Asian and white American, but I am not an Asian American journalist or a white journalist, or even a biracial journalist. I am a journalist, just like my white and black colleagues in my newsroom.

    When I work, the minorities I most frequently run into are black. I don't have any problem talking to them, even though lots of people say I look white. Being friendly usually works; as does being persistent. Sometimes I get nowhere, but it's not clear that race had anything to do with it. I get nowhere with some non-minority people, too.

    It upsets me that we still treat racial minorities as groups of people with similar coverage interests just because of the color of their skin. Just like political analysts break the races into voting blocs. It demeans people who don't fit their assigned molds.

    Race doesn't have to be an identity. Going colorblind gets us closer to Dr. King's dream, I think.

  28. Well said, 1:49 AM.

    I wish more people thought the way you do.

  29. 2:57 AM
    Well put.
    My gut tells me that one group in particular took a huge hit, much to Gannett's disadvantage. That group is mature workers 40 and older. Like it or not, employment laws prohibit discrimination based on age.
    I put Gannett on notice a while back when I filed a charge of age discrimination with the EEOC. I honestly believe that site will think twice now, and I believe whomever made the layoff decisions did it with a new realization of what's allowable in the workplace.
    Now, do I believe a person 40 years old, possibly someone with face wrinkles and a few smile lines, needs extra workplace protections? Nope. I don't believe that any more than I believe a person with smooth dark skin needs protection.
    But this is serious business. We're talking livelihoods and health insurance and dreams and plans here. A person should not be excluded from doing a job (fulfilling a dream and earning a paycheck) just because of age ----or skin color, or religion, or gender....
    As long as the Age Discrimination in Employment and Older Worker Benefit Protection Acts are around, I say use them to the fullest to right the wrongs that Gannett might be doing to mature journalists.
    You're paying the EEOC workers to do a job. Now give them the facts they need to investigate possible claims of age discrimination.

  30. What would be helpful is to know how many blacks, asians, hispanics, etc. graduated from American journalism programs last year.

    A fair goal for the industry is that the overall number of hires so be representative of the number of people entering the profession.

    It might be a better use of energy for NABJ and other groups to work on increasing the number of young people entering the profession.

  31. Wow.
    For those of you who are so pissed off because NABJ spoke up for its members (and that includes the members who have decided to go the "journalist who happens to be black" route), let me give you the point of view of someone who was used by Gannett to pad their diversity numbers.
    Yes, you heard me right, used. Because that's what most people of color are within that company. I went through the whole News 2000 thing and dealt with the following crap:
    (a)Copies of my resume being placed in the mailboxes of all of my new colleagues as a way of saying "Hey, look! Here's our new minority. When we hired white staffers, I didn't get a copy of their resumes.
    (b) This was my personal favorite. One of our news assistants, a guy who looked like Newt Gingrich and had applied for my job despite (a) not having finished journalism school (b) not having finished college and (c) having barely finished high school, proclaimed to me in front of all of my colleagues that the only reason that they hired me was because I was black, thus discounting my journalism degree, the years of experience that I already had, and the fact that unlike this jackass, I could write a complete (and grammatically correct) sentence.

    To be honest, I read some of the responses that are being left on this blog by disgruntled white, male staffers because NABJ dared to speak up (something it rarely does in a timely fashion by the way), and it's all that I can do to keep from laughing. It's also reminding me of the place that I ended up going to after my Gannett experience: Reading, Pa.
    Now why is this reminding me of Reading? Because many of you are saying the same kinds of things that white supremacist groups say to factory workers who have lost their jobs: it's those damned minorities!
    Guess what kids? It isn't. You can blame market forces. You can blame advertising. You can blame any number of things. But journalists of color are not your problem. There's not enough of us in the business to be your problem. We've all been run out by a combination of layoffs, buyouts, bad salaries, and your crappy assed sense of entitlement.
    You may now fire when ready.

  32. I wonder if the shots were a DRIVE BY???

  33. 3:54 PM
    I'm not understanding how Gannett used you to pad diversity numbers. Can you give specifics please?

  34. MadPoliSci wrote: "Because many of you are saying the same kinds of things that white supremacist groups say to factory workers who have lost their jobs: it's those damned minorities!"

    That isn't exactly the point being made here.

    I don't think people lost their jobs BECAUSE OF minorities. That's more because of the economy and GCI's overarching greed.

    I do think that if considerations such as race were weighed in the equation, it was likely IN FAVOR OF keeping minorities over others because of the exact diversity requirements that made you feel "used."

    That's why I find this NABJ thing so laughable. They're less worried about the death of journalism in America and more concerned about keeping their own slice of the pie.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.