A year in the quest for news media that look like America
From use of the "N-word" to issues of domestic violence and racist words uttered by Donald Sterling, then-owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, social issues of the day routinely became part of sports reporting this year. And sports journalists sometimes were part of the news.
A leaked tape of Sterling making racist remarks to his girlfriend cost him ownership of the Clippers and put black commentators in the spotlight in a way rarely seen recently. At least two related the owner's situation — his racial perspective went unchallenged for years within the NBA — to the low numbers of journalists of color or of reporters covering the "minority affairs" beat.
In one of several television appearances, the New York Times'William C. Rhoden said on CNN's "New Day" in May:
"Whenever I walk into a press box and I see no black reporters, or when I walk into a newsroom or any corporate office, and I see no black people, essentially the owners are saying the same thing [as Sterling]. They're just not getting caught. They're saying 'we don't respect you, black people, we're not gonna hire you.' One thing I would suggest a lot of the NBA players do, and black NFL players — when you get a chance, walk through your respective team offices and find out how many people that look like you are in the marketing department, in the sales department ... You will be stunned. So, let's not get so carried away by this, what's kind of like an easy fastball to hit, and really dig down into the systemic racism in your organizations — who, in fact, pay you a lot of money. I think this a great launching pad, but let's not just stop here at the easy part. . . ."
When the NFL considered penalizing players 15 yards if they used the N-word on the field, sports journalists who defended the players' right to use the word were excusing a vernacular that would not be allowed in their own workplaces. It wasn't just the N-word that was debated. After Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman undertook a fiery postgame rant in January, he was called a thug so many times that he and others wondered whether the T-word was becoming a euphemism for that other one.
In July, ESPN's Stephen A. Smithwas suspended for a week after a "First Take" segment about the NFL suspending Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice for only two games for knocking out his then fiancee, now wife, at an Atlantic City hotel in February. Smith apologized for suggesting that women might "provoke" domestic violence.
Some suggested that NFL writers were too cozy with their sources. "Some of the nation's most experienced and dedicated football reporters have downplayed the Ray Rice scandal in their work. Why? Because they work for NFL.com,"Michael Hiltzik, a Los Angeles Times business columnist, wrote.
"Others, like Peter King of Sports Illustrated and Adam Schefter of ESPN, have been accused of uncritically taking the NFL's side in a case in which the league's actions continue to look worse. . . . They don't work directly for the league, but their careers are highly dependent on their image as NFL 'insiders.'"
In August, about 25 members of the Asian American Journalists Association, meeting at the AAJA convention in Washington, formed a Sports Task Force. The group also has a Facebook page and Twitter feed.
The National Association of Black Journalists gave NPR its "Thumbs Down" award for 2014 over its cancellation of the multicultural show "Tell Me More" and NPR's elimination of 28 positions across its newsroom in an effort to cut costs.
The award was announced on Aug. 1, a day after "Tell Me More" ended its seven-year run before a live audience at its Washington studios. The show was canceled as part of efforts to resolve a $6.1 million budget deficit.
NABJ President Bob Butler said in a release, "The importance of public media to make a concerted effort to be distinctive in its storytelling methods, to offer its audiences depth by featuring untold stories, and to as an end result diversify and expand audiences was best exemplified by a show like Tell Me More and how the program sought to operate. [NPR] has as two of [its] stated goals . . . to 'expand, diversify and engage our audiences' and 'grow net revenues.'
"One however cannot [supersede] the other and greater care should have been taken to preserve Tell Me More as an example of what NPR's new core should be and as . . . a representation of a truly superb way in which public media can embrace diversity.
"NABJ is mindful of NPR's other [initiatives] such as the Peabody award-winning 'Race Card Project' and ['Code Switch.'] These programs are worthy of praise and should be supported. Still the opportunity cannot be [lost] to encourage National Public Radio to live up to the [company's] full potential and be standard bearers and to be the company which in everything it does [shows] others in public media and media at large how to make sure journalism and media are inclusive and really do provide a service to the public. . . ."
Kinsey Wilson, then NPR's executive vice president and chief content officer, told Journal-isms in May that while economics was not the sole driver of the decision to cancel the show, "Tell Me More" was a $2.1 million a year operation that was losing $1.5 million annually. A show such as "Fresh Air" was raising 28 percent more — via corporate contributions, programming fees from member stations and philanthropic and foundation support — than it cost.
NPR promised a wider role for Martin, who was to appear on its most popular daily news shows, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," conducting live events in partnership with member stations and remaining active in the digital space.
As the year ended, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that "Washington Redskins" isn't a profane or obscene name and dismissed a request to deny the license renewal of a Virginia radio station that broadcast the word "Redskins."
The American Psychological Association called for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations.
Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, a group of Native parents and their allies from across the United States and Canada, said in December it had launched a grassroots effort to get Redface out of stadiums. Redface is a term for fans who wear stereotypical Indian costumes to games.
2. Ben Bradlee Wrestled With Racial Issues (Oct. 22)
4. Sudden Change of Editors at Ebony(April 23)
6. Bombshell Suit Against "White People" Magazine (Aug. 22)
10. NABJ Executive Director Resigns (Jan. 20)
Source: Google Analytics. Includes only columns published in 2014.
David Crary, Associated Press: 2014 Year In Review: Associated Press's top 10 stories of the year (Dec. 22)
Tracie Powell, alldigitocracy.org: Year In Review: Journalism Ethics Took Major Hits in 2014
Jason Zaragoza, altweeklies.com:'More Alt Than Ever': Alt-Weeklies 2014 Year in Review