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 AJR  Letters

From AJR,   September 1992  issue

Letters   

Covering L.A.
To the editor:
WJR's excellent package on the coverage of the Los Angeles riots ("City of Anger," July/August) began, "It was a story that took the Los Angeles media by surprise." How true. And how unfortunate for their readers and viewers.
If reporters would get out of the statehouse and into the homes of the people they write for and about they would have a better grasp of what is really important in their communities. They might also lose the silly notion that claiming to be a reporter is going to shield them from the anger and the pain felt by the dispossessed.

Bill Bucy
Palo Alto, California


To the editor:
I would like to compliment Ron LaBrecque for his interesting portrayal of the response of the Los Angeles Times newsroom to the recent riots in Los Angeles. However, I do find fault with his characterization of the editors running the coverage as "white males." In fact, several women and one Latino editor were instrumental in assigning and editing during the intense days of the riots.
While the need to increase diversity in the newsroom is an important and legitimate issue to all of us, it is just as important not to treat women and minorities who already are in management positions as invisible.

Roxane Arnold
State/Specialist Editor
Los Angeles Times


To the editor:
WJR's recent package of stories on coverage of the Los Angeles riots and the related events before and after them was incomplete at best and downright misleading at worst.
Your readers might reasonably infer from your articles that the only significant coverage of these matters came from the Los Angeles Times and KNBC. Not so. A number of newspapers, including the Los Angeles Daily News, and a number of television stations provided very good coverage that rivaled or exceeded that of the Times or KNBC.

Robert W. Burdick
Editor, Daily News
Woodland Hills, California

Minorities in Newsrooms
To the editor:
The assertion in Katherine Corcoran's article about minority employment ("Reaching for Diversity," July/August) that the Radio-Television News Directors Association's (RTNDA) figures for radio and television news "are artificially high because they include clerks, secretaries and other non-professionals" is false.
RTNDA Research Director Vernon Stone has been tracking minority employment for more than 20 years. From the beginning, these surveys have included few if any employees who were not news professionals.
The percentage of minority employment in radio and television news continues to be twice that for newspapers. This is a fact, not a statistical aberration.

David Bartlett
President, RTNDA
Washington, D.C.


To the editor:
David Bartlett takes issue with my statement that RTNDA's figures for radio and television news are artificially high. But I was not referring to the
RTNDA employment survey when I made the remark. I was referring to the reports broadcast outlets send to the Federal Communications Commission.
While the percentage of minority employment in radio and television news may be twice that for newspapers, we are talking about a smaller number of jobs and a smaller number of news outlets. The real issue is what kinds of jobs are filled by people of color. The answer is that we are employed as lower-ranking editors, desk assistants, reporters and researchers. How many people of color have hiring and firing power, a budget or the final word on news content? Very few.
We also realize that stations frequently hire anchors to showcase and prove that they are concerned about minority employment. These anchors are only window dressing controlled ultimately by white news managers.
The broadcast industry still has a long way to go when it comes to total inclusion and utilization of journalists of color.

Sidmel Estes-Sumpter
President, National Association
of Black Journalists
Reston, Virginia

To the editor:
Katherine Corcoran's article on racial minorities raises some important questions for editors. Unfortunately, it also raises questions about Corcoran's competence as a reporter. Corcoran cites a 1990 cover story in the San Francisco Examiner's Image magazine about the growing number of relationships in the bay area between white men and Asian women as an example of the racial insensitivity of white editors. The piece was actually edited by Senior Editor Gary Kamiya, whose Japanese-American father came of age in the World War II detention camps.
"The story," Corcoran alleges, "played on images of Asian women as submissive and exotic and Asian men as celibate and sexless." This is the rudest possible misinterpretation of the article. In reality, the piece was an unflinching examination of a noteworthy social trend, exploring why many Asian-American women are choosing mates outside of their cultures and why white men are increasingly interested in these relationships. If there was any bias to the piece, it was a feminist one. Author Joan Walsh was clearly skeptical of some white men's motives, questioning whether their search for a stereotypical submissive Asian woman was a flight from feminism.
I also must take strong issue with journalism professor Erna Smith, who is quoted as saying, "It's as if the only time an Asian person gets on the cover of Image magazine is for dating a white person." That implies, Smith goes on to say, "people of color are of no value except in their relationship with the dominant culture."
Smith is obviously not a regular reader of our magazine. She evidently missed our cover stories on Maxine Hong Kingston, Jessica Hagedorn,
Eddie Olmos, Dolores Huerta, Alice Walker and Shelby Steele, among others. None of them were spotlighted because of "their relationship with the dominant culture."
The American media should be challenged to make their newsrooms as vibrant a mix as the country at large. But credit should also be given where it's due.

David Talbot
Editor, Image
San Francisco Examiner

Gritty Newsrooms
To the editor:
I greatly enjoyed Chris Kent's "Clean & Sober or True Grit" (July/August). I run a fairly neat work area primarily in self-defense — otherwise I can't find a darn thing 10 minutes after I put it down. I know an editor who sprayed Lysol on his desk at the end of each shift, and I know a writer who literally sustained a sprained wrist when a years-tall stack of his own detritus fell on him.
In my experience both the obsessive neatniks and the proud slobs share this as news professionals: They care more about the process than the product. Fortunately, most of us just shuffle around in the middle and get the job done.

Charles Reinken
Editorial Page Editor
Fayetteville, North Carolina,
Observer-Times


To the editor:
Chris Kent's story about the cluttered, smoky newsrooms of old brought back memories of Pacific Stars and Stripes in Tokyo, a daily whose alums help staff newspapers around the world.
Even in the early 1980s, the Stripes newsroom was smoke-filled and noisy with the clattering of teletypes and manual typewriters. In one corner was Hal Drake's desk, a monument to mess that drove the military brass nuts. Drake, a glorious writer who has been with Stripes more than 30 years, could dig through the foot-deep papers atop his desk and find anything in minutes.
The wall behind Editor Vince Hottle's desk was covered with stylebook dos and don'ts written in red or black felt-tip marker. One glance, even from the opposite side of the room, would remind you how to convert knots to miles or how not to abbreviate the Philippines.
After several years on small weeklies, Stripes was my first "real" newsroom. It's still my favorite.

Ron Hatcher
Anderson, Indiana


To the editor:
I have always believed that the reason reporters are messy is that it is the only way they can deal with the cramped working conditions they are given. I can think of no other business in which highly skilled professionals, expected to deal with enormous amounts of information in a fast-paced environment, are given so little space — and clerical support — in which to do their jobs.
The average office professional in the United States is allocated something more than 300 square feet of space. Even the average secretary gets about 200 square feet. Experience and observation tells me the average reporter is lucky to get half that, even counting common areas.
If lawyers, accountants, business consultants or other professionals had to work long hours at tiny work stations without any clerical help, they'd be pretty messy, too.

William Fulton
California Planning
& Development Report
Ventura, California

Bellows' Wizardry
To the editor:
Right off I must confess that I too worked for the legendary Jim Bellows ("The Last Confederate General," June) at the late Washington Star and the late Los Angeles Herald Examiner. So add me to the list of veteran journalists who found magic, hope and inspiration in The Wizard's glinting, elfin eyes. We did, indeed, pay attention to "that man behind the curtain," even though he would always abandon us for another sudden balloon trip with no funds and carrying little more than his peculiar brand of snake oil in his threadbare carpetbag.
I was not a close buddy, but to this day I miss working for the guy in the sentimental way a middle-aged adult misses making good plays for a favorite coach. All you had to do, you see, was to tell him what it was that you wanted to do. No wimpy memo to an indecisive editor who already knew what the story was going to be (and how to write it) before you even went out on it. Sure, Bellows might say no with those pursed lips and a laugh, but you could laugh right along with his no (and maybe even wind up agreeing with him). At least he'd listen to you. Hell, it wasn't his money you were pushing him to spend!
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to butter him up or anything, but there's one other thing I'd like to add now that his happy-go-lucky balloon is tethered once more and he's back to pulling levers and pushing buttons for some Moneybags again: Hey, Jimbo! Gotta slot for a writer? Add me to the list of wannabes before you fly, fly, fly away again...

John Sherwood
Severna Park, Maryland

East Coast Bias
To the editor:
The Free Press item on the Los Angeles Times in the June issue ("L.A. Times: No Respect in the East?") was right on target. As someone who lives in California but has spent most of the past five years working in the East, I initially read the newspaper every day I was in Washington for its coverage of the West. It also quickly became apparent that, day after day, the L.A. Times was mandatory reading for its coverage of Washington and foreign affairs.
But it seems that people on the East Coast go out of their way to ignore the Times. At two news organizations where I have worked, editors who were responsible for coverage of the West kept up with coverage of the West as reported by newspapers in the East. And rare was the Washington or foreign editor who monitored the Times every day.
Their loss. The L.A. Times easily matches the local Washington newspaper (which is not distributed here now), and it competes head on with another newspaper of a similar name based slightly north of the Beltway.

Adam C. Powell III
Mill Valley, California

Defending Staggs
To the editor:
For the past two months readers of WJR have been using Jeffrey Staggs ("He'll Never Eat Lunch..," May) as a punching bag to explain what it takes to make it in the real world of reporting.
Sure, the article was passed around my newsroom and everyone got a giggle out of his thinking that an editorial assistant position is enough experience to get into a major metro's newsroom.
But the fact is I have said many of the same things to other reporters just starting out. We lament that our internships didn't help us land a little higher and that the recession has kicked the crap out of the field. But for Patricia Zapor of Catholic News Service to say that she'll hold on to the article just to remind herself not to hire this guy is a little extreme.
None of the people with whom I graduated think that anyone out there owes us anything — and that's not why we became reporters. But at a time when papers are offering buyouts and laying off people, young reporters can use some advice or encouragement.
So give Staggs a break. Remember when you tried to find a job and how you thought that if given the chance you could cover the hell out of a fire or a cop story for a major daily? If an aspiring young reporter does send you a růsumů, instead of writing to WJR and bitching about some kid writing an article, pick up the phone and call that applicant. It will make his or her day.

Keith Robert Paul
Reporter, Maryland Gazette
Glen Burnie, Maryland