NABJ accepts network's focus on diversity

December 13, 2004|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

After meeting with NBC News President Neal Shapiro to discuss concerns about anchorman Brian Williams and the newsroom's attitude toward diversity, the National Association of Black Journalists yesterday issued a statement expressing confidence in the network.

"We are confident that from Neal Shapiro to Brian Williams on down, that having a diverse newsroom is a priority at NBC," Herbert Lowe, president of the NABJ, said in a statement. "With Neal's commitment to future participation in our NABJ Media Institute and a continued dialogue about hiring and retaining black journalists, I look forward to working with him."

Saturday's two-hour meeting in New York came after a week of Web log articles, online discussion and several back and forth statements from the NABJ, Shapiro and Williams over comments made by Williams in the November issue of Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines. Williams' remarks came in response to a questioner asking, "There are few women and people of color in top jobs at news organizations. How do you address that lack of diversity?"

"We have bigger problems," Williams is quoted as replying. "There are no black members of the Senate. We should keep some perspective on this ..."

(The interview was conducted in August, three months before African-American candidate Barack Obama was elected to the Senate from Illinois.)

The controversy started Dec. 1 when Williams' statement was posted online by Robert (Rob) Redding Jr. at his Web log, www.reddingnewsreview.com, which is targeted to "black news readers." Williams' statement and reaction to it have also been reported and discussed in Richard Prince's widely read Journal-isms column at www.may nardije.org, the Web site of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

Ernest Sotomayer, president of Unity: Journalists of Color Inc., last week pointed to Williams' statement as evidence of the lack of commitment to diversity by the media industry. Sotomayer told The Sun that he wrote to Williams expressing his "disappointment and concern" over the remarks.

On Thursday, Williams issued a statement to members of the NABJ attempting to clarify his remarks: "It is clear that my response to a question posed by an in-flight magazine has been misconstrued. I believe that the lack of diversity is a serious challenge not only in newsrooms across America, but across the upper echelons of our society as well. In no way have I ever diminished the problem that exists in our newsrooms."

On Friday, Lowe told The Sun the statement was not enough, and that the NABJ wanted further reassurance of the commitment of Williams and NBC News to a diverse newsroom.

Calls to Lowe yesterday were not returned. In a statement issued through the NABJ, Shapiro said, "I am passionate about the need for diversity in our nation's newsrooms and particularly here at the network level."

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