“The script followed by the media during the coverage of the shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington is an all-too-familiar one,” Jack Mirkinson wrote Monday for the Huffington Post. “The story has unfolded in confusing, conflicting pieces, in real time, in front of viewers and on Twitter. And, just as in Newtown, and in Boston, key mistakes have been repeated.”
““Thirteen people are dead and at least eight others were injured after a gunman opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, officials said, spreading fear and chaos across the region as authorities sought to contain the panic,” the Washington Post reported.
The slain suspected shooter was identified by the FBI as Aaron Alexis, 34, living in Fort Worth, Texas. An African American, his race was broadcast throughout the day, often with little other description. Same with another potential suspect who was white.
“”Hours after the rampage began it remained unclear whether the shooting was the act of a lone gunman, or if other shooters were involved,” the Post story, by Carol Morello, Peter Hermann and Clarence Williams, continued. “[D.C. Police Chief Cathy L.] Lanier initially said authorities were looking for two more potential shooters dressed in military style clothing. Shortly after she announced a detailed description of two suspects, city officials said one had been located and cleared. And at a 10 p.m. news conference she said police were comfortable the shooting had been committed by one person.”
Mirkinson wrote for the Huffington Post, “The Navy itself proved to be a chief source of news at the outset,” displaying a tweet from the Navy posted at 8:37 a.m.: “#BREAKING: #USNavy confirms active shooter at Washington Navy Yard. More to follow.”
“After that, all of the usual elements began falling into place,” Murkinson continued. “Cable news soon went wall-to-wall, and networks broke in with brief special reports.
“There were the tweets quoting police scanners, and the admonitions for them to stop, since they have proven in the past to be sources of a great deal of dubious information . . .
“There were the conflicting reports, based on anonymous sources, about the number of fatalities. . . .”
The shooting quickly became the day’s major story, with nonstop news coverage, at least on cable news, and a statement from President Obamalamenting “yet another mass shooting.” The “CBS Evening News” was extended to an hour. Outside of Washington, news outlets were on the lookout for a local angle. Philadelphia’s WPVI-TV, for example, discovered that Nalo Washington, daughter of veteran journalist Linn Washington, who teaches at Temple University, came face to face with the shooter and begged him not to kill her before running to safety. The station interviewed Linn Washington.
In Washington, the website of all-news WTOP Radio “was so overwhelmed with traffic Monday, the following message got posted: ‘Due to the current events at the Washington Navy Yard we have replaced our home page with a live blog of the events to provide you with the latest news and to allow the site to function optimally,’ ” dcrtv.comreported. The Washington Post dropped its paywall for the day.
CNN, which during April’s Boston Marathon tragedy famously broadcast — incorrectly — that law enforcement officials had identified “a dark-skinned male” as the suspect, was extraordinarily cautious this time, Erik Wemple reported for the Post.
“Given that other outlets reported the name, and that they subsequently turned out to have been right, what could CNN possibly have been waiting for? The Erik Wemple Blog put that question to CNN today. Spokeswoman Edie Emery responded that the network didn’t go with story until ‘the FBI told CNN the name on the record.’
“Revolutionary. Had CBS News and NBC News followed that prescription earlier in the day, they wouldn’t have pushed the bogus name of a suspect into the public realm. NBC News attributed that name to ‘sources.’ A tweet from a CBS News staffer didn’t contain details on sourcing. . . .”
At midday, Bobby Caina Calvan, media watch chair of the Asian American Journalists Association, posted on the group’s Facebook page:
“Again, let’s be careful about jumping to conclusions in the unfolding drama in Washington, particularly in assigning motive or identifying suspects, or seeking relevance in the color of their skin.”
Calvan told Journal-isms by email, “I posted it after reading the Washington Post coverage. In its early coverage, the Post described the shooter as dark-skinned without giving any context. I found that a cause of concern, particularly because I saw nothing in the story that would make the shooter’s skin color relevant.
“As we know, the mention of skin color and race in situations like these has sometimes been wrong. The Boston marathon bombings was a recent case in point.
“Even when it turns out to be the case — that the shooter was indeed dark skinned — what relevance is there at this point?
“I understand the need to give readers/viewers as much information as possible, but when the accuracy of information is still uncertain, we need to be very careful about what information we report, or perhaps suggest, as fact.
“The New York Times had mentioned that another potential suspect was white. And that a possible third suspect was black. In the end, there might have been only two suspects, perhaps only one. Again, we don’t know. When it comes to certain bits of information, perhaps we ought to wait.”
The Associated Press Stylebook, the most widely used among news organizations, says race should be used in news stories “For suspects sought by the police or missing person cases using police or other credible, detailed descriptions. Such descriptions apply for all races. The racial reference should be removed when the individual is apprehended or found.”
The police descriptions grew more detailed as the day went on, even if some media descriptions did not. According to a 2:20 p.m. dispatch in Washington City Paper, Lanier said the Metropolitan Police Department was “searching for two potential suspects in addition to a shooter who was killed. She described one as a white male in a beret-style hat between 40 and 50 years of age, who was wearing a tan military-style uniform consistent with U.S. Navy garb; and a black male of medium complexion with gray sideburns, who was wearing an olive uniform, has gray sideburns, and who is about 5 foot 10 inches and 180 pounds. She said investigators do not know if the suspects are members of the Armed Forces.”
Deanna Boyd and Bill Miller, Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas: Navy Yard shooter had at least two gun-related incidents in past
Dart Center for Journalism Trauma: Mass Shooting At DC Navy Yard: Tips for Journalists
Andrew Kirell, Mediaite: NBC and CBS Wrongly Claim to Name the Navy Yard Suspect, Chuck Todd Deletes Tweet and Retracts
Courtland Milloy, Washington Post: Self-described ‘pastor for the gun people’ bracing for blowback after Monday’s rampage (Sept. 17)
The two deputy editors of Essence magazine, Rosemarie Robotham and Teresa Wiltz, have left the publication, Essence spokeswoman Dana Baxter confirmed on Monday, and Angela Bronner Helm, a former editor-in-chief of Uptown magazine, has joined as executive editor, the third-ranking editorial position.
Wiltz, a former editor at the Washington Post and The Root, arrived at the leading magazine for black women amid fanfare a year ago, and was responsible for management, conceptual planning, development and top editing the News and Culture department, as well as center-of-book features, the magazine said at the time.
Robotham is an author and novelist who writes frequently about the black family. She is a former staff writer for Life magazine, was a senior editor at Simon Schuster and won awards for her reports on poverty and on delinquency among girls.
Time Warner announced in February that it is spinning off its struggling magazine division, which includes Essence. The new magazine company is expected to start with $500 million to $1 billion in debt, the New York Times reported in March. Essence suffered an 11.9 percent loss in ad dollars for its print editions for the first half of 2013, the Publishers Information Bureau reported. In February, after a wave of layoffs at Time Inc., the magazine fired or laid off four members of its newsroom staff, the editor-in-chief, Constance C. R. White, Corynne L. Corbett, the beauty editor; Greg Monfries, the creative director; and Deborah Boardley, the photo editor.
Essence reported a circulation of 1,104,871 at the end of 2012, second in circulation to Ebony among magazines targeting African Americans.
Vanessa K. Bush, who became editor-in-chief on July 1, has made these other appointments since assuming the post on an acting basis in February, Baxter said: Melissa Kramer, fashion director; Aretha Busby, beauty director; Abby West, executive editor,essence.com; and Erika Perry, creative director.
Bronner Helm has also worked at amNewYork, Honey, CityGuide.com and AOL BlackVoices.
Meanwhile, Lynne Marek reported Monday for Crain’s Chicago Business, “Johnson Publishing Co., the Chicago-based publisher that owns Ebony and Jet magazines, said it arranged new financing through a firm that specializes in ‘alternative’ lending, or loans that traditional banks don’t provide because they’re too risky.
“In a news release, Johnson Chairman Linda Johnson Rice said the new financing from Gibraltar Business Capital LLC will allow the company to ‘execute our strategic goals, strengthen our brands and lead to future growth.’ She wasn’t immediately available for comment. . . .
The Root took a plunge in a tally of unique visitors during August, and Black Planet, which had been eclipsed as a social media site with the rise of Facebook and Twitter, saw a substantial gain. The comScore, Inc. research company also reported increases for the gossipy Bossip.com and for the Grio, owned by NBC.
The Root, a product of the Washington Post Co., slid from 2,062,000 unique visitors in April to 567,000 in August, a period of changing editorial leadership at the site. However, a comScore spokeswoman said, “TheRoot.com rolls up into Slate and The Washington Post Company, and both of those entities have seen similar drops. . . .
“The publisher may have shifted or reassigned some traffic — that can often be the cause of a drop off in numbers like that. Another possibility is that more users are now accessing these sites via mobile, so we’re seeing the desktop numbers slide a bit. We’ve actually seen this happen with quite a few sites recently. Remember, the numbers . . . are PC only.”
Donna Byrd, publisher of The Root, told Journal-isms by email, “Over the past couple of months, our energy has been focused on the long term vision and success of The Root. We are going through an exciting evolution. We brought on Lyne Pitts as the new managing editor last week. She is an award winning journalist with extensive experience in producing quality news. This summer, we redesigned our website and we will unveil the new look next month. I have no doubt that these changes will allow us to solidify our lead in this space.”
Black Planet, which garnered 651,000 unique visitors in April, rose to 1,114,000 in August, according to comScore.
“Before the phrase ‘social network’ became a household name, Black Planet had millions of users,” Marcia Wade Talbert reported last year for Black Enterprise. “The site became profitable in 2002, despite the dotcom bubble that brought other Internet companies crumbling to their knees. At its peak, BlackPlanet, a product of Community Connect Inc., which built websites to engage minority audiences, grew to 20 million users, and former co-founder, Omar Wasow, was named ‘Sexiest Internet Executive’ by People magazine. For a time, the site’s success seemed boundless — that is until the advent of MySpace, Friendster, and Facebook.
In 2008, Interactive One bought the site for $38 million through parent company Radio One, and last year announced BlackPlanet Next, “a unique social experience that will allow us to bring our thoughts and ideas to the forefront.
“Other social networking sites will be layered on top of BlackPlanet Next. The new design will allow users to aggregate content from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, placing content onto each user’s activity stream.”
Today, Black Planet boasts on its website that it is “The largest Black community online for a reason.
“We have music, jobs, forums, chat, photos, dating personals and groups all targeted to the specific interests of the Black community. BlackPlanet is the original, and still the best, website for it all.”
Other August results for African American-oriented sites are WorldStarHipHop, 4,780,000, down from 5,096,000 in April; MediaTakeOut, 2,819,000, up from 2,736,000 in April; Bossip, 2,602,000, up from 1,612,000 in April; HuffPost BlackVoices, 2,450,000, down from 2,692,000; BET Networks, 2,128,000, down from 2,572,000; the Grio, 1,936,000, up from 1,413,000.
Also, Madam Noire, 1,686,000, down from 1,823,000; Essence, 800,000, down from 880,000; NewsOne, 756,000, down from 876,000; the YBF, 628,000, up from 613,000; Hello Beautiful, 599,000, up from 589,000; EURWeb, 461,000, up from 283,000; Ebony, 421,000, up from 178,000; Black America Web, 339,000, up from 279,000; Clutch, 265,000, up from 232,000; Black Enterprise, 238,000, down from 346,000; and Concrete Loop, 115,000, down from 153,000.
“Victims often absorb the shame that should belong to the perpetrators,” Diane McWhorter, author of “Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama — the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution,” wroteSunday in the print edition of the New York Times. Her essay was titled, “Civil Rights on the Cheap.”
“For most of her 62 years, Sarah Collins Rudolph has confronted that misplaced emotion every time she looks in the mirror at a glass substitute for the eye she lost 50 years ago today, when members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. The same ambulance (colored) that took young Sarah to the hospital subsequently transported the corpse of her 14-year-old sister, Addie Mae Collins, who perished along with three other girls. The morning’s Sunday school lesson was on ‘The Love That Forgives,’ ” wrote McWhorter, a fellow at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard.
The caption on an accompanying photograph read, “Sarah Collins, 12, was blinded in one eye by the blast that killed her sister and three other girls.
The article continued, “This anniversary year could have been an opportunity for Birmingham to practice some rigorous truth and painful reconciliation. It has ended up being a balkanized, largely ceremonial affair. The city’s Empowerment Week, an underpublicized festival of imported panelists and celebrities concluding today, exemplified the crux of the mission’s flaw: why is it so difficult to extend the notion of empowerment to include the powerless? We are more comfortable devoting civic resources to media events and monuments, like the life-size sculpture of the girls unveiled in Birmingham this week, than addressing the persistent casualties of the history being commemorated.
“The sometimes impressive anniversary tributes stand in contrast to how little glory the bombing victims themselves caught over the years. Carole Robertson’s first name was misspelled on a marker at the church. Addie’s remains went missing from her grave. So when Congress awarded the girls its highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, earlier this year, it was something of a shock that Ms. Rudolph responded, no thanks.
” ‘I’m letting the world know, my sister didn’t die for freedom,’ she told the press. ‘My sister died because they put a bomb in that church and they murdered her.’ Declining to attend President Obama’s signing of the resolution in May, she stated her preference for compensation ‘in the millions.’
“Ms. Rudolph did end up going to the formal medal ceremony at the Capitol on Tuesday. ‘What changed my mind is that I love my sister,’ she explained to me. . . .”
Angela Davis, “Democracy, Now!” Pacifica Radio: ”Terrorism is Part of Our History”: Angela Davis on ’63 Church Bombing, Growing up in “Bombingham”
Merlene Davis, Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader: Still in fear 50 years after the Birmingham church bombing
Fannie Flono, Charlotte (N.C.) Observer: The legacy of four girls in Birmingham
Amy Goodman with Sarah Collins Rudolph, “Democracy, Now!” Pacifica Radio: “The Fifth Little Girl”: Birmingham Church Bombing Survivor Still Seeks Compensation 50 Years On (Sept. 17)
Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: Dead girls and the lives they might have lived
Janell Ross, The Root: What the 1963 Church Bombing Taught Us
Barnett Wright, al.com: ’No screaming, only crying’: Witnesses remember infamous Sunday of 1963 church bombing (photos, videos)