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Little Diversity at White House

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When Bill Clinton was president, he attended a soul food dinner at Douglas's home with nine black White House correspondents. Such a gathering would be smaller today, although the ranks will swell slightly Jan. 20.

Michael Fletcher covered the White House for The Washington Post before switching to an economics beat in 2007. His editors asked him during the fall campaign to cover the next president, and Fletcher says he is "sure they were betting" on an Obama victory.

"It feels like you would want to have black journalists there to bring a different racial sensibility," he says. "Race is such a subtext to the historic nature of his presidency. I find Obama a more compelling story than John McCain would have been." The New York Times has shifted Helene Cooper, author of a memoir about growing up in Liberia, to cover Obama.

Ryan says she was often the only reporter asking about problems in Sudan. "If there were more voices talking about the plight of urban America, the problems of New Orleans, New Orleans could be in better shape than it is now," she says. "There are segments of America that have been left off the radar screen, and minority journalists should have been asking these questions on a daily basis."

The black press has been energized. Ebony magazine, which named Obama its first Person of the Year, plans to devote more attention to the White House, perhaps with a full-time correspondent. Bryan Monroe, editorial director for Ebony and Jet, says the magazines have covered Washington for decades but that there is "huge interest" in Obama among readers. "It's a big deal," he says. "Without a doubt, the biggest story in black America in the last year or two, if not in our lifetimes."

Goler, a 22-year veteran on the beat, says such efforts aren't enough. "What I want to see is more black reporters without an agenda, more black reporters doing basic journalism," he says.

Tribune Retreats

When the Chicago Tribune launched a radical redesign last fall, the company's chief innovation officer, Lee Abrams, warned in an internal memo that critics might savage the big-headlines-and-photos approach that often left just one or two stories on the front page.

"With the press starting to cover the new look," he wrote, "I think we have to be on guard for, and defend against the 'shorter paper . . . smaller staff . . . more concise' thing that will certainly be the focus point of the 'trib is dumbing down and cheapening' crowd. . . . Now is a good time to really stress the positives. . . . I'm guessing that we'll see A LOT of 'Financial woes force Chicago Tribune into McTrib . . . ' "

Tribune Editor Gerould Kern thanked him for the "good advice."

Last week, in an unusual wraparound section titled "You Spoke, We Listened," Kern admitted that readers didn't like many of the changes. Headlines said that "You Told Us": "Too few stories," "Too many ads," "The paper is too loud," "Bring back my business section." The paper promised changes.

While it sure sounded like a mea culpa, Kern told Editor & Publisher: "We weren't apologizing. We were thanking readers for their input."

Persona Non Grata

Tom Ricks, The Post's former Pentagon reporter, was once blackballed at the Army War College.


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