May 21, 2021

This controversy involving the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media not giving tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones is getting worse and worse for the school.

The school’s dean and much of the faculty are outraged, pointing out that the last two people in the same position as Hannah-Jones were granted tenure upon their appointment. While some (read: conservatives) are pleased with UNC’s decision because they didn’t like Hannah-Jones’ “1619 Project” in The New York Times, many others are crushing UNC’s decision. That includes a lot of influential media people.

The point: A respected journalism school is taking a pounding by respected journalists. That’s never a good thing. And the whispers, which are hard to ignore, are that this has to do with race, not qualifications.

On Thursday, The Associated Press’ Tom Foreman Jr. reported that the university didn’t offer tenure to Hannah-Jones because she didn’t come from a “traditional academic-type background.” According to university officials, Charles Duckett, the trustee who vets tenured positions, wanted more time to consider Hannah-Jones’ qualifications.

Richard Stevens, the chairman of the board of trustees, said, “We’re talking about a lifetime position here, so they’re not entered into lightly. And it’s not unusual for a member of the board, or in particular the chair of the committee, to have questions for clarification about background, particularly candidates that don’t come from a traditional academic-type background. In this case, Chair Duckett asked for a little bit of time to be able to do that.”

But, as mentioned above, the faculty already pushed back against those excuses.

What could happen next is backlash from alumni. It’s one thing to write angry letters and tweet disapprovals, but when alumni threaten to get involved while talking about donation money, that’s often when decisions can be changed. And, Foreman wrote, “The foundation that endows Hannah-Jones’ position, the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, also urged the school to reconsider its decision.”

Something I mentioned previously that I keep coming back to: Hannah-Jones got a master’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill Hussman School of Journalism and Media. And this is how you treat one of your own?

On Thursday, Hannah-Jones tweeted, “I have been overwhelmed by all the support you all have shown me. It has truly fortified my spirit and my resolve. You all know that I will (be) OK. But this fight is bigger than me, and I will try my best not to let you down.”


The Initiative in Reporting on Race and Criminal Justice at Columbia Lipman Center will provide grants from $30,000 to $45,000 and professional collaboration to four local news organizations for six-month reporting projects focusing on inequalities and abuses in the American criminal justice system. Apply now through June 20.

The latest with Tribune Publishing

My colleague Rick Edmonds, Poynter’s media business analyst, has the latest on Alden Global Capital closing in on acquiring Tribune Publishing.

Edmonds writes, “Friday is election day for Tribune Publishing shareholders. They will vote at a virtual meeting on whether to accept a bid from hedge fund Alden Global Capital to buy the company for $17.25 a share in a transaction valued at $630 million. There are no sure things in a hotly contested takeover like this one, but Alden, despite its reputation for milking papers for profit while slighting journalism and investments in the future, seems likely to prevail.”

Read Edmonds’ story for all the details.

Controversy over Princess Diana interview all these years later

Martin Bashir in 2013. (Photo by Nick Wass/Invision/AP, File)

In late 1995, journalist Martin Bashir conducted the most explosive interview that Princess Diana ever gave. In the shockingly candid interview on the BBC, Diana admitted that she had an affair; said “three of us” were in a marriage, a reference to Camilla Parker Bowles, now Duchess of Cornwall; and said she had bulimia and self-harmed, among other revelations. The interview was watched by more than 20 million people.

What was surprising was how Bashir, considered a junior reporter at the time, landed such an interview.

Well, on Thursday, the BBC announced Bashir acted in a “deceitful” way to secure the interview. Among the findings in the BBC report: Bashir made up fake bank statements to gain access to Diana. According to the BBC’s Francesca Gillett, “Bashir said mocking up the documents ‘was a stupid thing to do’ and he regretted it, but said they had had no bearing on Diana’s decision to be interviewed.”

The BBC also said an internal probe in 1996 to look into the interview was “woefully ineffective.”

The BBC and Bashir have sent written apologies to Diana’s sons — Prince Harry and Prince William — as well as Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, and Prince Charles.

Read Gillett’s story for more details.

Workers at Mashable, PCMag and AskMen vote to authorize strike

For this item, I turn it over to my Poynter colleague Angela Fu.

97% of workers in the Ziff Davis Creators Guild, which represents editorial employees at Mashable, PCMag and AskMen, voted this week to authorize a strike. This does not mean the workers are on strike. Instead, the vote gives the union’s bargaining committee a mandate to call for a strike if they believe it necessary.

The union, which is part of the NewsGuild, has been locked in contract negotiations for more than two years. They allege that Ziff Davis management has been bargaining in bad faith and has put forth “unacceptable and inequitable wage proposals” that fail to address issues of underpayment and salary inequity.

The strike authorization vote follows a one-day walkout in April. The union alleged at the time that Ziff Davis management was refusing to provide information and bargaining in bad faith. The union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board but later withdrew it.

A spokesperson for Ziff Media Group wrote in an emailed statement that the company has responded to all of the union’s proposals and that it met with the union Thursday for a bargaining session as scheduled.

“We have consistently bargained in good faith and privately with the ZDCG to reach a contract that is fair and equitable with the business we have at ZMG, and today was no exception. Given how far we’ve come in negotiating a collective bargaining agreement, we’re very disappointed that they continually feel the need to bargain in public,” the spokesperson wrote. “We respect the process and look forward to finalizing an agreement in the near future.”

Troubling developments from an execution

Check out the headline on this story by The Washington Post’s Kim Bellware: “Texas fails to allow media to witness an execution for first time in 40 years, blaming miscommunication.”

In a statement, Jeremy Desel, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said, “As a result of a miscommunication between officials at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, there was never a call made to summon the media witnesses into the unit. We apologize for this critical error. The agency is investigating to determine exactly what occurred to ensure it does not happen again.”

Joseph Brown of The Huntsville (Texas) Item wrote that Desel said, “We have a number of new personnel that are a part of the execution team who have not been a part of an execution in the past.”

Quintin Jones was the man executed. According to Brown’s story, “Prosecutors said Jones killed his great aunt, Berthena Bryant, in September 1999 after she refused to lend him money, beating her with a bat in her Fort Worth home then taking $30 from her purse to buy drugs.”

Also from Brown’s story: “In court documents, Jones’ attorney, Michael Mowla, argued Jones is intellectually disabled and that his death sentence is based on since-discredited testimony that wrongly labeled him as a psychopath and a future danger. Mowla also said Jones’ history of drug and alcohol abuse that started at age 12 and physical and sexual abuse he suffered were never considered at his trial.”

In a guest essay for The New York Times before the execution, Suleika Jaouad wrote, “Quintin Jones Is Not Innocent. But He Doesn’t Deserve to Die.”

The essay includes video work by Jaouad, Jonah M. Kessel and Lindsay Crouse

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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