Did he deserve to be fired?

Dateline: Wed 31 Oct 2007

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz has posted the latest on RiShawn Biddle on his Indiana Barrister blog:

"Indianapolis Star Editorial writer Rishawn Biddle was fired this afternoon for comments seen as racially charged that appeared in his blog Expresso. Sources inside the Star say Biddle's job as a columnist was to bring the community together, but instead divided it when he criticized a number of Black Politicians in Marion County. Those comments have been since taken down from the paper's website. There's no word yet on what Biddle will do next."

This comes as no surprise. Biddle was obviously in some sort of trouble already, possibly on a PIP -- a personal improvement plan -- since he hadn't contributed anything in print to the paper for six months. That may be why he was fired rather than suspended without pay or some alternative.

A larger issue is the Star's horrendous history with hiring and retaining black journalists under Gannett: Michael Dabney, an editor, resigned or was fired over a problem with his license not being renewed -- Dabney landed at NUVO, the alternative weekly, and is the past president of the Indianapolis Association of Black Journalists; Michael Rochon, extremely talented, a young cop reporter and a personal favorite, was fired rather than helped for a substance abuse problem -- he later died at home in Philadelphia; Kim Hooper and Courteney Edelhart left to take better jobs; James Patterson, an editorial writer whom Biddle replaced, was fired -- he and Lisa Coffey have a lawsuit against Gannett.

Marion County is estimated at 25 percent black. That representation sure is not showing up at the state's largest newspaper.

Biddle, who used the term "zip coon" in print in reference to city-county council president Monroe Gray, was out of bounds by invoking an old racial stereotype -- the reference dates to blackface minstrel shows and refers to a character who is a fast-talking city slicker.

Dumping Biddle was expedient and maybe even a salve -- this is Gannett after all, where every less body counts as money in the INI pocket -- but I question the process: Did anyone edit Biddle's copy before it was let fly? Why not? Why aren't on-line opinion pieces going through a top editor or the copy desk? I know if they were, Biddle would have survived and "zip coon" would have not: the same alert copy editors who got on my case for "paddy wagon" would have set off alarms.

To quote another blog, St. Alio!'s way, which has a good timeline of this whole mess:

http://www.animalswithinanimals.com/stallio/blog.html

"i feel compelled to point out once again that rishawn isn't just some jackass blogger; he is an editorial writer for the largest newspaper in the state, and his bizarre race-baiting is taking place on that newspaper's web server."

Who is minding the store, er, information center? Maybe the answer to that question is where the real trouble lies...

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