"NABJ convention in Indy

Today (Wednesday, Aug. 16) the National Association of Black Journalists opens its 31st Annual Convention and Career Fair in Indianapolis and it marks the culmination of a dream local black journalists had four years ago. As many as 3,000 seasoned media professionals and aspiring journalists from across the country are converging on the downtown Convention Center for four and a half days of workshops, nationally recognized speakers, networking, entertainment and educational and job-hunting opportunities. Among the notable speakers scheduled are New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, the Rev. Al Sharpton, poet Nikki Giovanni and network broadcast veteran Al Roker.

But as local journalists met in the spring of 2002 to discuss plans for attracting a national convention, little did we know that many of the challenging issues facing the news industry back then would still be haunting the industry today. The industry still struggles to achieve newsroom diversity goals, blacks and other minorities are still either under-reported or portrayed negatively in print and broadcast reports, and criticism by government officials appears to have the goal of limiting press freedom and freedom of speech in a democratic society.

“We find ourselves at a powerful crossroads,” NABJ President Bryan Monroe said recently. “We could do nothing, stand by and allow ourselves to become victims of the circumstances, or we can rise up, create the opportunities for training and development, and take control of our own destiny, create our own future.”

During the convention, the discussion on the future of blacks and minorities in journalism will start where it traditionally has started: with diversity in newsrooms. While increasing newsroom diversity has been a primary mission of the American Society of Newspaper Editors for nearly 30 years, its annual survey this year — as in previous years — showed only modest growth. The percentage of minorities in newsrooms crept up by less than one-half of 1 percent, according to the ASNE’s survey results. That is well below the ASNE’s goal for this year of 18.55 percent representation. The percentage of minority supervisors was well below targeted goals. The number of newspapers throughout the country with no minority staffers is also still a problem: There are fewer than three dozen more black reporters and photographers in the nation’s newspapers this year compared with last year, according to the survey.

While there has been some progress in increasing diversity over last year, the economy and changes in the news industry have taken a toll. “The numbers also show that we still have an awful long way to go to reach our benchmarks and ultimately our goal of parity,” former ASNE President Rick Rodriguez, executive editor of The Sacramento Bee, said on the ASNE’s Web site. “That continues to be frustrating.” And as journalism professionals of all racial stripes will attest, telling a complete and balanced story of the nation and its communities is much harder without an adequate representation of the various voices from those communities.

Government officials, particularly those in the Bush Administration, continue an assault on the nation’s news outlets, often implying that industry professionals are unpatriotic for trying to provide balanced news coverage, particularly if it reflects negatively on government policies. “Members of the American Society of Newspaper Editors abhor terrorism and share all Americans’ desire to defeat it. We also believe patriotism demands the clarity of focus on the conduct of our government that is often provided only by determined professional reporting,” current ASNE President David Zeeck said on the Web site.

This year’s NABJ convention will not only focus on the heady issues facing the industry. Al Roker of NBC’s Today Show will host the Hall of Fame banquet on Friday evening, when several notable journalists are inducted, including William Raspberry of the Washington Post, Albert Fitzpatrick Jr. of Knight-Ridder and Lerone Bennett Jr. of Ebony Magazine. Rene Syler of CBS News’ Early Show will host the Salute to Excellence Awards Gala on Saturday night honoring NABJ’s journalist and aspiring journalists of the year. The Indianapolis Association of Black Journalists will host its scholarship fund-raiser on Friday night to help high school seniors and college students going into the field of journalism. In the last decade, IABJ has awarded more than $13,000 in scholarships, and through this fund-raiser hopes to continue that tradition for years to come. In addition to honoring past IABJ scholarship recipients, IABJ will also honor Mpozi Tolbert, a member of the local chapter and an Indianapolis Star photographer who died suddenly at his desk last month. Mpozi, who has often been described as a gentle giant, personified what is good about us as humans and as journalists. He always looked for the human aspect in everything he did, from the pictures he took to the homeless people on the street whom he encountered.

It promises to be a wonderful week, and well worth the efforts started by local black journalists four years ago.

 

Michael Dabney is president of the Indianapolis Association of Black Journalists, which is the host chapter for this year’s NABJ convention. 

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