NABJ ‘one of the most influential groups of African American professionals’
Related content: Black journalists bring millions to Twin Cities’ economy
Related content: Race issues prominent among NABJ conference offerings
Minneapolis, for the first time, is hosting the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) annual convention August 5-9. The MSR recently interviewed convention organizers, NABJ officials and others about the group coming to town as part of our pre- and post-convention coverage.
An estimated 2,000 Black journalists are expected to be in the Twin Cities next month when the NABJ 2015 Convention and Career Fair is held at the Hilton Minneapolis and Minneapolis Convention Center August 5-9.
Why should the general local public be interested in Black journalists coming to town? “I think a lot of us don’t know about it,” responded KMOJ Station Manager Kelvin Quarles.
“The value of seeing 2,000 Black [journalists] in Minneapolis is significant,” noted Star Tribune Deputy Metro Editor Maria Reeve, who told the MSR that the Twin Cities Black Journalists (TCBJ), the local NABJ chapter, worked hard several years ago to convince the convention selection committee to seriously consider Minneapolis. “We think a lot of people don’t know [about Minnesota]. They think it’s this cold place.”
“Black journalists in Minneapolis? Fifteen years ago you would never thought that,” added Quarles.
“We are looking forward to coming to Minneapolis,” says NABJ President Bob Butler. “You have a local chapter there that is very active.”
But what is NABJ? “The mission of the organization is to increase the coverage of the Black community and the issues that affect the Black community, “explained 2015 Convention Chair Rod Hicks in an MSR phone interview. NABJ’s formative period was uncertain as some Black journalists at first didn’t join, he explained.
“There were people who actually had planned to participate in the founding of [NABJ], but they didn’t on the threat that they would lose their job. Their companies threatened to fire them if they became a part of this group. It was really brave of the 44 persons who did come together to organize this group.”
Melvin Tennant, president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis, says of NABJ, “This is certainly one of the most influential groups of African American professionals.”
“This is a very important convention for us because it is our 40th anniversary,” said Hicks. “When this organization was founded back in 1975, it’s hard for some people to really understand what that environment was, particularly our younger members.”
Four decades later, NABJ’s mission still is to advocate for current working Black journalists, help attract more Blacks to the profession, and improve media coverage for the Black community, which too often is still “being ignored,” says Hicks. “Back in 1975, our community was barely being covered.
“The stories that are still happening today that are out there are written without a good understanding or a good background of the culture we’re in. There are numerous examples of stories that lack context because of a lack of understanding of the culture of the Black community.
“Because of the incidents that have happened across the country, we have made race and race in America one of the primary topics of the convention,” said Hicks, pointing out that the August 6 “Race in America” newsmaker plenary session features Malcolm Graham (the brother of one of the nine slain persons in Charleston) among the panelists.
The five-day convention includes several plenary sessions, professional workshops, and training for Black journalists, journalism students, academia, public relations and other media-related professionals and others from across the country as well as internationally.
“I like to see how [NABJ] is addressing people like [CNN’s] Don Lemon and some of these other [Black journalists] on how they portray Black people or how he set his stories in portraying African Americans,” states Quarles. “I’d love to see them touch on things like that.”
Lemon ironically is slated to be a panelist in the August 8 morning panel discussion on coverage of the Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and Eric Garner deaths. Quarles would like to see diversity issues — both locally and nationwide —discussed as well.
“It’s true that there are a lot fewer Black journalists out there today because of the layoffs and the buyouts. But still the ones who remain, we are disproportionate in representation,” noted Hicks. “When the Great Recession hit our industry really hard in 2008, Black people were disproportionately hit, and many TV stations, newspapers and other media outlets laid off a lot of people — I’m one of them.
“When I got laid off in 2008 from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, an entire department that was primarily Black people got laid off. Now that we are beyond that, we need to rebuild. We are still underrepresented,” said Hicks, who now works at the Associated Press.
Among the NABJ convention’s special events are a three-day high school journalism workshop (held at University of Minnesota’s UROC in North Minneapolis), the Salute to Excellence Awards Gala that honors individual accomplishments, the Sports Task Force Party, Gospel Brunch, and a 5K Walk/Run, which for the first time will include a bike ride.
The public is invited to the August 7 Mint Condition concert, a fundraiser for TCBJ scholarships at First Avenue: “People know it from [the movie Purple Rain],” explained Reeve of the venue.
Linda Roberts, Bill McMoore, Tony Oliva, Alan Page, Briana Scurry, and Twins beat writer LaVelle E. Neal III are this year’s Sam Lacy Sports Pioneer Awards winners, given annually to athletes, coaches, sports journalists and other influential sports figures from the host city.
Reeve says TCBJ hopes the national convention in Minneapolis will help attract other Black journalists to come here. “When we try to recruit talent here, they don’t know a lot about Minneapolis. That’s an important part of hosting the convention,” she pointed out.
Next week: Black journalists converging on Minneapolis “will definitely leave an economic impact” as NABJ comes to town. The MSR talks to two key Black officials responsible for bringing the group here.
TCBJ is offering free convention registrations for local students interested in journalism — those interested should go online and apply by July 24 (www.tcblackjournalists.org). For more information about NABJ 2015, go to www.nabj.org.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.