When news professionals gather Aug. 8-12 for the National Association of Black Journalists' 32nd annual conference at Bally's Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, things could get political. Along with the many sessions on the agenda and the major stars who will be participating in the convention, the NABJ has invited all the top presidential candidates to address attendees.
"We've had intense conversations with both the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and the RNC [Republican National Committee], and I've spoken to several of the individuals from the candidates' camps themselves," said NABJ President Bryan Monroe, VP and editorial director of Ebony and Jet magazines. "But as you know, these things don't happen till they happen. When it happens, it'll be spectacular."
More than politics is on the agenda for the conference, where Mr. Monroe expects 3,000 to 4,000 NABJ members and friends for the group's first gathering in Las Vegas. "We have a lot of programming scheduled, and the biggest thrust is going to be around digital journalism. There will be a lot of focus on online new media, digital journalism and storytelling," he said.
"Revolutionizing Journalism, Transforming the Future" is the theme of the 2007 convention, emphasizing digital media and how journalists can adapt and thrive in the next decade and beyond.
"[Digital media is] another form of storytelling, and certainly with the issues in newspapers and broadcast television right now, declining or tightening up, when jobs come along, it behooves journalists -- it's in their best interests, especially journalists of color -- to become multifaceted, multidimensional storytellers," said Mr. Monroe. "I call it the ambidextrous journalist -- someone who is as comfortable writing a blog, doing Flash, shooting videos, still pictures and traditional narrative writing. Being comfortable with all of those skills is just an expression of their storytelling. ... It's like when you drive a car: If the only job you had was to steer the car, you can't get the car down the road. You have to be able to steer left and right, put your foot on the gas, shift gears, turn the radio on and six other things at the same time. It's all part of the process."
If there's one session sure to incite intense discussion, it is the one focusing on the Don Imus controversy. "We have a big plenary session about the Imus situation. We've invited the head of NBC News, CBS News and some other folks, including Tom Joyner, the radio host," said Mr. Monroe.
"Something happened in that week or two around the Imus thing," he continued. "Something shifted in America, and I really believe that America is ready for and eager for a serious conversation around these issues. We have to engage the conversation, engage the issue, because for too long we have all been numbed to what we call women, for example. We have to wake up and at least be accountable."
NABJ was on the forefront of the Imus controversy. "We were the first ones to call for him to apologize and then to resign or be fired," said Mr. Monroe. "The Wednesday that he was fired, I met with Les Moonves [president and CEO of CBS Corp.] and Steve Kaplan of NBC News and Marc Morial, head of the National Urban League, and several other folks. There were a lot of people, especially black journalists, working behind the scenes -- Al Roker and Paula Madison at NBC and Tenisha Abernathy at CNN, Bruce Gordon, who's on the board at CBS. They were all putting pressure on to say that this guy has gone too far and enough is enough."
The Imus case and its aftermath will be addressed at the convention by speakers from CBS, NBC, BET and others.
"We're the National Association of Black Journalists," Mr. Monroe said. "We are so much in support of free speech in this country, and the First Amendment, that we know that with free speech comes the responsibility and, in some cases, the accountability, and that's what happened in this case. But now it's time for the media to go beyond Don Imus. We have to look at, what is our job -- to lead a conversation on race, diversity and inclusion, sexism and respect, in everything that we do.
"For too long the media has been painted with a brush that appeals to the lowest common denominator in people," he added. "Now it's time to appeal to the highest common denominator in our audience. I think we can elevate the conversation, whether it's on TV or radio. It's part of our obligation as media professionals."
Another cause for the NABJ is jobs, along with the closely related issue of newsroom diversity. "It continues to be a struggle," Mr. Monroe said. "Today I saw my old newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, announced a layoff of 25 percent from the newsroom. From when I was there, it's gone from 400 in the newsroom to about 200. That's huge, and it's happening to newspapers and TV stations across the country. "
One way the NABJ addresses employment issues is by offering networking at the convention. "We have one of the largest job fairs in America right now for journalists of color, second only to the Unity gathering, which is every four years. I expect hundreds of jobs to change hands that week in Las Vegas, because you have the top recruiters and the top talent all in one place, both wanting to talk to each other, and magic happens. I know a lot of people who got their jobs or got their second job or got promoted out of an interview at the NABJ convention. I don't think this year will be any different."
CNN principal anchorman emeritus Bernard Shaw will receive the NABJ's most coveted prize, the Lifetime Achievement Award. "We looked at his illustrious career from his early years at CBS and then CNN, with his being in Baghdad when the bombs were flying in the Gulf War, and his leadership across the board in journalism," said Mr. Monroe. "We could think of nobody finer to receive that award. We're all really happy and excited to see him and hear what he has to say."
Actress Alfre Woodard, founder of Artists for a New South Africa, will participate in a session focusing on celebrity activism in Africa and how it is portrayed in mainstream media.
"It's important that while there are stars going there doing various stuff, from Angelina Jolie to Oprah, that the real work that's happening behind the scenes is recognized. I was in Tanzania a year ago with a team of 11 journalists," said Mr. Monroe. "We covered malaria and HIV/AIDS, two things that are devastating eastern Africa. There are a lot of folks working really hard over there who receive no publicity. So on one hand I think it's important that anyone who can go over there and shine some light and help them get some attention, it's a good thing, just as long as we keep it all in perspective."
32ND ANNUAL NABJ CONVENTION AND CAREER FAIR
Theme: "Revolutionizing Journalism, Transforming the Future"
Where: Bally's Las Vegas Hotel & Casino
When: Aug. 8-12