By Allison J. Waldman
In these difficult economic times, as newspapers continue to shutter, TV advertising sales lag and newsrooms demand more from ever-smaller staffs, this year’s National Association of Black Journalists’ convention and career fair could prove one of the most important to date to its members.
According to Barbara Ciara, president of the 33-year-old NABJ, the mandate for this year’s conference, dubbed “The Reinvention Convention” and being held Aug. 5-9 in Tampa, Fla., is to be of more service than ever to the rank and file.
“Obviously, the economy is having a major impact on our members,” Ciara said. “We are offering them an opportunity to actually upgrade their résumés through attending the NABJ convention.”
The education and training sessions offered at the event include workshops—some 90-minutes, some half-days and some daylong—and panel discussions on topics including making transitions to public relations, communications, free-lancing and starting your own business.
The goal, Ciara said, is for members to go back to their workplaces able to say they developed a new skill. “We expect that all attendees to this year’s convention will leave with some digital journalism experience under their belt,” she said.
Self-starters and free-lancers will also be served by NABJ events. “This year, we have a variety of sessions that focus on entrepreneurship, leadership and business skills in the field of communications,” Ciara said.
“Broadcast journalists, especially, are seeing a new day as the talent pool expands and requires them to know all things broadcast, all things online and expand their skill set,” Ciara said. “NABJ is reaching out to give them the new multimedia skills that will allow them to retain their current job or be more competitive in the marketplace.”
The NABJ—the largest organization of journalists of color in the nation, with more than 4,100 members—provides training, career development and support to black journalists worldwide. It was recently awarded a $150,000 grant by the New York-based Ford Foundation, which will go to directly aid its unemployed members, Ciara said.
“Thanks to [the grant] we have even been able to offer professional scholarships to members who have recently been laid off so they might attend the convention and take part in this training,” she said.
Whether looking for work—or fearful they soon might be—journalists attending NABJ also stand to benefit from the gathering’s career fair.
The fair, at which dozens of companies set up booths in the exhibit hall to meet association members, “has always been one of the highlights and has attracted members for decades,” Ciara said. “Top companies in broadcast, communications, digital media and print come out year after year because they realize that NABJ conventions attract the best and the brightest, and the career training offered at the convention is always ahead of the curve.”
There’s something for more seasoned journalists as well, Ciara added. “Mid-career professionals know that our convention draws politicians, athletes, artists and entertainers, authors and entrepreneurs, and it is a widely known networking opportunity.”
Member health is also a concern of the organization, which is devoting a special section of the convention floor to Healthy NABJ, offering morning exercise programs and discussions about healthy living habits.
In addition to education and training sessions, leading black journalists will be honored at the convention, with a particular emphasis on the sports beat.
Michael Wilbon, longtime Washington Post sports columnist and co-host of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” will receive the NABJ’s Lifetime Achievement Award this year.
“Michael is the epitome of the crossover journalist in a time when the industry is evolving rapidly and journalists have to have a broad range of skills,” Ciara said. “He is one of far too few black columnists in the United States. [He] connects with sports fans and players like none other while capturing the enduring, challenging and inspiring moments of the game.”
Another sports journalism figure who will be recognized is Larry Whiteside, pioneering sports writer for the Boston Globe, who will be posthumously inducted into NABJ Hall of Fame during the Tampa conference.
“Larry was the first black baseball beat writer, and he broke new ground by following the sport internationally,” Ciara said.
In addition, the NABJ Legacy Award will go to the Sports Journalism Institute, founded by Leon Carter, sports editor at the New York Daily News, and ESPN news editor Sandy Rosenbush, a former editor for Sports Illustrated and The New York Times. SJI is a program for minority college students interested in sports journalism careers and works in conjunction with the Poynter Institute to provide a training week, followed by paid eight-week internships at newspapers around the country. It has trained more than 250 student journalists, Ciara said.
Michele Norris of National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” is receiving the NABJ Journalist of the Year Award. “She is being recognized for her outstanding investigative work throughout the year, but especially during the run-up to the election,” Ciara said. “Michele pitched and carried out a discussion series on race in York, Pa., that struck a chord with many Americans, demonstrating that strong investigative journalism will never go out of style.”
Cynthia Gordy, 27, the first White House correspondent for Essence magazine, will be honored with the NABJ’s Emerging Journalist Award, illustrative of the “high importance of political coverage in the Age of Obama,” Ciara said. “She is already making a name for herself in digital and print media.”