The “NABJ ‘Heyyy’”

Poynter Institute Dean Keith Woods calls it “The NABJ ‘Heyyy!’”

It’s that moment when you see someone you know during a National Association of Black Journalists convention.
The exclamation builds in the back of your throat and your arms wrap
around your friend before you know it. You laugh as you rush to catch
up on the months or years that have passed since you last spoke.

The
longer you’re in the journalism game, the more “NABJ ‘Heyyys’” you
experience. I’ve been chasing stories for 15 years at four newspapers.
It took me 40 minutes to reach the registration table at this week’s
NABJ convention in Indianapolis because of all the former colleagues
and friends I encountered along the way.

And that’s what keeps me coming back.

To
be sure, it’s not always an easy journey. White colleagues — and even
some readers — ask when the National Association of White Journalists
will convene. I usually joke that the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the National Press Club meet all the time.

Longtime supporters worry about our sprawling jobs fair,
which has fueled the careers of more black journalists than I can
count. They think it has become a glitzy forum for big media companies
to collect resumes for internship programs and entry-level jobs. As the
buzz of buyouts and job cuts increases, journalists of color worry
they’ll be the first ones fired, with few opportunities.

But even as “diversity fatigue” seems to stall the rise of minority hiring figures
across the industry, NABJ sometimes struggles to reach its own
constituency. At Thursday’s business meeting, officers admitted
membership was down slightly this year and convention registrations
were lagging a bit. As the president of the Tampa Bay-area chapter, I shared my struggles to motivate local members, only to receive weary nods of agreement in return.

Even the requisite NABJ controversy failed to draw much passion. This year, it was the details of the 2005 operating budget shortfall, which has since been corrected.

It is so easy to become jaded about NABJ come convention time. The lineup of star-studded plenary sessions can feel like a peculiar form of show business. Rev. Al Sharpton dominated a discussion of black leadership Thursday, overwhelming moderator Suzanne Malveaux
while complaining that “People expect Jesse (Jackson) and I to solve
civil rights struggles, help with education and fly the plane out of
here when it’s all over.”

Despite loads of worthy workshops on
plagiarism, surviving your first five years in the business, covering
disasters, prospering in mid-career and more, there are those who will
look at the parties and the previews of films such as Dreamgirls and Idlewild, and declare that we’re not serious — that we’ve signed on to one, big celebration.

Which is true, in a sense.

Because
coming to NABJ each year feels like a celebration; an annual, sprawling
tribute to all the amazing journalists of color making a difference
each day in newsrooms across the country.

In our respective
workspaces, we may be isolated and frustrated. But when we come
together, for five days each year, we can swap stories and share
strategies. We can marvel that, in a world, which so often seems bent
on breaking our people, we’ve survived and thrived for another 12
months.

There’s a lot wrapped up in that “NABJ ‘Heyyy.’” And as
the convention winds on here in Indianapolis, I plan to savor each and
every one.



Eric Deggans is
TV/Media Critic for the St. Petersburg Times and a 16-year
member of the National Association of Black Journalists. He also serves as chair
of NABJ’s Media Monitoring Committee and president of the Tampa Bay Association
of Black Journalists.

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