Minority journalism groups are not members-only

Last week, just as we were closing a Poynter chat with Doris Truong, new president of the Asian American Journalists Association, a participant asked this:

"Great info here but can non-minority journalists participate in all those associations? It's silly but I can't help feeling a little left out bc there's no 'European mutt of questionable descent' org."

This is a great question that deserves its own column, if only because a lot of people are unsure about the way to ask the question in a politically correct way. This way is fine.

The answer, in one word, is "yes." All of these associations have members that do not belong to the racial or ethnic groups in the title.

This is how Truong responded, after the chat was over (you can read an archived version of it):

"I hope I speak for all journalism organizations when I say that anyone who believes in the group's mission is welcome to join. How much you get out of your membership in large part depends on you. It's important be to be an engaged member -- looking for opportunities to tap into what the groups offer.

"The ethnic journalism groups share and promote a cultural kinship, but we aim to be inclusive. And when it comes down to it, each group shares the same goal: better journalism. Better journalism can be achieved only with diversity of ideas and experience as well as diversity of color. Also, many of the non-ethnic journalism groups are working to change the complexion of their membership.

"You're very welcome to join AAJA, and I would be happy to talk with you further about what our organization offers that would be best suited to where you are in your career."

Recruiting has led me to join many organizations -- including all the big minority organizations -- although I am not a minority. I have made friends in all of them and have been active, although I have decided on my own to refrain from voting. Some of the most welcoming organizations have been the ones where, to look at me, you would say I don't fit in.

I have attended dozens of conventions for black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, South Asian, Latino, gay and Muslim journalists. I am none of those things. I also have joined or attended conventions for IRE, SPJ, ACES, ONA, SABEW. A real alphabet soup. But I have learned that the most important letter in NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA and all the rest is the letter that stands for journalism. Groups usually are created to advance the chances of people with similar issues or characteristics. This week our guests for a Poynter chat were from the Association for Women in Sports Media, a group that sees almost none of its members become sports editors. I encourage you to read the archived chat about women in sports journalism. It was lively.

Once, as I was standing in a line at NABJ, an African-American friend ahead of me in line turned and asked me how I liked being in the minority. I looked around and noticed I was the only white person around. I told her that, honestly, I didn't know. If I felt at all uncomfortable, I could walk out on the street -- we were in Houston -- and I could once again feel like I was in the majority. But being in that place didn't make me feel different. I told her I felt more comfortable in that line, surrounded by black journalists, than I would in a roomful of white bankers. We have more to talk about.

I once interviewed a non-minority grad student who had joined all the big minority journalism organizations, but who was not active in any of them. I asked him what his strategy was. He said he just thought this would help his resume. Of course, it did not. It would have been better for him to do what Truong says and take an active role in any organization -- minority or otherwise -- that he cared about.

I knew a Hispanic sports writer who joined the National Association of Black Journalists because he felt it had a better sports support network. And members of all these associations feel fellowship and sometimes friction when they convene together at their UNITY: Journalists of Color conventions every four years. The next one will be in 2012.

The flip side of the coin -- how welcome minorities are in associations that don't carry a racial or ethnic focus -- is worth a look, too.

Retha Hill, director of the New Media Innovation Lab and professor of practice at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, recently wrote for Idea Lab about the lack of diversity at several digital media events that, while they did not set out to exclude minorities, failed to include many. She proposed several strategies and offered to suggest minority journalists who would be interested.

I'd go back to what Truong wrote. Get engaged in a group whose mission you believe in, and then work to engage others in the group.

A list of upcoming conventions.

Career questions? E-mail Joe for an answer.

Coming Monday: Worst-job rating for news reporting only part of the story

  • Joe Grimm

    Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He runs the JobsPage Website.


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