The Collective

Below is an excerpt from The Collective, Poynter’s newsletter by journalists of color for journalists of color and our allies. Subscribe here to get it in your inbox two Wednesdays each month.

AAJA, NAJA and the combined NABJNAHJ just had their first in-person national conventions since 2019. For many of us, it was the first time we’ve been in an enclosed space with a crowd during the pandemic. For others, including a lot of students and recent graduates, it was their first convention experience.

It’s hard to overstate how powerful it was to be surrounded by people where code-switching isn’t needed — and who understand the challenges and rewards of being a journalist. Virtual-only convenings were a stop-gap to maintain our connections, but being together in the same space was invigorating and restorative.

Here are my observations on what went well and what we might consider in future years. These are applicable to all gatherings intended to provide a space for networking, resource-sharing and community.

How can we make this more accessible?

It’s logistically and technically difficult to livestream (or even record) every session with decent production values because of the specialists and equipment needed. And anecdotally, very few sessions recorded during online-only conventions are accessed after the fact.

We should look for other ways to incorporate greater accessibility:  live captions, sign language interpreters, language translation and space for wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility aids. For events that fill large ballrooms, planners might consider projecting the stage on adjacent screens so everyone, including those in overflow space, can see what’s happening.

How can we make this more inclusive?

A few attendees complained about unwanted attention in bathrooms (sometimes from hotel staff) as well as a perceived pressure to dress to expected gender norms.

This isn’t the kind of environment we should foster.

If there’s a dress code, organizations should provide examples of what is absolutely unacceptable for attendees of any age. And we should be thoughtful about the evolving definition of what’s business-appropriate.

How can we make this more affordable?

Convention attendance has rarely been affordable for individuals and typically requires time away from work, even if travel’s not involved.

A key to getting employer support is to ask during this year’s budget cycle to ensure the funds are set aside for next year’s conventions. Itemize your costs: association membership, convention registration, airfare, hotel, ground transportation and meals. Specify how sending you helps your employer: You can intentionally recruit and/or bring back information to share with colleagues for a brown-bag training session.

Cybersecurity journalist Fahmida Y. Rashid was motivated to help her fellow JOCs by inviting members of the Journalists of Color Slack to take advantage of group housing during the NABJ-NAHJ convention in Las Vegas.

“I heard someone talk about how important it was for all of us of color to pull people behind us up, to create opportunities, and I took that to heart,” Rashid said. A recently completed freelance project allowed her to underwrite the costs: “Instead of paying for one person’s room, paying for a shared lodging appealed to me. … Now we can normalize having a shared house going forward.”

How should attendees dress?

Some attendees were vocal in complaints about a seeming double standard related to what younger people were told to wear and what they might have seen others wearing.

The biggest rule of thumb: Dress for the job you want. Most recruiters are going to be in formal business attire. You don’t need a suit and tie. Nor do you need to wear full makeup and heels. But you should present yourself as you expect to be seen in a workplace.

What about portfolios and business cards?

More than ever, conventiongoers are exchanging QR codes that open to personal websites, their Twitter profile or to a downloadable resume.

But relying on stable Wi-Fi (or strong cell strength) at the convention is a mistake. Also think through what someone should do once your code opens for them. Are they supposed to bookmark your website or follow you on TikTok?

If you’re not going to hand out a printed resume or card, be intentional in how you share information. Consider having the QR code open to your LinkedIn profile or showcase your work through Linktree.

As for how to follow up, we shared tips last year.

What about UNITY?

A coalition of journalism associations used to meet regularly for a single massive convention every four to five years. The coalition first came together in 1994 with members of AAJA, NABJ, NAHJ and NAJA. By 2012, the coalition had evolved to consist of AAJA, NAHJ, NAJA and NLGJA. The group formally disbanded in 2018. (Note: I was UNITY president 2013-14.)

Is it time to regroup? I heard a lot of chatter — particularly from those too young to have experienced UNITY — about the powerful message it would send to have thousands of journalists unified to make journalism an even better profession.

Although the conventions remain separate for now, there is value to attending more than one. The organizations welcome anyone genuinely interested to know more from their members. Standouts this year were AAJA’s screening of the documentary “Defining Courage” about the segregated Nisei soldiers, Japanese Americans who fought for the United States during World War II; and NAJA’s screening of the film “Prey” in Comanche with English subtitles. Both events featured Q&As afterward with people involved in the productions.

What’s next in 2023?

July will be busy with AAJA in Washington, D.C.; NAHJ in Miami; and NAJA in Winnipeg, Canada. NABJ will be in Birmingham, Alabama, next August.

Are you a recruiter?

Be sure to check out AAJA Voices, NABJ’s The Monitor, NAHJ’s Latino Reporter and the Native American Journalism Fellows. The students and their professional mentors worked under deadline pressures to turn out stories relevant beyond their respective conventions.

Also scour the lists of awards finalists and winners.

Don’t wait until you have job openings — now is the time to start supplementing your pipeline of talent. Also, be sure you’ve read this and this.

Last: What else can convention organizers do?

  • Please make coffee (and other caffeinated beverages) readily available throughout the meeting spaces throughout the day.
  • Better guesstimate attendance to assign spaces with the appropriate amount of seats, especially as we continue to socially distance for health reasons; avoid standing-room-only sessions.
  • Don’t tap someone to be a moderator or panelist in back-to-back sessions. Hundreds if not thousands of other attendees could step up. We need to give more people the opportunity to hone their presentation skills and to get noticed by the industry.
  • Check in with each other at the planning stage. Space out dates so there’s less fatigue for people attending more than one convention. Recruiters and frequent presenters will be more energized and focused if there’s time to return home to recharge.

Subscribe to The Collective for access to subscriber-only features including exclusive Q&As with industry-leading journalists of color.

The Collective is supported by the TEGNA Foundation.

Clarification: This post was updated to remove a parenthetical that said the NAJA changed its name to the Indigenous Journalists Association. The name change question will appear on the organization’s 2023 election ballot. 

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