What can we learn from returning to in-person conventions?
Below is an excerpt from The Collective, Poynter’s newsletter by journalists of color for journalists of color and our allies. Subscribe here to receive it in your inbox two Wednesdays a month.
AAJA, NAJA (now the Indigenous Journalists Association) and the combined NABJ-NAHJ just held their first in-person national conventions since 2019. For many of us, this was the first time we’ve been in an enclosed space with a crowd during the pandemic. For others, including many students and recent graduates, it was their first experience at the convention.
It’s hard to overstate how powerful it was to be around people for whom code-switching isn’t necessary — and who understand the challenges and rewards of being a journalist. Virtual-only meetings were a palliative to maintain our bond, but being together in the same space was invigorating and restorative.
Here are my observations on what went well and what we could look forward to in the years to come. These apply to all gatherings intended to provide space for networking, resource sharing and community.
It is logistically and technically difficult to live stream (or even record) every session with decent production values due to the specialists and equipment required. And for the record, very few sessions recorded at online-only conventions are viewed after the fact.
We should look for other ways to incorporate greater accessibility: live captioning, sign language interpreters, language translation and space for wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility aids. For events that fill large ballrooms, planners can consider projecting the stage onto adjacent screens so everyone, including those in the overflow space, can see what’s going on.
Some participants complained about unwanted attention in bathrooms (sometimes from hotel staff) as well as a perceived pressure to dress according to expected gender norms.
This is not the kind of environment we should foster.
If there is a dress code, organizations should provide examples of what is absolutely unacceptable for participants of any age. And we need to be mindful of the evolving definition of what is appropriate for business.
Attending conventions has rarely been affordable for individuals and usually requires time away from work, even if no travel is involved.
A key to gaining employer support is to ask during this year’s budget cycle to ensure funds are set aside for next year’s conventions. Itemize your costs: association membership, conference registration, airfare, hotel, ground transportation and meals. Include how your submission helps your employer: you may intentionally recruit and/or bring back information to share with colleagues for a hands-on training session.
Cybersecurity journalist Fahmida Y. Rashid was motivated to help fellow JOCs by inviting Journalists of Color Slack members to enjoy group housing at the NABJ-NAHJ convention in Las Vegas.
“I heard someone talk about how important it is for all of us of color to pull people behind us, to create opportunity, and I took that to heart,” Rashid said. A recently completed freelance project allowed him to cover the costs: “Instead of paying for one person’s room, I liked paying for shared accommodation. … Now we can normalize having a shared house in the future.
Some participants were vocal in complaints about an apparent double standard related to what young people had to wear and what they might have seen others wearing.
The most important rule of thumb: dress for the job you want. Most recruiters will wear formal business attire. You don’t need a suit and tie. You also don’t have to wear full makeup and heels. But you must present yourself as you expect to be seen in a workplace.
More than ever, delegates are exchanging QR codes which open on personal sites, their Twitter profile or on a downloadable CV.
But relying on stable Wi-Fi (or strong cellular power) at the convention is a mistake. Also consider 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 handing out printed resumes or cards, be intentional about how you share information. Consider opening the QR code on your LinkedIn profile or showcasing your work through Linktree.
When it comes to tracking, we shared tips last year.
A coalition of journalists’ associations met regularly for a single massive convention every four to five years. The coalition was first formed in 1994 with members from AAJA, NABJ, NAHJ and NAJA. By 2012, the coalition had evolved to consist of AAJA, NAHJ, NAJA and NLGJA. The group officially disbanded in 2018. (Note: I was president of UNITY in 2013-2014.)
Is it time to regroup? I’ve heard a lot of chatter – especially from those too young to have experienced UNITY – about the powerful message it would send if thousands of journalists were unified to make journalism an even better profession.
Although the conventions will remain separate for now, it helps to attend more than one. Organizations welcome anyone genuinely interested in learning more about their members. This year’s stars were AAJA’s screening of the documentary “Defining Courage” about separated Nisei soldiers, Japanese Americans who fought for the United States in World War II; and the screening by NAJA of the film “Prey” in Comanche with English subtitles. Both events then featured Q&As with people involved in the productions.
July will be busy with AAJA in Washington, DC; NAHJ in Miami; and IJA in Winnipeg, Canada. NABJ will be in Birmingham, Alabama next August.
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 the pressure of deadlines to produce stories relevant beyond their respective conventions.
Also browse the lists of finalists and award winners.
Don’t wait for job offers, it’s time to start building your talent pool. Also, make sure you’ve read this and this.
- Please make coffee (and other caffeinated beverages) available in meeting spaces throughout the day.
- A better estimate of attendance to allocate spaces with the appropriate number of seats, especially as we continue to socially distance for health reasons; Avoid stand-up sessions.
- Do not appoint someone as a moderator or panelist in back-to-back sessions. Hundreds or even thousands of other participants could participate. We need to give more people the opportunity to hone their presentation skills and get noticed by the industry.
- Check with each other at the planning stage. Space out the dates to reduce fatigue for people attending more than one convention. Recruiters and frequent presenters will be more energized and focused if they have time to go home to recharge.
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The Collective is supported by the TEGNA Foundation.