By Reginald Stuart
College journalists from historically Black colleges and universities across the South converged on Nashville earlier this month for three days of intense mentoring aimed at boosting their chances of succeeding in the news business.
Student journalists from Fisk and Tennessee State universities were joined by peers and advisers from nearly a dozen other institutions including Hampton, Florida A & M, Prarie View, Kentucky State, Southern and Grambling universities for the annual National HBCU Student News Media Conference. It was held at the John Seigenthaler First Amendment Center.
The Center and the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute hosted the gathering organized by the Black College Communication Association, the national organization of journalism teachers at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s). This was the 15 annual national conference.
Victor Bradley, a Fisk junior and editor of The Fisk Forum, the campus newspaper, echoed other participants when asked his opinions about participating.
Bradley said attending was “most definitely” of value to him as a college newspaper editor. “It was a great shot in the arm,” he said, explaining he learned much from listening to the roster of professionals who volunteered to mentor the students on every aspect of being a journalist. He and others also talked of the value of being able to share experiences with their peers and learn the daily challenges and responsibilities of being a campus paper editor.
Over the course of the conference, the student journalists heard an enlightening talk from journalism legend John Seigenthaler. He spoke on the evolution of the First Amendment, its importance to women and minorities in the past century and the how some modern-day social media practitioners are using the First Amendment as a shield for their legal, yet less than ethical, activities of spreading lies and hurtful information.
WPLN News Director Anita Bugg spoke on the value of radio news. George Walker, staff photographer for The Tennessean, gave the students a special three-hour coaching session on photography. WKRN-TV News Anchor, Anne Holt, offered a reality check talk to the students loaded with practical advice about the hard work involved in building a career and the choices and sacrifices one must make along the way to balance career and family.
“Give it your best shoot,” Holt told the students after reflecting on the challenges she faced in a career than has spanned more than 30 years. She encouraged them to think out of the box, take on jobs and assignments they may not want and be sure to know what they want out of life and make the tough choices that most certainly will come their way.
“At the end of the day you are the person you have o satisfy,” Holt told the students who swarmed around her with questions after her formal talk ended.
Tennessean political editor Scott Stroud talked of the work involved in putting together special projects, using the papers’ current Civil Rights series as a model. Don Hudson, executive editor of the Decatur (Ala.) Daily newspaper teamed with Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader metropolitan editor Delano Massey in back to back sessions on improving writing and reporting skills.
Val, Hoeppner, social media guru at the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, Nancy DeVille, Tennessean reporter, and reporter Lydia X. McCoy of the Knoxville News-Sentinel provided coaching on internships, how to interview for a first job and preparing winning resumes. They also gave writing critiques of indivudals’ stories. Massey took extensive time for individual newspaper critiques.
The students got solid reminders about the continued importance of the Black press from Nashville publisher Sam Latham and veteran journalist Sandra Long Weaver, editorial consultant to The Tennessee Tribune.
“There’s an opportunity to really have any impact,” Weaver said as she and Latham stressed the importance of the Black news media today, noting the Black press today is often the only news medium that can be relied on to advance some issues of important to Blacks in society.
The students were reminded by veteran journalist Dwight Lewis of how “cool” a journalism career. Lewis recapped highlights of his 40 years in the news business to make his point, describing a journalism career as “a great opportunity to meet people, see things and make a difference.”
Lewis’s message about the importance of the news media in modern-day society was reinforced in talks from Rufus Friday, publisher of the Lexington (Ky. Herald-Leader and Wendi Thomas, columnist and assistant managing editor of The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal morning daily newspaper.
“Our way of life cannot survive without the kind of reporting newspapers provide,” said Friday, noting that regardless of the emergence of one new kind of information medium after the next, people rely on newspapers as the fair and balanced source for information.
“Getting perspectives from the professionals was extremely beneficial,” said Maulana Moore, a junior at Hampton University and editor of The Hampton Script, one of several campus newspapers to win awards for outstanding work. “It’s kind of like going to a revival…,” she said, characterizing the conference sessions as energizing. “This conference allowed me to revitalize my staff and our service to the community.”
A panel of professional journalists around the country judged the work of participating campus newspapers and news Websites, awarding honors in 16 different categories.