Death of A Journalist

There is no connection between my career as a journalist and that of an accomplished and inspirational icon like Gwen Ifill except for this one personal anecdote.

In 2008, I was an attendee at the UNITY convention in Chicago. UNITY was where four journalism organizations, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian-American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association held one joint convention. It was like a Woodstock for news scribes and it was glorious.

One afternoon, I’m walking through the convention center on my way to a seminar and approaching in the other direction was Gwen Ifill. I stopped her and told her how much I admired and respected her. She smiled a pleasant smile and accepted my fanboy platitudes, shook my hand and went on her way.

That’s my personal Gwen Ifill story.

I recall how Ifill moderated the 2004 vice-presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards and she asked a question about the high rate of HIV-infected Black women which clearly neither Cheney or Edwards were prepared to answer.  These powerful White men were stunned into silence and mumbles, by an intrepid Black woman doing her job and doing it well.

Discomforting the comfortable: That’s what a real journalist does and Ifill was a real journalist in an age where they’re in scant supply.    Gwen Ifill always treated journalism as a profession worthy of respect and she worked hard at The Boston Globe, The New York Times, NBC News and PBS to earn it.

Now more than ever we needed Ifill’s kind of clarity and integrity and with her loss we’re all a little poorer for it.

What a difference a day (or four) makes

Its all a matter of perspective

It's all a matter of perspective

Chicago rocks.

I never understood why Chicago is called, “The Second City.”   Comparing Chicago to New York is like trying to compare an apple to a tomato.  They’re both similar yet unique.

In my last blog entry I said I strongly believed UNITY ’08 was to be my last journalism convention.   In fact, I only rejoined the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) so I could attend this one.   I am a great believer in advocacy journalism, a stance that isn’t always popular in a mainstream organization such as NABJ.

But that’s another fight for another day.   I’m at peace with myself right now.  There’s always time enough to wage war.

I can’t be around intelligent, passionate and professional people without feeling I have to step my game up to meet theirs.  UNITY ’08 was everything I hoped it would be and then some.

It was enriching.

It was educational.

It was entertaining.

It makes me feel very good about being a independent, freelance journalist.

It makes me proud to be a Black man and knowing there are so many other accomplished and charismatic people.

It inspires me to meet and greet all the Asian, Hispanic, Latino and Native Americans that I did in Chicago.

Today I sat down and sent a personalized “hello” to every person whose business card I accepted.   Most of these people I will never meet again or speak with.  But for five days in Chicago we were colleagues and brothers and sisters brought together as a community with shared interests and goals.

I don’t care if they don’t remember me.  I remember them and right now I want to–need to–reach back and let them know they played a part in helping to reignite the flame.   Before time darkens my memory and I recall things differently than they actually occurred, I gotta get it right.

Which means just saying, “thanks” for making UNITY ’08 a total success for me and giving me a reason not to give up on my journalism dreams just yet.

Unity ’08: Drop me off in Chicago

Yes. Barack will be there too.

Yes. Barack will be there too.

Road trip!

Yeah, I’m taking it on the heel and toe and I’m off to Chicago for UNITY ’08, both a convention of minority journalists from the National Association of Black Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association,  the National Association of Hispanic  Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association and something of an ethnic version of Woodstock with indoor plumbing and better accommodations.

Not a lot of hard work gets done between all the workshops, meetings, breakouts, luncheons, dinners, receptions, special events, tours, socializing, job hunting, networking, glad-handing, hooking up and general foolishness.   It is a lot of fun if you don’t take it or yourself too seriously.

Waaaaay, back in the day when gas was cheaper, a freelance journalist loaded up a Pontiac Grand Prix and pointed it south to Atlanta to attend the first convention of journalists of color.

That was UNITY ’94 and I was both a little lighter in the waist and considerably brighter about the opportunities open to me as a journalist.

Fast forward 14 years later and I am absolutely certain this will be the last journalism convention I ever attend.

Though I plan on walking around the job fair, I’m not bringing a single resume or clip.  Why should I?  I’m not expecting anyone is seriously going to get a job there.  The Job Fair has become little more than a way for newspaper, radio and television conglomerations to mass collect resumes in a one-size-fits-all-setting.

The dead giveaway for me is look for how many of the booths actually have chairs for prospective job seekers.   They don’t really want to get to know you.  They just want to get through their shift and try to look interested when in reality they can’t wait to get back to their rooms or to the open bar later.

Cynical?  Nope.  Just experienced.   And this was before I had read Jill Nelson’s chapter in Volunteer Slavery on NABJ conventions.

Besides, who reads?  Look at your five closest friends or acquaintances you call friends.  How many of them read a daily newspaper, subscribe to any magazines or wait until 6:00 or 11:00 pm to get their shot of news?

Sorry folks, but we’re dealing with a profession that is hemorrhaging jobs, become less, not more diverse, and is relying upon an outdated delivery system to reach the younger demographic it craves.   Or have you paid any attention to where the advertising dollars are going?

I have a friend who teaches journalism at Temple University.  She says she’s constantly asked, ‘Why do we need to learn this stuff when there’s no guarantee we will be able to find a job in this field when we graduate?’

Good question.  I wish I had a answer, but I don’t.

Which brings to mind a question. Why exactly am I going to UNITY  ’08?

Certainly not because I’m looking for a job.  I have one of those and I’m pretty satisfied with it.  I don’t need journalism.  In fact, I’m feeling pretty sure that journalism needs me a helluva lot more than I need journalism.

So why go from one hot city in the summer to another hot city in the summer for seemingly no good reason?

Because I still believe journalism is a needed profession in this time when telling the truth can get you in all kinds of trouble.

Because I have always believed nobody can tell our stories better than we can and if we leave it up to others to tell our stories they will tell the ones that make us look like wild, uncivilized and dangerous animals instead of the intelligent, creative, innovative people we are.

Because while I’m not opposed to working within the system, I’ve never believed the system was ever the only way for our stories to be told.

Because I have been blessed enough to meet and work with some incredibly talented brothers and sisters and they inspire me to keep on keepin’ on even when i can easily think of a dozen reasons to kick this journalism jive to the curb and move on to something that pays better and worthier of my time.

Because I can still be inspired.  I might even change my mind.  It’s been known to happen once or twice.

I’m going to UNITY ’08 on my own nickel.  Previously, there were some good White liberal alternative weeklies in Columbus willing to hook a brutha up by covering the cost of the convention registration or something like that, but there are no good White liberal alternative weekliles left in Columbus anymore.

Today I washed, waxed and vacuumed my wife’s Ford Windstar van.  I’m going to load it up with her and the two kids and point it toward Chicago.  We’re going to make this a family vacation.  The last one before my son goes off to college in the fall and my daughter starts high school.

When you consider how much the price of gas is compared to 1994 and how few opportunities are going to exist for future family vacations, it’s a smart move to use a Woodstock of minority journalists as a dual purpose event.

Most of all though I want to be there when thousands of Black,  Hispanic, Asian and First American journalists get together at one place at one time.  It’s hard for me to conceive that you can bring so much talent and energy in a room and something special not happen.

Besides ANY excuse to get out of Columbus for a while is a GOOD excuse.   If The Eagles had lived here they would have called the song, “Life in the Slow Lane.”

Can’t wait to see all my Cowtown connection crew in Chicago representin.’

We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.  ~Japanese Proverb

Truth and Soul,

Jeff Winbush