Rugged Waters: Black Journalists Swim the Mainstream

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9780963572073: Rugged Waters: Black Journalists Swim the Mainstream
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In the 1990s the National Association of Black Journalists became a recognized name. Its members covered the big stories of the decade and also crusaded successfully for diversity in the media.

Since the late 1990s however, NABJ stagnated, largely because of apathy and fatigue. Alarmingly, NABJ and its allies became vulnerable to attack by right- and left-wing critics.

In this 3rd edition of the NABJ story, Wayne Dawkins defines what is right about NABJ, and he points to wrongs that must be corrected. Along the way, he cites important industry developments and social changes as markers.

DawkinsÂ’ historical record is a map to steer the association out of rugged waters.

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From the Author:

Rugged Waters was nominated for a 2004 Library of Virginia Literary Award in non-fiction.

Selected "Must Read" new release at the 15th National African American Read-In, sponsored by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English.

From the Inside Flap:

Although the National Association of Black Journalists proved its value as a year-round, full-service association in the 1990s, much of this book will focus on 40 concentrated days during that decade, the four to five days that members would gather annually for conventions.

By simply paying the registration and showing up, the members raised half of the money NABJ needed to function year round. During that week, scores of job switches or new hires were initiated or consummated.

In the summers of 1994 and 1999, summits of 6,000 then nearly 7,000 journalists of color -- African-American, Hispanic, Asian American and Native American -- were successfully staged. And a third summit is scheduled in summer 2004 in Washington, D.C.

NABJ advanced from becoming well known in the journalism industry at the start of the 1990s to becoming a brand name in mainstream America during the 1990s. The association was named in a skit on the CBS-TV sitcom "Murphy Brown." By the 1990s, Ebony magazine began including the NABJ president among its 100 most influential black Americans. In 1996, that convention had the most unlikely but significant trio of guests under the same big tent: a GOP Presidential nominee [U.S. Sen. Bob Dole], an incumbent Democrat Vice President [Al Gore], and the leader of the Nation of Islam [Minister Louis Farrakhan]

Indeed, NABJ raised its profile and peaked in membership numbers and exposure during the Chicago 1997 and Washington 1998 conventions. NABJ and its journalist members were among the witnesses and recorders and gatekeepers of huge stories: * The Rodney King beatdown and Los Angeles riots [1992]; * O.J. Simpson trial and Million Man March [1995]; * Bill Clinton, the first two-term Democratic president since FDR in the 1940s [1992-2000]; * The mainstream emergence of the Internet, circa 1995.

Since then, the association has become comfortable, complacent and alarmingly, vulnerable to attack because of many things it did well. Dozens of members moved into top editing and broadcast executive ranks. Scores of members became middle managers, commentators or specialists.

Coverage increased dramatically compared to what 44 original NABJ founders struggled heroically to accomplish 15 to 20 years earlier. News coverage was much more inclusive and nuanced. Overwhelmingly, NABJ members were committed to changing the mainstream media from within.

There were many victories. These changes did not sit well with right-wing critics who claimed -- out of willfull ignorance or deceit -- that we were radicals ruining journalism.

Mainstream waters were rugged waters. This book intends to define the great change -- dizzying change -- that occurred over a single decade. This is also a reminder to reclaim and redefine the activities that made NABJ rise as a powerful association before declining at the start of the 21st century. We need competitive elections again. Many members did not run for offices because of their distaste for politicking. Yet, it is passion that comes with partisan combat that strengthens a group.

Trouble set in in 1995 when 13 of 17 board seats -- including the presidency -- were uncontested. The lone candidate presidency was repeated in 1997, although until a few months before the election, there was the promise of a competitive race.

At this writing, there are several proposals to reduce the size of the board or institute a ladder system that grooms leaders. Whatever course is decided, members of NABJ must engage and reclaim their association in order to meet the new challenges of this century.

Preface, Wayne Dawkins, May 2003

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