I sat, and I waited. A month turned into months. Months turned into a year, and all I could do was wonder.
All I wanted was to have a black professor or have a black speaker come into class. I needed to hear what journalism was like for blacks. I was tired of hearing it from the middle-aged white male perspective.
I am not only black, but a black woman. I know there are challenges I will face, and I needed to know what would be awaiting me in the work force after college.
In 2001, former San Jose Mercury News publisher Jay Harris said at the annual National Association of Black Journalists convention in Orlando, “As to the state of African-Americans in journalism, there is not surprisingly much about which we can and should be concerned. You need look no further than the decline last year in the number of African-American journalists in newspapers or the fact that today in all of Time magazine’s bureaus, there is only one black correspondent.”
In 2005, the NABJ reported that only 34 more black journalists were working at U.S. daily newspapers than five years ago. The report said editors complain there are not enough journalists of color. However, the NABJ has more than 4,000 members, and its student membership has doubled in the past five years. The statistics and articles about the lack of diversity in journalism scare me.
I thought my wish would come true on April 12. Eric Deggans, a critic for the St. Petersburg Times, was scheduled to speak to the class. I was excited to hear what he had to say. Finally, someone who I believed could give me the information I longed for.
He talked about victimization and how sometimes minorities can be put into that stereotype. He talked about challenging assumptions and to avoid framing people based on their culture. He told us to do our research and never to assume we know everything already. After he spoke, I got his contact information and told him I would be contacting him. I prepared myself for a great conversation about how it is for blacks in this business. What I got was less than thrilling.
Deggans’ answers were careful. He made sure not to come out and say, “Yeah, it’s hard for blacks in this business.” I asked him if there were opportunities for blacks in journalism, and he told me about the NABJ and how involved it is in the community. So I told him I had never heard about NABJ here in Tampa and how there is no mention of it at the University of South Florida.
He explained there was someone at USF in charge of getting people involved with the association; however, that person left and the relationship between NABJ and USF eventually died.
At that moment, I was heartsick. How can the NABJ encourage young black journalists if it let the relationship with USF die?I thought there might be one or two black journalists in the whole Tampa Bay area. Come to find out, not only is there an association of black journalists, there’s even a black newspaper in St. Petersburg.
The lack of black awareness in journalism at USF is startling. In all of my classes, issues of race are either skimmed over or never mentioned at all. I will admit, several of my teachers have tried to address race in journalism in their classes, and I appreciate it. However, it’s USF that should try to reach out. I think an elective class on race and gender issues in journalism would be a step in the right direction.
USF and NABJ need to restore their relationship. In addition, other minority associations in the area should try to form ties with USF so minority students don’t feel ignored.
Opportunities are out there for minorities, but help from people already in the business can give them that extra edge. Thirty years after the NABJ’s inception, some things have certainly improved, but many of the same issues still exist. Blacks still are underrepresented in newsrooms, and blacks still see an incomplete image of themselves in the media. However, only the next generation can keep fighting and only the veterans can guide them.
I may never have a black professor or hear from a black speaker who gives me the information I seek about the business, but my mission is clear: to bring more diversity in the newsroom by raising awareness.
Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in magazine journalism.