Story by Polly Irungu
My first National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) conference was three years ago, at the 38th annual convention in Orlando. NABJ is a four-day conference and career fair attended by thousands of journalists, media professionals, executives and recruiters. Being surrounded by thousands of people who look like me — and who aspire to learn more about their craft and are actively pursuing their dreams, as I am — is a surreal feeling. NABJ is a life-changing event for many, many students and professionals. I know I wouldn’t be nearly as confident in my abilities if it were for not the support system and network that NABJ has given me. It is hard to sum up the impact and experience NABJ gives to thousands each year, but I will do my best to break it down.
Why do I keep going back?
As an African woman in America — especially one who lives in Oregon, where the black population is less than 5 percent — I have often been disappointed with the way the media portrays people of color. Not only do we not see enough diversity in media, but when we do, the media portrays only one story, one experience that it suggests is shared by all.
Part of the reason I keep going back to NABJ is my desire to change that narrative. NABJ uses its platform to inspire others to take real action to address the lack of diversity in media. People who care about media diversity go to the conference each year actively seeking new ways to tell those underrepresented stories and tips to bring back to their newsrooms. They are often also there to recruit talented, qualified people of color.
Being a part of the student newsroom
You always grow more when you are a producer instead of a consumer. It’s one thing to attend a conference, but it’s quite another to help create. For me, being a part of the student newsroom was an opportunity to be more than a participant. When you are in the fold and a part of making something happen, you learn and grow more. Being there alone is great, but it has been more fulfilling to be a part of the team of diverse talent.
I’ve applied the skills that I’ve learned inside and outside the SOJC’s classrooms when I worked in the NABJ student newsroom, in both 2015 and 2016. In 2015, I was selected to be a part of the photo team. We were the fantastic four, responsible for providing photo coverage of the 40th annual convention for the NABJ Monitor. Leading up to the conference, students are paired with a mentor to help them bring the stories they have pitched to life. The mentors pushed us to step out of our comfort zone and take our photo skills to new heights. My responsibilities included pitching stories to cover in Minneapolis (where the conference was held), photographing daily assignments, providing captions for all images captured and taking headshots of each student in the newsroom as well as candidates for the 2016 NABJ elections. In a one-week span, I learned how to use tools like Photoshop and Photo Mechanic in my sleep. Everything I thought I knew about taking pictures was challenged.
My favorite story that I produced was about the rising Somali community in Minnesota. I was able to overcome cultural and language barriers to take intimate photos of residents in the community. This is the moment that I truly felt like a multimedia journalist.
The 2016 student newsroom was a little bit different. This year, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) joined forces with NABJ to host the largest minority journalism convention (NABJNAHJ16) ever. The newsroom was a collaborative environment where peers and mentors worked together to provide some of the best coverage at the historic conference.
I wrote articles for the website, including “The Ferguson Effect: Social media and its impact from Ferguson to now.” But one of the things that I am most proud of is co-producing a podcast, Reportedly Black, with two other students in the newsroom. Leading up to NABJNAHJ16, we tirelessly worked on scheduling interviews, script writing and editing. In the first episode of Reportedly Black, we asked numerous journalists from across the country: “How do you separate your race from being a journalist?” In our second episode, we had journalists weigh in about the importance of media diversity and the media’s coverage of the 2016 presidential elections. Our podcast featured some prominent names in the industry, such as Wesley Lowery, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tanzina Vega, Victoria Massie, Gustavo Arellano, Stephen A. Nuño and more.
NABJ and NAHJ gave us a platform to discuss real issues with journalists who are leaders in their respective fields. In the midst of the Democratic and Republican national conventions, these journalists took time out of their hectic schedules to speak with us. Some of these journalists got their start through NABJ and NAHJ, which shows you the influence and impact these organizations can have.
The importance of attending conferences
One of the best things you can do for personal and career development is attend a conference. These organizations want you to succeed and will give you the tools to do so — all you have to do is get there. It is a chance to pick your favorite person's brain, network with people who share common interests, gain a mentor and meet future employers. The free swag doesn’t hurt either. I know that each year I will leave with renewed inspiration, priceless mentorship and insight that I can take back and share with others. I am already counting down the days until the 2017 NABJ convention in New Orleans!
Polly Irungu is a multimedia journalist and social media strategist who plans to graduate from the SOJC with a degree in journalism this fall. She is currently working as a digital content creator for the SOJC’s Communications team, a campus editor-at-large at The Huffington Post and a freelance production assistant for the PAC-12 Networks, and she’s also been published on CNN, KVAL and YesJulz. A National Association of Black Journalists fellow in 2015 and 2016, she participated in the NABJ and National Association of Hispanic Journalists student newsroom to provide coverage of their historic joint convention for NABJ Monitor and Latino Reporter. She also worked in the Online News Association’s student newsroom Sept. 15-17, 2016. Previously, she has worked for TrackTown USA, Def Jam Records, Dell and Adobe. She made the 2013 and 2014 Daily Emerald Ducks Who Will Change the World list, and in May 2015, she was named the Women4Africa International Young Achiever of the Year. You can view her work at www.pollyirungu.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat @pollyirungu.