Readers of blogs and websites that focus on people of color will soon notice something different about their favorite online destinations: the majority of posts will be filed from Chicago and Atlanta.
That’s because the professional trade organizations for ethnic journalists–the Asian American Journalists Association; the National Association of Hispanic Journalists; the Native American Journalists Association; and the oldest, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ)–are meeting jointly in Chicago beginning July 23. And that same week, a small association of ethnic minority bloggers is holding its first conference, in Atlanta. The journalists’ meeting, Unity ’08, has a multimillion-dollar budget and will draw thousands of black, Latino, Native American and Asian journalists together to take part in corporate-sponsored workshops and panels designed to upgrade members’ skills for the new era of digital media and to network and job search. (Disclosure: I consulted with Unity organizers on the convention’s program.) By contrast, the ethnic blogger convention, Blogging While Brown, will stay in a mid-market hotel, has a shoestring budget, no corporate sponsorship, and is likely to draw about seventy-five guests and panelists.
But while the thousands of minority journalists–many representing old media outlets–troop to conference rooms and banquets at the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago under a cloud of uncertainty, their new media counterparts will hook up in Atlanta eyeing a future bright with promise. Both gatherings are happening as the media industry is at a watershed, with the Internet creating new opportunities for independent entrepreneurs as well as big corporations, and forcing the downsizing of dozens of traditional news organizations. A consequence of all the churning and flux–one largely overlooked by the mainstream press itself in its obsessive chronicling of the shift–is that traditional news-delivery systems, while far from perfect, did provide access and influence to thousands of journalists of color. Yet the massive staff cuts at these traditional media outlets are disproportionately diminishing the ranks of journalists of color. The American Society of Newspaper Editors reported that about 300 journalists of color lost their jobs during the past year, representing roughly 12 percent of those dismissed, while they are just 5 percent of newsroom employees. The NABJ went so far as to issue an open letter to newspaper publishers July 3 declaring, “NABJ will hold you accountable if you do not consider diversity in your hiring and, particularly, firing practices.”
In this context, it is of major concern to minority journalists that the blogosphere, for all its kinetic energy and potential for progressive activism, has not produced significant numbers of high-profile nonwhite bloggers. Journalists of color look at the ascendance of the blogosphere and can’t help but think, This new boss looks an awful lot like the old boss. And this situation raises some serious questions. Where will readers go for reliable, well-reported, well-documented news and information of particular relevance to people of color? Will the blogosphere accommodate the thousands of experienced journalists of color who fought for decades to gain access to mainstream newsrooms?