Journalism: a power-center career.
"If they choose their careers carefully, [journalism] is the place to be," says Sheila Stainback, a TV journalist with CNBC in greater New York. "We are an information-rich society and we live in a global village. People need to find out everything going on. Somebody has to deliver" all this information.
And a talented, dedicated workforce of African Americans must be in the mix. Journalism needs smart young people with passion for their work.
In the early years of one's career, journalism does not pay the big bucks of other professions. For example, 1993 journalism graduates on average made $18,200 a year if they started their careers at daily newspapers, according to the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund.
Nevertheless, the news business offers other rewards: freedom of expression and the chance to effect social change.
And salaries routinely double or triple after five to 10 years of experience.
Thirty years ago the so-called mainstream news media were segregated, Whites-only fields. The Civil Rights Movement and urban riots brought change: desegregation in most places and integration in many.
The 1968 Kerner Commission Report, which tried to explain why Black ghettos burst into flames, noted that the news media of that time were "shockingly backward" in their employment and portrayal of Blacks and other Americans of color.
Many people might argue convincingly that mainstream media remain backward and racist in their practices. But unlike the case more than a generation ago, they now have many more instruments to retool the system.
An undeniable change from 30 years ago is that hundreds of African Americans are majoring in journalism in college.
Paul Delaney is chairman of the University of Alabama Journalism Department. He says that of the 250 journalism majors in the most recent class, 40-16 percent--were Black, and the numbers of Blacks have been i going up for each of the past few years.
Delaney returned to his native state after a 20-something-year career as a newsman at The New York Times. As a journalist-turned-educator, Delaney helps students get jobs all over the country through his contacts with journalists with the power to hire interns and beginning reporters.
Pros like Delaney and Stainback say students must prepare themselves well for this demanding and exciting field.
"Work on writing, thinking, and analyzing," says Delaney. "Read. Stop looking at TV. Reading sharpens your wit, skills, and mind. If you're going to make it, you gotta be aggressive."
Stainback has worked in TV and radio news with CNBC, the NBC-TV cable channel, and in broadcast news in New York, Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, and Miami. But her first job out of college in the early '70s was as a researcher for Newsweek magazine.
Her advice to aspiring journalists: "Really develop your writing skills. Everything else will be taught to you. Everyone should be writing for a campus newspaper.
"[The pros] can teach someone how to be on camera, but they cannot (or don't have the time to) teach a solid reporting and writing style."
Delaney and Stainback have strong ties to the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). Delaney was one of the 44 members who established NABJ in 1975. Stainback since 1991 has been broadcast vice president of the organization, which has swelled to 3,000 members. NABJ offers scholarships and internships to college students. Also, many of the approximately 50 affiliate NABJ chapter offer scholarships to incoming college students.
Since 1990, Stainback has been one of the leaders of a broadcast journalism short course held annually at North Carolina A&T State University and Florida A&M University.
"In three days we introduce students to the wide range of jobs in the newsroom--for example, assignment editor, news director--jobs not enough Blacks go after," she says.
"We set up a makeshift newscast, and we knock the wind out of them. We let them know how much they don't know, but show them that this is fun."
Many students from the first sessions are now working journalists. This year, five of them returned to teach.
Veterans like Delaney and Stainback urge students to sharpen their writing and research skills. But will there be workplaces to use them?
In the spring of 1995 the Houston Post published its last edition: Another big-city newspaper went out of business.
In the past decade, papers in Dallas, Baltimore, and Miami went under. And in about a dozen cities, separate morning and afternoon papers merged into one edition, mergers that meant jobs evaporated. But no need to fear.
"A lot of kids are disturbed by what they hear," says Delaney. "[People] will read newspapers in the 21st century, only the delivery system will be different."
Newspaper-formatted information is expected to be transmitted on computer screens or possibly tablet-like electronic pads instead of paper.
Says Delaney, "We'll need writers and gatekeepers (editors). With a degree in journalism, you can parlay it into something else (i.e., law, corporate communications, or small business).
"And, community newspapers are going to always be around in small towns."
Stainback says that because of cable TV and independent stations, the broadcast field is growing. Growth means more jobs, but with younger, less experienced (and often non-union) correspondents entering the field, people will make less money in the top assignments. According to Stainback, a veteran big-city TV journalist made about $95,000 to $100,000 about a decade ago; now the pay is about $65.000 to $70,000.
Stainback says the best opportunities for African Americans in television news are "behind the scenes: people in managerial roles and people figuring out the best way to deliver information."
She notes that because of the changing technology, newspapers and television in some cities are doing collaborative news presentations, e.g., (Philadelphia) Inquirer News Tonight; Orange County (California) Cable with the Register newspaper, and New York 1-Cable with Time/ Warner.
In magazine journalism, news-weeklies like TIME and Newsweek hire recent graduates as reporter-researchers, a.k.a. fact checkers, says Sheryl Hilliard Tucker.
Hilliard Tucker was editor of Black Enterprise magazine for about a decade and is now editor of Your Company, a magazine geared to small business owners. She was also a board member with the American Society of Magazine Editors.
A recommended career path for magazine journalists, says Hilliard Tucker, is to pursue job opportunities with trade magazines, because beginning journalists learn how to cover "beats" (specific subjects) and learn reporting fundamentals.
"They're narrow," says Hilliard Tucker of magazines like Chemical Engineering Today or Supermarket News, "but it is where a lot of business writers do well with a concentrated introduction to a beat. And the trades have small staffs, and you get to write a lot."
Many writers who excel at popular magazines gained early experience in the trade press.
Whether the medium is newspapers, magazines, television, radio, or computer networks, news professionals today insist there is a tremendous need for smart, savvy, determined, and dedicated African Americans to serve as journalists well into the next century.
Wayne Dawkins is a newsman with the Courier-Post of Camden/Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He is the author of Black Journalists: The NABJ Story (August Press, NJ, 1993).
For More Information:
Black Women in Publishing 10 East 87th St. New York, NY 10128 Phone: (212) 427-8100
National Association of Black Journalists 1160 Sunrise Valley Dr. Reston, VA 22091 Phone: (703) 648-1270 Fax: (703) 476-6245
National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters 1730 M St. NW, Rm. 412 Washington, DC 20036 Phone: (202) 463-8970
National Newspaper Publishers Association 3200 13th St. NW Washington, DC 20010 Phone: (202) 588-8764 Fax: (202) 588-5029
National Alliance of Third World Journalists P.O. Box 43208 Washington, DC 20010 Phone: (202) 462-8197
National Black Media Coalition 38 New York Ave., NE Washington, DC 20002 Phone: (202) 387-8155
National Conference of Editorial Writers 6223 Executive Blvd. Rockville, MD 20852 Phone: (301) 984-3015
Society of Newspaper Design The Newspaper Center 4075 Reston, VA 22090 Phone: (703) 620-1083
American Society of Magazine Editors 919 Third Ave. 22nd Fl. New York, NY 10022 Phone: (212) 752-0055
Dow Jones Newspaper Fund P.O. Box 300 Princeton, NJ 08543 Phone: (609) 452-2820