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Sell the sizzle, but first get cooking.

REMEMBER YOUR high school prom and the awkward, goofy stuff the certified nerds would do to prove they could really be a fun group? That's what the Lexington convention poster, DweebFest '92, reminded me of. While it was a hoot, its self-effacing symbolism nonetheless spoke volumes about how many editorial writers view themselves: as dweebs and nerds.

To a convention first-timer like myself, the poster also seemed to promise a gathering of old white guys. And for the most part that's what the convention was. Which is OK, if that is all NCEW wants. But I've been told by reliable sources that NCEW wants to be more than that. My sources tell me that, like many journalistic organizations, NCEW wants its membership and programs to reflect the diversity of a nation as rich as a Louisiana gumbo and just as spicy. The dilemma is in making the transition.

I have been asked to weigh in on the subject of buffing up the appeal NCEW could have for non-white editorial writers such as myself. Here it is.

With the entry into the clubhouse of more women and people from the so-called minority groups in the past decade or so, the menu is beginning to feature slices of Pepperidge Farm alongside the familiar Wonder bread.

I'd like to think of myself as a vivacious, clear-thinking writer who is turned on professionally by issues and the issue makers. I am drawn to that kind of activity, and organizations with that kind of focus are the first to get my attention.

That I am black and female is obvious to me, so most times I give it about as much thought as I give to tying the laces on my sneakers. Unfortunately, being black and a woman in this business can be a hang-up. But if I have been hung up, I missed it. The important question for me is: "Am I getting the professional stimulation I need and want?" Most times I do. And when I haven't, I've known to move on.

So the key for NCEW in expanding its membership horizon is, for starters, the professional stimulation it offers. As staff development possibilities compete for dwindling newspaper budgets, writers find they must become more creative in pitching for dollars. But we pitchmen (pitchpersons?) need ammo too. And the convention agenda -- previous and upcoming -- is one of the best marketing tools we have.

The bottom line is NCEW has got to make itself more exciting. I would suggest that the organization picture itself as a contemporary think-tank for the important social, domestic, and international issues. Between conventions NCEW has the perfect forum for promoting the viewpoint of its members in The Masthead.

Throw modesty to the wind. Develop harder-hitting, provocative commentary in The Masthead; walk the walk and talk the talk. Shamelessly market the magazine pieces for reprint. In two words: more hype.

Organize NCEW conventions around national or world issues with real newsmakers.

The point that often escapes us all is that women journalists and members of minority groups want the same thing that their male, white colleagues want -- a nexus to professional development and advantage. This is the criterion that transcends race and gender. Make conventions interesting, daring, and cutting-edge, and people will clamor to be there; they might not have to beg their bosses to send them. But most of all, the long-term gain is that no one would ever think of an editorial writer as a dweeb or nerd again. I suppose that's a plus!

NCEW member Allegra Bennet is an editorial writer at The Washington Times.
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Title Annotation:In Search of Diversity: The Masthead Symposium; promoting professional advancement among female and minority journalists
Author:Bennett, Allegra
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Words:598
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