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Trotter Group strengthens ties.

TWO YEARS AGO, hosted by the Nieman Foundation, a group of black newspaper columnists gathered at Harvard University to "share our common experiences and probe the soft underbelly of our craft," as DeWayne Wickham, a Gannett News Service columnist, put it.

He and Les Payne of Newsday had been mulling over such a meeting for a couple of years, and it finally came together on December 8, 1992. The 17 columnists at that meeting became the Trotter Group, named for William Monroe Trotter, a pioneering black Boston editor and publisher who was Harvard's first Phi Beta Kappa graduate in early years of the 20th Century.

A year later the group, slightly larger', met again at the University of Michigan, this time as the guest of the Michigan Journalism Fellows at Wallace House. The purpose was much the same.

The Trotter Group is still developing. It has no charter, no statement of mission, no structure, no agenda, and no timetable.

It does have a goal, though. It is to provide an annual retreat, intellectual and psychological, for a group of black columnists who feel the need to talk about ourselves and our roles, both in the media generally and at our newspapers in particular.

Membership is informal. The first group was invited by the original converters: Wickham, Payne, and Derrick Jackson of The Boston Globe. I brought along a "ringer," a conservative free-lance columnist I had recruited for ideological as well as ethnic diversity for The News Journal's op-ed page in Wilmington, Del. I thought his views would be provocative in this setting where most of us were fairly liberal. (He has not disappointed!)

Expansion of the Trotter Group has been deliberately slow, primarily because we rely on our hosts' resources, and attendance is limited by their capacity to accommodate us at minimum cost.

To date the Trotter Group has produce a journal of its first meeting, called "Black Voices in Commentary," which is available from me at $7.50 per copy. (Send your request to Trotter Book, P.O. Box 15505, Wilmington DE 19850.) In it are excerpts of discussions as well as sample columns from the participants.

Discussions at that first session, some of them stunning for their candor, ranged from finding an authentic voice to addressing a dual audience, to developing a black viewpoint. These were not "how-to's," but argumentative discussions. The trend continued in Ann Arbor this year, and again there will be a journal.

The potential for the Trotter Group is considerable. No commercial ventures have been seriously contemplated, but we have done some brainstorming. We may develop a speaker's bureau or a clearing house for producers and editors seeking minority columnists.

The Trotter Group already serves as a professional network for interpersonal consultations between experienced and inexperienced columnists, and at the moment, that may be the group's most important role.

NCEW member Norman Lockman is associate editor of editorial pages for The News Journal in Wilmington, Del.
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Title Annotation:Afro-American journalists
Author:Lockman, Norman
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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