National Association of Black Journalists to open 36th convention in Philadelphia

In 1973, about a dozen black journalists in Philadelphia gathered to form a new professional organization, the Association of Black Journalists.

In a "statement of purpose," the group said it had 10 basic objectives. Among them were encouraging more blacks to enter journalism, operating a clearinghouse for job opportunities, and sensitizing news organizations to more balanced coverage of black communities.

Thirty-eight years later, the association - now called the National Association of Black Journalists - is the nation's largest minority journalists' organization, with more than 3,000 members.

It will hold its 36th annual convention and career fair in Philadelphia. The gathering, which opens Wednesday, is expected to draw more than 2,500 black journalists to the Convention Center.

"None of us could have ever guessed that what we started here would evolve to the size and significance of today," said Acel Moore, associate editor emeritus of The Inquirer and one of the founders of the organization.

Moore, who with Wendell Rawls Jr. won the Pulitzer Prize for local investigative reporting in 1977 for a series on abuse of inmates at Farview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, will receive the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.

"When I look back and then I look to today and see there are over 3,000 journalists who are African American, I am profoundly proud," said Moore, 70, a longtime Inquirer columnist.

Two years after the 1973 meeting in Philadelphia, the National Association of Black Journalists was established in Washington.

Joe Davidson, a columnist for the Washington Post and a former reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin, said that he has attended each of the 35 previous annual conventions and that he is encouraged by the progress he has observed over the years.

"Sometimes when I go to these conventions . . . I am amazed every year by how much we've developed and how big we've grown. I don't think anyone could have envisioned what it turned into," Davidson said.

"I've had a pretty good career, but being a founding member of NABJ is something I am very proud of."

The theme of this year's convention, which will feature workshops, panel discussions, and appearances by digital-media mogul Arianna Huffington and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., is "The Power of Now: Claiming Your Destiny."

NABJ president Kathy Y. Times said the theme focuses on the challenges facing journalists, such as cutbacks and layoffs at traditional news organizations amid the rise of digital media.

Times said members had been urging a focus on training for work in digital media.

"We have heard from members for years who wanted us to dig deeper in technology as it relates to journalism and beyond," Times said.

"It's frightening for some, but if they embrace all the technology and the doors it opens, then the sky is the limit. We want to give our members as much training and exposure as possible to not only what is happening now in the digital arena, but we also want them to see what's coming down the road," Times said.

She hailed the Philadelphia chapter, which has about 150 members, for being host to the convention.

"It's always great to come to Philadelphia because the local chapter's history is so rich and they are always excited to host us," Times said.

The organization, which held its 20th convention in Philadelphia in 1995, has strong ties to the city.

Five of the group's past presidents worked in Philadelphia, including its first president, Philadelphia Daily News columnist Chuck Stone, now retired. The four others are Will Sutton Jr., Vanessa Williams, Herbert Lowe, and Arthur Fennell.

Deirdre Childress, a Weekend and film editor at The Inquirer, is among three candidates for president of the group. Results of the election are to be announced this week.

Past president Arthur Fennell, executive producer and host of Art Fennell Reports on the Comcast Network, said that by holding its convention in Philadelphia, the organization was "coming home to its roots."

"NABJ was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1975," Fennell said, "but a heavy influence on the founding of NABJ was the significance of the Philadelphia group, which was already up and running and making a difference in this community, already advocating for causes and making an impact."

Moore said that even though significant progress has been made over the years, black journalists still face challenges.

"This is not a post-racial era, despite the gains and despite the fact that we have a black president," Moore said. "I think there is still racial prejudice and class bias that new journalists are affected by that is not as easily identifiable as the in-your-face racism that existed when I started in 1962. We're still a minority organization numerically in the industry."