Unified by the pen

An air of friendly competition, unity and empowerment satiated the room as newspaper staffs from historically black colleges and universities all over the nation convened for The Ninth Annual HBCU National Newspaper Conference and Job Fair.

FAMU’s School of Journalism & Graphic Communication in conjunction with the Black College Communication Association hosted the three-day conference. The conference sought to administer workshops to enhance writing skills and offer information about the professional media world.

Events commenced Feb. 15 with a viewing of “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.” The event was held at the Ramada Inn and Conference Center on 2900 N. Monroe St.

Terry Jones, 30, a senior mass communication student and editor in chief at Southern University’s Southern Digest, saw the documentary as honest and raw but truthful.

“It was on point and addressed every issue in terms of hip hop and its influence on black culture today,” said the Baton Rouge, La., native. “I believe it should be viewed at every university.”

Friday included insightful sessions and a panel discussion that focused on what employers are looking for in future employees.

The panel was moderated by FAMU’s journalism division director, Dorothy Bland but included a host of prominent figures in the industry including Ann Kimbrough, chief of staff for DeKalb county; Africa Price, managing editor of the Tallahassee Democrat; Pat Mitchell, presentation editor for the Tampa Tribune, and Marquita Smith, Portsmouth City editor for the Virginian-Pilot.

Many students saw events like the panel and the various sessions at the conference as a way to put aside petty rivals and focus on intense networking. Jones admitted that many were slow to become more acquainted but eventually came around.

“Some were a little stand-offish, but after bringing editors and students together I believe we have started lifetime friendships that can last throughout our professional careers.”

After more sessions, Friday ended with the BCCA Excellence in Journalism Awards Banquet.

North Carolina Central University’s newspaper, Campus Echo lead in the amount of accolades received, with six awards, while Tennessee State University’s The Meter trailed close behind with five first place wins. The Famuan and the Maroon Tiger tied with three first place wins.

Marlon Walker, 25, a reporter for the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer and FAMU alum, conducted several sessions on investigative reporting and dealing with the police. With this being Walker’s third conference and first time presenting, he said it was nice to be on the other side.

“So many people took the time out of their schedules to make sure the students have the tools they need to better themselves,” Walker said. “The conference was three days of jam-packed skill building, by people who look just like you and deal with the same skills.”

The chair of the BCCA, Valerie D. White, an assistant professor at FAMU, expressed her satisfaction over the people who came for the conference.

“I was happy to have a Pulitzer Prize speaker present, Caesar Andrews, and it’s always a pleasure to have people like Keith Woods, dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute and Adam Goldstein, attorney for Student Press Law Center,” White said.

All the sessions were well-received by students and the panel at lunch had excellent info for students,” White said. “It really showed how the landscape and job requirements are for changing journalists.”

Other schools who were represented at the conference included: Albany State University, Grambling State University, Hampton University, Howard University, Jackson State University, Lincoln University, Morgan State University, Savannah State University, Tennessee State University and the University of the Virgin Islands.

“These kinds of events remind me of the strength of the HBCU and renew the new energy to commit to teaching students and training,” White said. “Despite the problems we may have, it makes me glad to be at an HBCU, because we have a commitment to get students ready for the professional world.”