NABJ prepares for What’s Black in the News fall event

Tuesday evening, 11 students gathered around a table in the Illini Union, clustered in small groups, and spoke about guest speakers, fundraisers and hotel reservations. These individuals, members of the University’s campus branch of The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), are prepping for the organization’s largest event of the semester, one they have been working on since the end of last spring: What’s Black in the News (WBITN).

The annual event, now in its fourth year, brings four media professionals to campus as panelists for a discussion concerning issues regarding minorities in the media. The series began when NABJ invited a panel of experts to analyze the unique coverage of African and African-American stories by white journalists.

“In other words, we wanted to compare and contrast the difference between mainstream journalists covering black stories versus black journalists covering black stories,” said Mike Burton, NABJ’s secretary and senior in Media. “We invited a panel of experts to discuss different stories of that year and how CNN covered it and why they covered it in a different way than, maybe, BET news.”

Though analyzing black news coverage has been a part of WBITN for the past three years, this year’s installment will change things up a bit.

This year’s WBITN will focus on the upcoming presidential election, a topic Bianca Flowers, vice president of NABJ and senior in Media, is excited to share with the student body.

“With it being an election year, we had to switch gears a little bit,” Flowers said. “What affects students, what affects all of us, not just minorities … What I believe we don’t understand is how much politics will impact our future. What’s done in Congress and the Oval Office can affect how we’re going to live our lives, how we’re going to get jobs.”

The theme for this year’s event, “Our Vote, Our Voice, Our Future,” covers a wide range of topics, including the Trayvon Martin case, power versus people, racial politics and immigration reform. NABJ members selected a respected expert in each topic to discuss major issues, as well as give their opinions on the other topics discussed at the event.

One of those panelists is Dr. Randolph Burnside, a professor of political science at Southern Illinois University, who will discuss the role of race in national politics.

“I’ve always admired the local chapter (of NABJ) at SIUC because they have been very active here,” wrote Burnside in an email. “(In) my conversations with people here they were very impressed with the NABJ chapter at UIUC so it was a no-brainer for me to accept the invitation to speak.”

Burnside plans to discuss race relations and the impact of them on the election in November, as well as some of the polarizing incidents that have involved the president and other individuals during his term in office.

Esther J. Cepeda, a syndicated columnist at the Washington Post Writers Group, will also speak at the event about immigration reform, a topic that Flowers also believes students at the University should be educated about. Flowers said she is especially passionate about The DREAM Act and its potential effects on college students.

“(Immigration reform is) an important issue to me personally, and it was a topic that needed to be addressed because a lot of students are oblivious to what (The DREAM Act) is,” Flowers said. “There are students on this campus that are affected by the DREAM Act. They can’t get federal funding because they aren’t citizens yet.”

The DREAM Act, an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, is a legislative proposal that would provide conditional residency to undocumented residents who graduated from U.S. high schools, as long as certain conditions are met. Eventually, these residents can acquire permanent residency.

What’s Black in the News will feature two other speakers as well: Professor Richard Price, the founder of Journal-isms, and Sunny Hostin, a CNN legal analyst who has covered top stories such as the Trayvon Martin case and the Casey Anthony trial.

As an RSO, NABJ plans two major events each school year: What’s Black in the News in the fall semester, and a writer’s workshop in the spring semester.

“The writer’s workshops doesn’t just cover one (field) of journalism,” said Rachel Loyd, NABJ president and junior in Media. “(Last year) we had people come in and talk about written journalism, photojournalism … sports journalism, and it was just a lot of different kinds.”

NABJ opens up their workshop to all the other NABJ chapters in the state of Illinois. When the club isn’t planning these events, it works on planning fundraisers. The meetings are laid-back and casual, with all of the group’s members bouncing ideas off of each other. The organization hopes to attract a diverse audience for WBITN.

“We geared it toward all students,” Flowers said. “Our voice, our vote, our future … What I want (students) to get out of this is just to understand and be more receptive and proactive in politics … If you can vote, it’s a privilege, not a right. I think it’s a shame that (some students) are not living to (their) full potential.”

The National Association of Black Journalists meets on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. in the RSO complex located on the second floor of the Illini Union. What’s Black in the News will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 26 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the SDRP Multipurpose Rooms A & B. A post reception will follow the event.

Zefan can be reached at [email protected]