Back when Annenberg Media Center was bustling with in-person action, sophomore Marlize Duncan said she remembers being the only Black person in the newsroom for pitch meetings, a lack of diversity that she said left her wondering who else she could reach out to.
It is experiences like this that have motivated Duncan, and the rest of the new executive board for the National Association of Black Journalists at USC, to continue cultivating a space where fellow Black Trojans can create a support network within Annenberg, even as the organization has had to shift online.
“I want NABJ to be the place where we’re not there in person, but you know, ‘oh, hey, this person in the organization has the same interests as me, I could reach out to them,’” Duncan said. “I just want people to see that there is this representation in our newsroom and that you have people you can go to, you should never feel uncomfortable when you’re around us.”
At the first meeting of the semester, which occurred over Zoom Sept. 16, sophomore journalism students Pilar Lee, Reagan Griffin Jr. and Marlize Duncan introduced themselves as the executive board for NABJ USC this semester. They hold the positions of president, vice president and secretary, respectively.
In past years, NABJ USC has featured in-person panels and guest speakers like Lester Holt or Bill Cunningham, both of whom have spoken to NABJ students in the past, according to the NABJ USC adviser Lisa Pecot-Hébert, who is the director of Annenberg’s graduate journalism program.
This year, the leaders said they plan to hold meetings once a month over Zoom, in which they will open the floor to discussions on current topics in the media, feature guest speakers and events, or hold panel discussions. They also said they plan to increase their social media presence by promoting NABJ members' work and potentially inviting professionals to do Q&As on Instagram live.
“I think that NABJ will really help the Black community that’s in Annenberg by promoting their work and, you know, showcasing their voices, especially when we come so very few and far between, being such a small community,” Duncan said.
This year, NABJ USC also plans to hold an event in collaboration with the USC National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the USC Asian American Journalists Association, Pecot-Hébert said, adding that these cultural journalism associations have put on combined events in the past.
“We combined and had all of the professors of color come, or those that were able to come, and introduce themselves, because oftentimes you may not have that professor in class, or you may not know that they exist at Annenberg,” Pecot-Hébert said in the meeting. “So I think it’s just important to also sometimes have those connections and those conversations.”
Establishing connections between undergraduate and graduate journalists and professionals in the field--whether they be faculty at Annenberg or media professionals outside of the school--fits into NABJ USC’s mission of advocating on behalf of Black journalists in the Southern California area and providing professional development. NABJ is a national organization, with a chapter at USC that was started by three students in 2012. Its emphasis is journalism, but Lee said that PR and Communication majors are welcome, too.
In recent months, there has been a reckoning among journalists who, in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the protest coverage that emerged, have faced the reality of how journalism has traditionally been told from a white lens.
“We all know that the white experience isn’t the true experience. So if we’re having just white journalists and everyone just reporting from their point of view, that’s not a reflection of what our society looks like,” Lee said, “So by having those voices actually present in the journalistic spectrum, it’s ... letting people know that this--just this one standard that we have--that’s not true.”
Beyond needing greater representation in order for journalists to accurately represent the experiences of society at large, Griffin Jr. said that institutional racism can pervade into journalism when people cover communities without the proper context. This, ultimately, is part of why Griffin Jr. said that NABJ members' voices need to be highlighted.
“Black journalists have a level of context about Black communities that other people simply cannot have, right? It’s a lived experience that’s accumulated over years upon years upon years, and as well meaning as some people can be, there’s no way to have the level of context that I or Pilar or Marlize, or any of our NABJ members could have when it comes to addressing issues in the black community,” Griffin Jr. said. “We have the context that this country would need in order to properly approach some of the issues that afflict the Black community. We can tell those stories better than anyone.”