Medill students, profs create ‘Living History’ of Black journalists

Ava Wallace

The history of the National Association of Black Journalists is now at the fingertips of Medill students, alumni and others interested in learning about pioneers of the black journalistic community.

The student-created multimedia project “NABJ: A Living History” went live on Medill’s official website this month. Alumni Garin Flowers (MSJ ‘11) and Nia Arnold (BSJ ‘11), along with Medill senior Dallas Wright and Medill sophomore Jessica Gaddis attended the 2011 NABJ Annual Convention and Career Fair from Aug. 3-7 in Philadelphia this past summer with two Medill professors.

At the convention, the students conducted and compiled interviews with about 20 influential black journalists to be featured in the interactive video presentation.

The students worked under the supervision of Medill Profs. Ava Thompson Greenwell and Charles Whitaker, a Student Publishing Company board chairman, who also serves as the faculty advisor for Northwestern’s NABJ student chapter.

According to its website, the NABJ works to advocate and provide services for black journalists worldwide. Whitaker described the association as a link between journalists.

“The NABJ is a vehicle for these younger journalists of color to connect with other journalists,” he said.

The final project includes 17 entirely student-conducted interviews with different NABJ members, Greenwell said. The members include Emmy-winning broadcast journalists, founders of the NABJ and other important figures in the African American journalism community.

Greenwell said she originally developed a primitive concept of the project with the NABJ’s 2011 Convention Program Chair, Dr. Sybril Bennett, last fall. Her purpose in creating “A Living History” was to record the thoughts of influential African American journalists from a historical point of view, she said.

“History is often seen as something that is boring, and the goal here was to make history come alive,” Greenwell said. “I wanted to have these journalists say what they want to say, how they want to say it.”

Greenwell also emphasized the importance of the timing of the project. She explained that many of the journalists interviewed in the project are nearing retirement or already retired.

“We need to hear their stories while they can still tell them,” she said.

Throughout their interviews, the students asked the members similar questions in order to draw attention to themes of race relations and the NABJ’s role in the industry, Greenwell said. The broadcast professor worked with Whitaker and the students to devise a set of questions.

“We sat down and discussed what themes we thought were important to hit,” Whitaker said.

The primary purpose of the project was to compile a historical database of sorts, but both professors also stressed the importance of the students gaining a learning experience, Greenwell said.

Wright said working on the project demonstrated the NABJ’s role as a journalistic resource.

“The organization as a whole is definitely a support system to provide you with opportunities and people,” he said. “That support is important as a black person in general but especially as a black journalist.”

From conducting the interviews, Flowers said he learned more about race relations and diversity in the industry.

“I learned to remember that even though our country has come such a long way in civil rights and race relations, we’re not done yet,” he said. “We need more coverage of all minority communities and we need more balance in the newsroom.”

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