Wednesday, September 18, 2019

NLGJA confab pushes diversity while Fox News sponsorship stirs controversy

by Joe Siegel

More than 400 journalists, news executives, communications professionals and educators attended NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists’ annual convention, which was held August 29 through September 1 in New Orleans.

"We were excited to see so many new faces at the convention this year, as well as many of our veteran attendees," said NLGJA Executive Director Adam K. Pawlus. "I hope everyone left feeling energized and prepared to carry on the mission of NLGJA. We're very excited to see everyone next year in Chicago."

The Washington Blade was the recipient of the NLGJA Legacy Award. "Thank you to NLGJA for this honor,” said Blade Editor Kevin Naff. “The Blade team works hard each day to hold this administration accountable, to cover hate crimes targeting our community and to shine a light on the plight of LGBTQ people around the world. We have helped write the first draft of LGBTQ history for 50 years and while much progress has been made, we look forward to the advances of the next 50 years."

The NLGJA Leadership Award was bestowed upon Reuters Deputy Managing Editor Arlyn Gajilan. Lucas Grindley and Robert Feiseler were the recipients of the Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for LGBTQ Journalist of the Year and NLGJA Journalist of the Year, respectively.

Convention speakers included financial guru Suze Orman, Senior Vice President for MSNBC & NBC News Yvette Miley, CBS Sunday Morning Executive Producer Rand Morrison, AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee, and Them Executive Editor Whembley Sewell.
NLGJA President Sharif Durhams

More than 30 breakout sessions and five plenary sessions were on the agenda this year. Also, more than 25 organizations and companies were exhibiting at the Career & Community Expo. Work that is produced by the students in the CONNECT: Student Journalism Training Project can be found at news.nlgjaconnect.org.

One of that project’s stories focused on how NLGJA is working to increase diversity in the media and its news coverage. “You have to have diverse people in your newsroom who are at all levels of the newsroom to advocate for these stories,” NLGJA President Sharif Durhams, the first African-American president in the organization’s history, told student reporter Andre Menchavez. 

The convention’s “How to Increase Diversity in Your Coverage” panel focused on encouraging attendees to seek and pitch stories about communities that are underrepresented in mainstream news. “There is so much diversity within our [LGBTQ] family,” said Simon Bouie, panelist and producer of the CBS Evening News, according to Menchavez’s reporting. Bouie believes “the news should look like the nation.”

A conversation between Correspondent Mo Rocca and CBS Sunday Morning Executive Producer Rand Morrison focused on the ways of keeping broadcast news appealing to audiences amid heavy competition from cable news outlets.

Other plenaries included “Fact Checking in a Trumpian World,” “Driving the Rainbow Wave: LGBTQ Women,” “Perfect Podcasting: Finding Your Voice,” “How I Survived as a Freelance Writer,” “Reporting on Bi+ Identities,” and “Stonewall 50.”

There was also a New Ways: Reporting HIV & AIDS Today workshop, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control’s Act Against AIDS program. NLGJA has a partnership with the CDC's Partnering & Communicating Together (PACT) for the program.

The convention featured two local performing arts groups, including The Original Pinettes Brass Band, New Orleans' only all-female brass band.

Corporate sponsors of this year’s convention included Coca-Cola, JetBlue, CNN, Fox News, CBS News, McClatchy, Scripps, Comcast NBC Universal, ESPN, the Facebook Journalism Project, MGM Resorts International, Prudential, Stoli, and Verizon Media.

But Fox’s continued sponsorship has become a bone of contention this year after the National Association of Hispanic Journalists recently returned more than $16,000 to Fox. That was in reaction to Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes’ remarks against Latino immigrants.

Critics of the sponsorship say that the network’s conservative editorial positions should disqualify it from being associated with NLGJA. “By promoting Fox News with sponsorship logos and ads, NLGJA is helping pinkwash the image of a far-right corporation,” said Dominic Holden, NLGJA’s 2016 Journalist of the Year and a vocal critic of Fox’s sponsorship, told CONNECT student journalist Jonathan Lee.

The topic of corporate sponsorships came up at the annual meeting of NLGJA’s board. “We discussed feedback that we’re hearing from members,” Durhams, the group’s president, told Lee, “and there wasn’t a change in policy.”

The 2020 convention will be held in Chicago, September 10-13. For more information, visit www.nlgja.org.

(Editor Fred Kuhr contributed to this report.)

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