Conference recap: challenging my own assumptions

With the muggy and humid air and the spicy Southern creole dining, New Orleans is a city full of life. This year, New Orleans, Louisiana, hosted the Excellence in Journalism National Conference September 18-20. I, along with four fellow executive board members, had the opportunity to attend thanks to funding and support from our school. Our time at the conference could not have been more enjoyable. We not only attended workshops addressing various topics, but also explored the downtown New Orleans area and met with top-notch industry professionals. With that, I realized there is much more to take away from a conference than simply networking.

One goal I had in mind when attending this conference was to expand my knowledge on what it means to be a media professional. In the past, my conference attendance has involved sitting in on similar workshops that address, more or less, the same issues. This time, I tried to branch out and explore a variety of panels with the goal of hoping to learn about all sides of the communications industry. I wanted to seek different experts who could share with me the process of improving social media usage, reporting with accuracy and researching information. Hence, I listened to presenters that spoke about a range of topics and issues, including “Covering Domestic Violence Against Native Women”; “Race, Religion and Politics: Avoiding Stereotypes and Leading Community Conversation”; “Immigration: Reporting Across Ethnic Divides”; “From Data to Impact: Finding and Using Health Disparities Data”; “New Orleans News and the Role of the Press in the Digital Age”; “Collaboration Tops Branding in Nonprofit Journalism.” I enjoyed these panels because they discussed topics relevant to today’s society and brought to my attention the issues we are still working to address.

There were two sessions that stood out to me throughout my time at the conference. First, I was impressed at the number of people who attended the “Race, Religion and Politics: Avoiding Stereotypes and Leading Community Conversation” panel. I attended the panel because I felt that it fit in with all that I am currently studying in one of my journalism courses this semester, “Media Literacy: Race, Gender and Ethnicity.” The session highlighted topics that are still prevalent in society today: race and stereotypes that misrepresent a story and/or narrative. I thought it was impactful to hear about how to craft the story accurately and depict characters and sources in the right light. In my opinion, this was an important session to attend because it helps to understand how to make ethical and accurate journalistic decisions when crafting a message or story. After learning the ways in which the media distorts information, I learned how I can improve as a journalist and storyteller by understanding the impact of the decisions that ultimately misrepresent a story or narrative.

The second workshop that was meaningful to attend was the “Collaboration Tops Branding in Nonprofit Journalism.” Compared to the other panels and workshops, I consider this one on nonprofit journalism to be my favorite. The panel consisted of representatives from Native Health News Alliance, a nonprofit news and service site that serves Native American populations and media. Prior to the EIJ conference, I had never attended a workshop where we discussed media for Native Americans, so in my opinion, it was unique to learn about the Native American culture, population and misperceptions. As a writer, I believe it is important to understand other cultures and ethnicities simply because it contributes to how well a story is told. This panel opened my eyes to sharing stories about some of the most underrepresented groups in the media. There are definitely stories to be told…they just need to found and written without any presumptions. Collaboration, whether it is with another organization or with another writer, challenges your assumptions and biases and creates a diverse network of alliances to authenticity to your writing. As a storyteller, passion and harmony thrive in collaborative environments.

These workshops, along with the ones I mentioned earlier, presented a diverse array of issues that contribute to my understanding of how to become a media professional who is aware of her biases and the misrepresentations in the media. The EIJ conference, for sure, definitely put the hat on a wonderful year as president of the Ithaca College chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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