By: by Mark Fitzgerald
Entries from reporters’ logs at the Unity ’94 conference sp.
AMONG THE 6,000 journalists of color who met at Unity ’94 in Atlanta this year, there was diversity. But there was also diversion interspersed between discussion of the serious journalistic issues that ethnic and cultural diversity entails.
Here are some randomly selected sketches taken from the first-ever joint convention of African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American and Native American journalists:
At a National Association of Black Journalists seminar concerned with how close sportswriters should get to athletes, Carlos Rogers, the first-round draft pick for the San Francisco Warriors basketball team, justified his own wariness around journalists by citing the case of basketball star Derrick Coleman.
Coleman recently was falsely accused of rape in Detroit ? but not before local papers ran a virtually minute-by-minute account of his visit to a strip club.
Rogers said the chronology confirmed his belief that reporters will spy on an athlete’s private activities for the sake of a story.
But maybe that account came from a police report, Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon suggested.
“It had quotation marks,” countered Rogers, who attended the conference in a Warriors game uniform. “You can’t put quotation marks on something without somebody saying it, can you? You can’t just put quotation marks around something, and it’s just anonymous, right?”
“What do you mean? It’s done all the time,” Wilbon said.
“Yeah, you can,” free-lance writer Carolyn Bryant told Rogers softly.
“You can?” Rogers said in a low voice. “Scary.”
Where are the P.C. cops
when you need them?
Even at an event filled with journalists who were careful ? sometimes excruciatingly so ? not to be “culturally offensive,” some political incorrectness inevitably seeped in.
For instance, while Unity ’94 put itself on record against team mascots that use Native American names and symbols, at least one of the buses that shuttled journalists between hotels had a destination sign that showed two tomahawks bouncing back and forth ? a reference to the Atlanta Braves’ very un-P.C. “tomahawk chop” cheer.
“Smile,” the destination sign said.
Smile? One Unity board member, when told of the bus, just cringed.
Native Americans were also a little put out about a video shown at a symposium dedicated to exploring “Myths and Stereotypes.” The video about American culture began with Columbus’ arrival in 1492.
“That’s a glaring example of falling into the same trap that we accuse whites of falling into,” said ABC News senior correspondent Carole Simpson, an African-American.
It’s probably just churlish to note that among the many flags displayed at Unity’s moving opening ceremony, the one representing South Africa was the old banner that flew during apartheid and not the flag adopted after Nelson Mandela’s election.
But what could the Atlanta Press Club have been thinking when it included the Mardi Gras, a “nude sports bar,” in its Journalists’ Choice guidebook to Atlanta attractions?
“On warm Saturdays, you can play a grueling game of ‘topless volleyball’ with the highly accomodating ’employees.’ Nothing like a table dance with your Knicks game,” the guide says.
Kickin’ with Jesse
All those who find hip-hop music a bit bewildering can take solace in the fact that even a cultural icon like the Rev. Jesse Jackson has trouble keeping up.
At a symposium on media coverage of O.J. Simpson, Jackson argued that Time magazine ? which famously darkened the mug shot of Simpson for a cover ? seemed to put only controversial blacks on its recent covers.
“The last covers I’ve seen with blacks on them had [Nation of Islam leader Louis] Farrakhan, Snoopy Dog, [rapper Sister] Souljah . . . . ,” Jackson said, trailing off as laughter grew among the 1,500 in the audience.
“Isn’t that his name, Snoopy Dog? What? Oh, Snoop Doggy Dogg,” Jackson said, smiling and shrugging as he got the soft-core “gangsta” rapper’s name right at last.
Reverend Al says
The Rev. Al Sharpton on Time magazine’s sinisterly darkened cover photo of O.J. Simpson: “When you arrest John Gotti, you don’t make him whiter. So why would you make O.J. blacker?”
Sharpton on Sharpton: “If people really understood [late Congressman] Adam Clayton Powell, they would never think I’m flamboyant.”
Tears of a clown
If TV talk show host Geraldo Rivera figured his activist past and multicultural origins ? he’s Puerto Rican and Jewish ? would allow him to escape criticism of his tabloid style at a convention of minority journalists, he figured wrong.
Dallas-based free-lance writer Barbara Renaud-Gonzalez confronted Geraldo at a discussion he hosted, blaming his sensational style for being a major reason serious, in-depth investigative reporting is in decline.
“Aren’t you really a symbol of the lack of investigation and subtlety in journalism?” Renaud-Gonzalez asked.
Geraldo puffed himself up mightily in defense of his record, always ending his arguments with what he must have thought were sure-fire applause lines.
At one point, for instance, he intoned: “Don’t I, as a Puerto Rican man, have the right to report on the same topics as my colleagues?”
But that line got the same reaction as every other line he spoke: stone silence.
Finally, at the end of the session, Geraldo said plaintively, “It’s an unpopular position to be a moderate at a conference like this. You never get the applause.”
Geraldo on his legacy: “One of my proudest achievements is I have taught all of North America that the G is pronounced H in Spanish.”
Booming job market?
According to an article by Art Marroquin in the student publication Unity News, the only crime reported during Unity ’94 was the theft of an undisclosed number of r?sum?s from the booths of Syracuse Newspapers and Cox Enterprises at the job fair.
Sawing wood or feeling good?
It’s usually a bad sign when you walk into a conference meeting room and all the participants have their eyes closed and are breathing deeply.
But not only was it acceptable, it was encouraged during the Asian American Journalists Association session titled “Terrorists, Reincarnation, Freaks and Weird Mystics: Debunking Stereotypes About Asian Religions.”
Participants moved their chairs into a circle, took off their shoes and were led in nearly five minutes of meditation by Namphet Panichpant, a former Bangkok Post staffer, who then described the tenets of Buddhism.
The session began with a call to prayer by Salam Al Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who stood outside the room verbalizing his call into the hotel atrium.
Marayati was followed by Anchana Dongre, a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer for Hinduism Today, who began with a Hindu ceremony.
She offered to the god Gaganesha, the remover of all obstacles, a wreath of flowers; light, which is considered the purest of substances, and she burned incense called agarbathi sticks throughout the session.
You should have seen the faces on the people who came in for the next session.
As Beth Tuttle, director of communications and advertising for the Freedom Forum foundation, prepared for an early-morning session on race issues in crime reporting, she felt someone lurking over her shoulder.
To her surprise, she turned and saw her brother, David, who lives in Atlanta.
David, Beth said, works for a company called Special Projects Atlanta, which is run by her older brother, Guy. The company does sets and production work for events at the Georgia World Congress Center, where the convention was being held.
Beth, of course, knew all this, but had no idea her brother would be working on the Freedom Forum-sponsored event. Small world.
Acoustics in the exhibition hall where lunches were held were so bad that during former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young’s address, a number of people just gave up and left. Others just talked amongst themselves at the far tables.
But when President Clinton began addressing the crowd via satellite on Friday, there were huge projection screens and speakers aimed at the back of the room.
But this time, it wasn’t the people in the back who couldn’t hear him. The head table, at the front of the room, reportedly couldn’t hear a thing.
Life imitates art
An Asian American Journalists Association panel discussion on tabloid journalism fell short by a few members as participants went out to practice what they planned to preach: Namely, they were called away for coverage of an O.J. Simpson hearing in Los Angeles the next day.