Text from Shawn Williams Keynote Address to Society of Professional Journalist Conference

Society of Professional Journalists – Region 8 Luncheon
March 23, 2012, Hilton Hotel Downtown Ft. Worth
Shawn P. Williams

I would like to thank the Society of Professional Journalists for the opportunity to speak with you today.  It was my intention to discuss with you some of my thoughts on the state of journalism, as I did when I shared with the local group last year.

As a member of the Advisory Board at the Poynter Institute I’ve had the opportunity to see so much of what’s working and not working in news.

To look at various models that individuals and companies are using to try to generate revenue in these times of struggle and tumult.  I wanted to encourage our young journalists to understand that though they are looking towards a media/news industry whose business model is under duress, the content they produce is becoming more and more valuable everyday.

I wanted to share with you how Google Panda, a change to Google’s search algorithm, is rewarding quality journalism and penalizing sites with poor quality content. I was gonna tell a few jokes.  And I also planned to give subtle hints about how my book Blogging While Black is available on Amazon.com.

Believe me it would have been a great talk. And since I’m working my way up the ranks, maybe the national organization will invite me to share my thoughts on these topics at the national meeting in Ft. Lauderdale.

But I would be remiss if I did not spend the few minutes you’ve been gracious enough to give me today to share a few thoughts on the situation with Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old African-American male who was shot down after a trip to the convenience store.

You know when I started DallasSouthBlog.com in 2006, I thought maybe I would be able to help portray positive images of African-Americans to combat the negative images we often saw (and still see for that matter) on television.

My hope was that we might reach a point where we was a community in Dallas and we as a nation would not automatically judge a young black man by the fact that he’s wearing a hoodie.

I must respectfully disagree with a journalist who I once greatly respected.  Geraldo Rivera said on Friday he would “bet money” that Trayvon Martin wouldn’t have been fatally shot if he had not been wearing a hoodie.  Geraldo went on to say that When you see a black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid the confrontation, Geraldo says.

Back in 2006, there were very few outlets where African-Americans could go to express their outrage at comments like Geraldo’s or injustices like what we’ve seen over the last few weeks with Trayvon Martin, where a neighborhood patrolman cold pull the trigger on kid walking down the street and hide behind a Stand Your Ground Law.

Let me take a second to say from what I heard on the 911 tapes and it sounded like Mr. Zimmerman was not standing his ground, he was staking his ground.  The plight of Trayvon’s parents have been greatly helped by social media.

It serves as a reminder that African-Americans were the first to use the internet and social media as an effective tool for social change.

The reason why I wrote my book Blogging While Black was because I wanted to make sure the history of the Black Blogging Movement was not forgotten.  Before the Tea Party, Before the Arab Spring, before Occupy Wall Street, African-Americans used the internet to express generations of frustration with the media.

The case of a 14 year old black female in Paris, Texas became the tipping point.  When Shaquanda Cotton was reported to have received a 7 year sentence for pushing down a hall monitor at her high school, the story spread across the internet like wildfire. To be fair, the actual sentence was one to seven years, but it was the possibility of serving 7 years for the incident that got everyone’s attention.

Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune brought the story to national prominence in a March 12 2007 article.  I’d actually heard about the story prior to Witt’s article from a cousin who referred me to the African American News and Issues newspaper.  But it was Witt’s article that brought the incident to national prominence.

The reason I feel the need to revisit March 2007 is because I think it’s easy to forget just how much technology has changed the way we interact, how we report, and how we advocate for the things we believe in.  Shaquanda Cotton’s plight was an aha moment, not just for black bloggers, but for African-Americans in general.  Many of us realized that there were others our there who had the same feeling of frustration with how things were going.

The problems relating to race faced in Dallas, were similar to those in Philadelphia and Los Angeles and in Cinncinnati.  African-Americans across the country used the internet to express their frustration by blogging and commenting and emailing about the events in my hometown.

The Cotton case became a focal point, drawing a line in the sand saying something’s gotta change.  And while the justice system was the main focus, the media came under scrutiny as well.

Why was it the Chicago Tribune that brought this story to national prominence?  Why not the Dallas Morning News?  In the weeks following his initial article, Witt was the first to write about the Black Blogosphere as a collective, chronicling the way African Americans were pushing the story and putting pressure on the juvenile justice system.

As Witt gave updates he actually started reaching out to Black Bloggers to help get  his stories a broader audience.  The night before his articles hit the front page of the Chicago Tribune, Witt had already emailed a link to the story out to bloggers who were discussing and commenting on them before print readers sat down at the table with their morning cup of Joe.

It doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary today for a newspaper man or woman to use bloggers as a source. To use bloggers as a mean to help promote their stories.  But in 2007 this was far outside of mainstream behavior.

Witt used the same formula after writing an article about the Jena 6 in May of 2008.  Black bloggers began to weigh in on the plight of 6 young men who had be jailed after a school fight fueled by racial unrest in the small town.  One of the young men was charged with second degree attempted murder.

For weeks and months the story was kept alive by Black Bloggers and after a day of Blogging for Justice in late August the mainstream media began to take note.  News organizations asked themselves again, why was The Chicago Tribune the only major paper outside of Louisiana to tell this story. The Guardian was reporting about Jena before many newspapers stateside.

After the election of President Obama in 2008, the Black Blogosphere saw a steep decline.  It was as if everyone believed the myth that electing a Black President had solved America’s race problems.

And while it was more difficult to get issues of race heard after the election of President Obama, the real difficulty for bloggers came with the new tools of social media.  When we were writing about Paris, Texas, Facebook was still most popular on college campuses.  And Twitter was celebrating it’s first birthday.

Once Facebook and Twitter became everyday tools for everyday people, Black Blogging lost it’s luster.

Conversations that once took place solely on blogs like Electronic Village and Field Negro and Black and Missing but Not Forgotten were now being held on millions of Facebook walls across the world.

It wasn’t long before many of these sites that had played such a vital role in over the previous two years began to fade into the background.  We didn’t Adapt to the new technologies, at least as tools for activism.

But over the last few weeks, we’ve seen a renewal of the spirit from the Black Blogger Movement.  As Facebook and Twitter and You Tube spread the story of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, shot down in cold blood holding only a bag of skittles and a can of ice tea.

While I have yet to write about the story, I’ve shared updates on my Facebook wall, posted a photo of LeBron James and the Miami Heat wearing hoodies on my Tumblr, and got in a Twitter war of words on the topic with another local writer.

We’ve seen million hoodie marches in New York and Philadelphia.  Yesterday Paul Quinn College honored the slain young man with Trayvon Martin Day.  And on Monday UT Arlington students will host a Justice for Trayvon Martin Hoodie March.

It was almost a year from the time that Shaquanda Cotton was sentenced until Howard Witt wrote his article that stirred the Black Web Roots.  It was nine months between the fight in Jena and the Jena March.  It’s been less than a month since Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch patrolman who was told to quit following him by a 911 dispatcher.

I think the media landscape is better than it was 6 years ago.  There are still negative portrayals of African-Americans to be sure.  And missing black women still don’t get the airtime as women of other ethnicities.

But as much as anything else, I believe the mainstream media has come to realize some of their problems.  The institutional biases that still exist from the days of segregation and Jim Crow. The inherent biases that we all bring to stories we write and editorialize about.  And the lack of diversity in newsrooms that has only gotten worse with the recent media turmoil and upheaval.  Though the effort to fix the problems are slow, I think acknowledging the issues are a major step.

Let me say that we still see journalists and reports making the same types of judgements as the trigger happy patrolman.

Maybe it’s not a hoodie that leads to a rush to judgement, but maybe it’s the preacher in a 5 button suit.  Maybe it’s a council person who splits his or her verbs.  Maybe it’s the community leader with a think accent.

While pen to paper or fingers to keyboard may not inflict a fatal wound, character assassinations have real consequences that too few reporters acknowledge these days.  Like it or not, our biases and judgements affect our reporting, and too often people of color are disproportionately affected.  This can be evidenced by the reporter who flippantly calls a Black Police chief a nasty, vile name or by the perpetuation of the Angry Black Woman meme against the first lady.

Yesterday my son and daughter and I were at McDonald’s.  We ordered pancakes and I sent Isaiah to the counter to get a couple of packets of butter.  I noticed he was wearing a hoodie, with the hood pulled up on his head.  I saw a 10 year old boy who loves to have fun, play with his sister, a gifted student who I wish would study just a little bit harder in school.   Trayvon’s been described as being a fun loving kid who loved sports, Avatar The Last Airbender, and still liked to go to Chuck E. Cheeses.  Those same things could be said about my son, a probably the same for many of you in the room who have kids.

As I looked at my son in McDonalds, I realized someone could see him with his hoodie on and let their preconceived notions and bias influence how they treat him.  I thought about how devastated Trayvon’s parents must be, as they ask only that the man who shot and killed their son be arrested and let the justice system decide his fate.

If any of you are ever asked to write a story about my son, about his greatest successes or the inevitable failures that we all must experience in life.  All I ask is that you be fair. Acknowledge the biases that you bring to the story.  Acknowledge the opposing views that may be held by people who do not look like you, who may have had different experiences, whose opinions you may not understand. I ask that you don’t spin the story to sell more paper or entice more clicks.

That you don’t see him as an opportunity for gotcha journalism, passed off as investigative reporting.  Though the business of journalism is hurting, the need for the true principles represented by the profession have never been more valuable.  And the individuals who choose to use the news to make a difference are also more valuable than ever.

Whether it’s for a newspaper, or a website or even a public relations agency, all I ask, is that you be true to yourself, and true to those who need you most.  Someone like my son Isaiah or like soemone like Trayvon Martin.  Thank you so much for the opportunity, and thank you for listening.

Gladys Knight — The Secret White House Project

Story Courtesy TMZ.com

Gladys Knight is pulling double duty … ’cause in between training sessions for “Dancing with the Stars,” TMZ has learned Knight is also working on a top secret scripted TV show.

Sources close to production tell us … Knight has been cast to star in a show called “The First Family” … about a fictional President of the United States who’s juggling work with his family life. We’re told Gladys is playing the President’s mother.

Sources connected to Gladys tell TMZ … the Motown legend is working extremely hard to handle both gigs … and producers on both shows are being very flexible to accommodate the star.

We’re told the sitcom is already garnering interest from a major network … which has made it clear they want to rush production to capitalize on Knight’s “Dancing” momentum.

We spoke with Byron Allen — the Executive Producer of “First Family” – who tells us, “Gladys is truly an American treasure and we’re excited to work with her.”

Remembering the Legacy of Civil Rights Pioneer Bayard Rustin

By Wade Henderson and Joe Solmonese

One hundred years ago this past Saturday, an unsung hero of the civil rights movement was born. Bayard Rustin’s contributions to the world far outweighed his credits – and his 100th birthday is an opportunity to appreciate how his lifelong fights for equality live on today.

Rustin was the key strategist in every campaign waged by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and a passionate advocate for pacifism, workers’ rights, and freedom for marginalized peoples around the world. There is not one American movement for social change that his leadership did not touch.

Wade Henderson

Rights to vote, to join a union, or to marry the person one loves are today at the forefront of the struggle to build an America that reflects its ideals.  And Rustin was reliably positioned at the vanguard of these battles from the 1930s until his passing in 1987. So it’s only appropriate that we take this opportunity to pause and reflect on where our movements have traveled over 100 years and to look ahead to our future.

Today we work to stop the rollback of voting rights happening across the country – rights Rustin helped to secure through indefatigable organizing in the civil rights movement and his mentorship of Dr. King.

Today we work to end discrimination and advance marriage equality for gays and lesbians – and we do so in Rustin’s footsteps as one of the first openly gay activists.

Today we advance global and domestic human rights alongside civil rights – because Rustin broadened the conversation to speak out against South Africa apartheid, anti-Semitic Soviet power, and British colonial power in India.

Rustin saw social change in a plan broader than political organizing. He was active in the Quaker church and in the arts.  He was a prolific doodler, a vocalist, a writer, and an accomplished chef.  Rustin would exhort activists to speak up from all corners, saying “we need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”  His inclusive, coalition-centric approach is so effective because it wasn’t just about work – it was about finding joy in activism and ensuring that every community can reap the benefits of equality’s march forward.

Joe Solmonese

Rustin’s philosophy personifies the shared goals we all have in our work, whether we’re fighting for LGBT rights, working to protect our country’s laborers, or advocating for the civil and human rights of society’s most vulnerable populations.

We saw this brand of coalition building just this year in Maryland, where people of faith, African American communities, LGBT advocates, and fair-minded supporters of basic human and civil rights came together to achieve a historic victory for marriage equality in the Free State. It sent a clear message that social justice wasn’t a gay issue, or a black issue, or a woman’s issue: rather, we can and must continue to work together to ensure that all members of our society achieve the rights, dignity, and respect they deserve.

As we celebrate Bayard Rustin’s 100th birthday, we must do more than just look back on his life and his contributions. We must draw inspiration from his brand of inclusive social activism as we gear up for future fights, from protecting women’s health to advancing LGBT equality. We still have much to accomplish, but Bayard Rustin has left our united movement a strong foundation on which to continue building.

Wade Henderson is the president and CEO of CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States.

Joe Solmonese is president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.


Monique Woodard: Creator of Speak Chic App

I could probably blog for weeks (since I’m only going once or twice a week now, maybe years) about all the great peeps I met at South By Southwest.  But I want to give the first shout out to Monique Woodard, Co-Founder of Black Founders and creator of the mobile app Speak Chic.

According to the Black Founders website, the principals wanted to “…create an organization that would empower entrepreneurs and provide founders with access to advice, mentorship, and funding.”  Their mission is to increase the number of successful black entrepreneurs in technology.

Monique’s app Speak Chic app allows consumers of fashion brands to “quickly and discreetly search for the correct pronunciation, read the phonetic spelling, and listen to the audio.”

I’m gonna take a little time to go through my SXSW experience, which was literally the best experience I’ve had since the DNC Convention in 2008.  If I had known what I was doing it would have been event better.

The best part was meeting people like Monique, getting familiar with organizations like Black Founders, and learning about new apps like Speak Chic.  More to come….

Panels I’m Planning to Attend at SXSW Interactive

Keeping in the spirit of not waiting until the last minute, I’m looking to fill out my schedule for South By Southwest Interactive before I get there next week.

My original intent was to drive down Saturday, but it looks like there are a couple of panels on Friday that I don’t want to miss.

This probably isn’t final, but here’s who I’m planning to check out so far.

Friday March 9th

CNN’s Black in America / Silicon Valley: Aftermath (2:00 PM)

Hajj Flemings CEO/Co-Founder Gokit, Hank Williams CEO Kloudco, Jason Samuels Professor of Journalism, NYU/Lead Producer CNN, Soledad O’Brien, Anchor & Special Correspondent CNN, Wayne SuttonPartner, Entrepreneur New Me Accelerator

Social Media Sharecropping: Black Tech Adoption (3:30 PM)

Gina McCauley, Blogging While Brown

Saturday March 10th

Pay-It-Forward: Building Successful Startups (12:30 PM)

Hadiyah Mujhid Education Programs & OutreachBlack Founders Startup Venture, Nnena UkukuFounderBlack Founders Startup Venture

Sunday March 11th

Storytelling Beyond Words: New Forms of Journalism (9:30 AM)

Bill Adair – St. Petersburg Times, Aron Pilhofer – The New York Times (nytimes.com), Jim Brady – Journal Register, Stephen Buckley – The Poynter Institute

A Conversation with Seth MacFarlane (11:00 AM)

Fulbright: How the 1st Social Network Adapts to SM (3:30 PM)

Vijay Renganathan – Institute of International Education, Doug Mitchell – UNITY: Journalists of Color, Katie Day Good – Northwestern University, Megan Neff - Fulbright Program

Monday March 12th

The Hyperlocal Hoax: Where’s the Holy Grail? (9:30 AM)

I’m presenting on this panel with Mike Orren – Just Be Amazing, Mark Briggs – KING BROADCASTING, Cory Bergman – MSNBC / Lost Remote / Next Door Media and Lisa Williams – Placeblogger

Race: Know When to Hold It and When to Fold It (5 PM)

Adria Richards – ButYoureAGirl, Anjuan Simmons – Infosys, Corvida Raven – TED, Erica Mauter – swirlspice.com, Scott Hanselman – Microsoft

 

Let’s get caught up

With my sister Yulanda McCarty Harris, Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity at Youngstown State University

First off I’m thankful to be back on the blog.  It’s been a busy year so far but you really can’t tell that here.  So that will get better….promise.

Last week I was blessed to be a guest lecturer at Youngstown State University during their Black History Month calendar of events.

I also was keynote speaker at the Paris NAACP Heritage Banquet and a panelist for the White House Project Go Run Dallas event.

In Wednesday’s Dallas Morning News I write about the News Trinity River Bridge and how it will only live up to expectations when the river that runs through it fulfills its promise. If you’d like to read the first couple of paragraphs of this subscriber protected article be my guest.

This past weekend I spoke to the Entrepreneurial Journalism and Future of News Symposium held by SMU Division of Journalism and Dallas Press Club.  I had the chance to share the podium with Dallas South News new suitemate Mark Lowry from TheaterJones.com.

So I’m going to work on getting this info up before the fact, so now’s the time to say that I’ll be on a panel at South by Southwest on Monday March 12th titled The Hyperlocal Hoax: Where’s The Holy Grail.  Stop by if you’re in town.

Just finished Clay Johnson’s book Information Diet last night.  I also started listening to Johnson’s interview with KERA’s Krys Boyd today too.  Most of what they talked about is in the book, but if you haven’t read it, Krys does a good job getting an overview.  It’s really changing (process) the way I’m interacting with information in the couple of weeks since I started.

Of course don’t forget about my book Blogging While Black.  Find out what all the buzz is about and get your copy today!  It’s available at Amazon.com in paperback in for the Kindle.

TMZ: Whitney Houston — Not a Lot of Pills at Death Scene

Story courtesy TMZ.com

Law enforcement sources tell TMZ … multiple prescription drug bottles were found in the Beverly Hills hotel room where Whitney Houston died … but we’re told there were NOT a lot of pills at the scene.

Among the prescriptions … ibuprofen (painkiller), Xanax (anti-depressant), Midol (for menstrual cramps), amoxicillin (for treating bacterial infections) … and more.

We’re told the amoxicillin was prescribed recently because Whitney had been suffering from a sore throat.

We’re told some of the prescriptions were old … some issued in 2011 … but some of the bottles were from 2012.  We’re told the pill bottles that were recovered at the scene did not contain a lot of pills.

Sources tell us … some of the prescriptions were filled at the infamous Mickey Fine pharmacy in Beverly Hills … where Michael Jackson had numerous prescriptions filled for Demerol and other drugs.

Law enforcement sources tell us … it’s possible Whitney suffered a heart attack caused by an adverse reaction to her medication, but it is simply too early to make an official call on the cause of death.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check http://www.tmz.com/videos for syndicated/local listings at the bottom of the page)

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus Statement on the January Unemployment Report

Editors Note: Surprise, Surprise

The Wire

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus released the following statement on the January unemployment report:
“While today’s jobs report brings welcome news of lower unemployment, far too many Americans are still without work. Our economy remains unacceptably weak, and families across the country are still struggling to make ends meet,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

“Three years ago yesterday, President Obama said that if he didn’t have the economy fixed ‘in three years,’ his presidency would ‘be a one-term proposition.’ Today’s unemployment numbers remind us that our economy is far from fixed. That, by the president’s own standard, should make him a one-term president.

“After three years in office, Barack Obama has failed to produce the economic recovery he promised. His endless pursuit of regulations, mandates, taxes and deficits made economic recovery significantly more difficult.

“Our country desperately needs a change in direction. We need a president who will fight for hard-working taxpayers, not just campaign donors and his own job. As the campaigner-in-chief travels around the country, he’s making countless promises for a second term. Today’s jobs report reminds us that he could not even keep the promises from his first term.”

National Action Network Executive Director Joins 2012 Blogging While Brown Speaker Lineup

The Wire

Blogging While Brown is proud to announce that Tamika D. Mallory, Executive Director of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) will be a panelist at the 2012 Blogging While Conference that will take place June 1-2 in Philadelphia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

“We are thrilled that Ms. Mallory will be participating in our political activism panel in a very important discussion amongst those who use social platforms and their influence to be catalysts of change within their communities. The panel will be a dialogue between traditional civil organizations and younger activists during a presidential election year. Mallory has continuously demonstrated that our individual voices can be powerful when joined together and social media makes such a collective effort an effective means to peacefully organize political and social action,” states Blogging While Brown founder Gina McCauley.

Mallory has been a member of the NAN since age 20 and was recently named as one ofEbony Magazine’s 30 most influential national leaders under 30 and she was publicly applauded as “a leader of tomorrow” by Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, Valerie B. Jarrett. She is currently being heralded as one of the youngest champions of the civil rights movement. Since a child, Mallory has participated in rallies, marches, vigils and protest with her parents who were founding members of NAN.

As Executive Director Mallory has spearheaded NAN’s anti-violence initiative and lead the organization to many significant achievements. Those achievements include shaping the organizations commitment to equal standards for women and African Americans in the music industry and the elimination of misogynistic and racist language in music. Mallory was single-handedly responsible for mobilizing thousands of protestors across the country for the National Day of Outrage.

By participating in Blogging While Brown Mallory seeks to engage new leaders in the African American community. By marrying the traditional civil rights organization with today’s powerful social networking tools Mallory seeks to address the emerging issues facing today’s African American community such as healthcare, education and employment, to make a difference in the lives of young African Americans.

For more information about Tamika Mallory and NAN please visitNationalActionNetwork.net.