By Letrell Crittenden
An innovative idea backed by a $100,000 grant has given four NABJ members a chance to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams to create a business.
As part of an educational effort known as New U — the members have received boot-camp-style training in business development during this week’s NABJ Career Fair and Convention in San Diego.
Later this week, the 30-second sales pitches of New U participants will be placed on the NABJ website. NABJ members who view the pitches will have a chance to select the best pitch and which individual deserves a $5,000 prize — money intended to seed their businesses.
The effort, funded by a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation and with the support the four organizations of UNITY — National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), was devised to give journalists of color an opportunity to break into online journalism, an area woefully devoid of African-Americans. is aimed at boosting business skills among journalists of color. [Editor's note: Clarification published on 8/2/10]
“This professional development opportunity will teach journalists the business side of the industry to help journalists of color not only survive but thrive in a changing economy,” said NABJ member Doug Mitchell, formerly of NPR, who was one of the key figures in the development of New U.
“One of the best and most effective ways for journalists to evolve in the 21st century is to own their work product,” said Unity President and past NABJ President Barbara Ciara in a press release about the program.
Mitchell, the past director of NABJ’s Student Multimedia Project, met a representative of the Ford Foundation at the Unity ‘08 conference in Chicago, and ran into him again at the 2009 NABJ Convention and Career Fair in Tampa. The two kept in touch, and later realized they shared the same concerns over the lack of diversity within online journalism. “We felt we needed to do something about it. That’s what New U is. Doing something about it,” Mitchell said.
As a means of addressing this void, Mitchell and other collaborators launched a plan to train selected journalists on the intricacies of business development at the UNITY member conferences this summer. NABJ represents the third site for the New U training, where mentors assist participants in the development of their business plans. The participants are Ciara Calbert, Cassie Chew, Yanick Rice Lamb and Jountel White. They are being mentored by Doug Jackson, co-founder of the Shared Vision marketing collective, Shaun Williams, editor and president of the South Dallas News; online journalist Mike Green and photojournalist Gina Gayle.
The New U participants have similar goals, Mitchell said. Each seeks to fill a news void within their respective communities. In this sense, the participants of the New U boot camps are following a tradition associated with the ethnic advocacy press.
Editorial director and associate publisher of Heart & Soul Magazine, Lamb entered the competition to help develop her website idea. Because she found stories on black immigrant issues lacking in the mainstream press, Lamb intends to develop a site called Fullyconnected.com to deal with that void. In addition to writing stories, Lamb’s site would also help connect blacks of different cultural backgrounds via social networking. She said the workshop — which includes harsh criticism from mentors — has helped her organize her business plan and, hopefully, develop the winning pitch.
“We could really use that $5,000,” Lamb said. “But hopefully this will open the door for some other things too. Because we will need a lot more than $5,000.”
“The types of people we are finding are deep in community engagement. They live in a particular place, and for years have seen that (their communities) stories are not being told in the mainstream media. Services are not being met. They want to be the person that provides this service in their communities,” Mitchell said.
Good intentions, however, have little chance of success without money. For this reason, each boot camp focuses on building a business plan and raising money — not the technical aspects of producing quality journalism.
“This is not a ‘here-is-how-you-hold-a-microphone’(training).’ They know all of that. What they don’t know is ‘how do I walk up to someone and convince them I am interesting in 30 seconds,’” said Mitchell. “What are the financials of my business? What is my business plan? All of these are key questions you have to answer efficiently to keep someone interested in what you are doing.”
New U’s next workshop will be held at the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) conference in Los Angeles, Aug. 4-7, rounding out sessions held at the UNITY member organization’s conventions which include NABJ, AAJA, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the Native American Journalists Association.