In commemoration of Father’s Day this month, the theme of the latest AABJ general body meeting was “Black Male Leaders: Men Navigating the Media World,” where a panel of notable black men in media spoke to members about issues and advice for succeeding in the media industry.
The meeting was held on Tues. June 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the Georgia Power Auditorium. There was a high turnout to the meeting, with nearly every seat filled in the auditorium.
All segments of the media industry were covered with the diversity present in the panel.
The guest panelists for the evening included News Director for WGCL TV Eric Ludgood, News Director at WABE-FM Michael Fields, Southern Zone Public Relations Director for State Farm Roszell Gadson, and Vice President of Media Relations for the Atlanta Hawks Arthur Triche.
The discussion began with Craig Bell, Vice President of Broadcast for the AABJ, introduced the panel’s facilitator Ernie Suggs of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Suggs began with a general selection of questions followed by opening up the floor to questions from the audience.
Triche began by explaining how his volunteer work with the Atlanta Hawks eventually led to him being recognized and furthering his career.
“I volunteered to work those games just to get the NBA experience, not knowing that it would materialize into anything,” said Triche. “It’s all about contacts, relationships, and being in the right place at the right time.”
Suggs then asked the panelists how they got their start in the media industry and how they transitioned.
“I started coming out of college as a photographer and weekend reporter and I transitioned into producing, which went to television,” responded Gadson. “I realized that my strength was more management and show production than individual story production. As a reporter I could influence one story but as a producer I could influence the entire news cast.”
Gadson elaborated on his transition from the broadcast media industry to the corporate industry.
“I had the opportunity to do everything in the newsroom that I was interested in doing, and I reached a point where I made a personal and business decision to explore life in the corporate environment,” he added. He cited his involvement as a Press Secretary in a U.S congressional campaign as his turning point for shifting into the corporate world.
In response to Gadson’s shift between two industries, Suggs questioned Ludgood on his outlook concerning a “loss” of a strong man like Gadson in the television industry.
“The one thing about our industry right now is that it is dominated in terms of numbers by women. The reality is that our business as a whole does not pay very well so if you are the primary care giver to earn money then you are going to find a job that pays better,” said Ludgood. “As the primary bread winner it is difficult. That is why a lot of men are leaving our industry right now.”
Fields followed by sharing his background experiences that lead to his radio career with the audience.
“I started out wanting to be a novelist, but I realized that while I was doing that, I was going to need a job,” he began. “After I finished journalism school, I had an opportunity to be either the first black reporter at the Springfield Republican or to get to be Public Affairs Director at a management training program for [the] radio station WGBH in Boston. I decided to take the radio job. “
After sharing how he transitioned into radio, Fields went on to recount the struggles that he faced as one of few black men in media.
“One of the things that I then found was that I was either the only or the one of a small handful either of black people or black men. Folks wanted to see whether I would screw up, while some of them were actively working to see that I would screw up,” Fields added. “But I fooled them because either I haven’t screwed up or I’ve been able to cover my rear end.”
The struggle to gain respect in the media industry for black men resonated with Ludgood, who had a similar experience in which he was not able to cover a story based solely on his race.
However, Ludgood also noted that the industry is changing, saying, “the fact that there are numerous black news directors in television right now and making decisions throughout our business, it’s evident that it has changed somewhat. Does it need to change more? Absolutely. But it has changed.”
Suggs inquired about what skills should be taken from print and broadcast journalism and translated into other fields. Gadson volunteered a response first.
“One thing that I always suggest for people to do if they’re interested in diversifying their resume is that in order to get that hands on experience you may want to volunteer as a public relations person for your organization or your church or your non-profit, and that way you can get relevant experience that you can put on your resume. I think a lot of major corporations hold it against you if you have not worked in the public relations field.”
Gadson went on to note the importance of networking and focusing not only on speaking to large groups, but also on one-on-one interaction with the group’s members.
With volunteering seeming to be an important aspect of developing in and out of the journalism industry, Suggs asked the panel about the importance of volunteering in today’s economic climate, where most people are not able to work for free.
Triche acknowledged the difficulty with volunteering these days, and Field’s offered some practical advice for how to tackle the tough situation.
“I’m of two minds about volunteering. If you have a situation where you have a job and it gives you some free time then look around and see if there’s something that you can do that can lead you where you want to go. But I have to agree with you that if you have got to get paid then you have got to get paid,” Fields said.
Suggs closed by asking if there were any particular traits that were seen in young African-Americans that troubled them.
Ludgood responded by saying that “a lack of grasp of language” and “a sense of entitlement” were two traits that he disproved of in younger African-Americans.
He added that the skills that each person gets through various jobs has value, stating, “whatever the job is that you’re going for recognize that what you’ve done for three, five, seven, eight, ten years has value. Your challenge is how to get others to see that value.”
Published in the June/July 2011 Issue of the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists Byline