By Meta J. Mereday, writer/editor and diversity, media and community development expert
I used to enjoy attending conventions, especially the National Association of Black Journalists Convention & Career Fair because it really was a family reunion of journalists, freelancers, media professionals, journalism educators, media entrepreneurs, marketing and public relations professionals, students, community advocates and celebrities who all came together to get to know each other, talk about what happened during the year and learn more about the industry and how we can help each other.
I walked great distances between sessions and events at the recent convention in Philadelphia and watched the young professionals and the seasoned members all wearing their name badges and heading here and there — but wait, what was I missing? The eye contact and general association with a smile that we were all a part of the same group, the same struggle was missing for me.
The digital age of smartphones and tweeting are fast replacing the art of human contact and live one to one. I am all for technology, but let us not forget our precious human resource that is NABJ’s hallmark. There were iconic journalists, media legends, inspired media-preneurs and living historians within our midst, but many of the members – both young and old – were so busy clicking away with the growing “crick” in their necks, that they missed out.
In some instances, I walked up to some members and drew their attention away from their tweeting marathon just to say hello and find out about them. I was intrigued when I talked to first timers who shared that they often feel intimidated walking up to members, especially if they see them with lots of ribbons on their name badge or with a group of people.
I remarked that many of the seasoned professionals love to speak with the emerging journalists, but often feel that they are standoffish. I always find it amusing that unless you have on a suit and coiffed hair, you are not considered much of a resource or someone worth talking to unless you get introduced. In either case, holding a bag in one hand and with your head down looking at the screen from the phone in your other hand, does not make for great human connections.
It is as if the digital age is increasing speed and access to information, but decreasing courtesies and the all important small talk that provides the best leads and long term friendships. So many of us come to the convention with the notion to “see more folks who look like us” so that we can be motivated when they go back to the shops where we are flying solo and fully engaged in state of the art technology to stay relevant and employed.
But I always felt that NABJ was the oasis to just be and to “relax, relate, release.” Yes, it is a working convention for training and jobs. It is also a recharge spot to see old friends and to make new ones. We don’t have to be uptight and high wired all the time.
Unfortunately, the digital age does not seem to make it better for us when we do come together, because we are too busy tweeting to someone else who is not there and missing out on connecting with those who are. And each year, we lose more members. Although I have lost many friends and colleagues that I was fortunate enough to meet at NABJ conventions, I still enjoyed just being around for the most part to laugh, to hug, to cry, to reminisce and, on occasion, to share a little wisdom with someone and gain a little from someone else. I am still resistant to the “tweeting” and “liking” fad that has swept our industry because I still like to write, to call and to just “reach out and touch.” That is just me.