The recent-graduate dilemma
Access to employer, colleagues offsets high costs of attending convention
As August approached, Valerie Juarez, a news assistant at ABC7 in Los Angeles, and her newsroom peers all asked the same question: Should they shell out the money to go to this year’s joint National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention?
For young professionals just out of college, the expenses are considerable. But also, many say, it’s an investment worth making.
“Things will add up,” said Juarez, a former NAHJ student representative. “A lot of us were saying that it would cost us about $800 to $1,000 for this trip.”
This year’s conference in Washington, D.C., is expected to draw some of the nation’s top journalists, media executives and public relations professionals.
For NABJ member and recent graduate Princess Streeter, the opportunities are endless.
“I’ve met some amazing friends who’ve become like family and are helping me to reach my career goals,” Streeter said.
Streeter is pursuing a career in sports journalism. Panel discussions like “Ask the Executives: How Sports Media is Changing” and ESPN Pro Camp’s “Elevate Your Game” session place Streeter in close proximity to notable names in the sports journalism world, such as Dave Morgan, president of USA Today Sports Media Group, and Kevin Lockland, vice president of SB Nation.
Streeter admits the high cost delayed her registration process. When she arrives at the conference this week, she’ll have to pay the higher on-site registration of $300 since she missed both the early bird rate of $225, and the preregistration period of $275.
As an undergraduate, Streeter received grant money from her university to attend past conventions. However, as a graduating senior, Streeter no longer qualified for the same financial benefit. A fact, she says, was revealed to her too late to meet the earlier registration deadlines.
She says the costs are a financial strain.
“I have no job, so it takes so much out of my pocket that I can’t get back,” she said.
Still, Streeter says past conferences have helped her expand her network. The UNC-Chapel Hill graduate credits past conventions to connecting her with top professionals in the business — one of the main attractions for this year’s conference.
For Juarez, who graduated last year, career fairs co-sponsored by NAHJ helped her land her current job. At the 2015 convention, she spoke with recruiters at the ABC7 booth. She ended up getting three callbacks before deciding to take a part-time position as a news assistant.
Juarez’s situation is not unique. Past NABJ and NAHJ convention attendees have boasted that they’ve met their boss at an event sponsored by their respective organizations. And the projected attendance of more than 3,000 for this year’s convention also suggests a high reward benefit for attendees.
Both Streeter and Juarez see access to top professionals and companies as the main benefit for attending the career fair. Minority-specific career fairs battle against both daunting unemployment rates for communication and journalism undergraduate majors and the low rate of journalists of color in the newsroom.
According to a 2015 report by the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, recent bachelor’s degree graduates majoring in communication and journalism had an unemployment of 8.2 percent in 2011 and 2012.
For minority budding journalists looking to create parity in the newsroom, this news could not be worse.
The Radio Television Digital News Association released a study this summer that showed the minority workforce in TV news has not increased at the same rate as the minority population in the U.S. – it’s risen less than half. In 1990, the minority population in the U.S. was 25.9 percent and rose 11.8 percentage points in 2016.
Stan Chambers, the digital content director for WINK news in Fort Myers, Florida, has attended NABJ conventions before, but this is his first time coming as a recruiter for his midsized TV station.
“When you come to a convention like this, you’re able to reach out to dozens, if not hundreds, of journalists — all in one shot.” he said. “It’s an opportunity any outlet should not miss.”
As far as the cost, Chambers said, he understands how the price discourages recent graduates and students from attending. However, he said, prioritizing the conference and the chance to expand professionally through workshops yields later career benefits.
“Yeah, it’s a lot of money — I get it, I’ve been there as a college student — but the resources you’ll receive, the connections you’ll make, the lessons you’ll learn, will set you straight for years.”
Getting “set straight” for years is a concept Juarez feels she’s benefited from since attending NAHJ’s co-sponsored career fairs and conventions. As a recent graduate, she said, the results of last year’s conference are still helping her as she seeks an on-air reporter position.
“If I did not go to that conference,” Juarez said, “I don’t think I’d be able to say that I’m here where I am now.”