Wednesday, June 27, 2012

NABJ 12 Recap (Long Read but Worth It - I Promise)

So folks have asked me how did I enjoy my 1st experience at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention & Career Fair in New Orleans? I compare it to attending your first college party – you absorb so much all at once. You shake hands, chat up strangers, make a few friends, take in the sights and sounds and somehow try to sleep afterwards.

Repeat this for 3-4 days and once it starts to become normal, you have to leave and readjust back to your life. But what a fun, amazing experience it was to finally be around so many people in your profession and learn from them.

I’ll keep it simple by just doing recaps of my 3 days there – I won’t count getting there Tuesday where I discovered 1) Gas is 70 cents cheaper – 3.15!!!!, 2) Bourbon Street was a mere 5/6 blocks away from the hotel, 3) An old mentor of mine (Mike Terry, formerly of the LA Times) was also in attendance.

Day 1
*Couldn’t sleep that night. Kept waking up hoping I wouldn’t miss anything. I called it anxiety; Mike Terry quickly corrected me that it was eagerness. It hit me even more when I got my badge and backpack at registration.

*The convention started for me thanks to faulty internet. My hotel room didn’t have free Net yet the lobby had it. Guess where I spent most of my time? Faulty Internet also directed my first genuine encounter as I met Desiree from New York who asked me to help her with her connection. It didn’t work but a good conversation happened so it was an okay trade off.

*We ended up having lunch with a guy named Kelvin, who worked for CNN Sports among others and allowed me to talk sports comfortably like I was back home or on Twitter. Kelvin and I frequently touched base throughout the convention as well. I also tried bread pudding for the 1st time and instantly got hooked.

*My 1st seminar was about public relations and I felt this one was pretty informative since I’ve been looking at PR gigs. Main thing I learned was that being a journalist gives you an advantage knowing the media game but also you have to learn PR skills like crisis management, protecting your client, putting the right spin, the times when folks mostly read email, and how to run an effective campaign.

The panel was headed by Terry Allen, a PR expert from Dallas, and 3 of TD Jakes' PR team.

*Yeah, it’s way more detailed than I expected but I needed to get it. It’s not just media relations but it’s making sure you get your message across most effectively and to the most people. Objectivity fades in the place of being biased towards your company and message. It was a cold reality but I got plenty of solid information to consider/work on.

*At the opening reception, Vice-President Joe Biden gave us a speech that was heartfelt, emotional, a bit off the cuff with his a few minor curse words. Was it politicking/campaigning more than relating to us directly? Yep but it wasn’t too bad and showed why I’ve liked him as an honest speaker.

 *I have to give NABJ President Gregory Lee credit for not flinching during his mistake of introducing Biden as the President of the U.S. He laughed it off which showed me that he’s a first-rate guy. Also TJ Holmes appeared to be very comfortable hosting the reception and promoting his new BET show. Freedom and creative control is a great thing.

*Hearing Melanie Fiona live was nice. She was beautiful and delivered her vocals with a great band/backup singers. I also noticed for the 1st time just how many folks owned iPads. Here am I thinking I’m fancy with my Macbook and Droid and I’m seeing folks whip out iPads like we whip out phones to take video.

*Linked up with my prep sports bro Rahshaun Haylock right before the speech and we had dinner at Gordon Biersch. It was a good set-up for the better meals/adventures we’d have. Since Rahshaun was an NABJ vet, I finally had someone who could show me the ropes.

Day 2
*Attended the Sports Task Force Breakfast and was surrounded by several ESPN folks and more. Michael Smith and Jemele Hill were super cool introducing the event while Stan Verrett gave a great speech on leading change in the media instead of just embracing it.

*Key fact: Newspaper Revenue had dropped from $50 billion in 2008 to $27 billion now. And you wonder why I left my newspaper two years ago and see newspapers shrinking like they’ve been washed.
Besides seeing a local face at the Task Force Breakfast in ESPNMAG, ESPN also had over 50 folks represented at NABJ. That's impressive.

*Mike Smith is that dude. You can peep it on his Twitter but to see him in person, he’s cool, youthful and knows his stuff. He shared great advice me about practicing more on video to become natural.

(But hands down, Rob Parker from ESPN was my favorite guy to rap with. Easy to spot, friendly to anybody and mingled with the people as well as anybody.)

*I need to shout out my man Trevor Adams who prepared the way for me on Twitter in meeting Bomani Jones. It was a brief dap and quick chat about how much he put into the Morning Jones to make it natural. But it was cool to finally meet the dude who inspired how I see sports the last 2 years. I ended up hitting his panel later that morning about branding.

Bomani Jones, left, was on the Branding You Panel along with NABJ Digital Queen Benet Wilson (2nd to left) and Marcus Osborne of Straight Black Friend (far right)

*It wasn’t my favorite panel due to the moderator speaking so much but I got the tip that there’s nothing wrong with thinking of my skills as a business without losing the personal touch. Also understanding who I am and what I can specifically offer people is the most important skill I took away from it. Making people buy into you instead of just pass right by you.

*Bo preached the importance of relationships over passing out cards and I followed that at the convention. I passed out my cards eagerly but focused on creating memorable conversation more.

(Yet thinking about my brand made me start re-evaluating the blog because after 3 years, it’s at a crossroads where I need to figure out how to market it careerwise. I’ve hated the word brand yet at the same time, if I can profit off it, I might as well since I think I stand for some important things)

*Quick recap of the PM - I got to meet up with a few LA folks from the Black Journalists Association of SoCal, including the legendary Beverly White of NBC. Attended a panel on Sports Jobs behind the scenes to see more jobs I wasn't aware of.

From one champion to another: Bill Russell hands LeBron James the NBA Finals MVP trophy
*Watching the Miami Heat win the NBA championship in Archie Manning’s bar was a pretty good thrill. More friendly locals and chowing down on some jambalaya with braised ribs was the business.

*Cruising around the French Quarter with my former LA Sentinel coworker Christine, who I hadn’t seen in 4 years. She showed me and Rahshaun a good time as we saw downtown NOLA, a bit of the hood and had beignets at the famous Café du Monde. Oh yeah, I tried a hurricane for the first time and could see how addictive they are. 

Day 3
*Remember this fact, I woke up at 8 am. 5 hours of sleep the night before.

*Attended the Digital Media Jobs panel. Learned that while newspapers have declined, internet/online publishing has risen incredibly. Jobs like App Development, Design, User Experience have grown and they’re relatively easy to teach yourself and get into.

*Got more confirmation that I need to know my strengths better and maybe market the blog with a clearer focus instead of just the gumbo hodge-podge I’ve been marketing for 3 years. It was painfully obvious when people asked me what I write about and each time I answered was a practicing a new pitch instead of having one solid.

*Another key lesson. Re-evaluate who/what I admire in folks and start deconstructing them to figure out how to apply it to me. I’ve done this with some but I can do this more.

*At the career fair, I got my resume critiqued very well. Brent Jones of USA Today said I should have my blogging experience on the resume as well as discussed my career path/blog. It was rough but I’m grateful for him because he gave the clearest advice on how to improve.

*Also got to finally meet Tracy Boucher, the hiring manager for the LA Times MetPro program that I applied for earlier this year. We discussed a few things I can do differently and how to better understand the writing portion and what is required.

I'm still hungry looking at this again.

*Hit up Mother’s for lunch and dug into some delicious crawfish etouffee. I recommend y’all check this place out. Somehow my man Rahshaun polished off etouffee AND a shrimp po boy. And I wonder how he still looks slim and younger than me.

Wash it all down with some lemonade and you'll thank me for it.
 *Friday was a pretty chill day so instead of hitting up sessions, I mostly cruised around the career fair and made a few more connections. I took a 1-hour power nap before the Sports Pioneer Awards. Again, remember that fact.

*The Sports Awards were an awesome way to honor some legends of NOLA. Nets coach Avery Johnson was among the honorees as well as the legendary Eddie Robinson, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington and more. And the food?? Man, more gumbo, sliders and pasta. (By the way, nearly every reception had gumbo. Dad would've been proud that I finally had gumbo that lived up to his.)

*Also got to meet some more Morning Jones family in Morgan P. Campbell (Toronto Star) and Eddie Maisonet (Ed the Sports Fan). Morgan and I chopped it up for a while talking TMJ, our careers, boxing and hip-hop and I have to say that guy is another real dude. I learned the fine art of conversation crashing as well, something that I'll be applying more in the right circumstances.

*That night was the infamous Sports Task Force Jam at the House of Blues. Your humble scribe rolled through and may or may not have 1) Done “The Wobble” twice with no shame, 2) Embraced Swag Surfin three years after I was warned by my cousin’s bf how cool it was, 3) Enjoyed seeing Michael Smith, Greg Lee, Stan Verrett, Yahoo’s Marc Spears and Rob Parker have fun in a natural environment.

Oh yeah, I got to hear Nolia Clap eight years after hearing it all over the Superdome. That might have one of the best nights out I’ve had in a while and it was all love in the building. 

Had to leave early (2 am) to catch my plane shuttle but before I did, I got to have a quick tweetup with my Texas bro Brian. We walked back to my hotel and chatted but it shows the power of Twitter. I’ve met people in more cities than L.A. and if we’re in the same area, it’s like meeting family.

I finally got on my plane at 6 a.m. So if you’re counting, I was up for almost 22 hours, save for a 1-hour nap. And from there I rolled from the airport into getting ready for my friend’s wedding. So from 8 am Friday to 1 am Sunday, I only had about 2-3 hrs of sleep?

That’s NABJ in a nutshell. I made some fantastic connections (Shouts to my new Bay Area fam Bonta and Nailah), got some career direction, great advice and much more information than I expected. I dropped off a few resumes and passed out some cards. But more importantly, I was thrilled to be around so many Black faces and be encouraged that we're out here doing things in the media.

Part of the fabulous mural outside the HOB

And what did I think of NOLA? An amazing city with incredible energy. It felt like a sauna all week but it was so nice. Canal and Poydras Streets felt like excitement all over and I liked how folks were ready to party while being incredibly friendly and helpful. It was all I imagined but it made me want to stay there even longer to see more of the city. Hearing the jazz in the hotel and hearing those horns on the street made me want to wrap myself more in its embrace. 

For me the theme was encouragement and expansion. I got quite a bit of encouragement from Rob Parker, Fox Sports’ Michael Eaves and a few other experienced folks. My mind was expanded to reconsider the blog as a viable source. It was no coincidence that it came up in several sessions so I think change is in order (some of which you’ll notice with the layout including my Linkedin/Twitter pages and creative name changes)

The convention was an awesome experience. My mission now isn’t just to go to the 2013 convention in Orlando (another city I have connections with), but convince more of my folks to go (looking at you Tamara, Lamar and James). . Hopefully the leads I made there will materialize soon and it was the start of a deeper love affair with that city.

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