Excellence in Journalism Conference= “Electric”

The Excellence in Journalism Conference in Anaheim was one of best conferences I ever attended. I heard the word “energy” being used to describe what was happening with the intermingling of three major journalism organizations all under one roof. I’ll even go one further: it was “electric”.

SPJ Diversity Fellows 2013 at Excellence in Journalism Conference

Fellows: Vianna Davila, Jocelyne Pruna, Sandra Gonzalez (SPJ Diversity Committee Chairman); Cheryl D’Mello, Maria Ortiz Briones, Francisco Vara-Orta, and April Bethea.

As SPJ’s Diversity Chairman, I was the “go to” person for six Diversity Fellows, hoping to encourage and expose them to the importance of diversity in our newsrooms and our coverage.

This year, having the National Association of Hispanic Journalists intertwined among the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio TV Digital News Association was pure evidence of something wonderful. There were journalists everywhere, and as a longtime member of NAHJ, this was very interesting since I was wearing two hats at this conference.

As part of the program for the fellows, they were introduced to media industry leaders including Fox News Latino’s Director Francisco Cortes. During a luncheon with the fellows, Cortes shared his story of being injured while in the military, which opened up a window to writing. This “blessing” Cortes says eventually led him to a journalism career, where he is currently head of Fox News Latino. He started at Fox News as an apprentice.

Fox News Latino's Francisco Cortes give advice to SPJ Diversity Fellows

Fox News Latino’s Francisco Cortes give advice to SPJ Diversity Fellows

 

Cortes candidly shared pearls of wisdom to fellows including some suggestions to never be an employee who just “punches clock”; and to be humble and “hungry” in this career path.

The fellows also learned more about news management and diversity from Hugo Balta, who is president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and a coordinating producer at ESPN. He also has worked in management in several capacities including News Director throughout the course of his career in both English and Spanish language News.

Balta urged the fellows not to be afraid to take chances and swim against the tide with their storytelling. He also reminded them that sometimes it may mean being the unpopular person in the room, but bringing diversity into journalism is a “fight worth fighting”.

NAHJ President Hugo Balta speaks about diversity with SPJ Diversity Fellows

NAHJ President Hugo Balta speaks about diversity with SPJ Diversity Fellows

Balta, like Cortes was very straightforward with fellows and answered all kinds of questions on various matters in journalism.

Fellows also were introduced to SPJ leadership including both the SPJ and Sigma Delta Chi Boards. There was so much learning and networking in short amount of time. So many sessions made it difficult to choose. One of them brought forward from SPJ’s Diversity Committee helped spur story ideas from recent census data. Several dozen journalists attended this session.

While there was a lot of attention on enhancing our craft and becoming more involved in SPJ, we managed to find time for fun. Not only were new friendships forged but many memorable “moments” were experienced, from the receptions to hallways and ballrooms.

Journalists even found a few hours to get over to Disneyland and ride some roller coasters.

I think Excellence in Journalism 2013 will be one for the history books, and who knows, maybe the three organizations will clasp together again for another mega conference, reminiscent of all the “energy” that sparked from Anaheim this year.

Sandra Gonzalez is SPJ Diversity Committee Chair, Las Vegas SPJ Chapter Secretary, NAHJ member and reporter for KSNV-TV Las Vegas, Nevada.

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