Rather than being upstairs at the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans, where there was a standing room only crowd for the appearance of Omarosa Manigault at the 2017 National Association of Black Journalists conference, a few of us chose to spend the time meeting with the National Writers Union.
Later, we learned that the panel she was scheduled to appear on turned into a showdown between her and moderator Ed Gordon, who stepped in at the last moment when other panelists declined.
Our time with the union members who filled us in on the Ebony campaign to get the magazine to pay the fees they owe freelance writers was far more informative than the confrontation elsewhere.
Currently, the NWU is representing more than 40 writers who are owed more than $70,000 by Ebony Media Organization and its parent company, the Clear View Group. “Ebony is not the only offender,” said NWU President Larry Goldbetter. “Many publishers feel they can treat individual freelancers any way they want.” But, he added, the Ebony freelancers are standing with the union, which empowers them and is a fundamental difference.
During the meeting, there was an opportunity to speak with veteran journalist Les Payne, a co-founder of the NABJ and its president when the organization met in New Orleans in 1983. When asked to compare the turnout this year with the one 34 years ago, he said there was no comparison. “Back then, compared to the 3500 here today, we could have all got in a phone booth,” he said.
Payne said there the organization now comprises some 4,000 members and seems to be growing each year. Next year the group meets in Detroit, which flips the sequence from back in the day when Detroit was the venue in 1982.
Next year’s event will be more propitious for Rochelle Riley, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, who was honored with the Ida B. Wells Award. She was followed on the podium by the four Hall of Fame inductees: Michael Days of the Philadelphia Daily News; John Jenkins of KXAS-TV, now retired; the Rev. Aisha Karimah of WRC-TV, also retired; and Garth Reeves, Sr. of The Miami Times.
In her closing remarks, NABJ President Sarah Glover was under less stress than later when she had to calm things between Manigault and Gordon.
Among the highlights for this reporter was appearing on a panel with Angela Dodson and Maudlyne Ihejirika that was moderated by Wayne Dawkins, who summoned us there to elaborate on our books.
Next year in Detroit should be a grand occasion and a homecoming for those who have been plying their journalistic skills away from their beloved Motown.