Reviewing the Pipeline: Denise Clay on attending NABJ

The Center for Public Interest Journalism sponsored five Philadelphia-area journalists who attended The National Association of Black Journalists 38th Annual Convention and Career Fair in August in Orlando. Previously, Philadelphia Gay News editor Jen Colletta shared her experience. Now, Denise Clay of the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and the Philadelphia Public Record reflects on workshops that she attended addressing the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Reviewing the Pipeline: Denise Clay on attending NABJ

Workshops addressing education, and what happens when our kids don’t get it, were my focus at NABJ.

By Denise Clay

As a member of the Programming Committee for this year’s National Association of Black Journalists convention in Orlando, Florida, I knew what kinds of workshops were going to be available for people to check out.

But as an education reporter who spent the last two years teaching photography, media arts and media literacy at an alternative school, I knew that the workshops that interested me the most revolved around the so-called School to Prison Pipeline.

While research doesn’t allow for a lot of direct correlations, one of the few, and one of the most prominent, is the direct correlation between the number of Black boys failing fourth grade and the number of prison beds you’ll need in the future. But getting that story, and the stories of those who are trying to thwart that direct correlation, out to the public is a hard sell.

Two of the workshops at NABJ, one held by the Southern Poverty Law Center and another held by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, talked about the problem of the School-to-Prison Pipeline and some of problems that those who care about public education are facing. While I didn’t get to stay for the SPLC workshop, I was able to sit and listen to the Casey Foundation workshop, which addressed how to convince your editor that this story needed telling, among other things.

Here are the takeaways I got from that:

1-Do your research beforehand: Because the first question you’re going to get when you approach an editor to do a story on the crisis facing public education and how it impacts communities of color is ‘Why is this important?’ you need to be able to show exactly WHY it is important…and why we need to write about it.

2-Prepare to make it universal: Sometimes telling your editor that it’s important to communities of color might not be enough. You have to show that in the end, it affects everyone. Because it does.

3-Take feedback from your readers. I know that sounds like a no-brainer and something we should be doing as journalists anyway, but there are parts to this and other stories that you might have missed because you’re on the outside looking in. Your readers can fill those blanks in for you.

All in all, I was glad that as a group of journalists connected to a community for which this is a pretty major issue NABJ sponsored not one, but two workshops on this topic. My hope is that it’s a discussion we’ll continue to have in future conventions.

I’d like to thank the Center for Public Interest Journalism at Temple University for allowing me to have the chance to attend through your generous grant. I look forward to working with you when I return to campus as a graduate student in January.

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