Griot Drum Awards to honor best coverage of the undercovered in Tampa Bay area journalism
The last time the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists held its Griot Drum Awards, Barack Obama had just been elected president and hope for a new era of race relations in America was at hand.
In the years since, what's emerged is more complex picture, where fears of terrorism, concerns about illegal immigration and attempts to attack Obama's policies have unearthed more problematic media images than ever -- increasing the need for diversity in the newsoutlets trying to dissect it all.
That's why the TBABJ has returned with a new Griot Drum Awards banquet, featuring the distribution of $5,000 in scholarships to students of color studying journalism and honors for local journalists who best cover issues connected to people and communities of color.
Scheduled for Nov. 18 at the Dr. Blaise F. Alfano Conference & Banquet Center, 11606 McKinley Drive, Tampa, the event includes a keynote speech from ESPN's Jemele Hill -- one of the few women of color serving as a national columnist and commentator on ESPN.com and TV shows such as SportsCenter and First Take. Click here to see the newly-released list of finalists for this year's awards, including journalists from the St. Petersburg Times, Tampa Tribune, WFLA-Ch. 8, WFTS-Ch. 29 and WUSF-FM.
Full disclosure: I served as TBABJ president for many years and am now working to coordinate fundraising and help organize this year's banquet.
In 2008, I remember interviewing area radio host Mark Larsen about his decision to do his radio show in blackface after Obama's successful election. Ironically, he challenged me on the appropriateness of the TBABJ and its parent organization the National Association of Black Journalists; like many critics, he essentially asked: What if there were a National Association of White Journalists?
This reveals perhaps the biggest obstacle in talking about race issues these days; many people believe such problems have been solved.
But a recent newsroom census revealed that 50 percent of the 914 newspapers polled by the American Society of News Editors have no people of color working full-time on staff, a number slowly growing each year. (there are about 1,400 print and online newspapers in the U.S.). That's a troubling figure, given how often race and ethnicity rises as an important subject in stories, ranging from the rise of Islamaphobia to racially insensitive criticisms of Obama and ads urging Hispanics to not to vote which echo classic minority voter supression tactics.
As the nation grows more diverse and cultural frictions increase, diversity in newsrooms helps ensure and important journalism value: accuracy in covering undercovered commnunities.
That's why we're feeding the journalism pipeline with scholarships and honoring those who have covered the issue well in the only local journalism awards contest held in the Tampa Bay area; our list of amazing sponsors includes The St. Petersburg Times, Bright House Networks, The Nieslen Company, The New York Times Regional Media Group, Valpak and the United Way.
Tickets and sponsorships for the Griot Drum Awards are available on the TBABJ's website. Click on these links to see the group's YouTube and Facebook pages. And look below to see a message from banquet M.C. Rod Carter of WFLA morning show, with more information on the efforts.