Up Next

HBCU education

For 25 years, the NABJ Short Course has helped groom hundreds to join the Fourth Estate

In times such as these, students and mentors are working together to keep journalism free

They spent four days in back-to-back workshops, seminars and assignments.

They endured ruthless castigation of their interviewing skills.

They put on their bravest faces as their writing, editing and producing skills were taken apart with surgical precision.

Then came the work.

White House correspondent April Ryan, a graduate of Morgan State University, challenged the class of the 25th anniversary National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Multimedia Short Course at North Carolina A&T State University to live up to the legacy of the journalists who’d labored before them and continue to stand strong.

“We stand on the shoulders of people … like Ethel Payne … So I’m here today to challenge you,” Ryan said on March 25. “Yeah, you want to be on TV. Yeah, you want to hear your voice on the air. You want people to know that you have a presence.”

But, above all of that, Ryan said, is the First Amendment and freedom of the press, which she said is under attack.

“When I say the First Amendment is under attack, it’s not about you,” Ryan said. “It’s not about any of us; it’s about being built in the framework of this nation.

“Our founding fathers, in their greatness — not knowing there would be the Twitter, the Facebooks and other forms of social media — built into the framework of the Constitution: ‘For the People,’ ” she said.

“It’s about the people.”

Ryan, a correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, also encouraged the students to be strong in the face of attacks and criticism — particularly on social media.

“They are going to blow your Twitter up … ,” Ryan said. “But don’t be afraid, because you are built for this … And just know that we’ve got your back.”

Ryan’s keynote address at the Sheraton Four Seasons came after students and mentors had wrapped up four grueling days at the Short Course, the longest-running workshop of its kind in association with NABJ, according to Gail Wiggins, interim chair of N.C. A&T’s journalism and mass communication department. The sessions are held on the campus of N.C. A&T in Greensboro, North Carolina.

During its run, the Short Course has served more than 800 journalism students from 70 colleges across the United States and Canada. The 2017 program brought together 30 students from 16 college campuses with 25 mentors.

The program instructs the students on all phases of multimedia journalism, including writing, reporting, producing, production, anchoring and online.

Students are also grilled during interviewing workshops and resume critique sessions.

“I know they call it a short course, but it’s really a boot camp,” said Kenneth Campbell, a senior at N.C. Central University. “They are running us through what we can expect once we get out into the field as professionals.

“It’s more real than what we get on our own campuses, because we’re not working with classmates who we know. We’re working with people who really know their profession and their craft.”

For one of his assignments, Campbell created a multimedia presentation about the Short Course.

“Whether you want to be a sports journalist, or whether you want to do hard news, or like me, you want to do documentary journalism, this is where you get connected,” Campbell said.

Aliah Williamson, a senior at Hampton University, was attending her second Short Course after participating in 2015. But she was on a different mission.

“I thought last year was the beginning of my advancement in this profession,” Williamson said. “I didn’t know a lot of the terms they were using. I didn’t know about reels. I didn’t know how a resume should look in this business.

“This year, I’m learning how to take it to the next step — how to land my very first job, how to ace the interview, how to network and how to have a really impressive resume reel.

“I normally do on-air,” Williamson continued, “so this year I wanted to learn about producing, because I think that makes you a better reporter. If you learn and understand how the writing should flow with the show, if you understand what the producers go through, then you can help them and be a more cohesive team when you’re in the field.”

Many of the mentors were past program participants. Some are N.C. A&T alum, and others were veteran journalists who are former NABJ board members or longtime friends of NABJ.

Lead instructor Anthony Wilson, who has guided the program for 24 years, said his “commitment stems from the lack of a similar program when I was first starting out.”

“We did not have as many ready-to-go mentors available through one source, such as NABJ, so I took a very circuitous route to get to where I am now,” said Wilson, an anchor at an ABC station, WTVD, in the nearby Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, area.

“Our main purpose is to let these students know, going into a professional newsroom, what’s expected of them, how to keep their first job beyond that 90-day probationary period.”

N.C. A&T alumnus Anzio Williams, vice president of news at WCAU in Philadelphia, was a student in the first two Short Course classes, and has returned for all but a handful of the sessions throughout the years.

“In the second year, they made me news director of the program, so I was kind of overseeing it — the leader of it,” Williams said.

“It was the first time someone had put in my head that I could actually be a news director. So, it’s great that I’m to do that now, 25 years later …

“It’s important for other kids to see people that look like me who’s doing it and know I was in their shoes … And I can identify students who are going to be great and help facilitate their careers, but I can also see the ones kind of missing something … So I like to kind of put the fear of God in them early on, so hopefully they’ll be able to turn things around.”

Williams also says returning to Greensboro is a source of Aggie pride.

“I love the fact that I get to come back to my alma mater … A&T gave me a great foundation, and I appreciate it.”

Amanda Crumbley, a junior at N.C. A&T, appreciates the mentors.

“I didn’t know it would be as hands-on as it is,” Crumbley said. “I didn’t know it would be so high-level. We’re learning from mentors who have been in the industry for decades, and they have a wealth of knowledge to share.”

Wiggins said the program is consistent with NABJ’s longtime mission of training.

“NABJ is truly about making sure students have those essential skills and training, so that we can make sure these newsrooms have a diverse population where different perspectives can be discovered and covered, as well,” Wiggins said.

“We are excited about the honor and the legacy of this program and the fact that we have helped more than 800 students,” Wiggins said. “We have jump-started their careers as a result of the NABJ Short Course.”

Former Short Course participant Fred Shropshire, an anchor in Charlotte, North Carolina, attended the March 25 gala and served as a mentor during the week.

Other mentors included former NABJ national board members Mike Woolfolk (Flint, Michigan) and Sharon Stevens (St. Louis). Another participant was development consultant Kerwin Speight, a former broadcast manager who serves as NABJ senior project manager.

The Short Course was started at N.C. A&T in 1992 by then-faculty member Nagatha Tonkins, who heeded a request from then-NABJ national president Sidmel Estes.

Tonkins said one of the aims was to open students up to the world of off-air broadcast positions – as well as to give them on-air training.

“They wanted to help students better understand what the roles are in television newsrooms and to know that there were management positions,” said Tonkins, who now directs the journalism internship program at Elon University, about 30 minutes from N.C. A&T in Elon, North Carolina.

“Oftentimes, students would say, ‘I want to be a reporter,’ or ‘I want to be an anchor,’ because that’s all they knew about,” Tonkins said.

Wiggins said the NABJ Short Course endures because it continues to be necessary.

“We bring this back every year simply because the students need it,” she said. “They need to get a sense of what the industry is all about, and they can’t get it all in the classroom.

“We want to make sure they are prepared and ready for the industry and that they have those essential skills to market themselves as well as to start that career.”

David R. Squires is a writer, editor and digital journalist who has worked for the New York Times, Detroit Free Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer and St. Petersburg Times. He's also a former editor-in-chief of BlackVoices.com and BVQ magazine, a former Black Enterprise writer and editor and NUTribemagazine.com managing editor.