September 2018: From Austin to Portland – and beyond

Traveling by plane, trains and automobiles to conferences across the country can be exhausting. I know. As I write this column, I am in the midst of my second conference in Austin, Texas. And while I am tired, I’m also exhilarated. I’m exhilarated not just because Austin is a cool place (and the destination for Journalism and Women Symposium’s conference in 2020!), but because I was allowed to reconnect with my inner journalist.

Many years ago, I chose the profession of journalism to tell the stories of people who looked and lived like me. I grew up as the youngest child of an African American Army medic and Hokkaido-born woman who never went beyond junior high school. We lived paycheck to paycheck, and we considered a family meal from KFC a special treat.

When I entered the profession as a cub staff writer at the Associated Press in Los Angeles, I was hoping to cover the communities that I understood the most and bring their stories of resilience to the mainstream public. Instead, the stories I wrote often had to do with disaster or gang violence. It didn’t get much better when I moved up to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Eventually, I quit and became a journalism professor. I began working on a book about multiracial identity. And I never thought I’d would want to write news stories again.

Last year, I wrote my first news piece in years, covering the achievements of one of the few women coaches in men’s and women’s cross country and track teams at the NCAA Division 1 level. That story was the first inkling that I actually missed my past self.

More recently, I wrote a story about the strike at SF State 50 years ago. For this story, I got a chance to listen to emotionally inspiring and painful stories about the people who worked on the front lines of the civil rights movement.

At the same time, I worked around the clock to finish another story about professors in the MFT program at USF who are taking students around the world to help families—including undocumented families—recover from natural or manmade disasters.

I am finally at a place in my career that I am writing the stories I had wanted to write years ago. While this work is time-consuming and the pay will never equal the hours one puts into interviewing, writing and rewriting, I can imagine doing more stories. I began to fantasize about this at the Engaged Journalism meeting in Austin, where I heard speaker after speaker talks about how they are helping to support or produce stories that truly reflect our communities and in some cases, allow the public to become equal participants in their own stories.

From the intimate setting of the Engaged Journalism retreat earlier this month, I dashed over to the Online News Association Conference, where 2,600 people had signed up to attend. That’s right: 2,600 people. More than a thousand people were first-timers, says Executive Director Irv Washington. And I noticed that many were young, women and people of color.

As ONA 2018 opened, I sat in a vast sea of attendees, listening to author Danah Boyd of Microsoft Research tell journalists that the only way to win against media manipulation by extremists who have gamed the online ecosystem is to become one with the people they cover.

“You will only earn the trust of the American people when you once again become part of the American public,” she said, adding “to be effective in this new network landscape, you need to be part of the fabric … That’s the innovation most critical and most unfamiliar to the news business.”

Her comments were on point, as my own research centered around a book on the impact of social media in journalism was bearing this out. It also hit home the day before, as I sat with people who shared similar stories from childhood, and we’re still in journalism in some form, fighting the good fight.

While I was jazzed about her discussion, I found myself overwhelmed by packed meetings that followed her speech. Indeed, I was turned away at some panels because they were too full.

And that’s when I realized what makes JAWS so special. We are a powerful and strong community of women journalists, but we are small enough to make a difference in the lives of each and every one of our members.

Now, all we have to do is to convince young women and people of color that our organization can offer them new skills, guidance and support to make them more productive and successful in their jobs. Anyone who has been a part of JAWS already knows this, but I want to convince even more young women and women of color that they are part of this nurturing community.

The only way we can do that is to keep diversity our top priority. So, before you vote for our new president-elect, treasurer and other board members, get to know all of our candidates and ask them what they’ll do take our organization to the next level. They are all passionate about journalism and JAWS – and nearly all were asked to run for these top spots. Your choices are critical as we seek grants from the Ford Foundation and Democracy Fund, grant that promise to engage more young women and women of color at CAMP and beyond.

Look forward to seeing you soon!

Yumi Wilson

JAWS President