AABJ President talks Black Twitter’s reaction to his Verzuz battle story
By Amir Vera
We’ve all seen what happens when you cross Black Twitter.
When someone who isn’t in tune with the culture gets relentlessly attacked for being anti-black, clueless or simply having a controversial opinion. Black Twitter can and will fry you without mercy.
I knew that and yet had no idea I would be the next victim between the night of April 18 and stretching all the way until the evening of April 20.
It all started with a simple story idea. Like many R&B fans, I had been anticipating the Verzuz Instagram Live battle between singer-producers Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Teddy Riley. But things didn’t go according to plan because of technical issues, specifically on Teddy Riley’s end.
As a viewer, I thought it was funny, but as a journalist, this immediately looked like a story for CNN. So I wrote the story with the headline “Instagram Live battle between Babyface and Teddy Riley was a complete fail.” The headline wasn’t inaccurate. The two artists attempted to do something and it didn’t happen. Thus, it was a fail.
There were also no issues with the reporting; everything I had written was either based on social media feedback of the failed live or posts from the artists themselves.
Black Twitter’s main criticisms were the “harsh” headline and many thought it unfair I wrote about the failed Verzuz as opposed to writing about the other successful battles.
It is true, I hadn’t written about the other Verzuz battles, but nothing newsworthy took place during them as far as I know. Another CNN entertainment reporter, however, did write about the two producers, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, who were behind Verzuz and why they created it.
And so began the barrage of comments, including calling me an Uncle Tom and a token and chastising me for “telling the family business” on what many see as a mostly white platform.
I was unfazed by the comments; as a journalist, I know my work will be critiqued. However, I was baffled by comments saying CNN had no right to cover the event, and instead preferred the event be covered by Black cultural websites Vibe, Complex, or BET.com.
Part of the reasoning is some view CNN as a platform that doesn’t cover cultural events like the Verzuz battles, but instead focuses on hard news and politics. The deeper issue wasn’t with me or the headline. It was the fact people felt CNN had invaded a black space and used a token (me) to invade that space.
I can tell you that’s simply not true.
While some would feel pigeon-holed by being the “black reporter” — which often happens in newsrooms — I believe it is my mission to report those stories that otherwise wouldn’t be reported at CNN.
That means being an ambassador for, not an invader of, black issues, events, and cultural phenomena. Sometimes that means I will have to alert editors about rappers dying, entertainers and their raunchy live videos and cultural sports stories.
It doesn’t mean I am or feel pigeon-holed because as that ambassador I also bring attention to stories about HBCUs, viral moments that put us in a positive spotlight, and criminal justice.
I later wrote a follow-up to the Riley and Babyface battle, but not because of the lashing I took on Twitter. The world needed to see what happens when two legends (successfully) go head-to-head. I’ve also reported on the other Verzuz battles since then because if I didn’t write them, who would?
Amir Vera is president of the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists.
Outgoing NABJ VP-Print on his advocacy for Black print journalists
By Marlon A. Walker
NABJ doesn’t care about print journalists.
That could easily be rephrased to be put in a better light, but many members of the largest advocacy organization for journalists of color feel that way, often cast aside for their more visible broadcast counterparts.
That doesn’t mean the work stops.
The job of a print journalism advocate within the confines of the National Association of Black Journalists can be best reflected through the main conflict many black journalists face in mainstream newsrooms across the country as they seek to tell stories from black communities. That people outside the black community have to be convinced there is, indeed, relevance in issues those outside do not see or understand.
Black journalists get it. Black print journalists also fall victim to the same ideologies, being forced to convince others outside print newsrooms of the relevance to their concerns.
“There’s something to the premise that you’ve got to be a part of something to understand it,” the late Roosevelt Wilson told me several years ago as I sought to better understand my role as NABJ’s vice president of print.
Wilson was a retired professor in Tallahassee, Fla., at Florida A&M University’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication and a long-time journalist who spent 18 years as publisher of the Capital Outlook, the city’s black newspaper. He had been my teacher at the school, my boss at the paper.
“Diversity for diversity’s sake – I can’t make a case for that. It’s like having a plain cake but putting the layers in various colors. It’s the same cake. That doesn’t mean it tastes any differently. If you want a rainbow cake, you get a chocolate layer, a strawberry layer, and so on.
“That’s where I think there’s miscommunication.”
Again, that doesn’t mean the work stops.
Through conversations with mentors, former professors, newsroom leaders, and reporters across the country, I developed programming outside of the annual convention that would speak to the deficiencies seen in professional development offerings. NABJ’s current model for success includes an annual conference heavy on digital resources and a career fair many convention attendees see as the main reason for their attendance.
NABJ Presents: The Basics Bootcamp is a training ground to not only make sure members know what they need to know to get jobs but puts them in small classroom environments with hiring managers who accept the invitation knowing they could find their next police reporter or social media manager.
Through that program, about half the participants have taken jobs, internships, fellowships, and freelance opportunities as well as finding mentors and guides as they work their way through the industry.
I’ve spent countless hours with newsroom managers pitching them black journalists who they would not have found through their traditional networks – college friends, other recruiters, even job boards – because our members are more often matriculating through programs that don’t have journalism resources, or lack in-house professionals with the network to spread their name and work ethic.
We do it because in 1978 when the American Society of News Editors set a goal to push newsrooms to have the same diversity as the communities they covered, just 4 percent of newsroom employees were people of color. People of color make up less than 20 percent in newsrooms across the country today, while people of color are nearly 40 percent of the country’s population.
I do it because of people like Pearl Stewart, the first black woman to lead a major daily newsroom, who was a professor of mine. Her network helped in major ways.
I want my network to do the same for somebody else.
Marlon A. Walker is Vice President of Print for the National Association of Black Journalists.
Black male journalists discuss challenges breaking into the field
By Anfernee Patterson
The Black Man Lab hosted their weekly meeting June 1 in conjunction with the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists as part of the journalist group’s Black Male Media Project The event featured The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s deputy managing editor Leroy Chapman and opinions editor Andre Jackson, and Dennis Byron, editor-in-chief of Hip Hop Enquirer Magazine.
In the wake of the massive number of protests across the country and worldwide in response to George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis Police, the meeting touched on black journalists’ role within the media, the panelists’ journalism careers, and police brutality.
As the meeting began, Chapman and Jackson discussed how their journalism careers began and demonstrated why it is important that black voices be heard in the media.
“Once I got in, I had the right kind of mentors who said you should think about being a leader,” Chapman said. “We need African-American men who lead in journalism because in these big corporate entities our voices are needed. We need to express issues in our community and open our door to be a connection to the community who do not know how to connect with the media.”
“I came to Atlanta to segway to the opinion side of the business,” Jackson said. “Journalists aren’t paid to have an opinion, we are paid to keep our opinion out of what we do. Newspaper opinion sections are the one place where you can have an opinion.”
As their journalism careers began and they started working, both men said they realized quickly how different of a world they were in, but also the importance of their position.
“I was a business reporter and I was covering banks,” Chapman said. “I go to a bank and they have all their regional vice presidents in there, I was the only black person there not serving food. Being a journalist is a passport to being in rooms that you never thought you would be in. When you are there as an observer, you’re able to have a real understanding of where power rests.”
Chapman also added how different he saw things during his time as a sports reporter. “I was a sports writer for a while. On the field, we are everywhere. In the administration and front office, we are not there.”
Jackson said his experience taught him much more about himself as he learned from other people.
“I grew up in an all-black school and neighborhood. You move from that environment to a university that is more diverse,” Jackson said. “You gain experience with people who didn’t grow up in the same background and same ethnicity as you and you have to get comfortable with that
“You quickly have to get comfortable with yourself and who you are. You quickly learn that some of the things that are said about yourself as a representative of a group are not necessarily true. In my youth, in the newsrooms I worked in, I was labeled the office militant because I was quick to call things out about things that could have been better. Sometimes you want to be listened to more than heard.”
Black journalists have fought hard for years to help change the number of people of color covering issues and how the Black community is portrayed. For these journalists, they are fighting hard during these times to make sure African-Americans not only are depicted in positive light but that the full truth is told.
“The biggest thing I see is how the mainstream media covers us and how we are depicted in a manner that is not true,” Byron said. “I have covered several court cases and if I was not in the courtroom, your clients may have had a different story. It was important for me to be in those courtrooms.”
How black men are depicted in the media is of high importance now with several protests going on in multiple cities, including Atlanta. Chapman reiterated the importance of reporting during times like this.
“What we want to do is provide the fullest picture possible. The thing we want to do is tell the whole story,” he said. “We have been on the street, we have had African-American journalists there and we are asking, ‘Why are you here?’ (when referring to the protests). We are always doing our best to get behind the whys.
“The why is a lot of things, it is the routines of having black men who are victims of police violence and that is the heart of the why. We have to be able to understand the context; many of the people are not old enough to have been on the streets of Ferguson, some of these kids are 18 and 19. They’re under a lot of trauma and stress and it is up to us to explain a lot of that. The story is not looting, it is all the facts. It is about socioeconomic, education, having a seat at the table and having safety.”
Jackson added social media has changed the way African-Americans are represented and how hard it is for journalists to do their jobs.
“Social media has had a big influence because people can create their own realities,” he said. “Now anyone with a cell phone and a voice can do that. They can present things that are factual and it takes a lot of discernment from the audience to dissect the truth of what is being put out.”
Anfernee Patterson is a recent graduate of Georgia State University.
This issue of The Byline was edited by Raisa Habersham and Tianna Faulkner.