By Andre Showell
Last week I was a part of a yearly pilgrimage for African-American journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention. Black journos gathered in New Orleans to take part in career-enriching workshops, hone their skills, find employment and network.
It’s always good to speak with people with whom you share common experiences and passions. But as is often the case, some of the conversations gave me reasons to reflect on my purpose and to remember why I do what I do.
One particular conversation comes to mind that sent my tolerance for meaningless, idle journalism-related banter into the pits. I was overwhelmed and frustrated. A colleague at a decent news station in a top TV market was opining the perils of his six-figure life on television. He spoke about where he wants to live, what he wants to do, and, of course, how much money he wants to make. It was apparent that journalism was merely a business decision for him; a way to fund his comfy lifestyle.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about upward mobility, making money and enjoying life, but there comes a time when the repetitive cacophony of misguided values and self-aggrandizement is a bit too much to bare.
There was a point in the conversation that I was asked what I wanted to do, where I want to live and how much money did I want to make. My answer stopped the dialogue in its tracks. “I don’t know,” I said. “I just want to tell people’s stories and give them information.”
In the age when journalists have become “stars,” it’s easy to lose sight of the challenge we’ve agreed to take on. It is our job to ask questions, find answers and, ultimately, to serve the public. So while I do recognize the benefits of having healthy ambition and career goals, I also see what can happen when we lose our sense of mission in the process.
A mentor of mine, the late Debra Tang, former VP of BET News and Public Affairs, once told me, “Andre, if we don’t tell them, they won’t know.” She was calling attention to the fact that our audience relies on us to get to the heart of the truth and to share what we’ve learned with them. That means we’ve got a lot of work to do — work that goes beyond simply climbing the corporate ladder to nowhere.