Inequality in the news industry is nothing new.
Tony Cox remembers when there were no Black people in most Los Angeles newsrooms.
Consequently, in 1980 the Black Journalists Association of Southern California was formed to address the lack of concerns newsrooms had towards the city’s Black community.
Cox, BJASC’s first president, recalls the most pressing concerns for Black journalists during the 1970’s and 80’s in Los Angeles were newsrooms ignoring the Black community and the lack of upward mobility for Blacks within newsrooms.
He admits filling this void in mainstream media was no easy task. It had to be about transforming traditional news institutions, our culture, and storytelling.
The organization’s first meeting was convened in April of 1980 at the home of Valerie Shaw, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Those who attended were concerned about the accuracy and fairness of Black portrayals in the news and to collectively organize Black journalists.
BJASC was mostly about the need for Los Angeles newsrooms to better reflect the diversity of its multitude of communities, particularly its Black community.
The original BJASC members included reporters, photographers and other newsroom staff as well as writers and photographers from the LA Sentinel.
Susan Cox, an original BJASC board member, recalls how they “wanted to come together as professional journalists” and solidify their efforts.
As this new association began to organize, it sought guidance from the California Chicano News Media Association (CCNMA) because of their experience in this area.
It was a different climate for journalism in Los Angeles during the early 1980’s. There were a small number of Blacks working in major news outlets. They witnessed the daily news operations and its mistreatment of Blacks.
Tony Cox admitted there was some risk in being a part of a Black professional journalists advocacy organization. That risk included the potential of some push back on your career.
However, “it was time for us to step up or shut up,” declared Cox.
In his opinion, stations wanted involvement with BJASC “to show they were not racist” and also recruit from its pool of talent.
Jeri Love, former BJASC president, remembers the BJASC provided a network and “an oasis” for the small number of Black journalists in Los Angeles.
According to Love, the original members were a fascinating mix of people with a wide breadth of experience. As a reporter at City News, she was delighted to be around them as a contemporary.
Importantly, she supported the mission of the organization.
Love says during the late 70’s early 80’s “there was one of two or three Blacks in a newsroom.” The LA Times was the exception.
The journalism profession has a long way to go in reflecting the diversity of America. In a nation where the population of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other people of color are growing, the news industry remains overwhelmingly White.
There is plenty of news content in minority communities, though sometimes it may not be obvious to many main stream news managers who have long focused their efforts elsewhere.
In 2015 BJASC changed its name to the National Association of Black Journalists – Los Angeles as part of a rebranding campaign. NABJ-LA like BJASC is an affiliate of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Tre’vell Anderson, President of NABJ-LA and entertainment writer for the LA Times, is continuing the traditions of his 18 predecessors.
“We provide a support system for Black journalists in Los Angles,” says Anderson.
“Representation and inclusion is still a problem in most newsrooms in Los Angeles and throughout the country. As president I’m interested in bringing a younger and fresher perspective to the leadership ranks.”
Mainstream newsrooms have come a long way in trying to incorporate the full breadth and significance of the Black experience in their news coverage.
NABJ-LA continues to be strong and vibrant as it strives to keep pace with today’s fast changing media landscape.
The original BJASC mission is still enforced. NABJ-LA has created scholarships and training programs to create a pathway for young people to get into journalism.