The Mass Communication Symposium is an annual event to supply professional development and networking opportunities to current students, mostly Mass Communication students, at Southern University. This year the symposium was held virtually through the Southern University Facebook live on November 12. Opening this symposium were four alumni of the University, Vice President of Sunshine Sachs Gabrielle Maple Lee, Advocate Reporter Terry Jones, Moderator and Instructor from Houston Community College Frederick Batiste, and KATC-TV Anchor Marcelle Fontenot. After introductions conclude, Mr. Batiste opened the floor to the panel to discuss subjects such as racial unrest, ethics in journalism and keeping professionalism during a pandemic.
The panelists began by talking about what they considered to be their most important relationships in the workplace. Jones kicked off the conversation by detailing his experience with editors in print journalism.
Jones expressed that he is lucky to collaborate with people he feels comfortable enough to go to if he needs help in any way. He stated, “I enjoy working with a lot of my editors and we have a very personal relationship. They are definitely people I can lean on to express any frustrations I’m having with something or any advice that I need.” Mrs. Fontenot described her experience as a “triangular conversation.”
A triangular conversation is when the reporter, anchor, and producer work closely together to create and put out content. Fontenot further explained, “You do have personal conversations and begin to establish a rapport; you also establish a trust as well which is very important in what we do because information and facts matter.”
For public relations majors, Lee says working on the public relations side of media and explains the three most important people to have a rapport with are “…the client, reporters, and my teams.” She continues by explaining that “Most importantly understanding my client’s goals for the day, what are we pitching, what strategies are we working on and how can I insert my clients into the work that they're doing.” Lee continues the conversation speaking on the experience of collaborating remotely with her teams and being the only black person in Senior Leadership within the company. While the three audiences Lee referred to are the most important touchpoints she must be in constant communication with, being the only black person in Senior Leadership, she works closely with diversity inclusion and being that safe space for people in the company.
Switching gears, the panel turned to discuss how important it is to have more black media professionals. Representation is important to how we see ourselves as a people and the panel makes it known where they stand on this issue and their experiences being the only black media professional at their jobs. Jones expresses his displeasure with the lack of representation by saying “To be fully transparent, I am the only black reporter at our newspaper in the Baton Rouge office. That’s embarrassing.” This is reflected in the media when there are important conversations that need to be had such as racial bias in our country, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and other political aspects. It is important to have that other perspective, so it is not a one-sided conversation. The panel expounds on the importance of representation and creating that safe space not feeling as though you are singled out because you are the only black person in the room.
When it comes to working in media, the panel made sure to emphasize to students that it is not about what you think. People do not want opinions, they want facts. No matter how you feel politically or socially, remain neutral. The ethical responsibility of working in media, the panel speaks on the moral aspect of media and how important it is to give an exact record of information. This does not pertain to their jobs but their personal lives as well. “My job as a journalist and news anchor is to be fair, unbalanced, and factual,” said Fontenot.
This symposium was not only mind-opening but was a wonderful opportunity to get an insight into what happens behind the scenes in the media. The panel of alumni gave noteworthy advice, criticism, and personal anecdotes in their discussions about working in the media industry while black and how to combat the narrative of black people in the workplace and media.