Detroit has spent years on a roller coaster of demographic, financial and cultural highs and lows leading to a bankruptcy and now renaissance that has gained national attention and drawn real estate prospectors to Motown like gold prospectors to Sutter’s Mill.
The city is attempting to reinvent itself as a 21st-Century mecca for millennials as well as a long-awaited better place for longtime residents who didn’t give up on the Motor City.
As residents debate whether the renaissance is reaching all Detroiters, the city will get a report card from outsiders in August, when one of the largest gatherings of journalists and newsmakers in America convenes here for the National Association of Black Journalists’ annual convention.
About 3,000 reporters, editors, producers, photographers and students will land at the GM Renaissance Center Marriott for five days of workshops, forums, panel discussions and conversations. NABJ, like Detroit, is working on reinventing itself in a digital age and rebuilding relationships between journalists and consumers in the Age of Trump.
“I am thrilled that the NABJ has chosen Detroit for its national conference this summer and can’t think of a better place for it,” said Mayor Mike Duggan a member of a Host Committee that rivals the one convened for the 2006 Super Bowl. It includes Quicken Loans Founder Dan Gilbert, former mayor Dennis Archer, Motown Museum CEO Robin Terry and Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO Larry Alexander.
“Professional journalists play a vital role in our democracy, and it’s so very important that our newsrooms, like our government, reflect the diverse communities they serve,” Duggan said. “I hope that NABJ members will take some time to venture out and see and experience some of Detroit’s great neighborhoods. What they should see is a city working hard and making significant progress, and that still has a long way to go in its recovery.”
As honorary co-chair of the convention with my friend and ESPN star Jemele Hill (the last time they turned us loose we took 900 kids to see “Black Panther”), I can’t wait to say at convention’s end, with a nod to Kool Moe Dee: How ya like us now?
The annual convention comes as media outlets nationwide struggle to maintain audiences that increasingly get much of their news coverage on mobile devices and from social media sites such as Facebook. We are literally fighting for the soul of journalism and fighting to maintain diversity in that industry.
The convention’s theme is “Driving Journalism, Technology and Trust.”
“There will always be a need for stories to be told; the only thing that will change is how they’re delivered,” said Convention Chair Eva Coleman, an executive producer with the Frisco (Texas) Independent School District’s television station. “As technology rapidly changes, we understand the need to evolve. We’re ensuring our members are equipped with everything necessary to remain a driving and trusted force in an ever-changing technological world.”
Conventioneers will see a Detroit whose downtown and Midtown have been transformed into a bustling urban destination, drawing hundreds of residents and tourists to new restaurants, clubs and stores in properties mostly owned by Gilbert, who owns or controls about 100 properties downtown. Moving his employees into downtown’s 7.2 square miles has revitalized the area.
Local planners said conventioneers also may be surprised by what they see away from downtown: iconic locations such as Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, one of the oldest continuously operating jazz clubs in the world; the Motown Museum where Marvin Gaye and the Supremes got their start; the dueling Lafayette and American Coney Islands (yes, we’ve got hot dog wars), and Belle Isle. Yes, Detroit has its own island that is run as a state park and has a beach, conservatory and aquarium.
“The working journalists visiting Detroit for the NABJ convention will find a city on the mend,” said Vincent McCraw, president of Detroit NABJ, the local host, and an editor at the Detroit News. “There are nuances to Detroit’s revival, and it can be seen not just downtown and Midtown, but in some of the neighborhoods. We encourage people to come see us with fresh eyes and open minds.”
The convention won’t draw just journalists and media. Among celebrities booked for the convention are: actor, producer and director Tyler Perry; actor, comedian, activist and Detroit native Brandon T. Jackson, son of Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Great Faith Ministries International; civil rights and social activist Shaun King; political commentator Roland Martin, and hometown hero and singer Kem, who will perform in a special fund-raising concert at Chene Park co-sponsored by Nissan and the Detroit NABJ chapter.
NABJ meets in a different city every year. This year’s convention will be the first time some journalists have seen the city since Detroit hosted the 1992 NABJ convention.
“Detroit has always been a great news town,” said WWJ reporter Vickie Thomas, a member of the NABJ national board. “And that’s why the Detroit Chapter of NABJ and the city were so excited to welcome journalists to the Motor City for the NABJ convention in 1992.”
That convention generated a lot of buzz, Thomas said, because it featured a lineup of political, entertainment and sports figures that included then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton, director Spike Lee and tennis legend Arthur Ashe.
“As a member of the local board at the time, I just remember everyone being blown away by the convention and the Detroit hospitality,” Thomas said. “We hope to exceed expectations again this year when the convention returns …”
The convention, which runs Aug. 1-5, also will feature a 5K run through downtown Detroit, a gospel brunch, and a dinner where journalists receive honors for news coverage and community service.
NABJ also will salute its best and brightest, who include new inductees into the NABJ Hall of Fame and Detroiter Jemele Hill of ESPN.
“We are pleased to honor hometown hero Jemele Hill as our Journalist of the Year, and offer professional development training topics that cover politics, social justice, investigative reporting, entertainment, sports and education as well as lessons learned from the Flint water crisis,” said NABJ President Sarah Glover, who works for NBC News.
Conventioneers also will participate in a day of service to leave their mark on some part of Detroit.
NABJ was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1975 by a group of 44 journalists. Its mission is simple: It doesn’t just train current journalists. It nurtures new ones and advocates for veterans.
In its 43 years, the organization has given scholarships to — and helped nurture — hundreds of students through college workshops, high school programs and a student newsroom that allows collegiate journalists to cover each year’s convention.
Called NABJ babies, those students learn to cover plenary sessions, interview news subjects and produce television newscasts, a daily newspaper and a 24-hour website.
The convention also will boast one of the largest career and exhibition fairs in the country. Dozens of media companies and journalism schools from across the country will set up shop to interview or share information with convention registrants. NABJ has a long-standing reputation as the place where many black journalists landed their first job.
“NABJ and its affiliate chapters across the country have a rich and proud history of training journalists,” said Thomas, the WWJ reporter. “… We’re looking forward to seeing what great stories students will uncover here in Detroit!”
Kem benefit concert
While most programming is open only to registered journalists, there will be several public events including the Kem benefit concert on Friday, Aug. 3 at Chene Park. Concertgoers must purchase tickets at https://www.nabj.org/page/NABJ18DetroitChapter to benefit the Detroit chapter of NABJ.
For more information or to register for the conference, go to www.nabjconvention.com.
NABJ Host Committee
To welcome thousands of people to the Motor City, NABJ wanted a Super-Bowl worthy group pulling the Welcome Wagon. Its members are:
Jemele Hill, ESPN reporter (co-chair)
Rochelle Riley, Free Press columnist (co-chair)
Kristina Adamski, vice president, communications, Nissan North America
Larry Alexander, president, Detroit Visitors and Convention Bureau
Dennis Archer Sr., former mayor of Detroit
Marvin Beatty, vice president, Greektown Casino
Dave Bing, former mayor of Detroit
Alicia Boler-Davis, executive vice president, General Motors Global Manufacturing
Kiko Davis, majority shareholder, First Independence Bank
Mike Duggan, mayor of Detroit
Dan Gilbert, founder, Quicken Loans
Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc.
Florine Mark, president and chairwoman, The WW Group
Shahida Mausi, president, Right Productions
Juanita Moore, CEO, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
Michael Palese, manager-corporate communications, FCA Corporate Communications
Jimmy Settles, vice president, UAW-Ford
Matt Simoncini, CEO, Lear Corporation
Robin Terry, president and CEO, Motown Museum