2019 NABJ Region I Conference

“If your story can’t be told by how you’ve helped other people, you’ve got some work to do.”

I had the pleasure of attending the 2019 NABJ Regional Conference in Hampton, Virginia this weekend! It was an exceptional kick-off to the national convention going down in Miami this summer, and I can’t wait to share all of what I learned during this weekend’s conference with you all in this very first Reporter Notebook post.

Below you will find notes I gathered from various panels — that I break down below — while at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications on the Hampton University campus. Although I was not able to sit in on every panel, these notes form the panels I could make are what stood out to me personally.

If they help you, I hope you’ll #PayItForward and pass them along.

Saturday, April 13, 2019 — Hampton, VA

“Holding Your Own Freelancing”


Benét Wilson, President, Baltimore Association of Black Journalists (@AvQueenBenet on Twitter)

-Wilson says she is 1 of 4 people of color in the world covering aviation and the only Black woman covering aviation.


Denise Clay, writer, The Philadelphia Sun (@denisethewriter on Twitter)

Vincent Thompson, Principal, Thompson Mediaman Communications (@mediamancomm on Twitter)


  • Have a specialty.

    • Find a specialty beat or sub-beat, especially within a popular beat (i.e. sports or entertainment) to set yourself apart and be marketable for writing opportunities, because of the unique perspective and skillset you bring to a broad news beat.

  • Get your finances in order.

    • Keep track of your money (keep every receipt!)

    • Get your invoice in ASAP

    • There is a lot you can do as a freelancer that you can write off when you file taxes (i.e. laptop, phone, cable, home office, etc.)

    • Get someone that knows taxes

    • Rihanna: “B**** better have my money”

  • Network.

    • Get your name out there

    • Don’t be afraid to diversify, meaning, understand how you can negotiate your contract to be able to do other work

    • Study entrepreneurial journalism (or MBA) if the opportunity presents itself

  • Freelance vs. Independent Journalist

    • Denise Clay identifies as an “Independent Journalist” versus using the term “freelancer,” because some companies will interpret freelance as working for free, which it is not!

    • “Independent",” because it offers a certain amount of freedom you have to do the stories you want to pursue

  • Getting paid.

    • Negotiate a fee BEFORE you start a project and get it in writing

    • Understand calendar days versus business days

    • Negotiate travel expenses and discuss travel expectations with every project

    • What to say when you’ve been waiting to get paid…

      • “Hey, it’s been (x amount of time). Do you know what the status of my check is?”

  • Why start an LLC?

    • Vincent Thompson: “I wanted to work for me.”


  • “Do something that you love.”

  • “What are you bringing to the table that is unique?”

  • “Don’t underestimate your worth.”



    • Free small business advice

    • Resource partner with the Small Business Association (SBA)

    • Retired consultants will help you for free and tell you how to get your money and invoices.

  • Who Pays Writers?

    • Anonymously crowd-sourced document that allegedly shows how much a publication pays its writers

  • Freelancers Union

“Boosting Your Broadcast Skills with NBC’s Rashida Jones”


Rashida Jones, Senior Vice President for NBC News and MSNBC (@RJonesNews on Twitter)


  • Focus: “Remaining Competitive In a Competitive Industry”

  • Fast-facts (source unknown):

    • 93% of the population has cellphones

    • Two-thirds of American adults get their news from social media

    • More than half of all Americans use an OTT service

  • Digital skillsets are a necessity

  • Skillsets.

    • Always look for opportunities to improve your skillsets

    • Expose yourself to resources and professional development opportunities to remain relevant in your field

    • Know what the user experience is wherever your audience consumes news

  • Brand.

  • Networking.

    • Store names of people you meet in your phone

      • Set a check-in reminder in your phone and be intentional about keeping connections going in general

    • Research to build on similarities

    • Connect in meaningful ways

    • Get out of your comfort zone (it’s easy at conferences and events to stay with your group and hangout with your friends. Challenge yourself to separate from your usual peeps to meet new people and make new connections).

  • Are you reaching back?

    • Mentoring opportunities?

    • Can your story be told through how you help others?

    • Are you being a good steward in the industry?

  • BHAG

    • Big

    • Hairy

    • Audacious

    • Goal

      • Ask yourself these questions to find your BHAG!

        • What are you deeply passionate about?

        • What can you be best in the world at?

        • What drives your actions and decisions?

  • Own your story.

    • Jones, a Hampton University alum, encouraged attendees to own their HBCU identity!


  • “Participating in these kind of networking events (NABJ) can be life changing and who you can help along the way.”

  • “If your story can’t be told by how you’ve helped other people, you’ve got some work to do.”

  • “If you’re not willing to bet on yourself, then why bother?”




  • Google tools you can use: g.co/newstraining (thanks, Benét Wilson!)