5 ways to get the most out of the next journalism conference

By Luis Gomez:

Conferences are opportunities to meet like-minded journalists, find jobs, learn new skills or simply recharge your batteries.

Life in a newsroom often revolves around chasing stories, finding sources, producing and packaging a segment, and ultimately meeting those deadlines. And when you account all the hours in the day, odds are you will not get much of an opportunity to learn a new set of skills every month or even every year.

Yet, career growth in journalism depends on acquiring new skills and staying relevant. Coding, video editing, or even solid writing are just a number skills most newsrooms seek in journalists today; they represent a foot in the door or one step above in the career ladder.

One solution: Attend a conference!

Journalism conferences offer access to workshops, insightful people, job opportunities, and that reassuring sensation that everything will be okay because now you know how to work with Google’s Fusion Tables. Everyone has a unique experience, we all walk away with different things.

Not sure where to start? Feel free to try any of these exercises at the next conference you attend: (Plus, I’ll share a list of upcoming conferences in California below.)

  1. Plan ahead: Sign up to a conference with intention—know why you want to attend, whether it is to meet a number of specific people or attend a workshop. Look at the full schedule and plan your day accordingly. Use the time gaps between workshops to mingle or schedule a lunch/coffee/beer meeting with someone. Try this tip: Email someone you want to meet ahead of time, preferably before the conference begins, and ask to pick their brain.
  2. Carry a notepad: Take notes, take notes, take notes at all times. Nothing says you’re truly invested in what people have to say like taking notes while they talk. Yes, conferences are like classrooms and you will benefit from writing down information. Try this tip: Use your notepad to write down notes about someone new you met, whether it’s about where they work or what they do.
  3. Ask questions: Stick around after a session, ask questions to the presenters, ask questions to the organizers. Walk around the booths, ask questions. Spend every hour asking questions. And take down notes. Try this tip: Here’s some good questions to ask someone you meet: What are the pressing challenges in your newsroom and how would you solve them? What will be the journalism jobs in 10 or 15 years? If you could run your own newsroom, which existing brands would you emulate and why?
  4. Mingle, mingle, mingle: Rub shoulders with strangers. And if that’s not your thing, recruit someone you know to help make an introduction. It is perfectly OK to leverage anything (food, drinks, people, anything) to start a conversation with a stranger. Try this tip: Arrive early for a workshop, stand by the door and hand out your business cards and introduce yourself with a handshake. People will remember you for being bold and proactive.
  5. Keep in touch: After it’s all said and done, you will have walked away with a renewed sense of purpose in your career not just in the skills yo pick up but also in the people you meet. Follow up with those people you met and maintain those relationships. Try this tip: Make your follow-up email short and interesting, add a GIF or a scenic photo of where you live. It adds a personal touch and makes you stand out.

Now to the good part. Here’s a list of upcoming journalism conferences in California where you can try any of the above tips:

  • V3con (AAJA-Los Angeles) June 26 to 27 in Los Angeles, CA
  • AEJMC 15 (Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication) Aug. 6 to 9 in San Francisco, CA
  • AAJA National Convention (Asian American Journalism Association) Aug. 12 to 15 in San Francisco, CA
  • Coming Home (National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association) Sept. 3 to 6 in San Francisco, CA
  • ONA15 (Online News Association) Sept. 24 to 26 in Los Angeles, CA
  • ASNE-APME 15 (American Society of News Editors) Oct. 16 to 18 in Palo Alto, CA

Also, across the country:

  • NABJ Conference (National Association of Black Journalists) takes place Aug. 5 to Aug. 9 in Minneapolis, MN.
  • Excellence in Journalism (National Association of Hispanic Journalists) Sept. 18 to 20 in Orlando, FL
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Yearlong job search tests dogged sports reporter

By Miguel A. Melendez:

Two years ago I lived in a spacious two-story apartment in South Pasadena. It was the first time I had ever lived in a city that reminded me of the Norman Rockwell paintings that lined the walls of the Hometown Buffet restaurants our family of seven would visit almost every Sunday.

It felt like I had finally made it, and in many ways I did. I was cruising through a 13-year career with stops at the Orange County Register, Pasadena Star-News, L.A. Daily News and the NFL Network. When my contract expired at, I was sure I’d land a spot somewhere — anywhere.

Miguel Melendez seen in between Andy Dalton (now the QB of the Cincinnati Bengals) and former ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, right.

Miguel Melendez seen in between Andy Dalton (now the QB of the Cincinnati Bengals) and former ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, right.

Instead, I spent the next six months unemployed. I easily submitted more than 60 applications for journalism jobs. When nobody came calling, I dumbed down my résumé and it was then I got two phone calls: one from a sporting goods store and another from a casino. Neither one made an offer.

Months passed, and I continued to submit applications. The phone never rang. I gave up my apartment for fear of running out of money and moved in with my best friend. The agreement was I wouldn’t pay rent until I landed a job.

More months passed and, still, nobody called.

Maybe it was the desperate look in my eye or that she saw I was on the verge of insanity, but a good friend of mine, Evelyn Ibarra, offered me an entry-level job making just above the minimum wage. “You’re not gonna like the kind of work you’ll be doing,” she warned me. But at this point — nine months without a job and a bank account quickly depleting — I felt I had no choice. I would do anything.

My job? Stocking tortillas, hauling cases of orders to customers and working the register. Nothing was beneath me at this point, I felt. I had done it all before I became a cub reporter. I was homeless as a kid and learned how to hustle so that I could eat. So when I was handed a hair net and an apron I reminded myself this is how I would hustle. I was no longer a kid, but a 30-year-old who still needed to eat, along with paying a car note, insurance, a cell phone, and now rent.

I worked five days a week at Acapulco Mexicatessen in East Los Angeles. The only time I sat was during my two 10-minute breaks and 30-minute lunch. And what reporter do you know stands, walks and sweats their entire shift? A quick scan across any newsroom is proof we’re not built for that.

The work I did at the tortilla factory was non-stop and, to be quite honest, boring. It was boring because I knew what I was missing. For the first time since I could remember I wasn’t watching the World Cup. I had no idea how the Dodgers were doing. And working every Sunday shift also meant missing out on playing softball.

Many of my co-workers had been doing this day-in and day-out for at least a decade, if not more. They worked long hours to provide for their families, either here and/or in Mexico. I’m most glad that I got to know them as more than just co-workers and as people with a genuine ambition for living the American dream. I’m reminded of Valentina and her husband. They live modestly, but see a bright future because of their two sons, who are attending college – one at UC San Diego and the other at the University of San Francisco. Valentina beams with pride when she talks about them, and with good reason. She wants the best for her sons, and just as she wished and prayed they would do well, she wanted the same for me.

My co-workers all knew my situation. They all encouraged me to hold up my head and continue pursuing my passion.Ojalá que todo te salga bien, Miguelito they told me whenever I mentioned I had applied for a job (“Hope everything turns out well for you, Miguelito.”) They were fascinated about the kind of work I used to do, but I was even more fascinated with how they spoke about striving for a better life here in the U.S. They had that same feeling I had years ago when I moved to South Pasadena: that feeling of having made it. And here I was complaining under my breath that I was severely under-employed. I was ashamed and humbled.

I decided it was time to stop feeling sorry for myself. I reached out to CCNMA on Twitter about getting some help with finding a job. CCNMA President Yvette Cabrera, a former colleague of mine at The Orange County Register, reached out and invited me to the Ruben Salazar Scholarship Banquet. It was a good way for me to network, she said. And it was. I met a vice president from KNBC and an HR manager from ESPN Los Angeles. I also met an executive editor who said I should reach out to their new executive sports editor.

Not long after, I had two interviews with Yahoo! Sports for two different positions. Neither materialized. I had another interview at a local paper in West Covina, but apparently I wasn’t hungry enough. It didn’t matter. I was even more determined to land on my feet and prove that I did, in fact, belong in journalism. Then, just three weeks ago, I was offered a job from FOX Sports to be a digital content programmer. That same day I told my friend at the tortilla factory I was leaving the company. I delivered the news to my co-workers, who were filled with joy. I could see and feel it in their smiles and tight hugs.

A professor once asked me what single advice I can give to aspiring journalists. I was only 26 at the time, and, really, not that much older than the students I was speaking to. But I remembered what a mentor told me when I was a 17-year-old freelancer: “Be nice to people you work with right now, whether you like them or not. You never know when your paths might cross again, and you’ll be the one needing that someone’s help.”

It’s advice that rings true to this day. But, having gone through this yearlong hiatus, I can  tell aspiring journalists to never lose hope of chasing your dream job. I spent 13 years as a reporter, beat writer and editor. My work defined who I was. It’s all I had ever done, and it wasn’t until this ordeal that I realized how much I really loved it. I was lucky in that I had friends who supported me the entire way. The small breaks I caught along the way helped fuel my relentless chase. But, luck had nothing to do with reaching out to mentors, former colleagues and scouring job boards online day-in and day-out. It was all effort. I cried myself to sleep once, and it was then that I knew I needed to find my way back to journalism. There’s no faking that kind of passion.

Follow Miguel Melendez on Twitter @MelendezSports

CCNMA Note: We loved this essay because it embodies what many people are still going through following the recession and fall of newspapers. It was also extremely fitting that Miguel was able to include the American dream in his story. He was able to see that because of his personal background, and that’s what CCNMA fights for every day: perspectives like his. If you have a story you’d like to share with CCNMA, email us at ccnmainfo[at]

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Newsrooms see uptick in diversity numbers

Surveys detailing diversity numbers in print and broadcast newsrooms have been released. Both mediums show slight improvements; still, neither completely reflect the ethnicities and cultures that make up this country.

While total newsroom employment declined 3.2 percent, the number of journalists of color at daily newspaper newsrooms increased by 1 percentage point to 13.3 percent, according to the American Society of News Editors’ (ASNE) annual newsroom census — a stark comparison to the 37 percent of people of color in the country.

The number of Latinos at newspapers increased to 4.46 percent of newsrooms from 4.26 percent.

Online-only news sites reported that 20 percent of the workforce was made up of people of color based off the 105 organizations that responded, according to the ASNE. People of color made up nearly one-third of all part-time employees (28.3 percent) and more than one-fourth (25.7 percent) of volunteer contributors.

The Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA) released its own report on diversity in newsrooms and found that 22.4 percent of TV newsrooms were journalists of color, also up 1 percentage point from the previous year and the highest in 13 years. However, that number includes Spanish-language TV stations, where most employees are Latino. Excluding the Spanish-language TV stations, the percentage of journalists of color in TV was 19 percent, a drop from 19.4 percent in 2012.

The percentage of Latinos working in non-Spanish-language TV stations fell from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent. Including Spanish-language TV stations, Latinos make up 9.1 percent of TV newsrooms.

In radio, the percentage of journalists of color was 13 percent, the highest level since the mid-1990s. Most of those gains came from non-commercial radio stations, about “two to three times as high” as commercial stations, according to the survey.

Latinos working in radio, presumably not including Spanish-language radio, increased to 6.2 percent — up from 5.7 percent the previous year.

Ironically, the RTDNA survey found that Latinos make up 78 percent of newsrooms at Spanish-language TV stations, a drop from 89.1 percent in 2012. It would appear that even Spanish-language stations aren’t a safe work haven for Latinos.

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36th Journalism Opportunities Conference


Event to take place Oct. 23 and 24.

USC Davidson Conference Center
3415 South Figueroa Street (at W. Jefferson Boulevard)
Los Angeles, CA 90089

The Journalism Opportunities Conference is an event co-sponsored by:

The 2014 CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California Journalism Opportunities Conference is open to all students and professionals, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Students eligible to participate in the job fair must be college sophomores, juniors, seniors or graduate students. Job interviews are walk-ups, although some recruiters may schedule their own appointments. Not all recruiters will be at the job fair both days, with the most on Friday.

Operating hours of the Job Fair will be: Thursday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed noon to 2 p.m. for lunch; Friday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed noon to 2 p.m. for lunch. Registration opens at 8 a.m. on Thursday and Friday.

RELATED: Register to be a recruiter/exhibitor

Workshops and panel discussions will be held both Thursday and Friday.

Meals: Coffee and tea will be provided each morning. Registration includes one ticket each for the Friday luncheon. No meals will be provided on other days or times.

Parking: Parking is available at USC Parking Structure D at W. Jefferson Blvd. and Royal St. for $10 a day. There is also 4-hour metered parking on the street.

Fees: Registration is $25 for students and $50 for professionals.

Note: Those who pre-registered by Friday Sept. 26, 2014 will receive free registration provided in part by The California Wellness Foundation, with a refundable $20 deposit. The deposit will be returned when you pick up registration material on-site. If you fail to show up, the deposit is forfeited. Registration fees will apply after Sept. 26, 2014.

Cancellation/Refund Policy: Cancellations made after Sept. 26, 2014, are nonrefundable

Hotels: If overnight accommodations are needed, please contact CCNMA for recommendations.

For more information contact CCNMA at (424) 229-9482 or email at

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