By Elizabeth Owens and Jacquelyn Cole
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire
WASHINGTON Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry repeated themes from his July 29 acceptance speech while keying in on issues of concern to minorities at the largest and most diverse gathering of journalists in the United States. Kerry spoke at the Unity 2004 conference for journalists of color.
Kerry said his belief that “America can do better” was reinforced as he looked at the talent in the ballroom of the Washington Convention Center.
About 5,000 journalists attended the speech. Afterward, Kerry answered questions posed by four panelists representing the groups that compose Unity: the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.
Kerry said all Americans need affordable and accessible health care but that minorities in particular are often without it.
The Democratic nominee said that on day one of his presidency, “I’m sending health care” to Congress.
At a convention where diversity in the workplace is a key focus, Kerry addressed the diversity of what he hopes will be his own future workplace. He said he has always included minorities on his staff and would continue to do so as president.
“I will reopen the doors of the White House itself to the first Americans,” Kerry said. “I will appoint Native Americans to key positions in the White House.”
Kerry said Bush didn’t commit enough money to fund his No Child Left Behind Act, which Kerry said has resulted in a loss of teachers and instruction in social sciences, creating inequalities among school districts.
“We still see two school systems in America,” Kerry said.
In response to a question, Kerry said he is against the ongoing consolidation of media companies.
Kerry said he will pursue a policy “that tries to have as diverse and broad ownership as possible.”
Kerry told the journalists that they have a critical role to play in the election.
“You will report and referee the arena of a great national campaign,” he said.
Marlene Kahan, executive director of the American Society of Magazine Editors in New York, said Kerry “appeared to be genuinely interested in the minorities of this country.”
Some journalists did not think Bush would fare as well when he answers questions from the panel.
“I think it’s going to be really hard for him to deal with our diversity here,” said Christopher Williams, 24, of Philadelphia Newspapers.
Williams said he thought some might shun Bush for his refusal to speak at the NAACP’s conference last month.
In addition to hearing political figures, minority journalists are participating in workshops that address issues such as planning presidential coverage, dealing with controversial photographs and teaching diversity in a news organization. They also are attending parties sponsored by media companies.
Nearly 8,000 journalists, communications specialists and students are attending the convention, which began Wednesday and runs through Sunday. Unity is held every five years.
One highlight is a daily career expo. There, minority journalists sit across tables from editors of the best news organizations in the country, showing samples of their work and talking about job opportunities.
Nigel Goodman, 23, a journalism student at Northwestern University, said the expo can contribute to increasing diversity in news organizations.
“Without diversity in the newsroom, you can’t have diversity in coverage,” Goodman said.
Meeting minority journalists who have become editors and leaders in their news organizations is the best part of the convention, he added.
“It’s inspiring,” he said. “It gives me hope that I can be there too.”