The Anxiety – and Reward – of Attending Your First Journalism Conference

Class Of 2021 NBCU Academy Embeds
NBCU Academy embeds Jacqueline Mata, Jay Valle, Ashton Jackson, Claretta Bellamy, Brahmjot Kaur and Edwin Flores at NBC Studios, New York City, July 2022. (NBCU News Group/Virginia Sherwood)

For the first time since the pandemic sent us huddling over Zoom, many national journalism conventions are being held in person this year. The return to gathering in a physical space has been much anticipated. In July, the Asian American Journalists Association convention in Los Angeles sold out, and earlier this month a record 5,000 journalists of color attended the joint National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The Native American Journalists Association met in Phoenix last week, and next week NLGJA: The Association for LGBTQ Journalists convention kicks off in Chicago. 

While panel topics at these conventions often focus on representation in newsrooms, best practices and how their communities are covered, a large component is simply connecting with others who understand the hurdles and triumphs of being one of a few like them in a newsroom. The experience has been especially exciting for young journalists — recent graduates who had missed out on face-to-face networking opportunities in the last few years. 

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Our NBCU Academy embeds were a few of these young professionals who chatted with seasoned journalists, helped set up panels and learned skills from respected leaders in the industry. Below, two of them describe why the conferences meant so much to them and what it was like to feel supported and surrounded by immense solidarity.

Brahmjot Kaur, NBCU Academy Embed at NBC Asian America, on attending the AAJA convention

When I was in college, no one ever told me how beneficial a professional conference like the Asian American Journalists Association convention could be for rising journalists. I didn’t know it existed. 

In fact, before attending AAJA in July, I was too embarrassed to admit I was unfamiliar with it, but it’s important for others unaware not to miss out. The convention was an incredible experience that allowed me to learn more about reporting for Asian Americans, to connect with other journalists and to really feel included.

Edwin and Brahmjot
Flores and Kaur at the AAJA convention in Los Angeles, July 28, 2022.

I attended panels on the rise in anti-Asian hate, current events and advice to grow as journalists. I took NBCU Academy workshops that brought me out of my comfort zone, introduced me to new beats and let me work closely with established professionals who guided us through activities. A standout moment was attending NBCU Academy’s “Breaking Into Business With CNBC” panel, since I had no initial interest in covering business news. But by the end of the session, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It reminded me how important it is to be receptive to new ideas and to remind myself to try new things.

Leading up to the first day, I was worried the conference would feel lonely. Networking is a crucial part of any professional conference, and with the pandemic rendering in-person socializing impossible for the last two years, I was a little anxious.

At the opening reception, however, several Asian American journalists approached my team at NBC Asian America and NBCU Academy to introduce themselves and mingle. I realized how inclusive most attendees were, and I made several connections and friendships at that reception that I hope to continue.

I met people from other news organizations and different brands at NBCUniversal I hadn’t had the pleasure to work with. I learned networking is more than just collecting a name or adding someone on LinkedIn. Networking includes eating lunch together, getting bubble tea after the panels and getting to know others past their name and job title. 

Aside from the professional side of networking, I also had casual hang-out sessions with other Asian American journalists my age. Another attendee hosted a small informal gathering at their apartment nearby on the last night of the convention, where we all had the chance to laugh, hang out and enjoy each others’ company. 

Creating friendships in the media industry and having a supportive community that understands what it’s like to navigate the journalism landscape are just as important as professional networking.

Edwin Flores, NBCU Academy Embed at NBC Latino, on attending the NABJ/NAHJ convention

Virtual meetings can’t compare with being able to network in person. And earlier this month, the joint NABJ/NAHJ national convention in Las Vegas was one of the first in-person events I was fortunate enough to attend as an early-career journalist.

The internet might have helped level access to recruiters, hiring managers and fellow journalists, but talking to people is much more meaningful in person. At the convention, I was able to stir up conversations without the pressure of trying to find a job (I’m already working as an NBCU Academy embed) and could connect with others by scanning my personalized Blinq QR code, a free digital business card app that shares your contact info.

Kaur and Flores at AAJA.

The biggest highlights were getting a shoutout from Sandra Lilley, NBC Latino’s managing editor, during NBCU Academy’s panel on bilingual reporting, and meeting the esteemed NBC News and MSNBC anchor José Díaz-Balart, who encouraged me to continue making the most of my opportunity at the network.

Aside from working with the NBCU Academy team to make sure events ran smoothly, I also reconnected with about a dozen students from my alma mater, California State University, Fullerton. They all left feeling revitalized after learning more about the industry and establishing connections that could lead to internships and jobs. Anthony Bautista, the new president of Cal State Fullerton’s NAHJ chapter, told me he’s inspired to collaborate with other student chapters in the academic year.

In comparison, after I graduated in the spring of 2021, I attended the virtual NAHJ 2021 International Training Conference and Career Fair, where technical difficulties created a backlog of meetings for recruiters. As a result, I couldn’t connect with a few people I was scheduled to meet. But this year, I met around 40 to 50 people.

More importantly, the convention may have been the largest gathering of journalists of color, NABJ President Dorothy Tucker told the Las Vegas Review-JournalInspiring discussions and panels were held regarding diversity in the newsroom, including within investigative reporting and women of color in sports reporting. The panel on bilingual reporting emphasized the scope and value of being able to report in English and Spanish, locally and nationally.  

Diversity in newsrooms has been a perpetual issue. Of all full-time U.S. news employees, only 7% are Latino, according to the 2018 News Leaders Association survey — well below the 18% of Latinos in the general U.S. population. Following the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, numerous news organizations committed to increasing the number of people of color they employed, but two years later, a Pew Research Center analysis found that fewer than half of almost 12,000 journalists surveyed said their organization prioritized issues of diversity and inclusion, while about half said they participated in a workplace training session about diversity in the past year.

Experts say a lack of diversity can have a significant impact on coverage since a more diverse staff can bring a broader range of stories and perspectives. During the NAHJ Hall of Fame gala, Diana Fuentes, Rebecca Aguilar, Robert Hernandez and the late Steve Gonzales were inducted for significantly advancing the number of Latinos in newsrooms and for coverage of Latino communities. Following in the path they helped pave, journalists of color should continue rompiendo barreras, as the conference slogan reminded us – breaking barriers.

Join NBCU Academy at NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists’ convention in Chicago, Sept. 8-11.

Learn more about the NBCU Academy embed program:

Brahmjot Kaur

is an NBCU Academy embed and reporter for NBC Asian America. She covers stories about the Asian American community to celebrate and uplift the voices of others, as well as managing the vertical’s Instagram. Before her role at NBC News, Brahmjot was an environmental justice fellow for Inside Climate News, an editor at The Campus magazine and an editorial intern for Gothamist. She graduated from the City College of New York and currently resides in New York.


Edwin Flores

is an NBCU Academy embed working with NBC Latino. He is a recent graduate of California State University, Fullerton, where he earned a degree in communications with an emphasis in journalism, and a certificate in digital media. As an undergrad, Edwin was recognized with 24 regional and national honors for his work in journalism. Edwin was raised in Anaheim, California, where he still resides, spending his spare time mountain biking, long-boarding and participating in recreational soccer and basketball.