to the Cause:
A Salute to NABJ's Presidents"
Aubespin has spent a lifetime defying the odds, summoning, seemingly
at will, a compelling spell of vision, compassion, persuasion and
energy to create possibilities where few would have dared to imagine them.
surprisingly, a hallmark of Aubespin's term as NABJ president (beginning
with a narrow election victory over a highly favored candidate) was
significantly raising the profile of the organization, greatly expanding
its membership while lending it a more prominent presence in national
and international arenas. In a sense, NABJ became truly progressive
under Aubespin's guidance and careful consensus building.
short order, Aubespin established the organization's first national
office. It was housed in a modest space in the building that was
home to The Courier-Journal, the regional newspaper based in
Louisville for which Aubespin has worked more than 30 years
as an artist (long ago he had designed NABJ's familiar logo),
reporter and administrator. He even hired a part-time secretary
to do clerical work and answer NABJ's telephone, simple yet essential
tasks for an organization being transformed from a relatively
small, insular group into a large, professional one.
further mark and ensure that transformation, Aubespin worked with NABJ's
new treasurer, Thomas Morgan III, to hire the organization's first financial
auditor. He stepped up the publication cycle of the NABJ Journal,
turning it into a quarterly. He also traveled 100,000 miles, visiting,
as he said, "every chapter I could and going everywhere I was invited.''
founder and twice-president of the Louisville Association of Black
Communicators was, as he is still fond of saying, creating NABJ "family."
this day thousands of young journalists affectionately refer to the
gregarious, bespectacled man with a friendly round face and silver
hair as "Uncle Merv." He remains a popular mentor
and college lecturer.
right away, and not without controversy, Aubespin began forging visible
alliances between NABJ and the organizational and corporate leadership
of mainstream media. All the while he tried to allay fears of members
troubled that NABJ, which was largely founded to challenge white media
to open its newsrooms and boardrooms to black journalists, might
be getting too cozy with those better kept at arm's length.
strategy, he recalled recently, was sound: "I wanted to get
white media leadership to involve itself in NABJ so it could
establish some relationships and we could all be less confrontational."
a result, he said, "For the first time white editors and news
directors and white media leadership - with their financial resources
- came together with NABJ and its mission.''
and critics agree that NABJ was forever changed by the infusion of
white media interests and money.
Aubespin's first NABJ convention as president, in 1984 in Atlanta,
the gathering had grown to 1,000 participants. That amount was three
times the attendance of the New Orleans convention the previous year
and included 750 black journalists. And the scale of workshops and
receptions, some of which were underwritten by major corporations,
had grown decidedly grand. In some ways downright opulent.
NABJ had become a news story, heavily covered by local and national
1984 David Hawpe was among the first large wave of white editors invited
to attend an NABJ convention. Hawpe, who was then managing editor
of The Courier-Journal, remembers feeling apprehensive about openly participating
in the meeting of black journalists.
really didn't know whether it would be viewed as appropriate for
me to be there,'' he said. But in the end, he looked to Aubespin
and "like it's been true so many times with my relationship
with him, I had to trust his judgment and I went.''
was hardly alone. The newsroom and corporate leaders of such publications
like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune
and The Wall Street Journal also were present.
now a vice president with the Courier-Journal and director of its
editorial page, said his involvement with NABJ that began with Aubespin
has provided an opportunity to meet many African-American journalists
from all over the country.
horizons have expanded in all directions in terms of knowing people,
really knowing them, so I could call them up and talk comfortably with
them, share concerns with them and seek advice from them,'' he said.
new relationships often worked both ways.
gained influence in the mostly white American Society of Newspaper
Editors (ASNE), leading to new programs, such as its minority job
fair and the "flying short courses" that practically parachuted
newsroom professionals into predominately black college classrooms
for short, yet intense instruction in the ways of American
Middlebrook, an associate editor for recruitment at Newsday and an
NABJ board member under Aubespin, recently remarked: "Merv was
probably the first populous president of NABJ. He brought a
lot of disparate factors together under his watch.''
Aubespin proudly notes that his board, composed of many members who
did not vote for his presidency, was able to make NABJ decisions
without a dissenting vote.
has an uncanny ability to make people feel comfortable, relaxed,
and then he strikes with his agenda,'' Michael Days, deputy managing editor
of the Philadelphia Daily News and a former board member, said of the
Aubespin's leadership. "He's a motivator.''
personal history is a journey in continually pushing himself as
well as others to achieve, to make a way even when there did not
appear to be a way.
in Opelousas, La., Aubespin in 1958 graduated from Tuskegee University
in Alabama. Shortly after, he moved to Louisville to teach industrial
arts at a junior high school in a poor section of the city's black
community. He landed a job at The Courier-Journal as a staff artist
in the fall of 1967.
race riots erupted in Louisville the following summer, editors desperate
to cover the violence looked for someone who could enter the scene
and report what he saw with relative safety. At the time the newspaper's
reporting staff was all white and some had been threatened in the
city's riot-torn sections. Without training or a journalism background,
Aubespin volunteered, and reported back what he observed.
1971 he attended a special minority journalism program at Columbia
University in New York to further establish and refine his reporting
and writing skills. The next year, Aubespin became a staff writer
at the newspaper, covering a variety of local beats, including
civil rights and public transportation. In 1981 he was a key participant
in conceiving and completing an award-winning, weeklong series that
detailed the state of life for blacks in Louisville.
1985 Aubespin became The Courier-Journal's associate editor for development,
responsible for staff development, recruiting and operating the newspaper's
intern program. In recent years he laid the groundwork that
led to the creation of the American Copy Editors Association (ACES) and
was named to the Kentucky Journalists Hall of Fame.
has also been a frequent lecturer and guest faculty member for such
groups as the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and the Institute for
Journalism Education (IJE). And he has helped lead groups of journalists
throughout Africa and Central America as part of the United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP).
his years as NABJ president, Aubespin said he "feels good, very
good. What it has always been about with this organization is not
forgetting why we formed. The bottom line remains jobs, training
Marriott is a reporter for The New York Times' Circuits section.
He is also a winner of a NABJ Outstanding Achievement Award in
1981 for his work on the series "Being Black in Louisville:
A Dream Deferred."
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