ARTHUR FENNELL (1995-1997)
...Yet in the months before Arthur Fennell became NABJ's first "on-air" president, only six years after attending his first convention, he was still unknown to many longtime members. Fennell had been a chapter leader in two cities and a two-term regional director.
was the first unopposed presidential campaign since the early years, so there were questions.Would he
be all style and no substance?Which direction would he
take the association?Could he
handle the pressure?
Two years later - after moneymaking conventions in Nashville and Chicago, a new NABJ Media Institute
, a renewed bond between the national board of directors and membership, a headquarters relocation and consistent national exposure - Fennell
had erased all doubts.His
board was filled with several new members, including five of whom he
had to appoint because of vacancies.But Fennell
used finely honed interpersonal skills to transform a climate of mistrust and hostility into enthusiasm and consensus. "Arthur was a great president," said Monroe Anderson, director of station services and community affairs for WBBM-TV in Chicago and the Region V director on Fennell's board.
had this very laid-back ability to get people to do things for the organization without browbeating them or threatening them," added Monroe, a former longtime print journalist and veteran observer of Windy City politics."You wanted to help Arthur
out.It was the way he
phrased things, the way he
explained why he
needed your help on something."
Not only was Fennell ready, Anderson said, he
was "camera ready."That would prove to be crucial as NABJ
took to the national stage.Six months into his term, Fennell held a press conference in New Orleans, with his board of directors and several chapter presidents standing with him, to say the city risked losing a future NABJ convention because of Louisiana's new executive order limiting affirmative action. Later that year, in Nashville, Fennell shared the stage at different times with Vice President Al Gore; Bob Dole and Jack Kemp, the 1996 Republican presidential ticket, and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. (A photo of Fennell and Dole ran on the front page of the New York Times.) That same week, Fennell was again on stage during the annual NABJ awards ceremony, which for the only time was taped for later national broadcast on Black Entertainment Television (BET).
The next year in Chicago, Fennell
walked on stage with Bill Clinton in one of NABJ's
most profound national moments.Marking the only time a U.S.
president visited an NABJ convention, Clinton delivered a policy address on education as members beamed and CNN
carried it live.
wasn't just a figurehead.He
could be tough, willing to stand up against the most intimidating foes to fight for NABJ members.
When the Fruit of Islam (security team) insisted on body-searching members before letting them into the plenary session to hear Farrakhan, the president went into the bowels of the convention center and found the minister.Interrupting an interview of the minister by NABJ students, Fennell
told him the event would be cancelled if his
bodyguards didn't desist.
In Chicago, the Secret Service
demanded that Fennell scale back the Newsmaker Luncheon in both time and tables so they could sweep the hotel ballroom for Clinton and set up space for the press. Fennell
refused to compromise the convention for Clinton's visit.He
argued that key NABJ awards were to be given at the luncheon and that the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Geronimo Pratt, who had recently been freed after years of wrongful imprisonment in California, were to speak.
handled that masterfully," said JoAnne Lyons Wooten, NABJ's executive director at the time, who participated in the negotiations."A lot of people would have backed down when the advance team for the president of the United States
had taken a position.This was not something they were asking.They said the tables have to go and Arthur
would not have it.
Some members also felt that Fennell
shied away from challenging media executives about increasing newsroom diversity.
A self-described sports nut and golf addict, Fennell
responded to such criticism as par for the course for TV anchors, and for NABJ
admits concentrating on increasing NABJ's profile and leaving it stronger for his
"My theory was, if this organization was lifted up to a position of power, and people could see its members' intellect and the prestige, then we could better meet some of the goals that we had been struggling for years to obtain," he
Make no mistake, however, the Fennell
administration did tackle meaty issues.He
assembled an editorial board of respected print journalists to address such concerns as newsroom diversity, media coverage of Africa and the CIA's role in supplying drugs to black neighborhoods.The board's views were published as a syndicated column, "NABJ Speaks," under his
byline in many black newspapers and even some mainstream publications.The editorial board also contributed to the NABJ Journal
, which was revamped from a newsletter into a magazine. "Arthur did an excellent job in making sure we were out front on a lot of issues that were of concern to us as black journalists and to us as black people," said Paula Madison, a former NABJ executive board member who is vice president and news director of WNBC-TV in New York.
A prodigious fund raiser, Fennell
also strived to expand NABJ
internally.Many point to the NABJ Media Institute
as one of his
Executive Director Wooten credited Fennell
with supporting her
efforts to revamp the association's' financial record keeping.Many noted that Fennell's
administration was rare in that it did not have strife between the president or executive committee and the executive director.
allowed me to do my job," Wooten said simply. Fennell
was more interested in looking long term.He
appointed a multi-tiered
committee of veteran members to produce a five-year strategic plan.It focused on finance, fund raising, marketing, programs, membership services, the national office, local chapters, technology and governance. "I was determined to use them," Fennell said of the many longtime and new members who served on committees and task forces.
, now 40, left WCAU shortly after stepping down as NABJ president to start his
own media consulting company.He
is now managing editor/anchor of Comcast Network, a regional news show in Philadelphia.He
has two daughters, Austyn, 6, and Alexis, 5, and lives in Voorhees, N.J.
Herbert Lowe is a staff writer at Newsday
in Queens, N.Y.He was elected NABJ vice president-print in 1999 after serving as NABJ secretary from 1995-1999.