Mayborn LitCon Leads With Women

The annual Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference concluded about a week ago on Sunday, July 21. In the span of three days, UNT’s Mayborn School of Journalism put together a series of speakers and panels from professionals offering valuable advice to local journalists and writers about their journeys in their respective areas of focus as writers. Saturday’s all-day excursions were sandwiched between some short-lived events on Friday and Sunday and served as the meat of this worthwhile conference.

The theme of this year’s conference was titled “Are You Not Entertained,” and while esteemed actor Russell Crowe via Gladiator has popularized this phrase, The Dentonite has chosen to focus our coverage of this conference around the nonwhite cisman, (also known as women), some of who seemingly offered the most depth, quality, and diverse conversation and advice to the up-and-coming and some already professionals in the audience.

First and foremost, although women make up 51 percent of our population, as of 2017, women make up only 39.1 percent of all newsrooms. The conference’s whole slew of 36 speakers had 15 women making the percentage of women 41.6 percent putting it just over the national percentage. Furthermore, women of color are only in 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsroom staff, 6.2 percent of local radio staff and 12.6 percent of local TV news staff and the conference was made up of almost 20 percent women of color. In general, people of color make up only 16.66 percent of newsroom staffs in comparison to the conference which made up 30.5 percent people of color. (Yay for progress and more representation than we are used to!)

We spoke with managing editor of B/R Mag Christina Tapper, after her respective panel on the future of magzines panel and ask her a few questions about the values she cultivates in the newsroom.

B/R Mag, an extension of Bleacher Report, focuses on sports and culture in reflection of its young and diverse audience following sports. In the panel, Tapper mentioned how before hiring someone she likes to see what their Twitter presence is like as a lot of their content depends on the trends of the very specific young, sports Twitter corner. They appeal to a particular niche and it works. B/R Mag has seen success in its profiles on underreported athletes in sports seldom given coverage in the sports world and for its fun content. Sports journalism has some of the most diverse coverage and diverse newsrooms, but at times, as Tapper notes herself, there’s a homogenous groupthink which can benefit from more diverse writers, pitches and stories. Tapper said she tells her team that their coverage of sports does not have to reduce athletes to stats and one-sided profiles about their sports persona. She said they are just people who want you to know about their fashion and style, music taste, hobbies, shoe deals, etc. – the story lies in the humanizing parts.

Tapper’s advice for journalists of diverse backgrounds is to be persistent in these spaces and maximize your time even when it’s hard.

“It’s tempting to say well ‘ugh I don’t see myself here, I don’t see myself on the masthead, I don’t see myself in the newsroom,’” Tapper said. “But, once you do get into those places, keep the door open for others like you. It’s very important for me when I’m at the table that I want to see others like myself at the table.”

Tapper said she makes sure to create a space where her writers and editors know their ideas matter. So, besides persistence, she said to keep believing and to keep pitching.

“The thing about storytelling is it allows us to not just tell the stories that are pertinent to our communities but it is also giving a voice, you are passing a mic to someone who may look like you, or may not look like you, it’s another underserved community,” Tapper said.

Additionally, we spoke with Jemele Hill after her talk. Hill a prominent sports journalist, known for her commentary work came into more spotlight this year after exiting SportsCenter due to her tweets about President Donald Trump. This is somewhat irrelevant as her conversation during the conference with Kevin Merida did not depend at all on this topic. Hill talked about the steps she took in her career to get her to where she is and how she navigates heavy topics.

Although mostly known for her TV persona on The Undefeated and His and Hers, Hill noted the importance her previous writing career had on her TV career . She said being a writer taught her to have an opinion and advises journalists to be well-read and well-rounded to have a career in this field. Her writing career helped her form her journalism identity so when it came to TV she just had to be herself.

“For me, being authentic I guess you could say is my brand. I want to be authentic. I want to be me in all situations. I’m the same person on TV as I am in regular life. That’s kind of how I want it to be,” Hill said in the interview.

Hill focused her talk on how sports, race, and politics have always been bunched together but rarely has it been taken apart to be explored which is where a lot of her work stems from.

“For me, it’s important to use sports to tell the story of what’s happening in the wider society. By being able to do that, it gives me a sense of peace for sure because I think it’s an important time to be in a number of different conversations in our country,” Hill said in the interview.  “I’m always looking for how sports is involved in those conversations. Or how these issues touch sports because I think sports can be a very powerful tool where people who maybe think one way, might think another way because it involves their favorite athlete or favorite team or favorite coach.”

In her talk, Hill also dropped gems on the audience mentioning how she needs to be passionate about a subject before talking about it.

“In order for me to have a hot take, there needs to be fire.”

As far her future endeavors, Hill said she’s not quite sure what’s next. She said, to a lot of people’s surprise, she may want to do things that don’t involve sports. She said it’s always been a dream of hers to have a food show - or maybe she will write a television series.

A few of us in attendance for Saturday’s packed schedule were able to listen to several informational panels about how to improve writing, pitches, coverage and maximizing the way we use technology to present stories. In session 2 around 9:30 a.m. the women of the panel, managing editor and director of photography Hannah Wise and Marcia Allert, respectably, spoke on The Future of News which included the incorporation of multimedia, audience engagement, and innovative practices.

Wise, who specifically focused on the power of social media, spoke about being collaborative with your audience and constantly checking who is reading. She said to make sure to check your biases so you can be sure to represent broader audiences saying that as of right now “people are paying subscription fees to not see themselves.”

Moreover, Wise spoke on her project at the DMN called Curious Texas which maximizes social media by asking the audience what they want to know about and they report on it, which in itself creates consistent stories. She calls it its own “little medusa project” as it brings in more questions and content to report on for the publication.

Allert, focusing on the power of images, focused heavily on the merging of technology and image with video to create interactive stories. Through historical, powerful images combined with recent, compelling images, she attempted to tell prove to the room that, “the newsroom needs to innovate.”

Another necessary panel titled Beyond the Wall: The Truth about the Border brought three Latinx journalists of color who have dedicated their careers to telling the whole truth and complexities that follow the U.S. and Mexico past and on-going border crisis. This panel was thoughtful, offering anecdotes and understanding to what covering these scenes looks like especially as people with cultural ties to the situation.

 Although our coverage is mainly focused on the women, an honorable mention has to go to author Alfredo Corchado who provided eloquent and powerful knowledge about the crisis i.e., “The border is more than just geography, it is a mindset,” and, “As border residents you are punching bag, a piñata.”

Melissa Del Bosque, reporter and author, along with Valeria Fernandez, reporter, noted their experiences when covering these heavy scenarios. Del Bosque who has followed much of the drug cartel activity, mentions how difficult making sense of the issues in Mexico can be, so it is necessary to have reuniting theme to navigate through the complexity.

“[We need a] human element that leads us through that confusing system.”

Fernandez emphasized this point while also advising to be careful especially with children you are spending a lot of time with as they are malleable and you don’t want to cause further damage to them in their predicament.

Vanessa Grigoriadis, on the panel for When Celebrity Profiles Become Investigative Journalism, awed the room with her extensive list of celebrity profiles and high-profile stories. (See: Cardi B and Offset: A Hip Hop Love Story) Grigoriadis’ main piece of advice was to stay genuine with celebrities. A question asked to the panel of two was posed about the “ace” of her interview style to which she replied, “The ace is looking people in the eyes and trying to be real.”

Following the panel with Grigoriadis being asked questions followed Grigoriadis herself becoming the narrator of an all-women panel about New Ways of Old Storytelling: The Future of Magazines. Here, we saw a variety of women journalists from the Bleacher Report Magazine and WIRED to Highline and The Atlantic. One of the best things about this panel was that it was not advertised as a “woman-in” and existed as its own thing. And, that thing was valuable. Although most of the publications are digital first, each of them stressed how good storytelling needs to translate over from traditional print because that is still the foundation of what works.

There were several notable and important moments in this conference from women and men. Newsrooms have a way to go, but a full room in a lecture hall at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center in Grapevine, showed people are willing to put in the work for it and take advice from some diverse and established figures.

 Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference holds an essay contest and awards the winners along with other separate awards to publications for their work at the conference. Here is the list of winners:

Ten Spurs’ Winners Listing

Personal Essay First Place – Daniel Garcia

Personal Essay Second Place – Jaya Wagle

Personal Essay Third Place – Anita Roastingear

Reported Narrative First Place – Jonathan Auping

Reported Narrative Second Place – Christine Heinrichs

Reported Narrative Third Place – Matt Crossman

Runner-up – Debbie Williams

Runner-up – Timothy Miller

Runner-up – George Newtown

Runner-up – Kim Horner


1st place book – "The Invisible Patient" by Tracie White.

2nd place book – "Dallas: From the City of Hate to the Home of America's Team" by Charlie Scudder. 

3rd place book - "Notorious Hoodlum: A Son's Tale" by Jim Dolan. 

Best American Newspaper Narratives 2018
First Place, The Oregonian
Kale Williams
“The Loneliest Polar Bear”

Best American Newspaper Narratives 2018
Second Place, Chicago Tribune
Patricia Callahan
“Doomed by Delay”

Best American Newspaper Narratives 2018
Third Place, Los Angeles Times
Christopher Goffard
“Dirty John”

2018 BANN runners-up
• "Twelve Seconds of Gunfire," written by John Woodrow Cox of The Washington Post
• "His Heart, Her Hands," written by Tom Hallman Jr. of The Oregonian
• "The Last Refugee," written by Jenna Russell of The Boston Globe
2018 BANN notable narratives
• "Wrong Way," written by Lisa Gartner and Zachary T. Sampson of the Tampa Bay Times
• "About a Boy," written by Casey Parks of The Oregonian
• "Hope for the Rest of Us," written by Jennifer Emily of The Dallas Morning News
• "There's Nowhere to Run, written by Kent Babb of The Washington Post
• "The House on the Corner," written by Lane DeGregory of the Tampa Bay Times

2018 Biography Fellowship winner
Alison Owings

Additional reporting by Mateo Granados and Anjelica Fraga.
Photos and header design by Tori Falcon.