A "Quintuple Threat" Journalist

Friday, November 9, 2012
[NOTE: for a change of pace from politics, I am posting an article I wrote about a local reporter for my Newswriting and Reporting class this past spring.  I recently met her again at the Romney event in Kettering in late October and asked if I could share it with the world--she graciously agreed.  Please bear in mind that it was written over six months ago and some items may not reflect their current statuses.]

A “Quintuple Threat” Journalist

May 1, 2012

Amelia Robinson—reporter, columnist, online aggregator, mentor and union official

One of the first indicators about how deeply involved a journalist is within their local community is the level of difficulty trying to arrange an interview with them.  Such was the case when I initially contacted Amelia Robinson, beat reporter and weekly columnist for The Dayton Daily News.  The ‘30-something’ graduate of Ohio University’s prestigious E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and 12-year employee of  Ohio’s fifth most-read newspaper took nearly two full days to respond to my initial request and several more to coordinate a face-to-face early morning meeting at a downtown coffee shop last Friday.  Our 45-minute session addressed her activities, her unique personality, and her professional and personal goals that helped explain her delay.

Robinson, a Cleveland native and graduate of that city’s General Benjamin O. Davis Aviation High School, knew that she wanted to be a journalist from an early age and her elementary and high school teachers helped steer her in that direction.  After graduation from Ohio University, she worked at The Mansfield News Journal for three years before joining the Dayton paper in 2000.  While with the Daily News, Robinson has worked a variety of beats and she is currently covering the Greene county suburbs of Beavercreek, Sugarcreek, Xenia and Bellbrook for that daily.

As a lifestyles reporter, Robinson covered topics such as the arts, fashion and “whatever the emphasis was of the section” as decided by her editors.  One of her career highlights was meeting Diahann Carroll, the first black actress to star in a US television series (Julia, running from September 1968 through March 1971), during her visit to Dayton in September 2010.  Carroll was a featured speaker in a Town Hall series sponsored by the Junior League of Dayton where she discussed her successful battle against breast cancer almost a dozen years earlier. 

“Spectacular” was the only adjective that Robinson could provide to describe the television, film, and Broadway star but she immediately followed that praise with similarly fond reflections on interviewing more down-to-earth people during her time in this area.  She credits her journalistic ‘license’ for helping her find out more about the Dayton area than she would have if she were only an ordinary citizen.

What led me to reach out to her specifically was not her beat reporting but a weekly commentary column she writes for the ‘Life’ section of the Saturday edition.  Branded as ‘Smart Mouth’, Robinson is given the chance to escape the traditional constraints imposed by ‘straight news’ rules and simply comment on what she feels like commenting on. 

Started around 2005, her column was one of several that the paper initiated to allow their reporters to ‘humanize’ themselves to their readers and write about what interested them.  Recent columns by Robinson touch upon her bitterness over the decision by NASA not to award a retired shuttle to the Dayton area National Museum of the United States Air Force and the boorish cellphone behavior by an audience member attending the local presentation of Carrie Fisher’s “Naturally Drinking” the previous weekend. 

Being a full-time columnist is one of Robinson’s professional goals but, unfortunately, working in such a small market precludes her from focusing solely on those submissions so she returned to a news beat to remain gainfully employed.   When asked about any guidelines she has to follow for her commentaries, she stated that the subjects must be local in nature and not too contentious that her personal opinions might possibly alienate her readers. Once such issue, a contentious on-going dispute about the construction of a city bus line stop at a suburban shopping mall within her area of reporting, will not be addressed in ‘Smart Mouth’ due to it being a “complicated” issue and her need to retain objectivity at city council meetings and other venues where this matter has been addressed.

In addition to these traditional journalistic activities, Robinson also oversees the “Seen and Overheard” and “Celebrity Worship” blogs on the paper’s website where she initially posts items that sometimes show up in her “Smart Mouth” columns.  In another acknowledgement of the importance of having an online presence, she opened a Twitter account in February 2009 and has ‘tweeted’ over 2,100 times about a wide variety of subjects to her 800+ ‘followers’. 

While all of these duties and responsibilities may sound like a full day’s worth of work, Robinson has several other tasks that occupy her time away from the office.  Since 2003, Robinson has been involved with the Greater Dayton Association of Black Journalists, a local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists

Amelia Robinson, right, talks to two participants at the Greater Dayton Association of Black Journalists’ 2012 Black Journalists Bootcamp (Photo by Audra Sparks, Associate Editor, daytoninformer.com)

Currently serving as its president, she and the other executive committee members saw a need to increase diversity in the industry’s newsrooms and to place emphasis on those groups that are currently underrepresented.  Robinson herself was the benefactor of a similar group during her high school years.  She was awarded a scholarship by the NABJ’s Cleveland chapter and participated in their Urban Journalism Workshop, a program where students were put in real-world situations with professional journalists.  The GDABJ established annual day-long ‘boot camps’ to bring in local high school and college students and expose them to the environments and situations that they may one day face themselves.

During her time in Dayton, Robinson has seen some improvement in local media—primarily in key roles on television—but acknowledges that diversity was one of the first things to be deemphasized in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown and the ongoing struggles experienced by print journalism in today’s multimedia society.   “We’ve only scratched the surface”, she said about the GDABJ’s goal of expanding and balancing the coverage of minority communities in the Miami Valley and admits that her own paper’s news department is “not where it should be.”

Her final role is one that you would not expect a self-admitted introvert to undertake but it is one that is vital to the continued existence of professional journalism in the Dayton region.  Robinson presently serves as first vice president of the Dayton Newspaper Guild, Local 34157 of the Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America.  Robinson’s grandfather had been a union member so the idea of labor organization was not a foreign concept and she credits her involvement to some of the tenured reporters who mentored her when she first started working at the Daily News.

While she says that the paper is “a good company to work for,” Robinson credits the Guild for holding them accountable to their employees.  “Workers have rights”, she said, adding that while she likes working there, she does not “necessarily think that those two things have to be in conflict.”

“One of the reasons why I’m a journalist is because I believe in justice,” Robinson continued.  “People have a right to a decent life.”  To attract professional journalists, she says that the Guild advocates “keeping salaries and benefits decent so you can attract good people.”

Amelia Robinson, 1st vice president of the Dayton Newspaper Guild, talks to a television reporter during the group’s picketing of Dayton’s Cox Media Center on 16 March 2012 (video capture courtesy of WDTN)

The Dayton Newspaper Guild and Cox Media Group have been locked in a decades-long struggle to renegotiate a labor agreement that was last amended in 1986.  To step up pressure on the paper’s management staff, Guild members have been conducting protests both inside and outside the Cox Media Center to publicize their plight and to sway public opinion towards their position. During one of those events, Robinson spoke to a competing news organization about the paper’s practice of adding freelance journalists to their ranks.  “We don’t think that’s right and we don’t think that’s fair to the citizens” and her group sees this move as an attempt to “bust” their local organization.

When asked about how such a busy professional schedule affects her personal life, Robinson said that she is planning to start scaling back on some things so that she can just “sit down and watch TV or read a book or read the newspaper or watch the news.”  Although not entertaining any current offers, she did say that “upward mobility”—the practice of moving up to larger media markets—also took a hit due to the sluggish economy. 

The Dayton Daily News fared better than most newspapers”, Robinson said, due to the lack of “extras” that other periodicals had to shed in the aftermath of the 2008 recession.  She told me that things are starting to improve but many people are staying where they are until they can be certain of the industry’s future financial footing.

Unfortunately, our interview ended when she received a phone call reminding her of a contract negotiation meeting that was quickly approaching so I thanked her for her time as well as her dedication to her profession.  During our talk, I mentioned that Oprah Winfrey’s role as “the Queen of All Media” is currently vacant and that prompted a chuckle on her part.  After looking over Robinson’s resume and her on-going journalistic endeavors in Dayton, her achieving such a lofty goal might not be such a laughing matter after all.

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