This is a question that comes up so often, I might as well get the answer out of the way before someone asks me again.
I'm in Indianapolis attending NABJ's 31st Annual Convention and Career Fair.
Black journalists from across the country will spend the next three days focusing on career development, attending workshops networking....and, yes, partying.
Yes, there are non-black journalists here as well, but for the most part, they are here as recruiters.
I caught up with Bryan Monroe, NABJ President and the Vice President and Editorial Director of Ebony and Jet Magazines, Johnson Publishing Co., and asked him why--in 2006--do we still need NABJ?
Monroe's answer echoed the sentiments of many black journalists today:
"If you look at the reality of the news business, blacks are still woefully underrepresented in America's newsrooms. We make up about 13 percent of the population and between 3 and 5 percent of most mainstream newsrooms. If you slice that even further and look at blacks in leadersship positions, there's no functional diversity," he said.
"In the news business, it's important to have media that reflects the communities that they cover, otherwise you cannot accurately know what is happening in your community," Monroe said.
With diversity, listeners, viewers and readers get a "full and accurate" picture of "the communities that they live in .
"That's just a function of good journalism," Monroe said, adding that diversity also makes good business sense.
"The importance of journalism in American society is we are the only business protected by the Constitution and the First Amendment," he said. "We have an obligation to make sure that the report is accurate and complete. And it's not just about who we hire in the newsrooms," Monroe pointed out. "But at the end of the day, it's about the journalism that we do."
Lynn Pitts, Executive Producer of NBC News "Today, Weekend Edition," says she's often asked the same question, and she puts the shoe on the other foot.
"If you walk into a newsroom and there were 50 black people in the newsroom, and one white person--one lonely little soul in the newsroom --who had a problem, who would you go to? Suppose you had a conflict with another employee, who would you seek out to talk to about it ?" she asked.
"That's how NABJ started in the '80s," she said. "That's how it grew into being the organization that it is today."
Thirty-one years later, there are still newsrooms across the country where a black person is still that lonely soul.