The 2018 BND Institute of Media and Culture media camp participants with executive director Bonnie Newman Davis (front row, right) and Richmond’s NBC12 news anchor Karla Redditte (third from left). Photo: Dexter Johnson
Bonnie Newman Davis was a 1979 Minority Internship Program intern at the Louisville Times. The North Carolina A&T State University graduate spent 18 years reporting and writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Richmond News Leader and nearly as much time teaching at several universities including her alma mater. Others are the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Virginia Commonwealth, Norfolk State and Hampton universities. She holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Michigan, has written freelance articles for numerous publications, and is writing a book about African-American women journalists.
Forty years after participating in the Fund’s first minority internship program, she’s organizing three summer journalism workshops for eighth through 12th graders in June, July and August in Richmond.
Q: What was the single most valuable lesson from your News Fund experience?
A: I remember hearing the late journalist and journalism educator Sam Adams, our fearless mentor and leader, telling us that we could go anywhere and do anything once our careers were established. Sam also taught us to cherish and nurture our relationships with one another because one day we might need a job from someone in our circle.
Q: Why did you start your consulting firm and then BND Institute of Media and Culture?
A: Something else that I learned, probably as a Dow Jones intern, was that opportunities abound in journalism, including the ability to freelance while also working a full-time job. We call it a “side hustle” today, but it was a term familiar to me because my father always worked two jobs. For me, freelancing and consulting allowed me to earn extra money and stay in touch with major news-related operations outside my newsroom in Richmond, Va. For example, early in my career I wrote freelance articles for Black Enterprise magazine and edited The National Urban League’s annual “State of Black America” report. Three years ago I founded the BND Institute of Media and Culture to combine and continue my four decades of work as a journalist and journalism educator. Many of the programs hosted by my institute are designed to give the general public a better idea about what journalists do and how we do it. It’s basically taking many of the articles and topics that I’ve written about and presenting them to a live audience.
Q: In presenting the BND Summer Media Camps, you are working with quite a range of age groups. Are your goals career preparation, media literacy or both?
A: Definitely both. Having taught at the college level and as a substitute teacher and literacy coach in middle and high schools, I’ve seen the reading and literacy deficits that many students experience. Getting students excited about various forms of journalism (digital media, broadcast, photography) is a great way to help students overcome their fears toward reading and writing. Our summer media camps also include a career segment in which recent journalism or mass communications graduates advise our campers on how to navigate college and careers after college, which may include public relations, education, law and politics.
Q: You ran summer workshops years ago at Virginia Commonwealth. What have you learned from your experiences? Are things different now? And if so, how?
A: During the mid-1980s, while working for Richmond Newspapers Inc., I was a volunteer for VCU’s Urban Journalism Workshop (UJW). For me, it was a broader extension of my own Dow Jones intern experience where I met and formed friendships that continue to this day. When I joined the faculty at VCU and became academic director of the UJW program, the job came with a huge amount of responsibility that included budgeting, program design, student selection and scheduling dozens of coaches, mentors and volunteers—ALL before the two-week residential program started. Having that experience, coupled with my own Dow Jones intern experience, told me I could create a similar summer program under my BND Institute. With the support of community leaders, family and friends, the first BND Summer Media Camp, in partnership with a local church-based school, successfully took place last summer. My student program incorporates news media other than print, an approach dictated by newspaper industry changes during the past decade and the emergence of social media.
Q: Tell us what you need this summer in terms of resources, volunteers and financial help to stage these workshops?
A: Funding is always needed for equipment such as laptops, cameras, printing, transportation for field trips, scholarships and stipends for interns. I also need a good website. I handle most of the administrative work, including creating and designing and writing promotional materials, so having an administrative assistant would be amazing. Although I pretty much have the blueprint for this endeavor embedded in my brain, there are numerous moving parts that always require attention. Again, while donations from friends and family have helped support the camp, financial assistance from journalism foundations and grants would cement moving parts of the process.
Q: How did a “shy” girl muster the confidence and courage to travel and report internationally?
A: Ha! Yes, my mother often described me as “shy” while I was growing up. While it was a term I silently rejected, she probably was correct. However, I liked to think of myself as one who enjoyed “silently observing other people’s conversations” because you can learn a lot by simply listening. I think my sense of curiosity is what helped me shed whatever level of shyness I may have had. My knack for remembering details and obscure information about certain newsmakers helps. I’m one of those people who prefer reading movie credits to discussing a film’s highs and lows. Following the basic journalism practice of research and being prepared for interviews has helped me navigate all sorts of situations when meeting new people. Reading, paying attention and talking to people are important. All of it can be taxing at times, because writing or editing a story still awaits you. But it’s always worth the effort because you learn so much in the process.
Q: In such a tough media environment, what advice do you give aspiring journalists about their prospects for professional careers?
A: I’ve always believed that the sky is the limit. Prepare as best as you can (study hard, get an internship), know where you’re going and why. Find someone who can help you achieve your goals. Although I’ve had great systems of support throughout my career, I sometimes lament not having a clear, definitive end goal often until a particular role (job) ended — (“Well, why didn’t you become a newspaper executive? Well, why didn’t you become a university administrator?)
Fortunately, I now know the answer to such subliminal questions: All those years that I worked for other organizations I actually was in training to create my own. So I encourage any young journalists to embrace all opportunities, never lose sight of what makes them happy and never lose their sense of self.