National Association of Black Journalists pulls out of coalition of minority journalism associations called UNITY
There may not be a more ironically named organization these days than UNITY: Journalists of Color, a coalition of minority journalism organizations formed in the mid '90s to help pool diversity efforts in news media.
On Sunday, leaders of the National Association of Black Journalists voted to pull out of the coalition, which also includes groups representing Asian American, Native American and Hispanic journalists, also withdrawing from a joint UNITY conference planned for next year.
The move could be momentous for UNITY, because the black journalists group often provides more than half the attendees for the joint conference, which has been held every four years at different sites across the country. At issue, is the NABJ's contention that it does not have a voice in UNITY's operation reflective of how much support it gives the organization -- each member group has an equal number of votes -- and that UNITY has not been transparent enough about its finances.
"While NABJ remains committed to the coalition's mission of achieving parity in newsroom employment and accurate coverage of people of color, NABJ board members concluded that as a business model, UNITY no longer is the most financially prudent for NABJ and its membership," read the statement released by NABJ on Sunday. "As the largest organization of journalists of color, NABJ remains vigilantly committed to the common ideals for which UNITY was founded, and further, remains allied with each UNITY partner in its individual mission of achieving these goals."
UNITY president Joanna Hernandez answered with her own statement Sunday. "I am saddened by the decision that the board of directors of the National Association of Black Journalists has made to leave the alliance of UNITY: Journalists of Color," it read in part. "The programming committee for the UNITY 2012 convention in Las Vegas has begun planning innovative workshops and sessions of interest to all journalists. We welcome everyone committed to our mission to attend the convention. And we will always welcome feedback and encourage suggestions from NABJ members.
So although the NABJ board has made this decision, we will never shut the door nor turn our backs on our friends and colleagues."
But many questions remain. Can UNITY present a conference without the official participation of the NABJ and its massive membership? Can the NABJ drop participation in the conference without financial costs? Can the black journalists group organize its own conference for 2012, particularly if its obligations toward UNITY are not fully resolved?
Most importantly, does this dispute signal that even groups representing journalists of color can't agree on how to work toward diversifying the news media?
I have attended UNITY conferences in Atlanta, Seattle and the most recent gathering in 2008, in Chicago. Though we attendees often groused that the conventions should have more shared events -- each member organization has its own roster of activities along with several joint events -- the conventions were always inspiring examples of the achievements possible when the nation's four largest journalism organizations representing people of color unified their efforts. (full disclosure: I also serve on the board of the local NABJ chapter and helped organize its Tampa conference in 2009).
The move comes at a tough time for all journalism organizations, which have struggled to raise money and maintain attendance at conventions as the numbers of jobs are slashed across the industry and fewer sponsorship dollars are available. Conventions by minority journalism organizations, particularly NABJ, are often the most-attended journalism gatherings in the country, filled with workshops on developing professional skills and a jobs fair featuring recruiters from news outlets across the country.
Such challenges could not be anticipated by in 1994 when the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association and the National Association of Black Journalists came together to form UNITY.
But in recent years, representatives of NABJ have sought to change the funding formula for UNITY, which gives the umbrella organization a significant share of proceeds from the joint conference. The black journalists group has suggested options which give most member groups a greater share of the proceeds; those proposals were voted down by the UNITY board. Last year, Hernandez was elected president of the group in a rare, contested election which saw a former NABJ president unexpectedly defeated.
Recent figures from the American Society of News Editors show that, even as employment figures in journalism have ticked up a bit, jobs numbers for minority journalists have declined for the third straight year.
There would seem to be no worse time for infighting among groups advocating for more media diversity.