In Rare Vote, NAHJ Rep Wins as Unity Leader

The ousted leader of Unity, an coalition of minority journalists, feels there was a campaign to keep an NABJ members out of the top spot.

Barbara Ciara/Joanna Hernandez (Washington Post)
Barbara Ciara/Joanna Hernandez (Washington Post)

NABJ’s Ciara Sees Effort to Deny Her Group the Top Job

In a contested election that is rare for the board of Unity: Journalists of Color, Joanna Hernandez, a Washington Post multiplatform editor who represents the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, was elected president of Unity on Sunday.

She defeated Barbara Ciara of the National Association of Black Journalists, the current Unity president who was seeking a full term. Ciara told Journal-isms she felt a “gentleman’s agreement” was violated: that she would win the seat unopposed.

“Obviously, there were other agendas,” said Ciara, an anchor and managing editor at WTKR-TV in Norfolk, Va. She said she was told “there were those who felt that NABJ shouldn’t have a second bite at the apple.” The vote was 11-6.

Unity, a coalition of the national associations of black, Hispanic, Asian American and Native American journalists, has rotated its leadership among the four groups. Since Unity’s first convention in 1994, it has worked hard to overcome the cultural differences among the associations.

Still, it has been a challenge to ensure that each group feels fairly represented despite the varying sizes of their memberships. Within NABJ, the largest of the groups, there have been consistent grumblings that it was not receiving its due, considering its size.

The back story on Sunday’s vote began a year ago, when Rafael Olmeda, former president of NAHJ, stepped down as Unity president, citing personal reasons. Ciara, who had been NABJ president, was chosen to complete Olmeda’s term, which ends Dec. 31, and Hernandez was picked as Unity vice president. John Yearwood, world editor of the Miami Herald and chair of the Unity nominating committee, and Michaela Saunders, a reporter at the Omaha (Neb.) World Herald and board secretary, confirmed that Ciara said at the time that she did not want to give up the chance to run for a full term as president.

Traditionally, according to Ciara, the heads of the various associations would consult and agree on someone to run for each of the offices.

This year, when the board put out its call for candidates, Hernandez said, “I just took it at face value.” She said she knew nothing of a “gentleman’s agreement.” As one who had been laid off by the New York Times in 2007, she said she believed that Unity needed to “get back to basics” — jobs, increasing diversity in newsrooms and “focusing on communities of color,” she said.