The Unity alliance opened its first convention without the National Association of Black Journalists in Las Vegas on Wednesday, with Executive Director Onica N. Makwakwa estimating the registration at “over 2,000” and telling Journal-isms that the coalition fell $200,000 short of its sponsorship goals. It had sought $1.25 million, she said.
With then-presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama as a draw, the Unity convention in Chicago in 2008 attracted 7,550 attendees by its final Sunday.
NABJ, the largest alliance partner, left Unity: Journalists of Color, Inc., last year over financial and governance issues. Four months later, in August 2011, Unity sought out the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association as a partner. At NLGJA’s request, board members vote d in April to change the name to Unity Journalists.
NABJ held its own convention in New Orleans in June, drawing 2,386 registrants, according to Executive Director Maurice Foster, who is at the Las Vegas convention with others in NABJ’s leadership.
At times on Wednesday, convention speakers pretended NABJ did not exist, and they continued to call the gathering the world’s or the nation’s largest meeting of journalists. At other times, they expressed hopes that NABJ would return to Unity, which first met in 1994. Mentions of the newest partner, NLGJA, drew applause from NLGJA members.
In the opening session’s biggest misstep, Mark Whitaker, executive vice president and managing editor of CNN Worldwide, moderating a panel, “A Difficult Conversation: Our Personal Identity and How We Cover Race, Ethnicity, Culture and Gender Issues,” falsely stated that NABJ had left Unity because of the presence of NLGJA. He asked for comments on the proposition that “as we become more diverse, we find that we have some of these conflicts among ourselves.”
None of the panelists corrected Whitaker. Sports journalist L.Z. Granderson of ESPN, a member of both NABJ and NLGJA, praised NABJ but responded, in part, that “diversity is more than skin.”
Michele Salcedo, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, was among those who reached out to NABJ. “Let us make 2012 the only Unity conference without NABJ in the alliance,” she said in her remarks.