The National Association of Black Journalists is seeking a larger voice within Unity: Journalists of Color, an organization that gives each of its four partner organizations the same number of votes, NABJ President Kathy Y. Times told members in a message Tuesday night.

"All four journalism organizations that make up this alliance have the same number of representatives and votes on the board of directors," Times wrote.

"As the largest partner, NABJ wants a voice that reflects its membership and convention attendance, which consistently accounts for more than half of the convention registrants. UNITY's president appointed a committee composed of alliance presidents to draft proposals, and an April 30th deadline was set for the board to review and approve a voting model."

The six-paragraph update did not directly mention the possibility of pulling out of the 2012 convention planned for Las Vegas.

However, it said, "NABJ first requested specific financial information about the 2008 UNITY convention immediately following the convention, and again this year. UNITY's president assured us these would be made available by Friday. This information is necessary to help NABJ's leadership make an informed decision about where we stand moving forward."

Over the weekend, the Unity board met face to face for the first time since NABJ raised the possibility of pulling out of the 2012 Unity convention, which brings together members of NABJ, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association. The Unity convention is the nation's largest assemblage of journalists, drawing 7,550 attendees by the final Sunday of its 2008 gathering. Predominantly white organizations such as the Society for Professional Journalists and the Radio-Television Digital News Association, by contrast, draw in the hundreds. SPJ and RTDNA plan a joint convention in September.

At a 1988 Baltimore meeting of the boards of the four organizations that eventually held the first Unity convention in 1994 in Atlanta, a special effort was made to present each group equally, extending even to the seating arrangements at the table.

Joanna Hernandez, Unity president, said this month in an e-mail to Unity members, "As an alliance partner, NABJ has concerns. It's always the right time to bring concerns to the surface. This is the only way the UNITY board can begin to address them head on and iron out differences in a true collaboration with all UNITY partners sitting as equals at the table."

However, NABJ has pointed out that NABJ represented 53.32 percent of the Unity convention attendance in 2008, with AAJA at 20.4 percent, NAHJ at 22.66 percent and the Native American Journalists Association at 3.61 percent, according to NABJ figures.

In its weekend meeting, the Unity board voted for a resolution asserting that "the alliance partners should have a fair, equitable representation at the table," and thus "the Governance Committee made up of the four alliance presidents will review and recommend a revised process to represent the alliance partners in decision making, with the UNITY board of directors to approve by April 30, 2011."

Michele Salcedo, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, voted against the resolution on behalf of herself and, by proxy, NAHJ member Cecilia Alvear, saying the resolution should include the words "as necessary" after "recommend a revised process." Times responded, "If you don't do it, why even bother?"

The message from Times to NABJ members said:

"Over the weekend, the UNITY: Journalists of Color Board of Directors met in Virginia and continued negotiations on several issues NABJ raised in recent months regarding finances, governance and accountability for the organization. With the assistance of a consultant, we were successful in reaching some objectives, but two of NABJ's main concerns are unresolved.

"The UNITY board passed three resolutions and moved up deadlines to address issues such as UNITY's mission, fundraising, and governance. The alliance partners also started reassessing UNITY's mission and began outlining fundraising goals that would not compete with its partners. The board confirmed NABJ member and board representative Leisa Richardson as the chairwoman of the UNITY 2012 convention.

"All four journalism organizations that make up this alliance have the same number of representatives and votes on the board of directors. As the largest partner, NABJ wants a voice that reflects its membership and convention attendance, which consistently accounts for more than half of the convention registrants. UNITY's president appointed a committee composed of alliance presidents to draft proposals, and an April 30th deadline was set for the board to review and approve a voting model.

"We remain concerned about UNITY's ability to deliver financial reports and records in a timely manner. For the first time this year, the UNITY board reviewed a preliminary 2011 budget and will adopt the budget next month. The convention revenue split adopted by the Unity board two weeks ago, over the objections of NABJ, remains the same and caps UNITY's convention revenue at $750,000. Unless the UNITY board is willing to adjust staffing when UNITY is not actively planning a convention, there is little room to adjust UNITY's overhead expenses.

"Additionally, NABJ first requested specific financial information about the 2008 UNITY convention immediately following the convention, and again this year. UNITY's president assured us these would be made available by Friday. This information is necessary to help NABJ's leadership make an informed decision about where we stand moving forward.

"I remain committed achieving the best possible outcome for our members by the April NABJ board meeting, and I appreciate your patience and feedback during these ongoing negotiations."

The student newspaper at Benedict College, a historically black institution in Columbia, S.C., with 3,100 students, has appeared only once this semester because the school administration decided it must approve the newspaper before publication.

"They told us that we have no rights to freedom of the press because this is a private institution," Samantha Norman, the editor-in-chief and a graduating senior, told Journal-isms.

"I feel as though they are trying to make the student paper a press release publication instead of a newspaper. They also seem to be giving us a ultimatum and they may take the paper away if we chose not to agree with their demands."

The situation attracted the attention of the Student Press Law Center, a legal assistance agency for high school and college journalists, and the Black College Communication Association, an organization of faculty advisers at historically black colleges and universities.

"We are well aware that, as a private institution, Benedict College is not governed by First Amendment principles. But this is not, and should not be, a matter of law," Frank LoMonte, SPLC executive director, wrote David H. Swinton, the school's president, on March 8.

"No college’s question should never be, 'Can we legally get away with this,' but rather, 'Is this the right way to treat our students?' It clearly is not. Ms. Norman has been placed in fear of unspecified threats against her future if she does not accept this exceedingly heavy level of censorship. No student should have to attend college in fear of her own faculty and administration."

He also said, "As a show of our good faith, we have kept silent about this situation and will do so, briefly, to allow the College to completely correct its mistake internally. We have not contacted the news media, posted anything on our website, or otherwise done anything to call public attention to this matter. But as I hope you can recognize, we cannot stand by and allow the severe mistreatment of students to go unchallenged indefinitely."

However, LoMonte told Journal-isms this week, he has not heard anything from the college.

Valerie D. White, a journalism professor at Florida A&M University who chairs the Black College Communication Association, said Benedict canceled a planned conference call on the subject after receiving LoMonte's letter. The censorship issue has been a recurring one. Speaking of the campus newspaper, White said presidents at HBCUs "need to see it as a learning tool and take the good with the bad."

College officials have not responded to inquiries initiated by Journal-isms early in the month.

In a March 3 email, Norman said the stalemate arose after "I attended the HBCU media conference where I was interviewed by another student for a publication during the conference. I expressed my happiness in how Benedict College has came a long way since my freshman year because of lack of resources but now the department is starting to boom.

"The writer used terms such as 'financial turmoil' that the school faced which resulted in the faculty being unhappy with the article. Since returning to school professors and administration have expressed their disappointment in the article and resentment towards me. Even though everything in the article is technically true, I did express to them that I was misquoted. This was not our student paper but a collaborative paper that was made public to the attendees of the conference."

". . . I spoke with the department coordinator within [the] journalism section. He identified that the department would like to censor the paper only so that the paper could represent the best image of the school.

"He changed his previous statement about censoring the content by saying that they wanted only to be sure of such things like grammar, style, attribution and facts are correct. He stated that the school needs to establish a bond of trust with the department before we can be an independent student paper.

". . . the plan that they have for us is to send the paper to our adviser, next to the assistant adviser, then to the department coordinator, then to the assistant dean, next to the Dean, Finally to the business office. I expressed my concern on why the paper would have to go through so many people just to check for 'commas' as he said in an example.

"At this time administration is demanding a production schedule from myself and the staff that includes review time for administration. We are already at mid terms and have not been able to produce a paper this semester because of trying to deal with this issue."

The editors-in-chief of Black Voices and AOL Latino under Huffington Post management have yet to be determined, AOL staffers were told Wednesday.

In a conference call to explain how various departments would function under the Huffington Post Media Group, which is now running the editorial section of AOL, Arianna Huffington and her deputies also said they planned to eliminate freelancers and instead hire full-time staffers and "contributors" who are not professional writers.

As part of AOL's acquisition of the Huffington Post for $315 million, Huffington became president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, which supervises AOL's editorial content.

The staffers will produce deeply reported, well-told stories, Peter Goodman, editor for business and technology news and a veteran of the New York Times and Washington Post, told the group.

The contributors would be people who wish to promote an idea or have a book coming out, the staffers were told. For them, it would be the equivalent of appearing on a talk show, Huffington said, an analogy she has used before in explaining why the Huffington Post did not pay bloggers.

The move would seem an end run around attempts to organize freelancers to boycott the Huffington Post; most wouldn't be used anyway.

"While Visual Arts Source editor Bill [Lazarow‘s] call for a boycott of Huffington Post at the beginning of March may have been initially dismissed by Arianna Huffington, it has become a whole lot tougher to ignore now," Matthew Fleischer wrote Wednesday for FishbowlLA. "Nearly a month later the boycott is still in effect, the 26,000 member Newspaper Guild has climbed aboard, and the strike is now generating international solidarity."

AOL named Tariq Muhammad, formerly director of interactive media for BlackEnterprise.com, director of AOL Black Voices in 2007 .

On March 22, Huffington announced that Rebecca Carroll would be Black Voices culture editor. She "has held editor positions at Uptown and Paper magazines, as well as at Contentville.com and Africana.com, where she was the founding editor," the announcement said.

Miguel Ferrer, general manager of AOL Latino, has been running the site day to day, Huffington said.

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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.