obama_unity_lead4008212aoa
Jennifer Dronkers/Unity News

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 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.

Joanna Hernandez, Unity president, introduced Will Sutton, who with Juan Gonzalez is credited as creator of the idea for Unity. Sutton is also a former NABJ president.

"Can we reconcile, regroup, reconnect?" Sutton asked. "Yes, absolutely. But not with rhetoric ‹ and it will be Unity at its best, member to member, colleague to colleague, individual to individual ‹ with open arms, open hearts and open minds. I am a native of NABJ, but we got married. I don't know what you think about that institution, but we'll always be family."

He added later in an emailed note to Journal-isms, "I encourage all at unity to find me on facebook, linkedin, foursquare and twitter @willsutton to get to know each other, to engage, connect and embrace without the pressure of saying nabj should, oughta, must return to UNITY. Things are too sensitive right now. We all need time to heal."

Sutton told Journal-isms he did not realize what he was going to say until he sat through the opening video presentation, in which Unity board members and supporters expressed admiration for the Unity concept. In one clip, Robert Hernandez of NAHJ said, "We don't care about the history. We just care about the present and the future." Hernandez told Journal-isms he was referring to NAHJ and recent infighting, not Unity. Nevertheless, Sutton told the audience, "Don't fall for that-was-then-this-is-now. If you do, you rip our quilt that has been woven for years."

When it was his turn, David A. Steinberg, president of NLGJA, said that joining Unity had made both groups stronger. Unity is expanding to include issues of sexual orientation and sexual identity, and NLGJA is adding to its contacts.

On the Whitaker panel, Helen Zia, author and independent journalist, urged the groups to share more information. "What is the story of the week in NAJA?" she asked, referring to the Native American Journalists Association. Told that younger generations might view diversity issues differently, Zia said it was important that information be shared "so they don't repeat the same mistakes that we did."

Ray Suarez of "PBS NewsHour" said it was important to create a media system that does not depend on wealthy young people who work for little or no money on "the first rungs up the ladder." Otherwise, journalism will be lost to working class youth, Suarez said.

The afternoon began with long lines in the hotel lobby, taking registrants 40 minutes or more to reach the front desk.

The day ended with a reception sponsored by Coca-Cola but in an unusual move, only after plenary session attendees watched a promotional video about Coca-Cola's good deeds. Makwakwa said there was no quid pro quo, but that showing the video was "part of the sponsorship package."

Hernandez said in June that both presidential candidates had been invited, but no such newsmakers are on the convention schedule. However, the program contains many skill-sharpening sessions and a new feature, "View from the Top: Executive Sessions with Top Media Executives."

Participants are Barbara Fedida, senior vice president, talent strategy, development & research, ABC News; Dean Baquet, managing editor, New York Times; Patrick J. Talamantes, president and CEO, McClatchy Corp.; Dennis Swanson, president, station operations, Fox Television Stations Group; Marcus Brauchli, executive editor, Washington Post; Larry Kramer, president and publisher, USA Today; and David Rhodes, president, CBS News.

Michael Triplett, assistant managing editor for Bloomberg BNA, Inc., and vice president for print/new media of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, was elected president of NLGJA on Tuesday, NLGJA announced.

Triplett, who also writes for the NLGJA blog Re:Act, had run against Steve Pride, an NLGJA board member from the Los Angeles chapter. It was NLGJA's first contested election in years.

In the student Unity News, Stephanie Snyder reported that Triplett won two-thirds of 142 member votes cast in the 613-member organization.

"According to NLGJA's bylaws, board elections are advisory. The board of directors legally retains the ability to name its members; to date, the board has never failed to follow the election results," an announcement said.

"I am honored to have been elected president of NLGJA," Triplett said in a news release. "This is an organization with an amazing future ahead of it and I look forward to being part of that future. Thanks to David Steinberg, our outgoing president, who guided us through some of our most challenging years and put us on our positive path."

The New York Times Student Journalism Institute, in which African American and Latino students have been trained by reporters and editors from the New York Times, the Boston Globe and regional newspapers of the Times Co., is cutting back from twice a year to annually, Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told Journal-isms on Wednesday.

"Beginning in 2013, The New York Times Student Journalism Institute will return to the once-a-year frequency under which it operated when it launched 10 years ago," Murphy said by email.

"In 2013, the Institute will be offered to 24 student members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists at the University of Arizona in Tucson. In 2014, it will be held at Dillard University in New Orleans and open to 24 total students, either members of the National Association of Black Journalists or those attending historically black colleges and universities. Moving forward, the Institute will be offered to these groups at these Universities in alternate years during the last two weeks in May."

"The New York Times Company remains steadfast in its support of assuring diversity in the newsroom and to providing resources and a supportive environment to train aspiring student journalists. Reducing the frequency of the Institutes is a result of a reduction in both available resources as well as potential employment opportunities inside The Company following this year's sale of the Regional Newspaper Group."

NABJ President Gregory H. Lee Jr. said the Times informed Michele Salcedo, president of NAHJ, and Lee of the change. "What can you do? It is what it is," Lee told Journal-isms at the Unity convention in Las Vegas. "At least they kept the program. It's a loss for our students that they're part of that" cutback. "We look forward to NABJ students being in the program for 2014."

"Student Project Reporter Nadia Khan was asked to leave a conference room while attempting to cover and live tweet, a National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) Board meeting during the 2012 UNITY convention in Las Vegas," Unity News, the student project at the Unity convention, reported on YouTube Wednesday.

"The President of NAHJ, Michele Salcedo, also ordered Student Projects mentor Joe Vazquez to stop shooting video."

Asked about the Tuesday incident, Salcedo told Journal-isms, "I have nothing to say." But others in the meeting said Salcedo cited board policy.

Khan reported for the Thursday edition of Unity News, "Members were welcome to observe the board meeting, Salcedo said, but the board in October 2010 banned credentialed press coverage ‹ including Twitter and Facebook use during proceedings.

"UNITY News video mentor Joe Vazquez recorded a portion of the meeting before Salcedo asked him to leave the room.

" 'It (the policy) followed board training by our attorney and also by a consultant that we brought in to talk about best practices for board members and board governance, and that was the recommendation that he gave to us,' Salcedo told UNITY News.

"However, when asked for documentation, she could not produce a written record of the policy, 'because it doesn't exist,' Salcedo said."

Also, "They made me leave right when started talking about elections...I wonder why..."

Khan later said she meant NAHJ, not NAHJ South Florida.

NAHJ members posted video of Salcedo asking Vazquez to leave.

Board member Rebecca Aguilar wrote on Facebook, ". . . It's sad that we are a board of journalists and are trying to control information. What's also sad is that less than a handful of board members defended the student. For the record, the NAHJ board meeting for the most was positive and productive."

On July 21, Juan Gonzalez, columnist for the Daily News in New York and president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists from 2002 to 2004, joined with other journalists with a history in the association ‹ three of them members of NAHJ's Hall of Fame ‹ to send all NAHJ candidates a list of nine questions seeking their views on such issues as media consolidation, the state of Spanish-language media, NAHJ's advocacy role, whether broadcasters should be required to place their political files online and the concept of Network Neutrality, or "open Internet."

This week, Gonzalez wrote NAHJ members that he had evaluated the answers from presidential candidates Hugo Balta and Russell Contreras and decided to abstain from voting.

Polls opened on July 16 and close on Friday at 5 p.m. Pacific time. NAHJ voting is done electronically. The association's membership stands at 1,259, and it has 614 eligible voters, Anna Lopez Buck, interim executive director, told Journal-isms last week.

"Here are my views on the NAHJ presidential race," Gonzalez wrote. "Please feel free to forward them to whatever NAHJ member sites are following the candidate debates.

"Dear Russell and Hugo:

"Thank you for explaining the plans and policies you would pursue if elected NAHJ's next president. Your responses have helped elevate the level of the campaign debate, as have those of other candidates.

"Unfortunately, I won't be able to join you and my fellow NAHJ members at UNITY, since last-minute health problems have forced me to cancel my trip to the convention. But I want you to know that I will not be voting for a candidate for president, and to explain why.

"You both seem to agree on many 'big picture' media policy issues, the impact of ownership concentration and FCC policies on our members, the importance of net neutrality, of preserving and expanding minority ownership of media companies, of maintaining NAHJ's independence from corporate sponsors, etc. So I am heartened that NAHJ will continue to be a leading voice on these critical issues, no matter who wins the race.

"Your individual recovery plans to lift NAHJ out of its current crisis do not inspire the same kind of confidence. Nor does the kind of divisive election campaign you have both waged the past few months.

"Russell certainly deserves the recognition and the thanks of all members for ending years of unsustainable financial losses. The staff cutbacks, even if they came at a huge reduction of NAHJ's of organizational capacity, saved the organization from total collapse. And his proposal to explore a small, low budget, partnered convention next year in a place like Albuquerque seems far more grounded in reality than Hugo's Los Angeles alternative.

"Russell also appears to understand more the 'social mission' of NAHJ, seeing it not just as an organization that seeks better jobs and training for its members, but one that advocates for fair representation of the entire Latino community ‹ as a true 'watchdog' for better coverage.

"Hugo, though, is an extremely capable and serious leader, one who displays much maturity. You have a wide range of experience in both Spanish and English-language media, and have invaluable knowledge of how management structures respond within news organizations. You prefer to emphasize building 'partnerships' with media companies rather than the 'watchdog' role, but you nonetheless understand that NAHJ must speak out when necessary.

"A major difference between the two of you is that Hugo appears more willing to open NAHJ to regular membership from media professionals and public relations workers, while Russell would keep regular membership to working journalists, though the definition of working journalist he favors would be altered to take into account the industry's changing nature. On this, I tend to agree more with Russell than with Hugo, and believe that opening NAHJ to full membership by media professionals will transform the organization within a few years into something that is wholly unrecognizable from its origins.

"Russell, however, has exhibited major failings in leadership style, even publicly insulting on several occasions some members who have questioned or criticized him. In times of crisis, leaders must seek common ground with those who have divergent views. While you have acknowledged your faults, Russell, it is not at all clear you have brought them under control.

"Both of you are highly responsible, smart and committed to NAHJ. Nonetheless, I'm afraid that neither of you has fully grasped the severity of the long-term crisis facing NAHJ. It is my firm belief that unless major changes are adopted soon in the vision and operation of our association (and of the other minority journalism groups, as well), we are headed toward complete fragmentation or even irrelevance in a very short time.

"Joe Torres and I amply documented in the book we issued late last year, News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, why achieving racial fairness in news coverage has been so difficult throughout American history. I hope the members of UNITY and NAHJ actually take the time to read the book and digest its lessons, especially chapter 16, which covers the period from the 1960s to the 2003. If you do, you will realize that minority journalists made significant progress only in periods when they enjoyed close ties with their communities in confronting the media companies.

"Notwithstanding all the great work of scholarships, training and advocacy we have produced for our members over several decades, our professional journalism organizations have grown too distant from our own communities in recent years. As a result, we have become less effective and less respected by the media industry than we used to be.

"In times of financial crisis, our groups can become easy prey for non-media corporations ¬ especially those with checkered histories in minority communities ¬ that suddenly step forward to offer us much-needed financial support. Just look at the sudden interest by energy companies like Exxon, Chevron and BP this year in sponsoring and controlling the message at national energy panels at our conventions, to see what I mean.

"But the simple fact is that NAHJ can't begin to devise a viable plan for its future without first having a clear sense of how it got to where it is today.

"Given all of this, I have decided to abstain from voting for either you. Rest assured, however, that whoever does win the presidency will have my support in his efforts to rebuild NAHJ. Good luck with the convention, and please think longer and harder about a long-range plan.

"Un abrazo,
"Juan Gonzalez"

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

Follow Richard Prince on Twitter.

Facebook users: Like “Richard Prince’s Journal-isms” on Facebook.

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