At a passionate and emotional business meeting that stretched for nearly three hours, members of the National Association of Black Journalists voted Friday to "seek reunification with Unity: Journalists of Color as soon as is feasible," but "based on conditions involving the financial and governance structure of Unity that do not conflict with the best interests of NABJ."
The vote on the motion by founder Joe Davidson, a columnist at the Washington Post who opposed NABJ's pullout from the Unity coalition, was 48 to 31. One hundred and nine people eligible to vote were in and out of the packed meeting room at Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Joe Davidson, an NABJ founder, said, 'Leaving Unity did not represent the will of the people, the NABJ members.'The NABJ board voted in April to withdraw from Unity: Journalists of Color Inc., the coalition of the journalist-of-color associations, because "as a business model, UNITY no longer is the most financially prudent for NABJ and its membership."
Remaining are the national associations of Hispanic, Asian American and Native American journalists.
The withdrawal became the defining issue for the outgoing NABJ board, led by President Kathy Y. Times, but also driven by incoming president Gregory Lee Jr., who argued as treasurer that the financial and governance model for Unity was broken.
While many members said they agreed with the concept of Unity, those on both sides agreed that its implementation left much to be desired. Some faulted the NABJ board for acting too hastily and not keeping members informed.
"We've long known that Unity was in a funky situation," said Callie Crossley, a Unity supporter who is program manager at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and a Boston media critic. But "we needed to have time to understand what was going on."
Well into the meeting, Rochelle Riley, a columnist at the Detroit Free Press, said, "I learned more in the last 10 minutes about what has been going on than in the last six months. What you did was right; how you did it was a mess."
Speaking on the issue were four past NABJ presidents, two of NABJ's final representatives to the Unity board and two past NABJ treasurers, among others. The past treasurers addressed whether the Unity model benefits NABJ financially.
Some of the comments:
DeWayne Wickham, past NABJ president who in 1988 convened the first meeting at which the four journalist of color organizations decided to meet jointly: "We need to attend to our own business. Nobody is championing us but us. Unity is done. Let's attend to our own business."
Vanessa Williams, past NABJ and past Unity president: "We went straight to a Senate" model for Unity, with each group having an equal vote as in the U.S. Senate. "It is fundamentally unfair to be . . . outvoted by organizations that just don't bring as much to the table." NABJ "can't go back like it is."
John Yearwood, former NABJ treasurer and one of NABJ's representatives on the Unity board when it pulled out: "NABJ was in the majority of board votes about 98 percent of the time."
Jackie Greene, former Unity president and former NABJ treasurer: The idea of Unity was so successful that "the auditors even said we should have it every year. A lot of this [unhappiness] about the finances, we kind of created. We changed the formula. . . . It doesn't hurt to talk."
Bryan Monroe, former NABJ president and Unity convention chair in 2008: "The move to leave Unity was done in haste. I feel strongly about that." There are "people who have their jobs because of relationships they built up" at Unity conferences. The problems with Unity "could have been worked out in an hour in a room by people who wanted to get things done. We're NABJ," and didn't have to leave "just because we got our feelings hurt."
Robin Washington, one of NABJ's Unity representatives when NABJ decided to leave: "Real discussion was happening. One of the things . . . was veto power in which no organization would be forced to [do] anything they didn't want to do. A Unity convention has never lost a cent."
Barbara Ciara, former NABJ and former Unity president: "The existing Unity board" was "dissing NABJ. . . . that whole 'party of no' thing that is going on in D.C. is also going on elsewhere."
Davidson's motion read:
"The National Association of Black Journalists will seek reunification with Unity[:] Journalists of Color as soon as is feasible. The NABJ leadership will seek reunification talks no later than 30 days from Aug. 5, 2011. Reunification should be based on conditions involving the financial and governance structure of Unity that do not conflict with the best interests of NABJ."
Davidson emphasized the last part of the motion, saying the black journalists group would remain the arbiter of "the best interests of NABJ." Incoming president Lee voted for the motion and noted later that he had continued to talk with Unity.
Davidson told Journal-isms on Saturday, "Leaving Unity did not represent the will of the people, the NABJ members. The strong vote in favor of the motion reflects the desire of the membership to seek reunification with Unity on terms that do not conflict with NABJ interests."
In other business, some members challenged the board's decision last year to accept money from the Barry Bonds Family Foundation. At the time, the former San Francisco Giants star was accused of lying when he told a federal grand jury in 2003 that he had never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs.
The foundation bearing Bonds' name gave NABJ a $20,000 seed grant to encourage and promote journalistic entrepreneurship among black journalists.
"Are we that desperate?" asked past president Williams. "We should try to assure the public that we're not in bed with any and everybody."
A motion not to accept money from convicted felons or from those accused was referred to a committee after objections that the language was too broad. [Added Aug. 6]
Joel Dreyfuss, theRoot.com: What Now for NABJ?
Gregory Lee Jr., senior assistant sports editor at the Boston Globe and treasurer of the National Association of Black Journalists, was elected president of the association on Friday.
He defeated Deirdre M. Childress, entertainment/film/weekend editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Charles Robinson III, a reporter at Maryland Public Television.
The vote was Lee 294, Childress 168 and Robinson 50, with three abstentions. Lee, 37, won decisively in each of NABJ's six regions and in Canada, with the exception of Region I, the Northeast, where he and Childress both work. Childress won there, with 63 votes to Lee's 58, eight for Robinson and two abstentions.
Lee becomes the first sports journalist to lead the association.
He attributed his victory to his years of work with NABJ, having joined in 1996, and said he was part of the "first real campaign that was social-media driven" within NABJ.
Only a year old when the association was founded in 1975, Lee said his election represented a "changing of the guard," with three others who were charter members of the Young Black Journalists listserve serving with him on the new board: Errin Haines of the Associated Press, who was elected vice president/print; Keith Reed, who soon joins ESPN The Magazine as an editor, elected treasurer; and Cindy George, a Houston Chronicle reporter, parliamentarian.
Childress did not appear at the news conference at Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Convention Center, where the results were announced and the election conducted, while Robinson was videotaped enthusiastically congratulating Lee.
Childress told an NABJ-TV reporter that she thought there were voting irregularities.
On Saturday, she denied a report in the NABJ Monitor, the student publication, that she had used profanity in speaking of the organization. She told Journal-isms she felt "so defamed, libeled and slandered these last two days" but would be at the transitional board meeting on Sunday. "I am going to go out the way I came in," she said.
Childress also said, "I will continue to advocate for diversity and help whoever I can," and said the election and membership rules need to be revised.
As treasurer, Lee made the case to NABJ's board of directors that remaining in the Unity coalition as it is currently structured was not in NABJ's financial interest.
But, he told Journal-isms, "I grew up in a Unity-type environment with the Sports Journalism Institute and the Chips Quinn program" of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute. "I am a supporter of Unity. I've never wavered from that. But my first responsibility is to the National Association of Black Journalists."
In the other contested races, Haines, Atlanta-based reporter for the AP, defeated Denise Clay, writer/proofreader and copy editor, Philadelphia Sunday Sun, 280 to 209 with 26 abstentions.
For parliamentarian, George, health reporter at the Houston Chronicle, defeated Ken Knight, multimedia reporter/online community producer for the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune, 244 to 234 with 37 abstentions.
Marissa Evans of Marquette University and Wesley Lowery of Ohio University tied in the contest for student representative, with 69 votes each. There were two abstentions. Elections Committee Chairman Glenn Rice said the committee recommended a revote, with voting from Aug. 15 to 22.
Running unopposed were Bob Butler, incumbent vice president/broadcast and reporter for KCBS Radio in San Francisco; Lisa Cox, producer for KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, secretary; Reed, treasurer; Dedrick Russell, reporter for WBTV, LLC/Raycom Media in Charlotte, N.C., Region III director; A. J. Ross, reporter for ABC 6/Fox 28 in Columbus, Ohio, Region IV director; Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, editor-in-chief of Shades Magazine in Oakland, Calif., Region VI director; and Dawn Roberts, managing partner/founder, KD Communications Group in Philadelphia, associate representative.
Rice said 515 of the organization's 1,442 full members cast ballots, and 140 of the association's 1,113 student members. There are also 658 associate members.
For the full members the total number ballots cast was 515. The total number of ballots cast among student members was 140.
Lee will have to fill the director seats for regions I (Northeast), II (Mid-Atlantic) and V (southern midsection) because no name was on the ballot.
"The 4th annual National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Television Newsroom Management Diversity Census finds 74 television stations owned by some of the largest media companies in the United States mostly fall short of matching the demographics of their metropolitan areas," NABJ announced at its annual convention on Friday.
The report, "2011 NABJ Diversity Census," by Bob Butler, vice president/broadcast, found that "while nonwhites comprise nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population, people of color fill only 12 percent of the newsroom manager positions at stations owned by Belo Corp., Lin Media, Nexar Broadcasting, E.W. Scripps Co. and Post-Newsweek.
"Belo Corporation's management staff was the closest to matching the diversity of the nation with 10 percent of its managers being of color. But its station in Charlotte has no diversity and there is only one person of color in management at its station in New Orleans.
"Belo Corporation was followed by Post-Newsweek, which has approximately 15 percent diversity in management . . Nextar Broadcasting with 10% . . . and Scripps 9%. Lin Media had the lowest diversity level in this report with only five of the managers at its 16 stations being people of color. 11 of the Lin stations had no diversity, including stations in Indianapolis and Buffalo."
"In addition to the lack of diversity amongst managers' racial backgrounds, there is also a lack of gender diversity in these positions. The NABJ Census Study discovered that males dominate the management positions at the participating companies . . . This number is much higher than the actual percentage of males in the United States . . .
"NABJ counts those people with the title of general manager, news director, assistant news director, managing editor, assignment manager or executive producer. These are the people who set the news agenda and make personnel and coverage decisions." [Added Aug. 6]