By Mary Barczak
The Working Press
At the beginning of the year, Unity, the nation’s major alliance of journalists of color, was preparing for its 2012 convention, a widely anticipated event that historically has drawn thousands of journalists, employers and presidential candidates.
Unity leaders were hopeful the convention would produce another lucrative year in registration and revenue, given Las Vegas is the convention site for the gathering staged collectively by the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association.
Today, Unity, which has been a major voice for newsroom diversity since its first gathering in 1994, is searching for a way to reinvent itself.
NABJ, which has brought in nearly half of Unity’s attendance, revenue and participants, recently pulled out of the alliance.
Unity, in turn, stirred considerable debate by partnering this month with a significantly smaller group, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
“Some are concerned that we are going to lose the focus on ethnic and diverse issues here and that’s not happening,” said Unity President Joanna Hernandez. “We’re expanding.
“We never wanted them to leave,” she said of NABJ. “We want them back.”
In interviews this week, the presidents of the three other member organizations said they were disappointed to see NABJ leave. They also expressed excitement about working with the gay and lesbian journalists’ organization.
“It expands Unity’s mission,” said Michele Salcedo, president of the Hispanic association. She declined to comment on the decision by the alliance to invite NLGJA to become a partner.
Darla Leslie, president of NAJA, said this has been a positive move.
“I think that, at this point in time, we have to grow with society in general,” she said. “The possibilities are endless.”
Doris Truong, president of AAJA, said her organization is excited to have NLGJA on board and is looking forward to the convention next year.
NLGJA President David Steinberg said the new partnership is a great opportunity for his organization and its members.
“Our missions are similar,” he said, “to promote diversity in the newsroom.”
But despite the declarations of enthusiasm about the partnership with NLGJA, the break remains a big issue for Unity.
In March, NABJ’s board voiced reservations about what it saw as the alliance’s governance and lack of accountability for spending.
The following month, NABJ withdrew, a move that sparked a rebellion of sorts within its ranks. At its national convention in August, a majority of members voted at the group’s business meeting to order their leadership to immediately begin exploring reunification with Unity.
Gregory Lee Jr., who became NABJ president in August, said the withdrawal was based on finances and that it was in the best interest of his members.
“It’s going to be a long process,” he said. Lee also said he has heard from some members since the split with Unity and that they supported the decision given the circumstances.
Hernandez and Lee said they have begun “reunifying talks” to possibly bring NABJ back into the Unity family.
The Unity board has formed a “strategic” planning task force. The panel will try to identify who the target audience is and explore the possibility of broadening Unity’s mission, said Hernandez.
The Unity and NLGJA partnership is being described as an “engagement” for one year, Hernandez said. The groups will re-examine the partnership after that time and NLGJA can either opt to stay or leave.