Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists
Yvonne Latty

Meeting Could Assemble Most Journalists of Color Since '08

The associations representing journalists from the nation's two largest groups of color — blacks and Hispanics — have signed a memorandum of understanding to hold a joint convention in 2016, Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, and Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, announced on Thursday.


The two presidents held a news conference at the NABJ convention in Boston, which had attracted 1,984 paid registrants as of Wednesday night and is expected to exceed 2,000 on Thursday. The prospect of a joint 2016 meeting could attract 3,000 journalists in that election year, the presidents said. "I want a [presidential] debate at NABJ-NAHJ 2106," Butler said at the news conference.

A convention of 3,000 journalists of color would make it the largest such conference since the 2008 Unity: Journalists of Color meeting in Chicago. Some 7,550 attended on its final Sunday, though that figure includes sponsors and others who were not registered.

The 2012 Unity conference, held without NABJ but including NAHJ, the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, registered 2,385 people, Unity's executive director said at the time.

The idea of a joint convention between NABJ and NAHJ was broached a year ago at the Hispanic journalists convention in Anaheim, Calif., as Balta made a case to his members for withdrawing from the Unity: Journalists for Diversity coalition. NABJ had already withdrawn, citing governance and financial issues. NAHJ followed later in 2013.


"We need to be there in Washington, D.C.," Balta told Journal-isms then. Butler said Thursday, however, that the choice of cities would depend on "who's going to give us the best deal."

Still to be resolved are such issues as revenue- and cost-sharing between the two groups. Once those are settled and the two organizations contract to hold the convention together, a request for proposals is to be published. Darryl R. Matthews Sr., the NABJ executive director, said he expected the process to be "wrapped up" by the end of the year.


Unity: Journalists for Diversity, which includes AAJA, NAJA and NLGJA, has not announced its plans for 2016.

However, Butler said, the NABJ-NAHJ event should not be compared with Unity. "Unity was an organization. This is two organizations working collaboratively to have a convention."


NABJ's Boston attendance figures are comparable to those from its 2013 meeting in Orlando, Fla. On the Tuesday of that convention, then-NABJ Executive Director Maurice Foster said 1,937 people were registered, a figure that includes exhibitors. The previous year, NABJ attracted 2,586 registrants in New Orleans.

Matthews said he was more excited that NABJ had reached $1 million in "partnerships," a word he preferred to sponsorships because it places the two parties on an equal footing. The $1 million figure exceeds that of the last two years, he said.


This is the first time NABJ has met in Boston, and that "sends a big message that in Boston we are moving forward," Mayor Martin J. Walsh told the assembled journalists on Thursday. As Wayne Dawkins noted in the NABJ Journal, the organization's magazine, "Despite a more relaxed, inviting atmosphere in today's Boston, many NABJ members' experiences there were seared during the city's hostile racial era during the 1970s through early 1990s."

Walsh, speaking at the downtown John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, urged attendees to consider seeking jobs in his city, noting that "Boston is a very different place today" and that two-thirds of residents under 19 are black and Latino.


The convention opened just after the American Society of News Editors released its annual diversity survey. It showed that the number of journalists of color in newspaper and online newsrooms increased by 1 percentage point, to 13.34 percent, while the figure for black journalists declined from 1,790 to 1,754.

"It almost seems as though ethnic diversity is coming at the expense of African American journalists," Butler told Journal-isms. He said he was disappointed that the decline took place "despite all of the efforts of NABJ" and despite the outcry this year about the lack of inclusion at new, online  journalism ventures. In March, NABJ wrote an "open letter to media startups."


Also on Thursday, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, defended voter identification laws, saying he had collected affidavits that documented voter fraud in Wisconsin. Priebus said he wanted a system where "voting is easy but it's hard to cheat." Critics have called such laws voter suppression aimed at audiences likely to vote Democratic, principally people of color and young people.

Priebus also called on Republicans to become more active in pressing their cause between elections. "If you don't show up until five hours before the election, you're not giving people a choice," he said. Priebus noted that only 6 percent of African Americans vote Republican; that his mother was born in Khartoum, Sudan; and that he had clerked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in Los Angeles.


The chairman said those are not reasons for switching to the GOP, but "All of us have a story to tell, but if nobody's there to tell the story, then we're not going to move the dial."

The GOP chairman also said he "sat down with Bob Johnson," co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, who "wants companies to diversify executive leadership."


Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the Democratic National Committee chair, is scheduled to address the organization Friday.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, appearing on his 58th birthday, opened Thursday's events with a challenge to journalists not to confuse political drama and substance.


"We need you to challenge the leaders who say they want to get results but then actively refuse to act: like the folks who say we need to rebuild our highway system then refuse to fund the Highway Trust Fund, or who say they want fiscal discipline then push the federal government into default, or the folks who say Americans should have the security of health insurance then vote to take it away.

"We need you to challenge the racist bullies who claim you are the ones playing the race card when they are the ones dealing it.


"We need you to ask why, in a country whose public is ready for pragmatic and compassionate solutions, some leaders offer immigrant hatred in the place of immigration reform. . . ."

Also at the convention:

Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree, an early supporter of President Obama's White House aspirations, said of his friend, "In the next 2 1/2 years, he'll have to talk more about race. We will not tolerate him sitting back and being passive about race. George Bush was outraged by Rodney King. He said this is wrong." Obama must speak out "not because he's black but because he's president of the United States." Ogletree participated in a luncheon conversation about race Thursday with broadcast journalist Ed Gordon, in which he also said first lady Michelle Obama should be drafted to run for president.


Carole Simpson, the retired anchor at ABC News now based in Boston, complained that the theme song from the Boston-located "Cheers" TV show should not have been chosen as music for the ceremony because there were no blacks on the show. Simpson was co-hosting Wednesday's opening reception ceremony. Manuel Smith, a member of the production team, told Journal-isms that the "Cheers" reference was supposed to be part of a comedy routine but that Simpson took the reference in another direction.

Members previewed "Get On Up," the new biographical drama about entertainer James Brown, to favorable notices. The film opens Friday.


Nelson George, New York Times: His Own Godfather: James Brown Is Celebrated in 'Get On Up'

Trymaine Lee, Reince Priebus: GOP gains among minorities won’t happen overnight


David Remick, New Yorker: The Possessed: James Brown in Eighteen Minutes

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

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