The Unity: Journalists of Color, Inc., board of directors met face-to-face for the first time this weekend without the National Association of Black Journalists as a partner and with the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association as a new member.
The group smoothly integrated the NLGJA members into its meeting, and President Joanna Hernandez announced she had named a commission to work on reunification with NABJ, and picked an NABJ member to chair it. Without controversy, the coalition adopted a formula to split the 2012 convention proceeds — one to which NABJ had objected as not giving it a large enough share.
Dissatisfaction with the financial split was one reason NABJ cited in voting in March to leave the Unity coalition.
Meanwhile, board member Cecilia Alvear of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists notified the board of news she received from an attorney representing Mexican journalists seeking asylum. In the words of the El Paso Times, "Immigration authorities have granted political asylum to Mexican cameraman Alejandro Hernández Pacheco, making him the second Mexican journalist to receive the immigration benefit since the beginning of the current wave of drug violence hammering the country."
Hernández Pacheco was one of three Mexican journalists seeking asylum who were honored at June's NAHJ convention in Orlando, receiving the President's Award from NAHJ President Michele Salcedo. Hernández Pacheco's attorney, Carlos Spector, said in August that his client was granted political asylum that month, the Times' Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera reported then. Hernández Pacheco applied for asylum last year after being kidnapped by members of the Sinaloa drug cartel, allegedly tortured, starved and beaten. Unity and NAHJ were among the groups supporting the Mexican journalists, and the grant of asylum to Hernández Pacheco was seen as unusually speedy.
Although NABJ members were gone from the coalition, the Unity board discussions made periodic references to the black journalists group during its three-day meeting at Gannett Co., Inc., headquarters in McLean, Va. However, there was no action on suggestions that NABJ members be enticed to the Aug. 1-4 Las Vegas convention with a special rate. For the time being, the early bird registration fee for members of Unity groups has been set at $325, with $500 for nonmembers.
Hernandez told Journal-isms that Unity might still grant NABJ members a discount.
Hernandez named John Yearwood, one of the final NABJ representatives to Unity, who opposed the NABJ pullout, as chair of a 10-member Unity President's Reunification Commission. It is a counterpart to a commission NABJ President Gregory H. Lee Jr. named to "recommend an effective plan for NABJ's future participation in the alliance." It is chaired by Keith Reed, senior editor of ESPN The Magazine and NABJ's treasurer.
Yearwood, world editor of the Miami Herald and a former NABJ treasurer, is to lead a commission comprising mostly journalists who have been Unity representatives: Djibril Diallo, an NABJ member who is senior adviser to the executive director of the United Nations' UNAIDS program; Yvonne Latty, a New York University journalism professor who is a member of NABJ and NAHJ; Javier Aldape, a former Unity treasurer from NAHJ; Alvear; Karen Lincoln Michel, a former Unity president from the Native American Journalists Association; Tom Arviso Jr., a Unity board member from NAJA; Aki Soga, a former Unity vice president from the Asian American Journalists Association; Janet Cho, Unity representative from AAJA; and a 10th person whose appointment has not been confirmed.
In addition, Yearwood remains co-chair of Unity's World Affairs Committee, and Diallo continues as a committee member.
At the August NABJ convention in Philadelphia, NABJ members voted to seek reunification with Unity "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."
Talks on reunification began Sept. 14. Five days later, Unity and NLGJA announced that their boards of directors agreed that NLGJA would join the coalition. NLGJA and Unity each have the right to opt out of their agreement after a year.
The agreement to admit NLGJA did not sit well with those who felt the coalition would lose its focus on journalists of color. The author of the NABJ reunification motion, NABJ co-founder Joe Davidson, said Sept. 28 that "if I had to vote right now on recommending unification, sadly I'd vote no."
Nevertheless, NLGJA members participated fully in their first face-to-face Unity board meeting.
One of NLGJA's Unity delegates is Susan Green, an African American who is broadcast director of the Cronkite News Service and assistant news director in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
"Unity was where I first found out about NLGJA," Green told Journal-isms. She said she saw a panel presented by NLGJA at the Unity '99 convention in Seattle. "The mission of both [groups is] the same in terms of making sure people are dealt with with respect and that coverage is also dealt with in the same manner," she said. The weekend meeting "reaffirmed for all of us that we all are fighting for some of the same reasons, and when you have a louder group of people fighting for the same issues, that voice tends to be heard."
After Alvear reported on her World Affairs Task Force, Green told members she had just returned from Serbia and was "just shocked" when the government canceled a gay-rights parade and a headline quoted the mayor of Jagodina calling it a parade of "shame."
NLGJA President David A. Steinberg was named chairman of Unity's Governance Committee.
Steinberg told Alvear that he knew of an NLGJA member who would be a good candidate for her task force because the member had written about gay life in Arab countries, where gays feel their lives are in danger.
Onica Makwakwa, Unity executive director, explained that when Unity reaches out to community groups in Las Vegas, it will seek not only Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans but African Americans - "part of Unity's legacy"- and now gay and lesbian groups.
Unity will share the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino with the annual Steve Harvey Ford Hoodie Awards, which honor businesses, schools and community leaders, Makwakwa said. The coalition is also seeking appearances from the 2012 presidential candidates.
According to the revenue-sharing formula adopted on Saturday, Unity will receive all nonmember registration revenue plus 20 percent of convention revenue. Unity's share is no longer capped at $750,000. Each alliance partner receives all registration money from its members plus 10 percent of convention revenues. (Accounting for all member registrations and 40 percent of total convention revenue.)
"The remaining 40 percent of convention revenue is divided among the alliance partners in accordance with the percentage of attendees they brought in. UNITY receives nothing from this final pool," according to treasurer Michaela Saunders. "The motion adopted Saturday also directs the finance committee to begin to research alternative revenue sharing solutions for 2016 and beyond."
NABJ unsuccessfully sought a plan that would award the first 25 percent of proceeds to Unity, with NAJA, the smallest group, receiving a 5 percent subsidy. The remaining 70 percent in the general pool would be divided among the associations based on each association's percentage of its net paid registrants at the Unity convention.
NABJ represented 53.32 percent of the Unity convention attendance in 2008, with AAJA at 20.4 percent, NAHJ at 22.66 percent and NAJA at 3.61 percent, according to NABJ figures. Makwakwa said that NABJ was 53 percent of member attendees at Unity '08 but 38 percent of all attendees.
NLGJA's membership is only about one-fifth the membership of NABJ, whose board met this weekend in New Orleans, site of the NABJ convention planned for June 20-24. The lesbian and gay group counts about 650 members, and 350 attended its September convention; NABJ had 3,293 members on July 31, with 2,010 people registered for its August convention, NABJ's executive director Maurice Foster told members on Aug. 3.
Still, Unity board members said they thought the integration of NLGJA into the group had gone well.
George Kiriyama of the AAJA told Journal-isms, "The spirit of Unity is alive and well in that everyone's getting along just fine. For me, we have this camaraderie already. From the first time they stepped into the room, there was a willingness to work together."
NAJA President Darla Leslie said last week that she had voted against admitting NLGJA "because of the failure of UNITY leaders to follow due process, to consider the policy implications and to present a plan for adding a new member organization." On Sunday, she said, "From this point on, it's time to progress, move forward and prosper." She and Arviso led the group in a Native tradition in which they burned sweetgrass in front of the object of their good wishes, who then spread the smoke up and down the body.
Patty Loew, a NAJA representative acting as secretary, said, "I'm disappointed that NABJ is not with us" but that she was "excited about NLGJA. I think this is a really good fit, and I'm excited to move forward."
Peter Ortiz, a financial writer representing NAHJ, said, "Obviously, I didn't want to lose NABJ. I hope they'll be coming back. We're being more inclusive in terms of diversity. Our focus is and always will be race and ethnicity, but we're broadening that to sexual orientation or gender identity. I don't think that NLGJA lessens Unity's mission. Our mission remains the same. It's just broader now."
Steinberg has said his members wanted the term "journalists of color" stricken from the Unity name, an issue that has been referred to a Unity committee.
The NLGJA president said he was pleased with his first face-to-face Unity board meeting. "I think it was fantastic. Everyone was warm and welcoming. I'm looking forward to working together to do an exciting convention."
Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (www.mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.