Sunday April 10, 2011 the National Association of Black Journalists voted to
end its participation in the UNITY: Journalists of Color Alliance. Please
review the background information for more details on how the NABJ Board of
Directors reached this decision. We will continue to update this page with the
latest information as it becomes available.
on UNITY Withdrawal
that NABJ is not participating in the 2012 UNITY Convention, what is the
selection process for our own Convention next year?
Now that NABJ has made the decision to host our own Convention, we
are now busily putting a plan in place to select a site. Our Convention
Management Committee has already begun this process. As with all conventions,
the Committee considers a variety of factors including (but not limited to):
Can the city and its convention sites effectively
host a group of our size?
What is the cost, both for the organization
and for members?
How much chapter, corporate and municipal
support is available in the area?
Once this information is gathered, the convention management team will
make a presentation to the Board. The Board will then select three finalists,
who will then make a presentation to the Board. The Board will then vote on the
cities, pending an agreement with the hotel/convention center. As soon as the selection
is made, the membership will be alerted.
the split instigated by a core group within NABJ who never wanted to be a part
Absolutely not. Initially we didn’t talk
about withdrawing from UNITY. We did, however, talk about how we could better
understand what its mission and goals were. As a board, we wanted to know what
UNITY’s needs are and how the leadership would address the needs of the alliance partners, and what their
role would be moving forward. It was time to revisit UNITY’s core mission
because there were written correspondence from UNITY that referred to UNITY as
a 5th organization.
That was problematic for NABJ because it would
potentially force us to compete with UNITY for funding. While UNITY conducted
research on diversity, there was no clear strategy in place to effectively use
that information to push for changes in newsrooms and to help the alliance
3. What role did allocation of funds play in the split?
Allocation of funds was the main reason for the vote
to leave UNITY. As with many long-term relationships, needs, goals and the
organizational direction shift. The fact is that NABJ has changed a great deal since the UNITY
alliance started in 1994 and we must take a close look at how every move affects us
financially. Quite frankly, it did not make sense for us to split our hard-earned funds
with a group when we couldn’t get an answer on how the money would be spent. There
was no accountability and transparency, and that was unacceptable. In our
minds, that is just not a good way to operate. At the end of the day, NABJ exists to serve
NABJ members, and we made the decision we felt puts us in the best position to do
4. Did NABJ exhaust every avenue and
every option before pulling out of Unity?
Making this decision to leave UNITY was not taken
lightly. We spent months making recommendations and reaching out to the
Alliance members. We tried
repeatedly to engage the alliance partners starting in December 2010,
Director reached out to the other alliance Executive Directors
The UNITY President
flew to Jackson, MS to meet with the NABJ President about our concerns. They
outlined possible solutions
presidents met on a conference call with the UNITY president
talked with the other alliance treasurers to find a resolution that would
satisfy our membership. We negotiated in a spirit of cooperation and with the
hope that we could find a workable solution.
Even with those
efforts, we reached an impasse. When the alliance partners became unwilling to
make any concessions, NABJ then talked seriously about not taking part in the
2012 convention. After weeks of discussions in which the partners were
unyielding in their position, you can imagine our surprise when a new proposal
was submitted at the 11th hour – on a conference call two weeks
before the UNITY board meeting in March. This clearly had been discussed with
all the other alliance members -- except NABJ. With so
much subterfuge taking place, our trust in Unity had eroded. There was no way
we could in good faith vote for it, because we still had no idea about UNITY’s funding
needs. There was no budget for 2011 or 2012.
In the end, it
was becoming clear that our needs were not going to be addressed in a timely
fashion, and we needed to make the best decision to keep us moving in the right
5. How do the other organizations that
remain part of UNITY feel about this?
We’ve heard from some members of the UNITY board and some of the alliances’
board members. They respect our decision
but wish we could have reached a different outcome. We have not severed our
dialogue nor do we intend to stop communicating with NAJA, NAHJ, and AAJA. We
will continue to invite their leadership to our convention and attend their
just as we’ve done in the past. We will continue to invite them to join with
us, and we will join with them to fight for newsroom diversity.
NABJ still believes in UNITY’s mission, it seems like this move is a total
contradiction and promotes the segregation that UNITY sought to address. How do you
respond to that?
NABJ absolutely still supports the goals that we originally
came together to address: increasing
diversity in media and
making sure newsrooms reflect the diversity of consumers of news. But we have
to take the changing financial picture in journalism and media into account. Our
core missions remain the same, and we remain united in addressing these issues.
7. What are the legal dimensions of this
Leaving the alliance was a decision that the NABJ board did not
take lightly, and many of us agonized over it.
We consulted with three attorneys who advised us that NABJ would still
be liable for any debts that UNITY incurred if we did not participate in the
2012 convention but remained in the UNITY alliance.
As for the 2012 Las Vegas convention, UNITY has a signed hotel
agreement that includes a food and beverage commitment. According to UNITY’s
executive director, the UNITY board is reassessing both to see what adjustments
need to be made. The agreement includes a room block, but there is also a
clause that allows the group to make adjustments without incurring attrition
all separations, there are opportunities for reconciliation. What are the
prospects of that?
Anything is possible, and we remain open minded.
However, NABJ’s board made its decision based on key facts before it. At this
time, the NABJ board and staff must focus on planning a successful 2011
convention and ensure funds are in place to sustain the staff, programs, and
member services that we offer year-round.
9. Does NABJ expect to lose members as a
result of this move?
No. This action was taken so that we could continue
to support our members with the tools they need to survive and thrive in this
changing industry. Once they have gained total insight into the reasons for
this move, we are confident they will continue to support NABJ and NABJ
10. Did Barbara Ciara's defeat in the UNITY
presidency play a role in this split?
No. NABJ’s immediate past President
Barbara Ciara was elected in 2009 to complete the last year of the term of NAHJ
member, Rafael Olmeda. He stepped down, citing personal reasons. Barbara sought re-election
in 2010 and would have become the first NABJ member to serve as president during
a UNITY convention. Instead, the UNITY board elected NAHJ member, Joanna
Hernandez as president. NABJ submitted proposals to UNITY, asking the board to
consider governance changes that would include rotating the presidency and give
NABJ a voice that is commiserate with its membership. The latter has been a
recurring concern of NABJ’s leadership for many years. Each alliance member has
the same number of representatives on the UNITY board. NABJ members
consistently make up more than half of the registrants attending the UNITY
11. The UNITY board made some concessions during
its March board meeting. Did it grant NABJ’s representatives veto power?
A concern among NABJ’s leadership was that the UNITY
board repeatedly voted as a bloc against its proposals 12-4, leaving the
largest stakeholder (NABJ) in the alliance with little to no voice. The UNITY
board did not approve any changes to the voting structure or give NABJ any veto
power. Ultimately, a UNITY governance committee composed of the four alliance
presidents was charged with recommending an alternative voting model. The
alliance presidents met during the first week in April via conference call for
the first time but did not make any decisions.