Dis UNITY: NABJ split avoidable, regrettable… reversible?

Like many others, I have been watching the unraveling of the UNITY coalition with increasing dismay over the last few weeks. I was concerned about weighing in too heavily because I thought my uninvited observations might not be articulated or received in a constructive manner. With yesterday’s action by the NABJ board to pull out of the UNITY coalition, I can’t imagine my views could have made matters much worse. So here goes nothing.

The withdrawal of NABJ from UNITY was avoidable. Borrowing a line from Bill Clinton’s first inauguration speech, I wrote recently that there was nothing wrong with the UNITY coalition that could not be fixed by what was right with the UNITY coalition. This alliance survived tougher existential questions in the past. Its formation overcame more obstacles than its undoing. It should not have come to this. NABJ could have made just as strong a statement passing a resolution declaring that it will withdraw from UNITY after the 2012 conference.  Such a move would have sent the same message without putting the former partners in the position of staging a competing conference.

The withdrawal of NABJ from UNITY is regrettable. When we formed this coalition, we did not add the strengths of NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA and NAJA. We multiplied them. But what NABJ warned against, it has now made a reality through its action: NABJ and UNITY will now be in direct competition for dwindling sponsorship dollars. Not that we should let our media sponsors dictate our direction, but they were urging us to work together more frequently, not less. Now news organizations that planned to attend UNITY’s convention in 2012 (looked FORWARD to it, from a financial perspective) will either have to attend two conferences or choose one. From that standpoint, there won’t be many winners in 2012.

Another reason I find the split regrettable is that, in my opinion (and I hope I’m wrong), it diminishes our moral authority to preach diversity to the profession when we show an inability to work through our differences and achieve a consensus.

The withdrawal of NABJ from UNITY is reversible. UNITY should extend membership registration rates to NABJ members who sign up for the UNITY convention in 2012.

It should turn this crisis into an opportunity to rebuild UNITY from the bottom up. Create a new framework for the alliance that includes rotating 2-partner conventions and a more focused mission. NABJ should be a part of that discussion.

NABJ may no longer be a UNITY partner, but it will always be an ally.

Don’t let it end like this.

Published by Olmeda

At-large director on the national board of the Society of Professional Journalists. Former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and of UNITY: Journalists of Color. An extreme moderate, not committed to political ideology. Stepfather to two wonderful daughters. Father to two wonderful sons. Husband. Rogue karaoke singer. Humanist

9 thoughts on “Dis UNITY: NABJ split avoidable, regrettable… reversible?

  1. Rafael,

    Your logic is extremely flawed. NABJ objected to the formula split for the 2012 convention, which included the unnecessarily high allocation to the Unity entity. So your option would have been for us to accept nearly 60 percent of the attendees to Unity in 2012 to be NABJ’ers, and just live with the current split. What kind of logic is that?

    What I’m perplexed by, and what I hope NAHJ, AAJA, and NAJA leaders should be explaining to their members is how they could reject a proposal where those entities received MORE money under the NABJ proposal? Yes, MORE money for the alliance partners and LESS money to the Unity entity.

    It’s incredulous that you want to make the issue out to be the hardship of news organizations attending two conventions in 2012, when EVERY MINORITY JOURNALISM ORGANIZATION faced financial hardships in the last three years. Yes, EVERY ONE OF THEM.

    So your concern is more for the news organizations than the health and vitality of your OWN organization? That makes no sense to me.

    Then you suggest that it diminishes our moral authority in the industry. In fact, it was Unity’s failures to lead that also played a role in this. The advocacy that Unity did was virtually non-existent. A statement on the Comcast acquisition of NBC? Weighing in on net neutrality? I asked the Unity executive director and Unity president about personal visits paid in the last year to media companies about the hiring and retaining of minority journalists. They couldn’t name ONE company. Not one.

    So we have an organization that really exists to put on a convention every four years. That entity is sitting on $800,000 in the bank, and wanted another $1 million next year? Just to put on a convention in 2016?

    The real issue is that folks like you have some explaining to do.

    It seems that you’re more in love with the concept of Unity: Journalists of Color, rather than the reality.


  2. Thank you for writing, Roland. Look, you guys made your decision and you feel it was right. More power to you. But that doesn’t change how I feel about it and I think the concerns I raised are valid. Reasonable people are free to disagree, and I count you among them.

    As for whether UNITY has made any visits in the past year to news organizations to talk about hiring and retention, I remind you that the current president of UNITY has only been in office three months, and your question is better directed at the previous president of UNITY, wouldn’t you agree? [And lest you take a swipe at my own performance as president of UNITY, may I remind you that I resigned precisely because I did not feel I was in a position to give the position 100% of my effort].

    The reality is that this move weakened us all, Roland.


  3. This decision was about respect for positions and repeatedly, the other partners in this coalition felt the need to disregard the thoughts and views of the largest partner. That was true in the discussion over Seattle when NABJ was essentially forced to go somewhere that its members didn’t want to go for philosophical reasons. The model worked for everyone as long as NABJ knuckled under and took one for the team when it never made good business or financial sense. Actually, it’s unclear what NABJ members ever got out of the coalition.

    I was not involved in this itteration of things, meaning this particular vote. But as a past board member, I know we had many heated discussions about Unity, and the board and several longtime members finally got pushed over the edge. Coalitions have to produce real results for all of its members. Otherwise, what’s the point. Not sure that ever happened with this coalition beyond a token gathering every four years. Certainly did not transfer to our newsrooms.

    If it had only been the money, this would not have been a 12-1 vote, with support from past presidents and legions of former board members who care deeply about continuing the work that has nurtured so many black journalists throughout the years. The vote was simply a realization that this coalition–in its current form–was not working and it was time to move on to something else.

    On the moral authority point–which seems specious, really–I’m not sure that the business managers in today’s newsrooms care one hoot about that. For them, it’s all about the bottom line. You say that’s what pushed NABJ away, and maybe you’re right. But if that’s the case, it’s the bottom line that the coalition was not meeting the needs of its members, to whom they are responsible.


  4. This split might seem like the right short term decision, but I doubt it’s right for the long term. Ol’ massa was good at pitting the field n-s against house n-s, fanning resentments over a few crumbs. The beauty of Unity is that it reminds us, as Ron Dellums would say, that you don’t have to be black to be a n-r in America. You can be undocumented, have your land stolen, or thrown into detention because your grandparents came from nation at war with the USA. There is much more that unites us than divides us.


  5. I want everyone to know that I struggled with Steve’s comment above, which spelled out each word. I felt a need to balance my desire to host a free and open discussion with a sensitivity to the impact certain words continue to have in our communities. I respect what Steve had to say, but I’m forced to conclude that allowing his comment to get through unedited would probably do more harm than good in this discussion. I apologize to Steve and to readers if I have made the wrong decision here, but as it is mine to make, I had to choose the option I could live with. Thank you.


  6. I’m a NABJ member, but more than that I’m one of those people who Roland Martin describes as more in love with the concept of Unity: Journalists of Color, than the reality.

    Damn straight I am.

    Unlike Mr. Martin, I’m not particularly interested in these games of money, power and who gets to sit in the big chair at the end of the table. I very much believe in UNITY as a concept of journalists coming together, setting aside their real and imagined differences for a few days of fellowship. The craft of journalism is an ever-decreasing one with the slices of the pies divvied up between Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American journalists ever smaller. But not apparently so small that there aren’t still arguments over whose small slice should be the biggest.

    The decision to bail on UNITY was made for the worst and most crass reasons possible: money and ego. Some folks on the NABJ board wanted more of the former and had too much of the latter. I have enjoyed the UNITY conventions more than the ones that NABJ holds which is one reason why I will no longer be a member of NABJ after this year’s convention in Philadelphia. NABJ no longer represents what I believe is the best and brightest in journalism. Now it only represents the small and petty.


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