Sports Journalism Institute

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NABJ withdraws from UNITY

Patricia Lee
APSE Bulletin Staff Writer

After 17 years of working with UNITY: Journalists of Color to bring together minorities in the field, the National Association of Black Journalists voted April 10 to end its participation, citing financial disputes as a reason.

The UNITY coalition was started to bring together NABJ, the Native American Journalists Association [NAJA], the Asian American Journalists Association [AAJA] and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists [NAHJ].

NABJ, according to a statement on its web site, did not believe that Unity’s method of dividing Unity Convention funds represented the best interests of NABJ’s 3,000-plus members, (who made up more than half of Unity participants). The NABJ board also had questions about Unity’s mission.

“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,” according to NABJ’s website. “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.”

NABJ President Kathy Times did not respond to questions sent to her about the issue. UNITY executive director Onica Makwakwa did not respond to emailed requests for an interview.

On its website, NABJ said it looked at the 2008 convention, where its members made up 53 percent of the total paid registrants—amounting to $574,407—as well as $1.8 million of the $6 million made in revenue in 2008, and took that into account when asked to provide funding for UNITY 2012. NABJ said on its website that it asked for specific line-by-line expenditures related to the 2008 convention, as well as projected budgets for 2011 and 2012, that had not received as of March.

“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,” according to the website.

“UNITY wanted to stay with the same formula, which was in effect in 2008, and between 2008 and 2011 there were changes in the economy, and everyone suffered change within their organization,” said NABJ treasurer Gregory H. Lee. “[NABJ] made changes to how we approached our finances based upon the current economic climate and how we governed. From there, we decided that we wanted to end our relationship with UNITY. Something that worked in the past did not work with the structure NABJ had developed in the past three years.”

NABJ, which is hosting its 2011 NABJ Convention & Career Fair Aug. 3-7 in Philadelphia, is still deciding where to hold its 2012 convention, after opting out of Unity.

NAJA president Rhonda LeValdo-Gayton pointed out what she sees as disadvantages that come with NABJ’s withdrawal. “I don’t think it really affects our working relationship, and their main priority is still to change the minority numbers in the newsroom, but I’m disappointed that they’re not going to be at the UNITY conference,” LeValdo-Gayton said. “I’ve worked on student projects and with college kids together in a newsroom, and it’s exciting because we all had to step out of the box and see the students from other groups working on something we weren’t necessarily aware of. So that’s the disappointing part of it for UNITY—we’re going to be missing NABJ, and I think that takes away from our students’ learning experience.”