On 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.
1. Now 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.
2. Was the split instigated by a core group within NABJ who never wanted to be a part of Unity?
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 organizations.
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 so.
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, including:
· NABJ’s Executive 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
· The alliance presidents met on a conference call with the UNITY president
· NABJ’s treasurer 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 direction.
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 conventions, 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.
6. If 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 split?
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 penalties.
8. Like 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 programs.
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 convention.
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.
Read more on the NABJ website.