CUNY J-School Joins a New UNITY in Vegas

By Althea Chang

The new President of UNITY, Joanna Hernandez

At a time when journalism and the media industry are facing massive changes, thousands of minority journalists, including a contingent from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, will convene in Las Vegas this week to discuss diversity issues, network and sharpen their new and old media skills.

The convention of UNITY Journalists – a consortium of Asian American Journalists Association, Hispanic American Journalists Association, Native American Journalists Association, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association – is being held for the first time without the National Association of Black Journalists. NABJ, the largest organization of minority journalists, left UNITY because of differences over how money was shared among the groups and other issues.

Photo Courtesy Rob Young

NABJ’s departure and the inclusion of the mostly white National Lesbian and Gay Journalists members prompted many to say that UNITY was abandoning its core mission of advocacy for minority journalists. It prompted a name change from UNITY Journalists of Color to UNITY Journalists.

“We’re still for diversity and inclusion, but now the mission is broader,” explains UNITY President Joanna Hernandez. “Whereas before it was journalists of color, we also included in our mission a concern for issues that are important to the LGBT community.” Hernandez, a former editor at the Washington Post, recently became the director of career services at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Last April, NABJ left the UNITY group over financial disputes. And while UNITY hoped for a reunion this year, NABJ stood by its decision that, “as a business model, UNITY no longer is the most financially prudent for NABJ and its membership.”

Instead, NABJ held its own convention in June, which it announced along with plans to withdraw from UNITY.

UNITY was initially formed to increase representation of people of color in the newsroom and dispel ethnic stereotypes. But this year’s convention is likely to show at least a slightly different mission.

Still, Hernandez is hoping that NABJ will rejoin UNITY. But NABJ officials remain non-committed.
“We would never say we won’t talk to Unity again, but the ball’s in their court,” NABJ president Greg Lee told Poynter last month.

But NABJ wasn’t the only organization concerned about finances. Membership numbers, and revenue from those memberships, have declined in line with the economic downturn.

For instance, from 2008 to 2009, NAHJ memberships declined nearly 33 percent, to 1,543 members from 2,292, according to Anna Lopez-Buck, the Interim Executive Director of NAHJ. She says job cuts have been a big part of the decline, and the number of NAHJ members has fallen further, to 1,259 members this year.

The number of NLGJA members, though relatively low compared with some of the ethnic organizations, has been fairly steady however. For the past several years, membership has remained at about 600, says Matthew Rose, the organization’s membership coordinator. But that may not be because previous members have remained with the group, but rather as former members decided not to renew their memberships, a new group of journalists join.

“Our membership has been steady for a few years now,” Rose says. “The organization has seen a lot of change, though. As journalism changes and media changes, so do the journalism groups.”

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