Leadership

Journalism Diversity Coalition Facing Governance Challenges

By / Aug 27, 2013 (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

The journalism diversity group UNITY has seen its mission and coalition change and grow since its start in 1994. But after the exit of one of its founding member groups and with another thinking of leaving, the coalition’s president says reflection may be warranted.

It may be seem natural for diverse journalism groups—looking for ways to build a voice in newsrooms across the country—to collaborate.

But that doesn’t mean that keeping that coalition going is easy. That’s what UNITY Journalists for Diversity, a group representing the interests of minority and LGBT journalists, is learning as its mission evolves. More details:

Years of evolution: Founded two decades ago to bring together the national groups representing African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, and Native American journalists for a quadrennial conference to focus on their shared missions, the UNITY coalition has long worked to improve diversity in U.S. newsrooms and media coverage. But in 2011, the National Association of Black Journalists, the largest of the individual organizations, exited the coalition over issues of governance and transparency, as well as a revenue split among the organizations. (It has considered rejoining at least once since then.) Soon after NABJ’s exit, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) joined the coalition. Earlier this year, UNITY signaled a broadening of its scope by changing its name from “Journalists of Color” to “Journalists for Diversity.” Unlike NABJ, which left believing it would improve its financial situation, the smaller NLGJA says that its financial viability has improved since it became part of the coalition.

Another exit? On Saturday, a story from the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education revealed that the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ)—the largest among the remaining coalition groups, which include the Asian American Journalists Association, Native American Journalists Association, and NLGJA—was reconsidering its membership in UNITY. NAHJ expressed concerns similar to those NABJ cited when it exited. “Two voices are stronger than one,” NAHJ President Hugo Balta said. “But regardless of my personal feelings and philosophical feelings about UNITY, I need to protect and defend and champion the best interest of NAHJ.” The organization, whose board held closed-door sessions with UNITY’s leadership last week, plans to discuss the issue with its members during a town-hall meeting next month. NAHJ’s decision comes not quite four months after Tom Arviso Jr. resigned his post as UNITY president.

Staying on mission: In a statement to the Poynter Institute, UNITY’s acting president, Doris Truong, emphasized that no matter what happens among its member groups, the coalition’s mission remains essential. But she acknowledged that NAHJ’s concerns merit reflection. “UNITY’s board has discussed changes to the entire structure of the organization, all of which are meant to address NAHJ’s concerns,” she said. “Really, NAHJ has raised issues that we all agree need revisiting, especially as we come up on the 20th year since the first UNITY convention in 1994.”

Truong noted that the group recently received a $150,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to continue its efforts “to advance diversity and inclusion in media coverage, staffing, and ownership.”

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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