Gregory H. Lee Jr., former president of the National Association of Black Journalists will co-chair a new UNITY: Journalists for Diversity advisory council, UNITY president Russell Contreras said Thursday.
The council will help shape short-term and long-term strategic goals, providing a blueprint for growth for the troubled journalism alliance.
“I have known Greg Lee for years ever since he and I worked together at the Boston Globe,” Contreras said. “Greg helped me develop an austerity plan in 2010 to save NAHJ (the National Association of Hispanic Journalists) from bankruptcy and he also helped get NABJ out of debt. He has a history of hiring a diverse staff and he is ready to help us.”
UNITY, which formerly represented a unified quadrennial gathering for journalists of color, has been beset with infighting for years. Ironically Lee was on NABJ’s board of directors as treasurer and pushed to leave the UNITY alliance in 2011 under a cloud of misgivings. At the time, Lee expressed a desire for NABJ to continue working with UNITY, but that too changed when UNITY dropped “Journalists of Color” from it’s name. At that time, with Lee as NABJ president, the black journalists association opted not to reunite with UNITY with Lee citing a change in the organization’s mission as the primary reason why NABJ would not likely return.
Lee, Executive Sports Editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, now says he looks forward to working with Contreras, who was elected UNITY’s president in December.
“I look forward to working with someone I have great regard for in the fight for diverse coverage and diversity in our newsrooms”, Lee said. “I am a product of perhaps two of the greatest UNITY-like initiatives, the Freedom Forum’s Chips Quinn Program and the Sports Journalism Institute. I believe in what Russell is trying to accomplish and will do whatever I can to help assist him in this important work. There is a lot of work to be done and appreciate the confidence and trust that Russell has in me in naming me for this position.”
Many of the problems UNITY had when NABJ left nearly four years ago, and that later led to NAHJ’s departure in 2013, persist, leaders acknowledge. Those problems include a perceived loss of focus and mission.
In addition to its other tasks, the council Lee co-chairs will examine UNITY’s current mission and offer suggestions on how we can best help newsrooms be more reflective of our changing nation. That’s doesn’t necessarily mean NABJ will return to the fold, Lee said.
“That’s out of my hands,” said Lee, who no longer serves on NABJ’s board of directors, which would have final say on a return to UNITY. NABJ’s current board president, Bob Butler, has said continuously that the reasons NABJ left UNITY remain unsolved problems. NAHJ president, Mekahlo Medina, has echoed the sentiment.
As co-chair of the UNITY council, Lee will only be able to advise; UNITY’s board of directors would have final say on a reunification or recommendations to change its mission.
“I can’t forecast the future on that,” Lee continued. “What I will say is that we must fight for diversity from all corners, and I am going to help my man (Contreras) do that.”
Contreras said the remaining members of the advisory council will be announced in coming weeks, and “will be reflective of our efforts to transform our newsrooms.”