UNITY: Journalists for Diversity shifts focus from conferences to training and programming
Six months after joining UNITY Journalists for Diversity, its executive director Roberto Quinones is leaving, All Digitocracy learned over the weekend. Not only that, but the organization’s board of directors decided that UNITY will no longer host the quadrennial conferences for which it had become known. It will focus, instead, on offering journalism training and programming, UNITY president David Steinberg said Monday.
Quinones, who joined UNITY as executive director in May, will be out of a job. Steinberg said UNITY and Quinones mutually agreed that he’d stay until the end of the year to help the organization transition.
“UNITY: Journalists for Diversity is changing how it manages the organization. Much like our industry, UNITY has reviewed how it does business and is changing to reflect the current climate and its new transition,” Steinberg said by phone. “As UNITY moves away from being a conference-focused organization to an association focused on programming, the UNITY board recognizes that with limited finances, it is prudent to move to a leaner model of management.”
UNITY’s new structure could resemble that of other associations that contract with private association management companies, leaders say. UNITY also has the option of working with with the Society of Professional Journalists, which currently handles back office functions for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, including maintaining its membership (joins, renewals, roster reports, monthly dues billing, etc.) and bookkeeping.
“This reduces cost and is overall more efficient,” Steinberg said.
UNITY got its start in a conversation between Will Sutton, who would later become president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), and Juan Gonzalez, who would later become president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ). Founded as UNITY: Journalists of Color, the organization held its first conference in 1994 to showcase the strength in numbers when journalists of color come together. And for a while, it worked. Corporate media executives, marketers and even U.S. presidential candidates flocked to the conferences, held every four years, to hold press with black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American journalists and their supporters.
Things began to fall apart just as massive layoffs and buyouts hit the journalism industry in the early to mid 2000’s. Concerns over how UNITY representatives were treated and the way conference revenues were split led NABJ to leave the coalition in 2011; NAHJ soon followed in 2013 for similar reasons.
With its two founding partners gone, UNITY’s mission changed from being an organization for journalists of color, into one focused on a broader meaning of diversity. The organization welcomed the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, dropped “Journalists of Color” from its name, and Steinberg, who happens to be a white male, was elected president in 2013. To many that was the final nail in the coffin, dashing any hopes of reconciliation with NABJ; it was also whispered to be one of the factors behind NAHJ’s eventual withdrawal. Even its two co-founders said UNITY was dead at that point. Despite its challenges, Steinberg and his board of directors said they wanted to continue the rich tradition of the large gatherings held every four years, and had been trying to figure out how to make that happen for 2016.
But by the time board members met in McLean, Virginia a week ago, reality had set in.”It’s just not feasible,” Steinberg said. UNITY will plan to host a diversity caucus next year instead, similar to the one it had earlier this year that brought together leaders from more than 50 media and journalism academic organizations to talk about ways to increase newsroom diversity. Next year’s caucus will focus on tech, diversity and the best ways to reach news consumers, Steinberg said.
UNITY also plans to send a journalism fellow to all of the journalism association conferences, as it did this year, Steinberg continued. UNITY also hopes to provide more training programs to help newsrooms improve diversity in coverage, as well as on their staffs and to act as a clearinghouse for job listings, he added.
How do these activities differ from what other journalism associations are already doing?
“Well, in many ways our focus will be to facilitate collaboration that benefits multiple organizations,” Steinberg responded. “For example, we could offer potential employers a way to their postings on not only a UNITY site but also on the sites of AAJA, NAJA and NLGJA, with the possibility of partnering with other groups.”
NABJ and NAHJ, journalism associations representing the nation’s two largest groups of color, plan to host a joint convention in 2016, one that may include a presidential debate.