Russell Contreras, a reporter for the Associated Press who covers the American Southwest, was elected president of the troubled UNITY: Journalists For Diversity on Sunday.
Contreras, who will assume office in January, will have his hands full trying to repair damaged relations with former association partners representing black and Hispanic journalists.
“Our opponents are those who don’t support diversity, not each other,” Contreras told All Digitocracy by phone. “UNITY is no longer in competition with any other group advocating for journalists of color. Whatever UNITY is will be in addition to what those other groups do. They can continue to exist under their sovereign missions and not worry about another group like UNITY coming along and fighting for sponsor dollars.”
The association, which formerly represented a unified quadrennial gathering for journalists of color, has been beset with infighting for years. The National Association of Black Journalists left the group in 2011 following disputes over governance and loss of direction. Less than two years later the National Association of Hispanic Journalists followed suit citing similar reasons. Months earlier UNITY’s board of directors voted to change its name, dropping the “of color,” and elected David Steinberg to preside over the organization as president, which caused further consternation since Steinberg is both white and male. Steinberg, who Contreras will replace, did not seek re-election.
Last month UNITY announced that it would no longer host conventions, but would focus on offering programming instead. The organization also announced that its executive director, Roberto Quinones, who had only been on the job for six months, would be leaving.
Meanwhile, newsroom diversity is on the decline.
Contreras is a life-time member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists who ran, unsuccessfully,for president of that organization in 2012. He is also a member of the Native American Journalists Association and NABJ. It’s unclear whether his roles with the other associations, and his appointment as UNITY president, will bring NAHJ and NABJ back to the UNITY camp.
“The same things that forced NABJ to leave UNITY in the first place have not been resolved and I don’t know that having Russell as president will change anything,” NABJ president Bob Butler said Sunday evening.
NAHJ president Mekahlo Medina sent best wishes to Contreras but said he doesn’t see his organization returning to the UNITY table. “I wish Russell good luck in trying to figure out what this organization is, but the issues that NAHJ had are still there and I don’t see that changing,” he said.
While UNITY will not host a convention in 2016, NABJ and NAHJ will hold a joint gathering. Contreras said that while there will be no UNITY convention in two years, his plans include producing regional programming events that focus on poverty and/or immigration, perhaps in partnership with other journalism associations.
His first order of business, however, is to shape a strategic plan with both long-term and short-term goals. “UNITY needs to re-position its mission and come up with new revenue sources,” Contreras said. “Raising money through conventions is outdated. …We need to be issue driven.”
This story was updated on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014 with a quote from NAHJ president Mekahlo Medina.