Tag Archives: AAJA

Are you ready for Unity Lite? Some thoughts on the Hispanic withdrawal and the future of the minority journalism group once known for its unity; (UPDATING with “Post-Racial” Unity)

I’m not sure if there is a point to Unity if two of the biggest groups have decided to abandon whatever sense of unity might exist among minority journalists.

When the black journalists left the group and weren’t at the convention last year I was dismayed. But I thought maybe Unity could still survive, especially if there was even a remote possibility of NABJ returning.

Now that the Hispanic journalists of NAHJ have pulled out, I think it’s really over.

Here was NAHJ President Hugo Balta’s message on its website this week:

“As I’ve repeatedly stated NAHJ is open to working with UNITY and look forward to discussing proposals that meet our mutual [associations’] mission.

“We wish UNITY good luck in their future endeavors.”

Sound like the kiss-off speech you get when you’re fired or laid off?

(Haven’t experienced that ever? Then you’re really a protected minority).

If two of the biggest groups aren’t represented, we have a different kind of “Unity” that is no longer unified, diverse, nor even necessary.

A group that includes AAJA, the Asian American journalists group, and the two smallest minority journalism groups from the LGBT and Native American communities, represents an organization with diminished numbers, resources, and power.

We should have figured something like this would happen when the tag line was changed last year from “Journalists of Color” to “Journalists for Diversity.”  Diversity? Or some reasonable facsimile?

Diversity without the two biggest minority groups in the organization is just a joke.

It’s also disheartening, though not surprising, to see business and financial reasons come up as the wedge that divides the different groups over the common goal of diversity.

Of course, joining a bigger group makes perfect sense to the minority of minority journalism groups representing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, and Native Americans.

But how can Unity make sense for everyone else?

What kind of formula would lure back NABJ, NAHJ?

What kind of arrangement is needed to keep even AAJA members interested?

The current president Paul Cheung has just sent an e-mail to AAJA members, saying that since July the remaining alliance members are working to restructure Unity to make it “more nimble, flexible, and financially sound.”  Furthermore, it says AAJA has taken a leadership role in coming up with solutions.

I’ll be open to whatever the remaining Unity reps come up with. But if it doesn’t compel NABJ or NAHJ to re-join, then it may not be good enough.

The group certainly shouldn’t be called Unity.

I’ve been to every Unity convention and believe in the mission of bringing the power of all the organizations together to make our case for diversity together.

But what good is a new and nimble Unity without the blacks and Hispanics?

Do we really need Unity Lite?

(Clarification: NAHJ as of August had 1,279 members and was the second largest Unity partner. AAJA was the largest with 1,597 members in August. NABJ withdrew from Unity in 2011. It has nearly 3,000 members,  according to Richard Prince’s Journalisms/Maynard Institute website).

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ADDENDUM: (10/24/13, 11:24 am PDT)

Without the blacks and Hispanics, you essentially have a GAAJANA (Gay Asian American Journalists Association/Native Americans). It would be a different organization, just not “Unity.” And probably not worth it to organizations to take  time from their own specific concerns. Too bad the formal idea has  already been built and established,  but there’s no will to do what’s right for all. No one uses the good of the people argument here.

A “Unity” without all the groups is really like a Congress without 50 states. But  Congress has its problems with gridlock and “doing the right thing.” Why did we expect anything different with our journalism organizations?

UPDATE (10/24/13 11:43 am PDT )

Disappointment but willingness to let go from a significant early member of Unity, who compared the situation to marriage, essentially saying sometimes it doesn’t work out and you move on. That’s a sign that the old Unity is  really gone forever. Anything from here on will be brand new and be very different. 

Initially, I called it Unity Lite. But it’s really a kind of “Post-Racial” Unity.

So here’s an idea:Why don’t we just try to diversify existing mainstream groups like SPJ, RTNDA, and the like instead of creating a brand new Unity?

I’m attending the Asian American Journalists Association convention in New York…but it’s actually more likely I will be stopped and frisked than bump into Connie Chung

Emil Guillermo, the first Asian American male to anchor a national evening news broadcast in 1989 when he hosted NPR’s “All Things Considered,” with Connie Chung, the first Asian American to anchor the evening news program of a major network. Photo taken at the 2010 convention, Hollywood,CA

I wasn’t stopped nor frisked in NYC. Nor did I see Connie. I did see a lot of young Asian American journalists, which is good, but it seemed much of the meeting was driven by new media, tech, and gadgetry. Journalism? Well, there was some discussion of that, but for the most part it was secondary, because journalism is being transformed by the digital world. The conference almost presumes the 5w’s part. The digital stuff was much bigger at this conference than I ever expected.  Which is great, because most of the attendees weren’t around when newsrooms used typewriters.

One other thing. Much has been made about the media criticism discussion at the conference. I skipped it because as much as AAJA wants to be a media watchdog, at best the group is ineffective because there are limits to what journalism associations can do. It can advocate diversity in hiring and coverage. And that’s it. It can criticize, but it doesn’t want to be seen as an advocate nor as a hard “civil rights” organization.  That makes AAJA more of a  “soft” civil rights org because it does preach diversity. But it truly leaves its fangs at the door. How can you be tough on big corporate news organizations when you depend on those same news organization for support? The convention was in New York, and it just seemed to lack the kind of spark you’d expect from a convention in the media capital. Media companies were pretty minimal in their involvement. Sign of the times, I’m afraid.

So roll it all up, and you have a nice careerist organization that H.R. departments love because it helps show media organizations are interested in the public good. But when the industry is shrinking and careers are curtailed or shorten, a careerist organization isn’t left with much to crow about these days. And when it crows about racist coverage, what’s it’s solution? It’s not a union. It’s a journalism organization. Aside checking for grammar and proper use of AP style, what’s left? Advocating for minority jobs? What jobs?

In the end, it was a nice gathering for some of us who still believe there’s a reason for AAJA.

Would have been nice to see one plenary session where everyone  could come together  and discuss the broad themes that should be concerning minority journalists and communities they cover. That would have been a place to discuss and reinforce the values of the organization.

Right now, the organization seems like it’s just trying to survive. Just like many newsrooms in the country.

After Libya, Detroit? Grace Lee Boggs’ humanistic revolution

I visited Detroit recently when I attended the Asian American Journalists Association Convention.

But the highlight of the trip was meeting Hall of Fame activist Grace Lee Boggs.

If you are an unabashed capitalist, maybe even a free-market Tea Party-type, you might not give Boggs the benefit of an open mind. 

She’s a radical, maybe the most radical Asian American I know.

And we all know what happens when “socialism” enters into any discussion in America. Witness the debate over universal health care.  In the U.S., there is a low tolerance for Marx, unless you’re talking Groucho.

But Grace Lee Boggs is different. When capitalism fails us (as it is currently),  Boggs has answers.

Read my profile of her:

Diversity’s recession-era failure: The numbers show Unity was cash cow for all, but black journalists wanted more

As a journalist who attended every Unity and believed in the mission, I was concerned about NABJ pulling out of Unity. And I admit to being surprised I didn’t hear outcry from others.

Maybe people don’t care anymore.

 In recession era diversity, where the buck matters more than the principle,it’s just not the same.

But a piece from the Poynter Institute sheds a little  light on why no one on the Unity board is all that broken up about the black journalists’ withdrawal.

Everyone made money.  

It’s just that NABJ wanted what it saw as its fair share.

According to the Poynter Institute story,  NABJ chose solvency over solidarity.  But it really wasn’t going broke. It wanted more money for extra programs and felt it should get more out of the Unity cash cow.

To me that’s a bit selfish when you’re talking about the kind of non-profit mission Unity was on.

Beyond that, Unity’s revenues were pretty healthy, about $6 million from the 2008 convention, mostly coming from registration (1.8 million), sponsorships ($2.5 million), and the career fair ($1.4 million).

Here’s the revenue split based on the Poynter story’s numbers:

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ),  $427,259.

The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA ),$396,011.

The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), $143,197.

NABJ felt that it deserved even more since it brought in 53 percent of paid registrants and 38 percent of the estimated 7,500 attendees. It amounted to $574,407.

With NABJ gone, the revenue split won’t be as robust. But the organizations working together still should make more than they would with individual conventions. That windfall has always helped to save all the journalism groups that have battled huge deficits in recent years.  

Given that,  what do you make of NABJ’s compromise ideas on redoing the revenue share? One of the proposals would actually hurt the smaller groups.

Doesn’t sound like NABJ was all that into solidarity from the beginning.

Still organizations are being very political.

“AAJA is disappointed that NABJ has withdrawn from Unity,” said AAJA President Doris Truong during a morning conference call today. “ But now we have to move forward. We wanted NABJ to stay in the alliance but we wish them well. We will never close the door to NABJ.”

So NABJ is gone, and all that’s left is a bigger share of a smaller pie for the journalism groups that remain.  Not the end of the world, but the end of something.

Unity was the biggest model for how real diversity could work in America.

When Unity fails to unite, that’s sad.