National Association of Black Journalists withdraw from Minority Journalist Meeting

Samantha Sais for The New York Times

Job seekers met potential employers Thursday at the Unity Journalists conference in Las Vegas.



Published: August 2, 2012


LAS VEGAS — Nearly every four years since the mid-1990s, hundreds of journalists like those gathering here this week have come together under the banner of “Unity: Journalists of Color,” a nod toward the conference’s efforts to increase the number of minorities in newsrooms across the country.

Samantha Sais for The New York Times

David Steinberg, president of the gay journalists’ group.

But for the first time, the National Association of Black Journalists, once a cornerstone of the event, is missing, having withdrawn from the conference and its parent organization amid a disagreement over finances. And a new group, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, is attending, bringing not only new faces to the event, but a new name: “Unity Journalists.”

The name change comes as the number of minority journalists in American newsrooms is in decline — total newsroom employment at daily newspapers fell by 2.4 percent in 2011, according to the American Society of News Editors, while minority employment declined by 5.7 percent — and it has caused mixed feelings among some journalists who belong to the member groups. It also has raised questions about Unity’s decision to broaden its efforts to improve newsroom representation by including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender journalists, as well as racial and ethnic minority journalists.

For N.A.B.J., one of the founding members of the alliance with the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association, the loss of the title “Journalists of Color” was a turning point.

The organization withdrew from Unity last April, after failing to reach an agreement with Unity board members over how much revenue the member organizations should receive from the conference. At the behest of some of its members, however, the black journalists’ group briefly considered a reconciliation. It decided against doing so after the name change, which had been requested by the gay journalists’ group and approved by the Unity board.

“This has nothing to do” with the gay journalists’ group or its mission, said Greg Lee, the president of the N.A.B.J. “It has to do with Unity acquiescing to a group that just got there.” The black journalists’ group, the largest of the four minority organizations, held its own conference this year in New Orleans; Mr. Lee said that more than 2,300 journalists attended.

During a Unity year, each member group forgoes holding a separate national conference.

David Steinberg, the president of the gay journalists’ group, said including his group in the alliance meant that “the name Unity: Journalists of Color just wasn’t accurate anymore.”

Mr. Steinberg said the organizations in Unity should define themselves less by who they are and more by their shared goals. “The mission of Unity has always been the mission of N.L.G.J.A.,” he said. “Opposing newsroom bias against minorities and working toward fair representation of minorities in the newsroom.”

For some, though, the rift is unfortunate. Michelle Johnson, a member of both the black and gay journalists’ groups, and an associate professor of multimedia journalism at the Boston University Department of Journalism, said the split had been difficult for her personally.

“As somebody who is both a lesbian and a member of N.L.G.J.A. and the other part of me is an African-American, it’s like a divorce in my family,” Ms. Johnson said. “Because I’m part of more than one of these groups I can see the overlap in the mission, and I can see why we should be working together.”

LZ Granderson, a member of both the black and the gay journalists’ groups and a journalist at ESPN and CNN, said N.A.B.J.’s refusal to rejoin Unity after the name change risked making the organization look “intolerant and maybe even a bit dated.”

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