NABJ, NAHJ Leaders Discuss Joint Convention
Monday, August 26, 2013
As the presidents of two other journalist of color associations watched, along with the acting president of the Unity coalition, President Hugo Balta of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists told his members Monday that "we have been handcuffed" as participants in the Unity: Journalists for Diversity alliance.
"They've lined up against us because of that structure," Balta said, circling the room, microphone in hand, as the NAHJ met in Anaheim, Calif., for its annual convention. He said that two years after the National Association of Black Journalists left the coalition over the same reasons of finances, governance, transparency and mission that have made NAHJ unhappy, "there hasn't been a definitive change."
The room was silent when Balta ended, apologizing for becoming emotional.
Meanwhile, Balta and Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, have casually discussed the two groups meeting jointly in 2016, a presidential election year, both men said. "We need to be there in Washington, D.C.," Balta told Journal-isms on Sunday.
Doris Truong, acting president of Unity, immediate past national president of the Asian American Journalists Association and a brand new member of NAHJ, solemnly watched as Balta indicted the structure of Unity, saying it was unfair for the larger Unity groups to have the same number of votes as the smaller ones. Balta said his efforts to change the structure have gotten nowhere
"We're frustrated, and we've got to act," Balta told his members.
When the meeting ended, Truong told Journal-isms, "I'm here as a member of NAHJ," and said, "We've been working on these issues, and I'm optimistic we'll be able to amp up the timeline." Asked the purpose of the timeline, Truong said to have an election for Unity president. She has been acting president since Tom Arviso Jr. of the Native American Journalists Association resigned suddenly in April after four months on the job.
Balta told Journal-isms, however, that he does not want a new president of Unity. Instead, he wants to eliminate the current titles and have Unity run by the presidents of the four member organizations. Unity has become a fifth entity competing with its members — currently NAHJ, AAJA, the Native American Journalists Association and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association —for funds, the NAHJ president contends.
Truong said Unity's lawyer has told the coalition that it must have a president and a full executive committee in order to conduct business.
In the NAHJ membership audience were Butler; two former NAHJ presidents, Gilbert Bailón and Veronica Villafañe; and Mary Hudetz, new president of the Native American Journalists Association.
Hudetz told Journal-isms on Sunday that she disagrees with Balta on a basic philosophical point. While Balta says the presidents of the constituent organizations should exert more control so that the Unity board members more closely represent the organizations that appointed them, Hudetz said that "as long as Unity is a 501(c)(3)" nonprofit organization, "you're legally obligated to vote in the best interests of your alliance," not the organization that sent you.
She also disagreed that the Unity board had ignored Balta's recommendations. "Everyone agrees that discussion on governance was productive," she said.
Balta emphasized that no final decision on Unity would take place until the end of the year, after members have had a chance to discuss their options, possibly at a town hall meeting in the fall. He said that he still believes in the concept of Unity, approves of the addition of NLGJA and that working with the other journalist of color groups without the current Unity organization is possible.
Butler confirmed for NABJ members that he and Balta had discussed having a joint convention in 2016.
He wrote NABJ members Monday that Balta had approached immediate past NABJ president Gregory H. Lee Jr. "late last year about the possibility. At the April board meeting, the board directed executive director Maurice Foster to begin discussions with NAHJ executive director Anna Lopez [Buck] to see if this was feasible. After some preliminary talks both went into 'convention mode' and they agreed to continue discussions after the convention.
"President Balta came to me after the election to confirm that we will continue to do our due diligence.
"The board is having many discussions about possible collaborations and partnerships. We will report to the membership when any of these talks result in a partnership that will benefit NABJ and its members."
Past NAHJ and past Unity presidents in attendance Monday said they hoped that the partnerships could continue under a Unity umbrella.
"The idea of coming at the industry as a unified group has some power to it," said Bailón, a former NAHJ president who is now editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, adding that he also hoped "there was a way for NABJ to come back and feel comfortable."
Ernest Sotomayor, Unity president during the coalition's convention in Washington in 2004, said, "They have to find a way to work together, whether the Unity structure or not. There's too much of a problem with diversity issues in these media companies right now. It's too far back in priorities." Joint statements by the groups have been "very powerful. We very clearly need to find a way to collaborate."
"There's strength in numbers," Villafañe said. "Each and every organization has something of value to offer the others. It would be a real shame if we can't find a way for Unity to stay alive."
She said the issue of Unity competing with the member organizations for funds has been raised previously. Perhaps this is the time for a more defined role for the umbrella organization, Villafañe said.
The Ford Foundation has awarded Unity $150,000 for one year to help the coalition strengthen itself "however we decide to do it," Walt Swanston, interim Unity executive director, told Journal-isms.
Before the half-hour that the NAHJ membership meeting heard Balta speak and take questions about Unity, treasurer Blanca Torres said NAHJ, once so strapped financially that it laid off most of its staff, hopes to end the year $162,031 in the black.
As of Sunday, the Excellence in Journalism convention, staged by NAHJ, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association, had attracted 1,665 registrants, including exhibitors, according to Lopez Buck.
Of those, 30 percent, or 500, were with NAHJ, 30 percent with SPJ, 10 percent RTDNA and 30 percent others, she said. That contrasts with 483 registrants that NAHJ brought to the Unity convention in 2012. Lopez Buck said she expects that number to grow.
Maria Camila Bernal, Chris Dell, Sonia Gutierrez, Latino Reporter: Balta details UNITY break-up talks (Aug. 27)
Toyota Motor North America, Inc., will become the "title sponsor" of all regional conferences of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists next year and the "title sponsor" of its 2014 national conference in San Antonio, Texas, after pledging $100,000 to the group if it staged the national event — which will celebrate its 30th anniversary — in the city where Toyota has a major manufacturing plant.
Patricia Salas Pineda, group vice president of Toyota's Hispanic Business Strategy Group, announced the underwriting commitments Monday night at NAHJ's Hall of Fame Media Awards gala at its convention in Anaheim, Calif.
The pledge was enough to persuade NAHJ to accept the offer, NAHJ President Hugo Balta told members earlier Monday, outlining how he had built a personal relationship with a Toyota representative he had known when both worked elsewhere. Balta now works at ESPN.
This year, NAHJ partnered with the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association at the Excellence in Journalism convention in Anaheim, but next year that convention is scheduled for Nashville, Tenn., which lacks the strong Hispanic identification and central location that San Antonio offers.
Toyota has been "the number one automotive choice for Latinos in the last decade," Pineda said. But she also said Latino children are "10 times less likely than others to be buckled up" in automobiles, and thus the company had underwritten a "Buckle Up for Life" program, an initiative of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
At the awards gala, two of the major honorees — Joanna Hernandez, career services director at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, who won the President's Award, and David Gonzalez, co-editor of the Lens blog at the New York Times and the biweekly "Side Street" photo essay feature for the City Room blog — related their careers to their hardscrabble beginnings in New York. Gonzalez was inducted into the NAHJ Hall of Fame.
A third honoree, Gilbert Bailón, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch with prior tenure at the Dallas Morning News and Al Día, a Spanish-Language daily produced by the same company, implored attendees not to confuse celebrity with substance and to "do work with a purpose" that will enable them to explain to their families "how what you do matters and how you are making your community better." He was inducted into the NAHJ Hall of Fame.
Hernandez, introduced by Balta as his mentor, told attendees that she was a single mother majoring in secretarial science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College when she began her career in journalism. She had already been twice divorced, an abused spouse and a welfare recipient. The immediate past president of Unity: Journalists of Color, Inc., Hernandez went on to work as a multiplatform editor at the Washington Post and director of the feature production center for the New York Times Regional Media Group, among other journalism positions. "I can edit anything," she said. "Not bad for someone who wasn't sure she was college material."
Noting that her tenure as Unity president was sometimes tempestuous (it was marked by the pullout of the National Association of Black Journalists), Hernandez said she sometimes felt like quitting. But "it was my loyalty to NAHJ that kept me going."
Gonzalez said that when he was a child in the South Bronx, the area's unofficial motto was "Get out if you can." But today, after a 30-year career, he said he learned the news of his award while reporting just three blocks from where he grew up.
Journalists must "reclaim the narrative" of neighborhoods like the South Bronx, giving context to residents' lives, Gonzales said. "Find the stories of people dismissed as unimportant."
Gonzalez thanked his parents for giving him the "gift of Spanish.
"Some people think the fact that we speak Spanish" as well as English is luck. "It's not an accident. It's a skill, and that skill has opened doors for me, and allowed me to enter that small universe throughout the years," he said, referring to his reporting from barrios as well as outposts in Guatemala, Haiti and Nicaragua.
Among those he thanked for their mentoring was the late Thomas A. Johnson, pioneering black journalist for the New York Times and Newsday.
NAHJ also honored the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times for their decisions to no longer sanction the term "illegal immigrant," ABC News for increasing the visibility of Latinos on its national newscasts and ESPN for demonstrating "a strong commitment to diversity across multiple platforms" and highlighting the work of Latinos in sports.
AP and the Los Angeles Times do not accept awards for policy changes, Rebecca Aguilar, NAHJ vice president for online, said from the stage, so she urged members to stop by an AP office "and say, 'thank you for listening.' "
The association also honored non-journalism companies Universal Pictures, the cable network NUVOtv and the digital company Hulu.
The workshop was called "The Latinization of Newsrooms," but everyone on the panel at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention quickly realized that was a misnomer.
"I thought that when the 2010 Census came out, the people who run our business would know how to look at the data" and position themselves for the browner America that will come in 2020 and 2030," Ray Suarez, correspondent for the "PBS NewsHour," said. "I haven't seen a great deal of [evidence] that they're thinking that way, though they talk about it internally."
One of the problems, Suarez said, is that "trying to grow inside a shrinking business is not an easy assignment for anybody."
According to the annual survey of local television stations conducted by Bob Papper of Hofstra University for the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Hispanic share of the television workforce rose from 4.2 percent in 1995 to 7.8 percent in 2013.
The number and percent of Latinos employed in newspapers and online outlets is even lower. In the latest diversity survey of the American Society of News Editors, those figures declined in 2012 from 4.7 to 4.0 percent.
As Suarez pointed out, one can turn on MSNBC at 5 a.m. and watch until late at night "and there isn't a single Latino hosting any of the programs, not a . . . beat reporter working on any of the national beats.
"And they're not afraid — they know nothing will happen to them. There won't be any blowback, they won't get any adverse publicity and they don't think they're losing anything," Suarez said, quoting what he said an agent told him.
When Latinos do work in mainstream media, the panelists said, a number of other issues surface, such as which among the Latino accents are preferable and how authentic their pronunciation of Spanish words is allowed to be.
"The problem for us to deal with is OTM — 'Other Than Mexican,' " a Telemundo reporter said. "If you don't have the Mexican accent, you're not on the air." She said she had to either lose the job or change her accent. She altered her pronunciations.
A dark-skinned Panamanian said from the audience that she was told that she didn't "look" Mexican and that Mexicans love to see their own people on television. But "on the street, Mexicans love me," she said.
Spanish accents themselves are problematic, panelists said. "Don't roll your Rs too much," even if that's the way the word is pronounced in Spanish, an audience member said she was told. The Southern California town of San Pedro is pronounced "San PEE-dro" by the locals, though Spanish speakers know that in Spanish it is "San PAY-dro." A 90-year-old woman was reported to have said, "You know when those foreigners come, they want to say 'San PAY-dro. It's PEE-dro!"
Go with the locals, advised Rebecca Aguilar, who moderated the session and is NAHJ vice president for online. "But [the area] used to be Mexican," protested Steven Malave, senior content producer for news of the new Noticias Mundo Fox.
To Aguilar, one problem is that Latinos are too timid. In Los Angeles, "I knew Latinos who never spoke up. They lived there all their lives" and didn't want to rock the boat. "How do we speak up without risking our jobs, being labeled as 'difficult'? There are people who fear losing their jobs," she said. In management, "There are people who say, 'I hired you to be a reporter. That's all I want you to do.' "
Arm yourself with the facts, Shereen Marisol Meraji, a reporter for the Code Switch race-relations team on NPR. Thirty percent of the blog's readers are people of color, she said, compared with 18 percent for NPR.org. Fifty percent of the audience is 24 to 35 years old, 20 years younger than the overall NPR audience, she said.
Speak up, said the Telemundo employee. She said she just earned a master's degree in business after persuading her employer to pay for her pursuit of the degree.
"You have to keep pushing, pushing," Suarez said. "It's not going to happen, unfortunately, just because we're swell." African Americans, panelists said, would never stand for the dearth of representation provided Latinos.
Steve Carlston, president and general manager of KNBC-TV in Burbank, Calif., said his station gets it.
"We've added 18 percent Latino reporters to our staff," he said from the audience. "I say we need to make our management staff look like the audience."
Todd Mokhtari, vice president of news for KNBC-TV, a panelist, said, "I think we need to be more pro-active." He proposed that KNBC host a party with Telemundo at the next NAHJ convention "for anyone who wants to be a manager. Let's go for 20 to 25 people," said Mokhtari, who is Iranian. "I hope it's 100 people."
"I'd love to be a manager," Aguilar said. "I've never been asked."
The CNN media criticism show "Reliable Sources" reached a milestone of sorts on Sunday when Eric Deggans, a black journalist who is media critic for the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times and soon-to-be television critic for NPR, sat in as guest host.
The show departed from the same-old same-old, brimming with diversity as a person of Arab descent spoke about Al Jazeera America, a woman discussed ESPN and sports, and a Hispanic man joined in talking about the history of civil rights coverage.
Veteran journalist Paul Delaney, a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists, told viewers about the role of the black press during the civil rights movement, Washington Post reporter Wil Haygood recalled his 2009 news story that became the top-grossing film "Lee Daniels' The Butler," and Dan Rather, the legendary former CBS anchor, shared recollections of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
It became that rarest of mainstream network news analysis shows, one told from a black perspective.
Deggans joined a growing list of media critics who have led the media analysis show in the wake of longtime host Howard Kurtz's departure for Fox News. CNN was criticized for using only white male guest hosts for the show.
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