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NAHJ Defends Ban on Social Media

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Updated August 3

"We're Not Required to Be Open to the Public"

NPR Gets $1.5 Million for Journalism Initiative on Race

Unity Executive Director Resigns for Africa Post

Nadia Khan interviews NAHJ board member Rebecca Aguilar Tuesday before being evicted. (Credit: Storify by NABJ Digital)

"We're Not Required to Be Open to the Public"

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is justified in banning reporters from tweeting from its meeting because "we're not a government entity" and "we're not required to be open to the public," NAHJ President Michele Salcedo told NAHJ members on Thursday.

"We are happy to have members present, but having reporters present is a whole different ball of wax," Salcedo said. The board Tuesday asked a reporter for the student convention news operation to stop reporting its board meeting and leave the room. The UNITY News reporter had been assigned to live tweet the board's discussions, held in Las Vegas at the Unity Journalists conference.

"If you have tweets . . . sent out at every point of the discussion, it doesn't necessarily encapsulate the decisions that have been made," Salcedo said. "It is misinformation because it is not complete.

"Once we make a decision, we do communicate that. We are responsible to the members. We are not a publicly held corporation," Salcedo told Marisol Bello, a USA Today reporter who objected to the board's action.

Bello replied that although NAHJ is a nonprofit organization, "We're a nonprofit organization made up of journalists. You don't represent an organization of baseball players. Everything we're about is about openness and learning about what's going on. I can't be at every meeting. Facebook, Twitter [are] media that's been so helpful. You can't control social media. . . . not to use it doesn't make sense."

Salcedo replied that the laws governing nonprofits make no distinction between organizations of journalists and others, and said she had mentioned NAHJ's policy to representatives of the New York Times, who found it "perfectly understandable."

She did not identify the Times representatives, but Deputy Managing Editor William E. Schmidt, who is at the convention, told Journal-isms, "It is up to an organization to decide its own policies and ground-rules. The Times has no role in this."

[Salcedo denied in a Facebook message Friday that the student was asked to leave. "During Tuesday's National Association of Hispanic Journalists' board meeting, a student was live tweeting the board's deliberations and was asked to stop, as it is against board policy. She was told she could stay, but she could not live tweet.

["The NAHJ board practices transparency. Board-approved minutes and annual financial statements are available on request. NAHJ has always been an evolving organization, even more so during this recent time of transition. Future boards are free to revisit the policy," Salcedo wrote.]

The conflict between which principles to honor — those of openness advocated by journalists or those of a business wary of critical coverage — is faced not only by journalism associations, but also media companies. Stonewalling and "spin" are used by some media companies and associations even as they criticize others for doing so when wearing their journalist hats.

Michele Salcedo

Likewise, media associations often must decide how much to let lawyers guide their policies. An alternative view expressed in a similar controversy years ago at the National Association of Black Journalists was that the organization sets out its core principles and objectives and has its lawyers advise on how to achieve them.

Regardless, the NAHJ decision did not play well with those outside the room. Media blogger Jim Romenesko began a report on the eviction of the NAHJ student reporter with, "This is incredible." Benét J. Wilson of NABJ noted on Twitter that she began tweeting from the NABJ board meetings in October 2010.

Rafael Olmeda, NAHJ president from 2006 to 2008, wrote on his blog, ". . . Board members are elected by the association's membership and are entitled to communicate with members any way they see fit , including by blogging, tweeting, using Facebook or talking to reporters. True, they may not speak for the association, but no one has the right to stop them from speaking for themselves in their capacity as elected officers.

"NAHJ must adjust its policies around its principles, not the other way around."

Meanwhile, Salcedo and Russell Contreras, vice president for print and chief financial officer, acknowledged that they did not favor a critic of the NAHJ leadership working with the student convention project. Salcedo told Monica Rhor, a Houston Chronicle reporter who has consistently pressed for more information on the organization's finances, that "there is concern that when you handle the stories in the student project that you have a certain bias."

Rhor, an NAHJ member for more than 20 years, replied, "I have recused myself from anything that has to do with NAHJ as an organization." Contreras, who is also a candidate for NAHJ president, answered "yes, I did" to the question of whether he prevented Rhor from working with the students. "I think we do need new blood on the student project," Contreras said, mentioning that there had been problems with corrections. "I wish you would have contacted me instead of going behind my back," Rhor said. Rhor told Journal-isms later that she became a mentor despite Contreras.

Salcedo maintained that the board has been transparent with members and replied to Rhor's criticism that the board leadership had disrespected members by saying, "I think there's been plenty of disrespect back and forth. . . there have been character assassinations all over Facebook." She said there are ". . . 14 people approximately, who carry on on Facebook constantly."

Responding to a question from presidential candidate Hugo Balta about the association's financial plans, Salcedo said recent national conventions had been money-losers — only 400 to 500 paid registrants attended the 2011 convention at Walt Disney World near Orlando — and that the organization was exploring less costly venues such as Albuquerque, N.M. NAHJ plans to rely more on regional conferences, she said.

Contreras said the association's severe spending cuts took NAHJ from a $16,000 negative balance in 2010 to a $117,000 surplus in 2011. "We will end 2012 with at least an excess of revenue of $100,000," he said. "Revenues are higher than we expected. . . . This is the strongest NAHJ has been in months. We have more than $200,000 in the bank."

Much of the savings was accomplished by firing most of the staff, using a virtual office and contracting with the Society of Professional Journalists to process membership and accounting functions.

Salcedo cautioned, however, "We're going to need some transition time. We didn't get into the present (situation) overnight and won't get out of it overnight." Her term as president ends this week.

CEO Gary Knell visits NPR's offices after his hiring in October. "I made diversity a key part of my pitch to the NPR board," he said then. (Video)

NPR Gets $1.5 Million for Journalism Initiative on Race

Saying he is "delivering on our promise for NPR to look and sound like America," Gary E. Knell, president and CEO of NPR since December, announced Thursday a $1.5 million, two-year grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting "to launch a major journalism initiative to deepen coverage of race, ethnicity and culture."

A six-person team will "deliver a steady flow of distinctive coverage on every platform. Reporting will magnify the range of existing efforts across NPR and its Member Stations to cover and discuss race, ethnicity and culture. NPR will also create a new, branded space within NPR.org," NPR said in an announcement at the Unity '12 convention in Las Vegas.

"This is really important," Knell said at a reception at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, the convention headquarters. "We want to make a statement about the changing demographics in this country, and we need to be better at what we do so this is everyone's public media."

Knell has said he made diversity a key part of his pitch to the NPR board when he was hired. Joseph Tovares, senior vice president for diversity and innovation at CPB, told Journal-isms at the reception, "When Gary came in, he announced that his No. 1 priority was going to be diversity." He called Knell "a breath of fresh air" and said Knell had approached CPB about the project.

Matt ThompsonHiring is under way for the six-member team. Matt Thompson, an editorial product manager at NPR, will supervise the team, working with Ellen McDonnell, executive editor of NPR News programming. Luis Clemens, NPR's senior editor for diversity, will be senior editor, and Karen Grigsby Bates, Los Angeles-based correspondent, will also be part of the team.

Still to be hired are a blogger on race, ethnicity and culture; a digital journalist; and two reporters. NPR's diversity issues stretch back more than 20 years, with the NPR corporate culture seen as a chief impediment to greater diversity. But also important, Knell has said, is diversity at the independent, NPR member stations. Keith Woods, NPR's vice president for diversity, has been working with the local stations as part of his portfolio.

Gregory H. Lee Jr., president of the National Association of Black Journalists, told Journal-isms he met with Knell about diversity. Lee "said he recognizes it takes time to change a culture," Suzanne Gamboa reported for the Associated Press. "The grant will be a chance for NPR to hire journalists capable of working on the stories that will reach more diverse audiences. . . .

" 'I hope this project serves as an example that these issues should be discussed and covered,' Lee said. He added that he hopes to see the journalists and content integrated within the organization's overall coverage, not pushed to a corner."

Because African Americans and Latinos disproportionately use mobile devices, Knell said the initiative will take advantage of mobile platforms to reach these audiences, similar to the apps developed for "Planet Money," a multimedia show about the economy that has its own podcast.

As Gamboa noted, "NPR does not receive direct federal funding but it competes for grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and from federal agencies, which annually total about $2 million to $3 million." Knell said the CPB grant was only "to get us going," that the project would exceed two years.

In another development, NPR officials said that "Tell Me More," the multiculturally oriented show hosted by Michel Martin, had grown to 132 from the 100 stations that carried it when Knell arrived. Recent additions include Miami, Boston, Atlanta, New Orleans and Savannah, Ga.

Unity Executive Director Resigns for Africa Post

Onica Makwakwa, executive director of the Unity Journalists alliance, is leaving after six years to return to her native South Africa, where she plans to develop consumer advocacy on the African continent for the Pretoria-based Consumers International, she told Journal-isms on Friday.

"It’s the right time," she said. The new opportunity "is exciting, personally and professionally." Makwakwa said she had worked longer at Unity than at any other organization. 

Onica MakwakwaAs Unity's executive director, Makwakwa was responsible for coordinating the activities of the coalition while board members held their full-time jobs as journalists. But she also bore the brunt of criticism for any administrative shortcomings, which became a factor in the pullout of the National Association of Black Journalists last year.

NABJ officials cited lack of timely information as one of the reasons for their decision to leave. Makwakwa disputed NABJ's statements.

Unity President Joanna Hernandez announced Makwakwa’s departure, scheduled for early September, on Friday at the Unity convention in Las Vegas, its fifth and its first without NABJ.

"While we are sad Onica is moving on, she has accomplished much in her six years as UNITY executive director," Hernandez said in a statement.

"She is the only UNITY executive director to have helmed two conventions, both very successful conventions, and she always saw every challenge as an opportunity. Her next employer will be lucky to have her. And we wish Onica the best success. She is the most phenomenal leader and utmost professional. I have learned so much from working with her and will miss her tremendously.

"UNITY will immediately begin work on hiring an interim executive director. Hernandez will appoint a committee to search for a new permanent executive director."

Consumers International announced Makwakwa’s appointment on Wednesday.

"For CI, Onica will lead and support the development of consumer protection and empowerment in Africa by supporting CI members in the region; implement the CI Africa strategy; and enable the Africa consumer movement to further join forces with the worldwide consumer movement to deliver change for consumers,” the group said.

Makwakwa was director of development of the YWCA USA when she joined Unity in 2006.

She worked with the late civil rights leader Dorothy Height in the National Council of Negro Women, working to improve the lives of women and children in Africa. "I credit her as the person who jump-started my career," Makwakwa told Journal-isms.

Before working for YWCA, Makwakwa held director positions at such other organizations as the Black Women's Health Imperative and the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Her introduction to the United States came in Iowa. She received a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Iowa.

While a permanent resident of the United States, Makwakwa retained her South African citizenship. [Added Aug. 3]

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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