By: Mark Fitzgerald
Unity ’99, expected to be the largest-ever gathering of journalists of color in the United States, kicks off July 6 in Seattle with a town hall-style discussion about newsroom diversity that targets an audience beyond media professionals.
By opening in public with a discussion entitled “Color and Credibility,” Unity ’99 organizers are signaling newspaper, broadcast, and other media owners that their four national minority journalists associations have a larger agenda in mind than just opening up jobs for members.
The four groups ? the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) ? also view their joint convention as an opportunity to improve the media’s coverage of minorities; to link the public’s sagging confidence in the news media to disproportionately small numbers of minorities in newsrooms; and to make newsroom diversity a public issue.
These larger themes show up repeatedly in the formal sessions of Unity ’99 that run July 8-11. A “Tapestry of Cultures” opening ceremony will be followed immediately by a plenary session on the 2000 federal census subtitled, “The Changing Face of America.”
During the next days, NAHJ will sponsor a discussion on the “English Only” movement; NABJ will feature author Shelby Steele in a lecture at the historic Zion Baptist Church; AAJA will hear from the most prominent Asian-American movie producer in Hollywood, William Lee; and NAJA promises a look at the lessons American Indians’ experiences with displacement, assimilation, and bicultural identity hold for American society at large, in a panel that includes not only journalists but a novelist, environmental activist, and spiritual leader.
Unity ’99 has an extensive program of sessions devoted both to professional development and journalism issues. NAJA, for instance, has assembled a distinguished panel of journalists and tribal leaders to discuss just how free the press is on reservations. Unity ’99 will also feature a job fair that is likely to be the biggest ever devoted to minority journalism opportunities.
“It is time for us to change the way we think of ourselves so that America adjusts the way it views people of color,” writes Catalina Camia, president of Unity ’99, president of AAJA, and a Washington, D.C., reporter for The Dallas Morning News. “While some people call us minorities, the day is fast approaching when we’ll be the new majority. ? It is time for us to seize power within our industry and set an example of how the news media should responsibly achieve diversity and inclusiveness.”
The Unity ’99 meeting is taking place at a time when minorities are very much in the minority: Although racial and ethnic minority members account for about 28% of the U.S. population, journalists of color account for just 11.5% of newsroom employees, according to the latest study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. That figure represented a gain of less than .1% over the previous year.
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