Notes From Unity ’08: Whither Diversity?

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Observations from the opening days of Unity ’08, the joint convention of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), and Native American Journalism Association (NAJA) that runs through Sunday in Chicago:

Whither Diversity?

Just as with any other gathering that includes large numbers of newspaper employees, buyouts and layoffs was a constant topic of conversation inside and outside meeting rooms at the McCormick Place. But there is a special edge to the conversations because of the pervasive feeling that the economy has pushed diversity goals not just to the back burner, but off the stove altogether.

“We’re in trouble,” NABJ President Barbara Ciara declared during the opening ceremony. “We are fighting for our very survival — our livelihood.”

Diversity cannot be a “fad” or a “line item on the budget” — that can be lopped when cashflow slows, she added.

NABJ’s strategy has been to encourage promotion of journalists of color into more senior management positions. That’s an approach Unity at large also announced at the convention.

Unity President Karen Lincoln Michel, the state bureau chief of the Green Bay (Wisc.) Press-Gazette, announced Ten by 2010: Transforming Journalism Through Diversity Leadership,” a program to train more journalists and media people of color for promotion to senior management jobs by 2010.

The goal of is to have 10 media companies commit to selecting at least one “high-potential manager of color,” and promote him or her into senior management by the middle of 2010. So far, The New York Times and Gannett Co. Inc. have committed to the program, which is also supported by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, the Poynter Institute, and the Radio-Television News Directors Association.

Welcome To Chicawga

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley inherited from his father not only, in the eyes of many, City Hall, but also his tendency towards malapropisms.

In between lecturing the journalists about their alleged practice of highlighting “negative” news while ignoring good news, Daley said he was “very happy to be here at the Unity Journalists Convention of Color.”

And if a neighborhood gets a bad reputation, he suggested, “Don’t blame the politicians, don’t blame religion, blame the journalists with the negative news 24/7.”

Applause Please

One sure way to get applause from the crowd in the cavernous Skyline Ballroom for the opening ceremony was to mention Sunday’s appearance by the Democratic Party’s certain presidential nominee, Barack Obama.

But a better way to get a yelling, jumping, flag-waving ovation going was to note the presence of Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade, who will speak Friday about climate change from an African perspective.

At every mention of Wade, some 40 Senegalese living in America rose to wave flags.

But Friday about the same number of people is expected to protest Wade’s presence. This week, Senegalese newspapers and news Web sites staged a “press blackout” after police beat two reporters covering a soccer match, and Wade ignored calls to condemn their action.

Travel Budgets

Attendance at newspaper industry meetings has been down all year, and the quadrennial Unity is no exception. Attendance was reported at 5,600, huge for any other gathering of journalists, but down from the 8,000 who attended Unity ’04 in Washington, D.C.

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