By: Mark Fitzgerald
The quadrennial gathering of the four largest associations of journalists of color opens Wednesday in Chicago at one of the gloomiest times for the industry — and minorities in particular.
Attendance at Unity ’08 is expected to be well down from the convention in Washington, D.C., four years ago, when organizers could brag that it was the largest-ever gathering of journalists in the United States. Unity is a joint convention of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Asian-American Journalists Association (AAJA), and the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA).
Part of the reason for the lower attendance is that newspapers which used to pay the expenses of journalists to go to Unity no longer put that in their budgets. But a bigger reason is that many journalists of color, especially veterans, are no longer in the business, victims of buyouts and layoffs.
The newspaper slump has complicated efforts to increase the diversity of newsrooms. Earlier this year, the annual newsroom census by the American Society of Newspaper Editors found minorities comprised 13.52% of daily journalists, a microscopic increase from the year before. The actual number of journalists of color decreased by nearly 300 in a workforce that shrank by 2,400 overall.
Unity’s biggest headline will be the appearance Sunday morning by presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee Barack Obama, who will be making his first speech since returning from his tour of the Middle East and Europe.
An actual president will also be speaking at Unity. President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal on Friday will address how his country confronts climate change. Last December, NABJ President Barbara Ciara led a delegation of journalists to Senegal.
Unity opens at McCormick Place Wednesday with a ceremony at 5 p.m.