Closed-Door Meeting of UNITY Leaders to Discuss Diversity Decline -- Annual Confabs Also Take Hit

By: Joe Strupp A closed meeting of leaders from the four major minority journalist associations that comprise UNITY is planned for Friday in Boston as part of the Asian-American Journalists Association annual convention, according to organizers.

They plan to discuss the dwindling presence of diversity in newsrooms most recently seen in the annual American Society of Newspaper Editors' newsroom census.

"It is including leaders from print and broadcast to talk about how we preserve diversity in the industry in this time of cuts," said Sharon Chan, AAJA president and a Seattle Times reporter. O. Ricardo Pimentel, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, said the meeting will be to "brainstorm how to maintain diversity as a premium value in this era of entrenchment."

Along with AAJA and NAHJ, the summit will include leaders of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.

Each of those groups are also reporting a decline in attendance to their annual conventions, which were either just held or are about to occur. NAHJ even put out a request two weeks ago to its members seeking $300,000 in donations by the end of 2009 to offset the shortfall from its convention that was held in June.

NAHJ Executive Director Ivan Roman said the convention had only about 800 attendees, down from the usual 1,600 to 1,900. He added that the money plea had so far raised $15,000.

Among the other minority conventions, AAJA is expecting 700 participants this week, a dip from the usual 900 to 1,100, according to Chan, while NAJA saw a slight drop from the usual 200 down to 120 at its convention that just ended Aug. 2. NABJ officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, which has its convention set for Sept. 10-13 in Montreal, altered its hotel contract last year so that it would be responsible for fewer rooms as it anticipated a reduction in attendance, according to President David Steinberg.

"We have scaled back a lot," Steinberg said about the convention. "We are looking at fewer than 400 people." He said the annual event usually draws between 550 and 600 people.

Still, at least those groups are having conventions, unlike ASNE and Military Reporters and Editors, among others, who have cancelled conventions this year.

Those involved point to the ASNE census released in April that stated the percentage of journalists of color in the nation's newsrooms had dropped from 13.5% in 2007 to 13.4% in 2008. The percentage in management positions also declined, from 11.4% in 2007 to 11.2% in 2008.

It added that the biggest drop was among blacks and Asians, who saw a 13.6% and a 13.4% decline in newsroom employment respectively, compared to a decline by 11.3% overall.

"With newsrooms closing down the way they are, print papers cutting back on actual newspaper people, we are concerned with trying to maintain the minority count," said Ronnie Washines, president of NAJA. "We are trying to develop programs to enhance our journalists' capabilities."


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