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UNITY Regional Summit: “Empowering the Southern Narrative”

October 16, 2015 @ 8:30 am - 7:00 pm UTC-5

Golden tree leaves shadow a red-brick building.

“Empowering the Southern Narrative” will bring journalists around the country to Tuscaloosa for an event centered on media literacy, social media, entrepreneurial journalism and discussions on poverty. The summit also will feature a town hall meeting on the reporting during the Civil Rights Movement.

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Scheduled speakers include Johnita P. Due, Assistant General Counsel and former chief diversity advisor at CNN; Jennifer Crandall, Artist-in Residence at Alabama Media Group; Jennifer Chang, deputy growth editor at Quartz; Willoughby Mariano, award-winning investigative reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; and Matthew Leavell, Director of Design, University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, Alabama Innovation Engine.

UNITY hosted its first ever regional summit in May, attracting more than 70 people for an event on the homeland of the Oglala Lakota. The gathering, held at the new Allen Youth Center, pulled in journalists from eight different states and around 30 children from American Horse School.

The group then held its second regional gathering Sept. 11-12 in Detroit featuring a town hall meeting on Arab Americans and media summit at Wayne State University. The events attracted more than 150 people.

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Presenter Bios

Jennifer Chang

Jennifer Chang

Jennifer Chang is the deputy growth editor at Quartz, a global business news outlet owned by Atlantic Media. She’s responsible for social media growth and works closely with reporters to make their stories resonate in a digital world. Jennifer graduated from The University of Texas, and is a member of AAJA. She was previously the associate editor and social media editor at SUCCESS magazine.

Jennifer Crandall

Jennifer Crandall

Jennifer Crandall is a journalist and filmmaker. She currently resides in Birmingham as an Alabama Media Group Artist-in-Residence. Crandall has worked at The Washington Post where she created the Emmy nominated video series “onBeing.” Jennifer has also worked at Salon.com in San Francisco and The Video Journalism Movement in The Netherlands.

Russell Contreras

Russell Contreras

Russell Contreras is a law enforcement and immigration reporter/photographer/videographer at The Associated Press in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico, he worked for the AP in Boston where he helped with coverage on the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy and wrote about DREAMers and Iraqi refugees. He is UNITY’s president.

He worked previously at the Boston Globe and the Albuquerque Journal, and has remained an active member of the Native American Journalists Association.

In 2010, he was elected financial officer of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists where he drafted a plan to save the group from bankruptcy and helped turn a $250,000 deficit into a $200,000 surplus.

A graduate of the University of Houston and Columbia University’s School of the Arts Creative Writing Program, he teaches composition at the University of New Mexico-Valencia. He’s working on a book on JFK and the Mexican-American civil rights movement. Contreras lives in Placitas, New Mexico, with his wife Mandi Torrez, a teacher, their 1-year-old daughter, Ava, and dog, Tupac. The whole family is on twitter.

Edward Bowser

Edward Bowser

What’s a “community manager?” For Edward T. Bowser, it’s a dream job.

A native of Portsmouth, Va, Edward started his newspaper career in 2001 at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., where he eventually served as assistant copy desk chief. After moving to Birmingham in 2009, Edward joined advertising agency Luckie & Company, where he immersed himself in all things digital. But now he’s returned to his first love, journalism, at Alabama Media Group.

At AMG, Edward’s love of journalism, social media and community service combine in his role as community manager. Edward keeps AL.com’s digital voice strong by managing the site’s digital operations while also serving as a community ambassador, organizing events and meeting with readers across the state. He’s also a frequent columnist, passionately writing about emerging young professionals and community and race-related issues.

Johnita Due

Johnita Due

Johnita P. Due is assistant general counsel for CNN. Due joined CNN in 2003 and is based in the network’s headquarters in Atlanta. From 2005 until 2013 Due also served as CNN’s chief diversity advisor.

As assistant general counsel, Due provides guidance and counsel on media law relating to content production and distribution of television and digital clients. Due serves as a key resource for digital product teams in advising on evolving technological platforms, including iReport, CNN’s first ever user-generated content website, and CNNgo, a next-generation digital product which gives users unprecedented control over their TV news consumption. Due manages CNN’s multinational rights and clearances department. She also oversees access matters for CNN, with successful lawsuits against the State of Florida for a copy of its suspected felons list prior to the 2004 election which impacted the state’s election policy, against the federal government to gain access to Hurricane Katrina victim recovery efforts which contributed to CNN’s Peabody award-winning coverage, and against local agencies relating to the 2013 death of Kendrick Johnson, which led to the reopening of the investigation into the Georgia teen’s death.

As chief diversity advisor, Due chaired CNN’s award-winning Diversity Council and provided strategic guidance and leadership to CNN management on content, marketplace, workforce and workplace initiatives to further CNN’s diversity mission of growing its business by reflecting diverse audiences and perspectives in its programming and supporting an inclusive culture for its employees. By collaborating with editorial, network booking, marketing, sales, PR, HR, recruiting, and talent development and recruitment, Due’s leadership of the Council was crucial in establishing CNN’s standing with multicultural audiences leading to some major ratings wins, earning revenue in the tens of millions of dollars for multicultural content, increasing CNN’s racial, ethnic and gender diversity, launching employee development and student pipeline programs, and expanding the diversity of perspectives, including political perspectives, and storytelling on air. Due was key to the development of global programming initiatives Black in America and Latino in America, “CNN Dialogues,” a series of community dialogues launched in partnership with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and Emory University’s James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study for Race and Difference, and a company-wide initiative geared toward producing more content for the growing and diverse U.S. Hispanic market.

During Due’s tenure as Diversity Council chair, CNN was honored with significant industry honors that reflected her leadership. In 2007, the organization received an NABJ “Best Practices Award” for exemplary work in covering issues “of great significance to the black community or the African Diaspora and/or for efforts in increasing diversity among newsroom staff and management.” In 2009, CNN received the Corporate Diversity Award from the American Institute of Managing Diversity. CNN was also featured that year for its diversity best practices in a white paper by the Newspaper Association of America for redefining “diversity initiatives in the 21st century” and for using diversity “to help shape strategy, attract new customers, and increase revenue.” In 2010, CNN was honored by the Equality Forum with an International Business Leadership Award for its commitment to a diverse society and workforce and “for reporting with distinction issues about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities” and by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law for its “unwavering commitment to diversity and…timely and incisive coverage of issues impacting minorities and underserved communities.”

Due herself was recognized as one of the “Top Black Voices in Network News” by Ebony magazine in 2007. She was selected one of the “Second 50 Most Influential Minorities in Cable” by CableFAX magazine in 2008. That same year she was named a “Diversity Champion” by Diversity Edge magazine and was presented with the Ida B. Wells Award by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and the National Conference of Editorial Writers, which cited her “passionate and impactful efforts to promote diversity in staffing and expanded coverage of minority communities and issues at one of the nation’s preeminent news outlets, and for championing the cause of diversity beyond her newsroom’s doors.” She also received a 2008 NAMIC Luminary Award for her commitment to promoting multi-ethnic diversity within her company and for giving back to her community. Due was the 2010 recipient of the corporate award from NV magazine, bestowed upon individuals who have “found a way to raise the standard for how their corporation operates by not only protecting the bottom line but increasing the integrity of the brand.” In 2013, Due was named one of Rolling Out magazine’s “Top 25 Women of Atlanta”.

Due serves as a board member of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and of the True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta. She is a member of the American Bar Association’s Forum on Communications Law and a member of the Buckhead Atlanta chapter of Jack and Jill. Previously, she was a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a board member of Vox Teen Communications in Atlanta. Due is a 2008 McCormick Fellow and an alumna of the Leadership Atlanta class of 2008.

Due has presented or moderated at numerous conferences on media law and diversity subjects sponsored by such organizations as the American Bar Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, the McCormick Tribune Fellows Program, the Black Entertainment & Sports Lawyers Association, the Anti-Racist Network for Equality in Europe, the Cornell Alumni Association and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. She has been published in such legal publications as the MLRC Media Law Letter and The Human Rights Brief.

Prior to joining CNN, Due was associate general counsel for The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., where she practiced litigation, intellectual property, and media law. While at McGraw-Hill, Due received a Black Achievers in Industry award from the Harlem branch of the YMCA of Greater New York. She also served as an adjunct professor of media law at Cornell Law School from 2001-2002. Before joining McGraw-Hill, Due worked as a litigation associate at the New York office of Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts. In 1994, as a pro bono fellow for the firm, Due worked in Rome as vice president of S.O.S. Razzismo Italia, a non-profit organization that is part of a European network committed to fighting racial discrimination against immigrants and other people of color.

Due earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges and a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Sussex in England by studying race relations and organizational culture under a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship. She earned her law degree from Cornell Law School, specializing in international legal affairs. As a law student, Due was an NAACP Legal Defense Fund Earl Warren Scholar and intern and she also interned at the United Nations Centre for Human Rights.

George Daniels

George Daniels

George L. Daniels is associate professor and assistant dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences at The University of Alabama, where he teaches courses in cross-media reporting, media management and media diversity.

He is a former local television news producer in three media markets— his hometown of Richmond, Va., Cincinnati. Ohio and Atlanta, Ga., where he spent much of his career before pursuing advanced degrees at The University of Georgia.

David Magee is the Senior Director of Content at Alabama Media Group and a non-fiction author with 12 books published in the past decade, including bestsellers in Japan and France and top-sellers in the United States and other countries including Brazil.

His most recent book, The Education of Mr. Mayfield (Blair), was named the best non-fiction book of the year in the Southeast in the Independent Book Publisher Awards (IPPY). HIs book How Toyota Became #1 (Penguin) was named a Top 10 Business Book of the Year by the American Library Association. Alabama Media Group includes AL.com, The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and The Mobile Press-Register.

Heather Milam Nikolich

Heather Milam Nikolich

Heather Milam (my’-lum) Nikolich (nik’ uh lich) is a proud Alabama citizen. After moving to Birmingham in 2003, she began an earnest, yet rewarding relationship with the city through professional and volunteer work. This drive and dedication eventually led her to the mission and vision of Weld.

She has worked in the publishing industry for over a decade. Beginning her professional career with EBSCO Industries as an account manager and online licenser, she helped license content into the EBSCOhostElectronic Journals Service (EJS), a global research tool used by academic libraries.

After EBSCO, she moved into ad sales with a locally-owned, high-end travel magazine at HH&S Media Group, Executive Traveler.

In 2005, she accepted a senior account executive position with Network Communications, Inc., an integrated media company leading the nation in real estate publishing. She increased her markets’ revenues each year by increasing not only print ad sales, but also digital sales including new services solely devoted to social media. In December 2009, she was asked to join the group who would eventually begin Weld for Birmingham. Weld is published both in print and online and operates under Connection Media, LLC, which she is part owner. Her company is an integrated media company serving the Birmingham community with leading-edge journalism and marketing solutions for advertising clients. Touted as the go-to source for Birmingham, Weld was rewarded the BBJ 2012 Entrepreneur Spotlight.

Heather received two undergraduate degrees from Auburn University in 2002 – Bachelors of Liberal Arts in Public Relations and in Spanish. She received her graduate degree in business from Birmingham Southern in 2011.

Eric Ortiz

Eric Ortiz

Eric Ortiz is the founder and CEO of Evrybit (getevrybit.com), an all-in-one app for live mobile storytelling that launched in April 2015.

Prior to founding Evrybit, he was a 2014 Knight Fellow at Stanford University, the founding editor of NESN.com and an associate editor at ESPN.com.

He is a lifetime member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford.

Viktoria Riiman

Viktoria Riiman

Viktoria Riiman is a researcher at the Center for Business and Economic Research, Culverhouse College of Commerce, The University of Alabama.

She is a member of the State Data Center and the U.S. Census Bureau Federal-State Cooperative for Population Estimates and for Population Projections. Viktoria provides demographic and economic information and analysis to public and private concerns across Alabama. She obtained her master’s degree in economics from the University of Arkansas in 2005.

DeShuna Spencer

DeShuna Spencer

DeShuna Spencer is the Founder/CEO of kweliTV, a video-streaming platform offering indie films, documentaries, web shows and news programming for the global black community. For more than six years, Spencer has been the founding publisher of emPowermagazine.com. Spencer is also the producer/radio host of emPower Hour on DC’s 89.3 FM WPFW.

A Memphis native, Spencer graduated from Jackson State University where she studied communications and journalism. She has worked for The Clarion-Ledger and the The Oakland Tribune, and has written for the Crisis Magazine, AOL and the Washington Examiner.

A former AmeriCorps*VISTA, she is an alum of the Chips Quinn Scholars Program, a competitive fellowship program for young journalists of color. In 2012, she was named 40under40 by The Envest Foundation for her entrepreneurial and philanthropic achievements. Recently, Spencer received the “Who’s Got Next” award by the National Action Network as a future leader in civil rights. Spencer, a budding filmmaker, recently completed her first documentary, Mom Interrupted. Follow her on twitter @deshuna.


8:30 AM – 9:00 AM – Registration & Continental Breakfast

(Registration Desk will be in front of Rm 3104)

9:00 AM – 9:30 AMWelcome & Opening Remarks, Russell Contreras, UNITY President and Wilson   Lowrey, Dept. of Journalism Chair

9:45 AM – 10:45 AM – Session 1 Breakouts

Workshop #1“The New South” – Viktoria Riiman, Research Associate, Center for Business and Economic Research, Culverhouse College of Commerce, University of Alabama ; Jay Reeves, Birmingham Correspondent, Associated Press; Eva Walton, Alabama Faith Organizer, Human Rights Campaign; Roy S. Johnson, Director of Content Development, Alabama Media Group, Moderator


Like the rest of America, the South is changing. And so must journalists who cover it. Learn about emerging social, cultural and demographic trends that are reshaping the region and its communities. And discover new ways for journalists to tell this important story of transformation.

Workshop #2“Redefining Neighborhood Reporting: Digging Below the Surface” – Willoughby Mariano, Investigative Reporter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Tomoko Hosaka, Economics Editor, Associated Press, Moderator


The session will teach strategies to identify and investigate problems in marginalized neighborhoods. Attendees will learn how data mining, records requests, shoe leather reporting and digital mapping can turn a humdrum story into a project that changes lives. They will also learn how to develop sources in situations where deep race, class and political differences can make it difficult to build relationships.

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM“Giving Voice through Diversity”, Keynote Presentation – Johnita P. Due, Assistant General Counsel and former Chief Diversity Advisor, CNN; David Magee, Senior Director of Content, Alabama Media Group


The speaker will highlight how diversity is more important now than ever before as media platforms evolve and social media’s role in telling stories grows. She will show how diversity in newsrooms gives voice to staff as well as to audiences. She will discuss the current landscape of diversity and inclusion in media, challenges that media organizations face, and ways to grow and leverage successes.


12:15 PM – 1:30 PM – Luncheon Plenary – “Civil Rights, Race Relations, and Journalistic Responsibility – Learning from the Alabama Black Belt from 1965 to Today” – Frye Gaillard, former Journalist for the Charlotte Observer, Author in Residence, University of South Alabama; S. McEachin (Mac) Otts, Author, “Better Than Them, The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist”; and Rebecca Johnson, Editor, Greensboro Watchman Newspaper; George L. Daniels, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean, College of Communication and Information Sciences, University of Alabama, Moderator


Civil Rights, Race Relations, and Journalistic Responsibility – Learning from the Alabama Black Belt from 1965 to Today. This will be a candid discussion on the nexus of the Civil Rights Movement fifty years ago to race relations today. The panel will not only assess the realities of race relations then and now. It will also address the crucial role that journalists have played and will play.

1:45 PM – 2:45 PM – Session 2 Breakouts

Workshop #3“Going Socially Native”- Jennifer Chang, Deputy Growth Editor, Quartz; Edward Bowser, Statewide Community Manager, Alabama Media Group; President, Alabama Professional Chapter, Society of Professional Journalists; Instructor of Journalism, University of Alabama, Moderator


Social media is no longer a nice-to-have. For both local and global media organizations, it has become an indispensable, core part of their distribution and newsgathering strategies. At Quartz, the digital news outlet doesn’t have a social media strategy because social media *is* its strategy. Deputy growth editor Jennifer Chang will reveal why social is such an integral part of the Quartz editorial process and how it’s used to effectively drive traffic and growth. At Alabama Media Group, the state’s largest media organization is using social media to keep residents informed while also empowering them to share their stories. AMG Community Manager Edward Bowser discusses the ways his newsroom uses social media and how the current generation of journalists are more connected to their communities than ever before.

Workshop #4“The Power of Startups: Launching Your Own Media Company” – Eric Ortiz, Founder/CEO, Evrybit,; DeShuna Spencer, CEO, KweliTV; Heather Milam Nikolich, Owner/General Manager, Weld for Birmingham; Russell Contreras, UNITY President, Moderator


Foundations and cities are offering seed money for entrepreneurs to launch new media companies amid all the changes and uncertainty. Learn how these entrepreneurs started their own projects and hope to change the industry while supporting themselves.

3:00 PM – 4:30 PM – Session 3 Breakouts

Workshop #5“Video Workshop: Walt Whitman Project” – Jennifer Crandall, Artist-in Residence, Alabama Media Group; Bob Miller, Photographer, Filmmaker; Chip Brantley, Senior Lecturer, Emerging Media. Department of Journalism, University of Alabama, Moderator


Alabama Media Group’s first artists-in-residence, Jennifer Crandall, Bob Miller and Chip Brantley, will be at the UNITY Regional Summit to shoot a passage for the Alabama Walt Whitman project, for which they are filming Alabamians from across the state reciting passages from Whitman’s book-length poem, “Song of Myself.” Audience members will participate in the 90-minute shoot — both behind the scenes and on camera. And with help from Brantley (also a UA journalism lecturer) as moderator, Crandall and Miller will narrate their workflow, answer attendee questions, and discuss takeaways to share from the project.

Workshop #6 – “Design Thinking: An Introduction” – Matthew Leavell, Director of Design, University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, Alabama Innovation Engine


Join Alabama Innovation Engine’s director, Matt Leavall, for a hands-on introduction to design thinking, a human-centered approach to creative problem-solving. The AIE is a partnership between the University of Alabama’s Center for Economic Development and Auburn University’s School of Architecture Urban Studio. Matt is an architect, an urban planner, and educator currently working to develop ways to connect design resources with communities throughout Alabama. During this session, Matt will lay out how media companies and news organizations can use design thinking identify and resolve problems — inside their organizations and in the communities they cover.

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM – Networking ReceptionUnity and University of Alabama invites local journalists and community leaders to an evening mixer. Meet Unity’s national board members and faculty from the University of Alabama’s Journalism department.

Location: Reese Phifer Hall, Rotunda
The University of Alabama
College of Communication and Information Sciences
901 University Blvd.
Tuscaloosa, AL 35401

On the corner of Colonial Drive and University Blvd. Enter the rotunda via the main entrance facing University Blvd.

Register now!

Onsite registration also welcome.

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October 16, 2015
8:30 am - 7:00 pm
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UNITY: Journalists for Diversity
(414) 335-1478


University of Alabama Ferguson Student Center
751 Campus Drive
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487 United States
+ Google Map
(205) 348-6063
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