It has become necessary, once again, to focus on the recurring discussion about UNITY’s formula for disbursing convention proceeds among the alliance partners. The topic is not a new one and should be seen as part of the ongoing effort to focus on what is in the best interest of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) and UNITY: Journalists of Color, Inc.
In recent months, the level of discussion has intensified. Concern has been raised about at least one member of the UNITY alliance pulling out of the upcoming 2012 convention. It is important that we continue to have civil, constructive dialogue on all issues. Members of families may disagree. The primary concern, however, always should be on the health, solidarity and integrity of the entire family.
In December 2010, the outgoing UNITY board president sent a memo to the UNITY board of directors that introduced a proposal for a new formula for sharing UNITY convention proceeds among the five alliance members.
In that proposal, NABJ asked for oversight of UNITY convention finances. That important task is currently under the purview of the UNITY board of directors. The board has fiduciary responsibility for UNITY and is composed of equal representation by each of the member journalism associations of color.
NABJ is also seeking the convention chair position during UNITY 2012. The convention chair was first instituted during UNITY 2008, and NABJ held that position. There has been no determination by the UNITY board on whether the position will exist for the 2012 convention.
Under the initial proposal submitted to UNITY by the NABJ board, the financial impact would be a 62.26 percent loss for UNITY and a 30.74 percent loss for NAJA. The other alliance members would experience financial increases of 31.30 percent for AAJA, 50.75 percent for NABJ and 34.24 percent for NAHJ.
Along with rendering UNITY ineffective as a functional entity, the initial proposal would have decimated NAJA, according to NAJA representative Michaela Saunders, who also serves as UNITY treasurer. It was an unfortunate oversight not to consider the viability of an entire association of journalists of color. Subsequent efforts by NABJ and UNITY to negotiate a compromise agreement have not been successful.
Recently, UNITY became aware that NABJ is exploring and sourcing potential venues for a separate 2012 convention.
The loss of any member of the UNITY alliance, of course, would be devastating. It is not a consideration that should be taken lightly or without full recognition of the history of the UNITY alliance and what is in the best long-term interest of thousands of journalists of color.
The entire U.S. communications industry, the nation and significant portions of the planet continue to suffer from severe economic conditions. Although there are recurring murmurs about economic recovery, a long, difficult process lies ahead for all of us.
That is reason for concern. It is certainly reason to look at existing fiscal policies and institute necessary, prudent measures that save money, better manage finances and increase overall revenue, while protecting the integrity of all alliance members.
The current state of the economy, however, is not, and cannot be a rationale to undermine the concepts that have forged UNITY into the largest organization of journalists in the world.
The principles and mission of UNITY are far more important than any individual person or organization. The equity fostered over the 20-year history of UNITY is a vital component to what has made UNITY succeed when detractors have said it would fail. The continuation of UNITY as a viable organization is unequivocally central to the health, well-being and longevity of all the alliance members.
The short of the argument presented by NABJ is that it is the largest member organization with the largest convention registration and as such should have financial oversight, convention chair authority and a larger share of convention proceeds. The truth is that NABJ does take home a significant portion of convention receipts, and that is appropriate based on the current number of NABJ members who attend UNITY conventions.
The division of revenues from UNITY 2008 was: AAJA $396,011; NABJ $875,652; NAHJ $427,259; NAJA $143,197; and UNITY $935,109. The UNITY board agreed on the formula for the split among the alliance partners prior to the 2004 convention. Mentioned specifically in that agreement was the need to ensure UNITY remain funded during non-convention years in a manner that would not require other alliance members paying for convention planning.
It takes 18 to 24 months to raise money to operate a successful UNITY convention and approximately $500,000 is required in-hand to initiate the planning process. It also takes professional management that is focused on the interests of all the alliance partners. Since UNITY does not hold a convention each of the other three years, as do the other alliance partners, it is reasonable that some of the funding for the UNITY office must come from the quadrennial UNITY convention proceeds. The majority of additional UNITY funding comes from grants that are unique to UNITY’s coalition structure and would otherwise not be available to a single entity association.
There is also a recurring commentary about UNITY being designed as a convention-only organization that was never meant to become what it is today and that UNITY competes with the other alliance members for funding.
As noted, the majority of outside funding received by UNITY is alliance-based in nature. During a forum at UNITY 2008, a detractor called UNITY an unnecessary fifth wheel in the alliance. A UNITY board member responded that he saw UNITY as a vehicle and the four minority journalism organizations as the wheels that allow all the partners to arrive at a mutually determined destination.
It is not productive to disavow what UNITY has become. That denies the natural growth and development of organizations, as well as people. Since the inception of UNITY, the way we do business as an industry has changed dramatically and so has the need for a viable organization that is a voice for all journalists of color and all communities of color.
UNITY and the other alliance partners were created to battle the restrictions and the stereotypes imposed on people of color by forces that lacked vision, feared the beauty of diversity and felt entitled to dominance because they had greater numbers.
Whatever the intentions of UNITY’s founders 20 years ago, UNITY is now an integral part of the future of the communications industry. UNITY plays a vital role and, with the guidance of each of the alliance partners, is a combined voice far stronger and more encompassing that any single association.
That does not mean there is no place for healthy, constructive debate about how to best address the financial pressures faced by all alliance members. Honest interaction is essential. It is also essential that the spirit of collaboration and cooperation be embraced at all times with an eye to the overall mission of the UNITY alliance.
A central aspect of that mission is that issues should never be based solely on what organization is the largest at a given moment, because moments change.
The latest U.S. Census results indicate Latinos are now the largest minority in this country and Asians are the fastest-growing group. That does not mean each association should assert dominance over the alliance just because their membership numbers eventually reflect population shifts. That is not the nature of UNITY.
The current formula provides for a set percentage of the proceeds to be shared in equal amounts with each alliance member. Members of specific associations divide another pre-determined percentage according to convention attendance. The formula also ensures that UNITY will be a viable professional organization with the ability to advocate for diversity, plan future conventions and maintain a fluid operation that does not have to restart itself every two years.
There is a critical, ongoing need for an organization that exists for the benefit of all journalists and communities of color that sees its mission of diversity as much more than a hotel contract or a financial situation. The four journalism associations of color founded that organization so their demands for fair and balanced coverage and equity in the workplace would be heard in undeniable unison and without the natural tendency for members to favor their specific associations.
That organization is UNITY and we look forward to a long, mutually productive and mutually empowering relationship with all of the five members of the alliance.