Russell Contreras with his newborn in the mountain hamlet of his home in Placitas, N.M.

Russell Contreras with his newborn in the mountain hamlet of his home in Placitas, N.M.

I didn’t set out to be here. During the last few months, I’ve enjoyed life as a new father, worked on a JFK book and wrote stories about a police shooting in the largest city in one of the poorest states in America.

Not hitting wild horses running across the street in our New Mexico mountain hamlet was my only worry.

When NAJA President Mary Hudetz and AAJA President Paul Cheung approached me about the possibility of becoming your UNITY president, my immediate reaction was no. I’m cool.

Then, I pondered about UNITY’s challenges. I thought about the expanding gap between the wealthy and the poor and about our declining numbers in the newsroom. Images returned of mentors losing jobs. I recalled stories we missed because there were not enough of us to cover them, or worse, no one cared.

I wanted to see a stronger and reunited UNITY. Only this time, I envisioned UNITY in Alabama, in Oakland, California and on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Yes, I said. Let’s do it.

I’m here because I strongly believe in that newsrooms across the country should be reflective of America. I believe we deserve opportunities at the best jobs in journalism and lives in Albuquerque’s South Valley are just as important as those in Short Hills, New Jersey. I believe The Cause is bigger than our egos and I believe, deep down, media companies know that if newsrooms continue to get whiter while the rest of the country gets browner their bottom line will get redder. And I believe that love is love.

In the coming weeks, I will be developing a strategic plan that will include immediate, two-year and four-year goals for UNITY. A team of advisers will help craft this plan. In it, will be a clearly defined mission, ideas for revenue growth and a blueprint to create events that once had us so energized we danced together while The Spinners sang and presidential candidates fell over to each other just to speak to us.

This advisory council will be made up of our industry’s best and brightest. They will be honest. The board, then, will be tasked to examining, debating and approving a plan for our next chapter.

I hope this plan includes ideas for bringing back old friends and inviting new ones.

And I want to hear from you. I promise you, I am not here to advance my career. I got that. Yet, I need your help as UNITY enters its next phase. Whatever is decided, this is going to be a different UNITY. We can get the band back together but we won’t be making CDs. No one buys those anymore.

Warning: I can run hot, and I don’t apologize for this passion. My family, whose origin is rooted in the Yucatan, to San Luis Potosi, Mexico to Houston, came from poverty and at times we lived in the tough neighbors out of survival.  As a teen I once found myself in juvenile detention and I recently discovered I have an uncle serving a prison sentence for murder. As Anthony Hamilton sang, “Sometimes, you get a little angry/coming from where I’m from, I’m from.” And sometimes it gets the best of me.

But am I not part of communities we seek to cover more?

At the same time, I come from a family of civil rights leaders. I’m a proud nephew of a former LULAC national secretary from 1953, and this WWII vet uncle is in his 90s and wishes he could still fight. As NAHJ financial officer, I developed a plan that kept that group out of bankruptcy and turned a $250,000 deficit into a $200,000 surplus.

This is what you’ll get from me.

We promise to update you regularly on our progress. Your thoughts are important to us so please reach out to me or other board members.  The next two years will dictate UNITY’s next ten years. Will you join us? Please say yes, too.

 In Unity,
Russell Contreras
Placitas, New Mexico

Dec. 19, 2014

Share This