Joanna Hernandez portrait

Joanna Hernandez, UNITY President

From the President of UNITY:

I am humbled and honored to have been elected president of UNITY: Journalists of Color, representing the joint mission of the Native American Journalists Association, the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

As everyone has reasons for doing things, I want to share what motivated me to run for president of UNITY.

It was the experience of losing my job when the news organization where I was employed eliminated my department. I struggled for two years after that, piecing together part-time newsroom work with university gigs while depleting my savings and retirement funds in an effort to pay the rent, take care of the bills and eat.

I was among thousands of journalists hit by massive layoffs in our profession. Here are some findings in UNITY’s Layoff Tracker Report released in 2009:

From January 2008, when UNITY began tracking job losses in the news industry, through September 2009, almost 50,000 jobs were recorded as lost. Those figures continued to grow, as the journalism industry lost jobs at almost three times the average pace of monthly jobs lost in the general economy. Also, several traditional media outlets closed up shop, including stalwarts such as the Rocky Mountain News, Albuquerque Tribune, Tucson Citizen and Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Today, slowly, companies are beginning to rehire. But it’s plain to see, journalists of color were very hard hit. Strides that had been decades in the making have been nullified.

In some cases, particularly online, I have read about employers boasting of hiring large numbers of journalists. However, when asked about diversity, their reply echoes the same line we have heard in the past: Qualified journalists of color are very hard to find.

A friend, who left traditional journalism and is now working for an online company, told me of a recent conversation with his employer where he brought up UNITY and our alliance partners. His employer told him he had no idea we existed.

Clearly, our fight for diversity is more important than ever. We have a lot of work ahead of us. This board is made up of hard workers, and we’re ready to roll up our collective sleeves to advance the vital causes of UNITY.

Here is what you can expect from our grass-roots efforts in the upcoming two years:

  • Knocking on employers’ doors and helping them see the benefit of recommitting to diversity.
  • Approaching online companies to inform them that we are watching and to discuss collaborations and/or the creation of programs that would increase diversity hires.
  • Thinking creatively as we begin planning for our 2012 convention.
  • Exploring the feasibility of convening UNITY more frequently than every four years.

As the chill of the Great Recession begins to thaw, we plan on bolstering the work of UNITY and its alliance partners and rebuilding past accomplishments. Our focus includes advocating for more diversity in the news gathering process, particularly in decision-making positions, both in traditional media and in the ever-changing online landscape.

Join us in this important endeavor. I encourage your ideas and feedback. UNITY needs you now more than ever.

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