Division At UNITY
August 06, 2012

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- I spent last week as part of a Fronteras Desk delegation to UNITY 2012, the largest gathering of journalists in the country. The conference brings together three ethnic minority journalist groups -- the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian-American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association. [UPDATE: For the first time, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association also joined the UNITY conference.]

The first UNITY conference took place in Atlanta in 1994 and since then they've been held at different locations every four years (this year it was in Las Vegas).

Notably missing at this year's gathering was the National Association of Black Journalists, which decided to pull out of UNITY. It was a controversial decision that still reverberates in Unity circles today. It had to do partly with finances, but many think there may have been political motivations as well.

Speaking of politics, there was no shortage of it within the ranks of NAHJ (of which I'm a member) at UNITY.

In fact, the race for president of NAHJ became so ugly and nasty that the national race for president between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama looks tame by comparison. And stuck in the middle of the two candidates, Hugo Balta of ESPN and Russell Contreras, an Associated Press reporter, were regular members like myself doing double-takes in shock over the animosity and being tugged by both campaigns.

The tenor of the campaign had already turned contentious weeks before Unity, as both candidates issued videos and began criticizing one another. Sure there was a contrast of personalities, but at the center of the campaign were real, actual issues -- starting with the very future of the organization.

Last year, after losing money at its annual convention and seeing uglier numbers down the line, the NAHJ board -- with Contreras as financial officer -- voted to lay off the entire staff, leaving just the executive director as the sole full-time employee.

I won't bore you with more inside baseball, but Balta ended up winning the election by a landslide. The announcement came Saturday night at the NAHJ gala during UNITY.

The ugly campaign unfortunately overshadowed plenty of good stuff happening at the gathering, from catching up with colleagues I hadn't seen in years, exploring thought-provoking panel discussions and preparing for my own participation -- I was a speaker on a panel examining border coverage and also served as moderator on another session looking at how news organizations can still push for foreign coverage in an age of shrinking staffs and reduced travel budgets.

My other colleagues attending UNITY 2012 were Mónica Ortiz Uribe, the correspondent in Las Cruces, N.M., and Nadine Arroyo Rodríguez, who reports out of KJZZ, the Fronteras Desk headquarters in Phoenix and who is also on the NAHJ board as a regional director.

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