For more on this discussion from President Times, please click here (updated 3/4/2011).
Dear NABJ Members and
In recent months, the
National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) has been involved in
discussions with the UNITY partners to address important governance, fiscal,
and management matters involving UNITY: Journalists of Color. We
recognize that UNITY has evolved since its original purpose and therefore must
continue to strive for excellence particularly as it relates to accountability
and fiscal austerity. We would like to give you a status report on
In 1994, UNITY was
established as a not-for-profit alliance of journalists of color. The alliance
includes the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), the National
Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic
Journalists (NAHJ), and the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA). The
four groups come together every four years for a joint convention coordinated
The first convention was
held in 1994 in Atlanta and the most recent convention was held in 2008 in
Chicago. The next convention is scheduled for Las Vegas in
2012.NABJ has been a constant supporter of this union since our past president,
Will Sutton, called upon NABJ for its formation. Since its
inception, UNITY has operated primarily for the sole purpose of convening joint
conventions. Accordingly, UNITY is managed by its executive director
who serves an elected president and a representative board to ensure that the
convention is properly planned and executed. The UNITY president is
elected by the UNITY representatives to serve for a two-year term. During
the convention years, the UNITY president leads the alliance as it convenes the
largest gathering of journalists of color. The UNITY president and
board are volunteers; the UNITY executive director is a full-time salaried
employee, including during non-convention years.
Over the years, the
dynamics of the industry and UNITY have shifted. The industry has
been impacted by tremendous change resulting from changing technologies and the
poor economy. All of the alliance partners have been impacted. In
order to recover and improve, some of the alliance partners have instituted
prudent fiscal measures that cut costs, eliminate waste, and streamline
expenses. Likewise, they diversified their revenue streams and instituted new
models and procedures for success. This is what NABJ has done, and we credit it
for our current success and projected positive future.
We believe that such
steps are necessary for UNITY, too. Currently, UNITY raises
substantial revenues from each convention and uses them for expensive
operations of the convention. It also stockpiles those revenues to
sustain expensive operations of nominal activities that occur during
non-convention years. For example, UNITY uses convention revenues to
support a full-time executive director and staff for the three years when there
is no convention. In 2008, after convention expenses, UNITY took in
approximately $989,000, not bad for a non-member association. NABJ believes
that this formula should be modified and has encouraged dialogue on
it. We have thoroughly examined the issues and proposed
several alternative formulas.
The first proposal was
tabled by the UNITY Board. NABJ's second proposal was sent to
an ad hoc committee.
Parity within leadership
is an important element to sustain a healthy alliance. UNITY has never had an NABJ representative serve as
president during a convention year.This remains the case despite the fact
that NABJ members made up more than 52 percent of all alliance partner
registrations in 2008.
Fair and equal
representation is imperative. It is important that rules for
succession and leadership exist to insure that no alliance partner is passed
over on important assignments and responsibilities. NABJ believes
that a proper rotation pattern must be established and protected from politics.
NABJ recognizes the
difficulty of coordinating amongst four groups. Proper financial procedures and
planning are critical to UNITY's success. UNITY must re-examine itself to
reduce cost and increase revenues. A fundamental question is whether
UNITY should operate as an independent entity as opposed to an umbrella
"coalition" group. This is important because it impacts the alliance
partners. Some concerns have been raised as to UNITY's efforts that
compete with the alliance partners.
NABJ and other alliance
partners are engaged in substantial year-round programming. NABJ has
diversified its model and relies upon corporate support from many sources to
sustain its operations that benefit journalists of color and the industry.
Clear rules should be written to avoid real potential conflicts of interest and
unnecessary competitiveness that would undermine the alliance's original
intent. It is NABJ's position that UNITY is an alliance and not
intended to compete with the alliance partners for programming funding.
NABJ recommends that
written guidelines be established immediately.
raised during the UNITY year convention are split amongst the alliance partners
and UNITY according to a predetermined formula. NABJ believes the
formula is outdated and needs to be more in line with the current financial
position of the alliance partners and fiscal objectives previously
The key concern of
NABJ's position is the redistribution of the revenues so that the alliance
partners receive a more equitable distribution of the net proceeds from the
2012 convention. On December 2, 2010, NABJ's Board of Directors
approved a comprehensive proposal designed to address this concern. Since
then NABJ has spent many hours revising and discussing the convention revenue
split by negotiating via telephone, e-mail, conference calls, and a
face-to-face meeting with the NABJ board and UNITY's president, Joanna
Hernandez, and UNITY's executive director, Onica Makwakwa.
financial formula was adopted in 2001. It was based upon a system
that granted UNITY the needed seed money to begin funding our next joint
convention. But in the past decade, several factors have changed:
- During the past two UNITY Conventions, NABJ has
accounted for more than 52% of the alliance's paid registrants;
- The 2008 Chicago convention revenue share provided
UNITY with a net of nearly $1 million dollars, which has provided a
comfortable cushion for it to grow.
- A look at the representation of alliance partners in
2004 and 2008 is as follows:
Here is the current
revenue sharing formula (based upon net revenues after expenses):
- UNITY receives the first 20 percent of net revenue.
- The next 40 percent is split evenly among the four
- The final 40 percent is split proportionately among the
four alliance partners based upon their percentage of registration.
- UNITY receives all on-site and non-designated
Here is how the
associations fared with the above formula in 2008:
Formula Registration Total
UNITY: $195,802 $794,153
NABJ: $306,723 $574,407
AAJA: $177,794 $234,546 $412,340
NAHJ: $186,638 $248,200
NAJA: $112,802 $43,841 $156,643
*UNITY receives all
on-site and non-member registrations.
As you can see, UNITY, a
non-membership driven organization, received nearly $1 million, which results
substantially from registration fees. The immediate presumption is
that UNITY needs that amount to sustain itself during the interim years. Some
question this proposition. NABJ has proposed alternative distribution formulas
that we believe better justifies use of the convention net revenue.
NABJ has proposed a formula that proportionately splits all net
revenues. This simpler formula shifts revenues back to the alliance partners
who are the driving force of the convention. Based on our proposal,
each alliance partner will receive the following:
· Excess Revenue, non-member and on-site
registrations go into general pool
· The four alliance partners retain early bird and
· UNITY receives the first 25 percent of the pool
· NAJA receives a 5 percent subsidy from the pool
· The remaining 70 percent is divided among the
four alliance partners proportionally based upon registrations sold by the four
A highlight of this
proposal is the recognition of the needs of NAJA, an organization composed of
members whose history of disenfranchisement exemplifies the struggles we all
face as journalists of color. This reflects our collective commitment to help
NAJA achieve greater parity in its financial positioning.
We have asked UNITY's
Board of Directors to consider adopting our proposal that will increase each
organization's share of convention proceeds and strengthen the relationship
that we have enjoyed for almost two decades. Although we have
stressed the seriousness of our concerns, we have seen only marginal movement
on these important matters. UNITY is still considering our
concerns. Although a conference call was previously scheduled to
close this matter in late January, that meeting has since been moved to the
March UNITY board meeting.
The NABJ representatives
on the UNITY board and the NABJ Finance Committee support our
efforts. While UNITY's leadership considers our recommendations, we
are examining all options for a 2012 convention. The most
efficacious business strategy for NABJ may not include an alliance.
We are deeply concerned
about these issues. NABJ will remain vigilant to ensure that they
are properly vetted and UNITY takes steps to ensure fair representation and
fiscal austerity. We will keep you abreast of new developments.
Yours in service,
Kathy Y. Times
Gregory Lee, Jr.