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An Update on NABJ/UNITY Negotiations
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For more on this discussion from President Times, please click here (updated 3/4/2011).


Dear NABJ Members and Supporters:

 

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 those conversations.

 

THE BACKGROUND

 

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 by UNITY. 

 

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.

 

CHANGING DYNAMICS

 

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.

 

LEADERSHIP

 

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.

 

FINANCIAL PROCEDURES

 

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.

 

FINANCIAL FORMULA

 

Currently, revenues 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 described. 

 

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.

 

THE NUMBERS

 

UNITY's original 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:

2004

NABJ: 52.82%

AAJA: 20.21%

NAHJ: 23.05%

NAJA: 3.92%

 

2008

NABJ: 53.32%

AAJA: 20.40%

NAHJ: 22.66%

NAJA: 3.61%

 

 

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 alliance partners.
  • 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 registrations.

Here is how the associations fared with the above formula in 2008:

 

                    Formula                    Registration       Total

UNITY:           $195,802                   $794,153           $989,955*
NABJ:             $306,723                   $574,407          $881,130       
AAJA:             $177,794                   $234,546          $412,340
NAHJ:            $186,638                   $248,200           $434,838
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 pre-convention registrations

·         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 alliance partners.

 

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.  

 

 

LOOKING AHEAD

 

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

NABJ President

 

Gregory Lee, Jr.

NABJ Treasurer 

 

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