The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is set to leave UNITY, a coalition of several minority journalist associations, pending a vote by its 18-member national board in late October.
NAHJ president Hugo Balta told TheWrap he’s “confident that the majority of the board members of NAHJ will vote in favor of leaving UNITY.”
Should NAHJ leave, it will be a major loss for UNITY, which already lost a significant number of members when the National Association for Black Journalists left in 2011. Both groups have issues with UNITY’s representation and finances.
As UNITY’s entire income is determined by the revenue from its quadrennial conventions, losing NABJ and now possibly NAHJ means much less money to go around. It may also inspire less confidence from the remaining member organizations in UNITY’s mission and ability to carry it out.
UNITY’s newly-elected president, David Steinberg, told TheWrap he shares many of NAHJ’s frustrations but doesn’t think leaving UNITY is the way to solve them.
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“We are talking about making changes and following through on them,” Steinberg said. “But you can’t change bylaws overnight”
Balta, who is also one of four NAHJ representatives on UNITY’s board, said NAHJ has significant concerns with UNITY’s governance and how it handles its finances.
“There’s no accountability,” Balta said, pointing out that NAHJ was given its share of the revenue (just over $90,000) from UNITY’s 2012 convention in December, only to have UNITY turn around in March and ask for $11,900 of it back, claiming it had overpaid.
An audit that concluded in August revealed that NAHJ owed UNITY just $4,535.
“We don’t want to be part of an organization that is not better in regards of protecting its image and that of its alliance,” Balta said.
Steinberg, who was UNITY’s treasurer when the financial errors occurred, said the discrepancy was identified as soon as possible, and a letter to the organizations informing them of the error was sent in March. No funds were made to be repaid until the audit’s conclusion, he said.
Even so, “there were a couple failings,” he said, noting that UNITY apologized for them at the time.
Though the financial errors were NAHJ’s tipping point, resentment has been brewing for quite some time. Balta pointed out that though NAHJ and the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) make up about 75 percent of UNITY’s approximately 4,000 members (the other two organizations are the Native American Journalists Association and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association), their representation on UNITY’s board – four members per organization — is the same as NAJA and NLGJA’s. Steinberg did not provide membership numbers.
In addition, 40 percent of the revenue from the UNITY convention is split evenly amongst the groups, regardless of membership numbers (another 40 percent is split proportionally by the number of paid registrations each group brings in, and the remaining 20 percent goes to UNITY).
“It is not truly equal or fair representation,” Balta said.
His concerns echo those of NABJ back in 2011. NABJ president Bob Butler told TheWrap: “We were asking questions about the finances and we basically weren’t getting any information, so we were concerned about that.”
In regards to NAHJ’s current issues, Butler said: “it seems that not much has changed.”
Butler is also a member of NAHJ and was present for its initial talks about leaving UNITY at its August convention.
“Sitting in there listening to President Balta talk about his concerns, it was like déjà vu,” he said.
“Right now, UNITY’s operating in the same fashion as they had when NABJ was there,” Balta said, leaving him with little confidence that UNITY will be able to change things for the better anytime soon.
Steinberg agreed that UNITY’s previous leadership did not address NABJ’s concerns, saying: “I don’t think a whole lot of movement was made in terms of dealing with NABJ.”
But that was then, Steinberg said, and this is now. He’s willing to make changes in UNITY’s structure that are agreeable to all its members – as long as they give him the chance. By leaving, NAHJ is not.
But AAJA is staying with UNITY.
“Like NAHJ, AAJA also share similar concerns regarding UNITY’s governance and business practices,” AAJA president Paul Cheung told TheWrap.
“But I am confident in working with the new UNITY president David Steinberg to move UNITY forward. The alliance presidents have put together a reorganization plan that will create a more flexible governance structure for UNITY.”
Said Steinberg of AAJA: “They’re not making the same demands that NAHJ is making.”
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NLGJA and NAJA did not respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment as to whether or not they shared the same concerns as NABJ and NAHJ.
Should NAHJ vote to leave, Steinberg hopes UNITY will still be able to address its concerns, as well as those of its other members, hopefully paving the way for NAHJ and even NABJ to return someday.
“The onus is on UNITY to show that it is serious about making those changes, and we need to get our house in order,” Steinberg said.
But people are serious about making those changes, especially him.
“I have a compulsive need to try to fix things,” Steinberg said. “It’s the copy editor in me.”