Death of A Journalist

There is no connection between my career as a journalist and that of an accomplished and inspirational icon like Gwen Ifill except for this one personal anecdote.

In 2008, I was an attendee at the UNITY convention in Chicago. UNITY was where four journalism organizations, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian-American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association held one joint convention. It was like a Woodstock for news scribes and it was glorious.

One afternoon, I’m walking through the convention center on my way to a seminar and approaching in the other direction was Gwen Ifill. I stopped her and told her how much I admired and respected her. She smiled a pleasant smile and accepted my fanboy platitudes, shook my hand and went on her way.

That’s my personal Gwen Ifill story.

I recall how Ifill moderated the 2004 vice-presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards and she asked a question about the high rate of HIV-infected Black women which clearly neither Cheney or Edwards were prepared to answer.  These powerful White men were stunned into silence and mumbles, by an intrepid Black woman doing her job and doing it well.

Discomforting the comfortable: That’s what a real journalist does and Ifill was a real journalist in an age where they’re in scant supply.    Gwen Ifill always treated journalism as a profession worthy of respect and she worked hard at The Boston Globe, The New York Times, NBC News and PBS to earn it.

Now more than ever we needed Ifill’s kind of clarity and integrity and with her loss we’re all a little poorer for it.

The Godfather Is Gone. Amos H. Lynch: 1925 – 2015


Amos Lynch was a true social justice warrior.

Tomorrow the National Association of Black Journalists holds its annual convention/group therapy session in Minneapolis.    I will not be there.   I attended my last NABJ convention in 2011 and didn’t renew my membership in 2013.

Last week, one man who was one of my greatest inspirations as well as someone who did a lot to convince me journalism was truly my calling in life was laid to rest.  His name was Amos H. Lynch and he was the undisputed Godfather of Black Journalism in Columbus, Ohio.

A few of the attendees will know why and how he earned that title.  Most won’t, but such is the state of the business today.  Yesterday’s icons are as swiftly forgotten as yesterday’s news, if they were ever known at all.

Long before I became a blogger I was a journalist and I still think like one.   Blogging is for most the work of a soloist.   Journalism means you’re part of a band and everyone has to play their part.

Journalism is a collaboration and if you can’t work as part of a team, you’re not going to be much good at it. Particularly not if you are working for a newspaper.  In 1999, I walked away from the security of a state job for an opportunity to pursue my life’s calling after Mr. Lynch, the publisher of the Columbus Post.   The former editor-in-chief of the Call & Post had left that paper to start one of his own and before too long the city had a new press war going on but since it was happening between the Black-oriented papers,  the mainstream media mostly ignored it.

They couldn’t ignore Mr. Lynch though.   I’d go into his office and he would be working the phone.   Calling up community leaders, prodding politicians to take out a larger ad, placating a ruffled reader and otherwise being extremely busy supporting his favorite causes, dogging out his rivals, promoting events such as the annual MLK Breakfast, and being the Presence that made the big boys in Downtown Cowtown take his calls when he was on the line.

You don’t disrespect The Godfather.


Amos Lynch, former editor of The Call & Post and publisher of the Columbus Post

Nothing about Mr. Lynch (as I referred to him then and now) reminded me of Don Corleone except they were both men who commanded respect based on their reputation.  He could be kind and gentle, but Mr. Lynch had his stern, no-nonsense side when it came to The Columbus Post.  At the Call and Post,  he worked for someone else.  Now he was running his paper and he wouldn’t hesitate to tell a reporter or contributor who hadn’t delivered what he wanted where they had fallen short.

I came to the Post after Mr. Lynch had broken away from his old publication to start his own weekly newspaper.    Leaving the stability of a steady paycheck with the state for a struggling start-up paper that had problems making payroll and never got much support from advertisers was a risky proposition, but it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.  I was hired as a reporter and I left as the editor-in-chief.  I worked hard and spent many a Tuesday night going into the wee hours of Wednesday morning putting the next edition together.

Becoming the editor was never something I aspired to.  I wanted to be a reporter and go after the news than stay in the office and make sure the right news went into the right places.   I killed off long-running columns and beats and opened up the opinion page to voices I felt were missing from the paper.   I went after gay and lesbians,  conservatives and others in the Black community the Post had shut out and ignored.   This caused Mr. Lynch some heartburn such as the time when a radical lesbian wrote a column and some of the ministers got their nose out of joint.   He called me into his office and said, “Winbush,  you can’t have that woman on the opinion page again.”

I protested a bit, but I didn’t go to war over it.   After all, It was his paper,  While he let me run it pretty much the way I wanted there was only so much change he was going to go for.

Without my time at the Post I would not have formed friendships that endure to this day.   Charles Farmer was my closest ally at the paper and though he covered the sports desk he could have handled any beat you gave him.  Someone at ESPN, Sports Illustrated or USA Today should have snatched him up a long time ago but that’s a common theme to working in the Black press.  The talent pool is deep and wide.  Kim Tolley, was a rival reporter at the C&P, but to this day is one of the smartest and most dedicated reporters I’ve ever met.   We both kept a watchful eye on what the other were doing at the two weeklies.   We would scoop them and then they would scoop us.   There were no losers as the competition only made both papers better.

The connecting thread between almost all the Black press in Columbus is if you didn’t work for Amos Lynch you knew who he was  and you knew what he had done.    Among those celebrating his life is Wil Haygood, former Washington Post reporter and author of several books  The Butler: A Witness to History which was adapted into the film The Butler,  told the Columbus Dispatch, “I recall having to rewrite stories to get them up to speed, but it was the first job that I had where I was paid to write, so I will always look back upon my time under his tutelage as being very important.”

I know what Haygood means because I feel the same way.   Mr. Lynch was a giant of journalism, a crusader for civil rights and social justice, and simply a gentleman. It was a privilege to have known and worked for Mr. Lynch. He was the Godfather of Black Media and we will never, ever see his kind again.    I hope they take a few minutes at the NABJ convention to mention the man’s name.

Amos H. Lynch, Sr., left, is helped to the podium by long-time friend Angela Pace, right, who was mistress of ceremonies, to give a few words of thanks after being inducted into the Civil Rights Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse Atrium Thursday, October 13, 2011. (Dispatch photo by Shari Lewis)

Amos H. Lynch, Sr., being inducted into the Civil Rights Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse Atrium Thursday in 2011. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Shari Lewis)

Charlo Greene’s Stunt: This Is Why They Call It “Dope.”

“Gives a whole new meaning to ‘baked Alaskan.’ Get it?”

Perhaps you’ve heard of Charlo Greene , the Alaskan-based, pot-puffing ex-reporter who set her career on fire by disclosing she was the owner of a pro-marijuana “cannabis club” while dropping a F bomb on live television as she quit before she could be fired.

There are two things I wonder about Ms. Greene’s self-exile from the ranks of professional journalism:

1. I wonder if Ms. Greene should send a workshop proposal for the next National Association of Black Journalists convention on How To Leave A Job With Absolutely No Tact, No Grace and No Class and Not Only Burn Your Bridges But Blow Them the Hell Up.

2. By figuratively, if not literally showing her behind, in pulling such a brain-dead stunt does Ms. Greene think she helped her cause or trivialized it by making herself look ridiculous?

The word on the Web is Greene went out like a boss. She showed you can leave on your terms, stay true to your principles and be a total bad ass while doing it.


There’s nothing “principled” about having a vested interest in a story you’re reporting on. Greene owned a cannabis club she covered stories about and for those armed with more opinion than knowledge, this is a classic conflict of interest and a clear violation of journalistic ethics.

For the full-time cynic that’s an oxymoron, but some of us in the profession it’s still taken seriously.

There are other “principled” issues in Alaska for Greene (or whatever her real name is) to quit her job over.

The Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse reports almost 75% of Alaskans have experienced or know someone who has experienced domestic violence or sexual assault.

• There were over 6,000 reported cases of domestic violence in Alaska in 2005.

• 524 forcible rapes were reported in Alaska in 2005, representing almost 13% of all violent crimes.

• The Alaska rape rate is 2.5 times the national average.

• Child sexual assault in Alaska is almost six times the national average.

• Alaska has the highest rate per capita of men murdering women.

Guess the principle of protecting Alaskan women isn’t one that interests Green. You can’t cash in or get famous off of it.

It’s not my place to tell anyone what cause they need to champion and medical marijuana is a worthy one, but narcissistic, vulgar stunts like this aren’t going to win the day for the ballot proponents.

“I’m passionate about doing my job, and at the time my job was being a journalist,” Greene explained.

I like passion in people. I like people who care about things and are motivated to change what they believe is wrong. I dislike people who think vulgar stunts, shock tactics and making a public spectacle of yourself will do anything beyond showing how immature you are.

Some Black journalists are openly worried (and pretty damn mad) how Greene’s dramatic exit might be used as yet another excuse not to hire them.  They should not be concerned about Greene’s impact. There is none. She was nobody yesterday, somebody today and back to being nobody by the weekend.

Long after Greene’s name tumbles off the search engines her exit strategy may be recalled as a turning point that determined victory or defeat for the ballot initiative. For her sake I hope she wins because she’ll make a lot of money running a marijuana dispensary.

If she loses she’ll never work again for any respectable news organization in Alaska, Hawaii or anywhere else in the lower 48. However she will have lots of free time to spark up so there’s that to look forward to.

Congratulations, Charlo.  You are the second stupidest human being to come out of Alaska right behind Sarah Palin.

Wonder if Greene’s dress is made of hemp?

Objective Journalism? Never Touch the Stuff

The National Association of Black Journalists meets for their annual convention.   This year it is being held in Orlando, Florida and in the wake of the George Zimmerman acquittal, Florida is not the happiest place on earth for many activists.   In fact, many are calling for a boycott of the Sunshine and Negro Hunting State.  Outgoing NABJ President Greg Lee told The Huffington Post the convention will go on as scheduled because canceling it would bankrupt the group.

“If we were to do something such as boycott, it would basically bankrupt our organization and it really defeats the purpose and takes away a powerful voice,” said Lee. “We had to look at the long-term view. Our organization is very vital to our nation, to our community in making sure that our stories are being told. … If there was no National Association of Black Journalists, you wouldn’t have had the Trayvon Martin story out there.”

That’s a stretch.   NABJ doesn’t publish any newspapers or magazines or produce any television or radio programs.   The Black press and the blogs like this one were way out in front of the Trayvon Martin story before the mainstream media woke up to it.   I’ve been a member of NABJ off and on (current status: off) since 1992 and not once have I ever thought of  NABJ as “very vital to our nation.”   If you’re not a journalist the odds are pretty good you’ve never even heard of the NABJ, let alone consider them “vital” to America.


That piece of b.s. by Lee aside, I agree with the decision not to cancel the convention.

Florida is not the most popular place in America based upon the Zimmerman jury essentially saying young Black males can be hunted down and killed with impunity and no fear of legal sanction. That’s a sobering message many in the Black community are not feeling and they won’t be feeling much love for NABJ for going to Florida.

But cancelling out would send the organization into a financial tailspin it might never pull out of. The contracts that sent NABJ to Orlando were signed years, not weeks or months ago.  NABJ will take heat for going to Orlando, but that criticism will fade while a decision to scrub the convention would have immediately devastating effects.

That doesn’t mean NABJ is exempt from the burning issues of the day even though some members think it should be as this guy did on the organization’s Facebook page:  I think it’s weird that as a journalism organization, some are wanting us to show a bias of this nature in the first place. It’s like we forgot what we do because the outcome of a trial wasn’t what we personally wanted…

What I think is weird is anybody working in this business who thinks the public doesn’t already thinks journalists are biased.  They should because we are biased.   I’m just honest enough to admit I am and I’m fine with being so.

I try to be fair, balanced, accurate and tell the story as straight-forward as I can when I am wearing my journalism hat.

But I’m not objective. I’ve never tried to pretend I was. It’s fine with me if you think you are, but whomever it is that’s writing your checks probably isn’t.

One of my greatest influences in journalism was Hunter S. Thompson. Reading Thompson was like going from bubble-gum pop music to Miles Davis. You learned there was more to journalism than AP style and the inverted pyramid of telling a story. You could also words as scalpels or bludgeons as the need arose.

I think some Black journalists are scared of being seen as Black and only want to considered journalists.   That is neutering yourself in search of validation from someone else.  Swear you don’t put your Blackness  before Journalism!  Swear it!!  Journalism is thy God and thou shalt have no other gods before Journalism.

This was Thompson take on being an objective journalist from his book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.

“Objective journalism is a pompous contradiction in terms.”

“So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here–not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.”

Agreed and seconded.  Objective Journalism belongs in the same place as Oz, Narnia and Atlantis. It’s a mythical place where many seek and few find. Think of yourself as “objective” if you want. It doesn’t mean your editor or publisher shares your philosophy.

It is drilled in the heads of journalists that we must be balanced about all things as if the news were a pie that can be cut in perfectly equal sections.  Every story isn’t balanced and the other side of the argument is often stupid, crazy or flat-out wrong, but you must present it so you can say at least you were “objective.”

I’m calling bullshit on that.  Thompson placed a greater value on honesty than objectivity and it’s worked for me as it worked for him.

You should be fair.  You should strive to be accurate.  You must always be honest.  If you can be objective, that’s nice, but it runs counter to everything I know about human beings and I doubt you really are.

What If Eric Holder Held A Photo Op and Nobody Came?

Time to go their separate ways?

At the moment the National Association of Black Journalists and I are having our issues.  Serious issues.  Right now we’re in the middle of a trial separation.   It’s touch and go whether it becomes a permanent one.

But every so often NABJ gives me reasons to reconsider.

Richard Prince reported in his Journalisms column:

Citing the stipulation that the meeting would be off the record, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association said Sunday that they would not attend Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.‘s Monday meeting with journalists of color to refine guidelines on dealing with journalists during leak investigations.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Unity: Journalists of Diversity, Inc., umbrella group have said they would attend.

The Native American Journalists Association, also citing the off-the-record stipulation, has said it would not.

Gregory H. Lee Jr., president of NABJ, said by email, “I asked the board that nabj will not have official reps. If individual board members do attend it will not be under nabj representation. Nabj will not attend in . . . any official capacity.” Lee added by telephone that NABJ believes in freedom of the press and is “not happy with what’s going on at the Justice Department,” as stated in its May 15 statement on the Justice Department’s secret seizure of office and personal telephone records of journalists at The Associated Press.

In 2010, Holder appeared as the honored guest at the NABJ convention.  He took no questions from the audience.   Nobody knew then but the past was prologue.  There has been a sneaky suspicion Holder and the Obama Administration hold the press in barely concealed contempt.   The Attorney General’s dismissive attitude would seem to confirm this.

Many major news outlets rejected Holder’s off the record stipulation as well they should.    With three of the major journalists of color organizations declining to participate in this farce as well,  the ineptitude of the Justice Department has blown up in their faces.

There are times when the profession as “journalist” trumps the racial identifier of “Black.”  This is one such time.

The National Association of Black Journalists should not take part in this off the record “meet and greet” with Attorney General Holder.  Everyone knows the A.G. is engaged in damage control after the chorus of disapproval that has descended upon the Justice Department for their investigations into the phone records of journalists.

If Holder is willing to try to explain and defend his department’s actions he should be willing to go on the record.  It’s one thing for the Obama Administration to say they believe in the freedom of the press.   Quite another to see them walk it like they talk it.

“Look, I said NO QUESTIONS and I meant it!:

NABJ is composed of journalists, not stenographers.  This is nothing but a glorified photo-op with Holder trying to look reasonable and solicitous to a room full of journalists who are writing down and recording NOTHING.   It’s pointless exercise in spin control.

NABJ can get their coffee and bagels elsewhere.  Like where real news is occurring.  I applaud the decision of President Gregory Lee and the board not to attend.

The Attorney General would serve his cause better by opening up and going on the record instead of continuing his distressing habit of only speaking when it serves his own purpose to do so.   This is an approach that has not served Holder well.   For five years President Obama has managed to avoid the sort of serious ethical and legal missteps that have blemished prior administrations.

If Holder, the nation’s highest law enforcement official, continues on his arrogant and autocratic path they may not make a sixth.

As NABJ Yawns Karen Finney Gets The Brown Paper Bag Test

So where’s this brown paper bag?

I’ve been a member of the National Association of Black Journalists off and on since 1994.   It’s about to be “off’ again when my membership lapses in a week, but this time I think it will be for good.   Like many long term relationships that go sour, we don’t believe in the same thing anymore.   There has always been a struggle between NABJ’s activist and party animal sides but lately it seems like the party animals are kicking the asses of the activists.

Salon columnist Joan Walsh took down a right-wing hatchet man, Tim Graham of  the Media Research Center over his race-baiting of MSNBC (and NABJ member?) Karen Finney following the announcement she would be getting her own program on the liberal news network.

MSNBC just announced that Karen Finney, a network political analyst and former communications director of the Democratic National Committee, will host a new weekend show. MRC director of media analysis Tim Graham immediately Tweeted:

Finney is African-American, although MSNBC didn’t particularly “tout” that in its press release; it mentioned that she was the first African-American communications director of the DNC and is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.   I’m not sure what would cause Graham to even muse about her racial bona fides, let alone share his idiocy publicly.


In a 2010 Huffington Post piece Finney wrote about being the descendant of slaves on her father’s side and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on her mother’s side.   Maybe it’s too much to ask that Graham inform himself about the biological and cultural diversity of African-Americans. It’s not too much to ask, though, that he shut up about his ignorance, but I won’t hold my breath.

On one hand, congratulations are due to Karen Finney for landing her own TV show on MSNBC. On the other, if it’s true that Finney is a NABJ member (She is. I checked) whose racial authenticity is being mocked by a right-wing media monitoring group, doesn’t that deserve a response from NABJ?


There was  one response to my query (and it wasn’t from NABJ’s president or vice-president of broadcast to the e-mail I sent them).   It came from an respected member who shrugged it off as follows:

Tim Graham’s idiocy is not worthy of an official response from NABJ.
However, the pundits among us should feel free to load our satire guns and  plug him full of more holes.


Some right-wing hack/hitman for arch-conservative L. Brent Bozell pulls the brown paper bag test on a NABJ member and The Root, Jezebel, Huffington Post, Salon, Media Matters, The Daily Mail (UK), Talking Points Memo, Richard Prince’s Journal-isms, among other places do find it worthy of their notice, but it’s not worthy of a response from the National Association of Black Journalists?

Congratulations, Karen.  Welcome to the media wars.   NABJ’s got your back.  Just don’t look behind you for them because they’re a ways off in the distance.

I’ve known for a while mine is a minority opinion in an organization of minority journalists.  What I’m unsure of is when my views on how NABJ should advocate for journalists of color diverged so drastically from NABJ’s.  I’ve read the mission statement for the group  and this part jumps out at me.

“I know my Negroes,” says Tim Graham

Sensitizing all media to the importance of fairness in the workplace for black journalists…Fostering an exemplary group of professionals that honors excellence and outstanding achievements by black journalists, and outstanding achievement in the media industry as a whole, particularly when it comes to providing balanced coverage of the black community and society at large

Those are principles worth believing in and fighting for.  I still do, but NABJ doesn’t seem to and if they don’t there isn’t enough of anything else they bring to the table worth me being part of it any more.

I don’t make policy for NABJ and I don’t know who does.  Maybe no one does.    Take this to the bank:  If  NABJ won’t defend its highest profile members, it  sure won’t for those who are not and if that’s the case what do I need NABJ for?

Today the Cleveland Plain-Dealer announced it will cease daily publication and go to three days a week and Sunday.  That is terrible news for any journalist.   It’s even worse if you’re working for the Plain-Dealer because you might not be much longer.    Any guesses on which staffers will be the first given a box to pack their junk and a last paycheck?

But later for that.  There’s always another convention in another city most members can’t afford to attend.   There’s always another old journalist to honor with an award even if young journalists coming up behind them are facing some hard times.    There’s always another Black journalist ready to be dropped like a hot rock by their employer in the mainstream media only to find they won’t find much comfort coming from NABJ.

Finney will be fine.  She has paid her dues and joins the MSNBC pool of personalities, but actually has journalistic credentials as a NABJ  member.  A week ago, nobody knew who Graham was a next week nobody will care what a race-baiting loser like Graham has to say.  All Graham has is a small axe to grind and a smaller soapbox to preach to the ten or twelve other losers who read his bullshit.

For my part, I’ve got less than two week remaining on my NABJ membership and right about now, I’m fine about forgetting about NABJ the way NABJ forgets  about anyone who isn’t part of the privileged few.   The passivity and timidity of the nation’s largest organization of minority journalists on the issues that matter most has become too pervasive and too entrenched.   There’s a difference between being cautious and picking your shot and being fearful that if NABJ stands up its corporate underwriters will slap it down.

Al Roker: Slimmed Down But Not Ready to Step Up?

“Take over The Today Show? Sure. Right after I finish this hot dog.”

If it’s early in the morning and I’m trapped in a doctor’s office where the television is tuned to The Today Show, I don’t pay much attention to the various personalities on the program and their comings and goings.

So when it was mentioned that host Matt Lauer might be on the way out of the venerable show and NBC was looking at CNN’s Anderson Cooper as a possible replacement, posters on the National Association of Black Journalists rightfully wondered why is it (again) that Black talent can’t be found in the pipeline of possible replacements.

Possible replacement being Al Roker.  Mr. Weather Guy.  Mr. Gastric Bypass and Lost 100 Pounds.  Mr. “I Do the Lighter Segments on the Show.”

Al Roker?   Now why did that name escape me?

We are in “the pipeline” only if you think Al “I Crapped My Pants at The White House” Roker is a serious contender to move from Black Guy Comic Relief over to Lauer’s Big Chair.

I think we know better than that, don’t we?

You don’t have to lower yourself into stupidity to gain empathy, okay? If one of the unfortunate effects of Roker’s gastric bypass was unexpected and uncontrolled bouts of diarrhea, that’s understandable. But why tell the world? NOBODY needs to know that!

Slimmed down and ready to step up?

If you will do anything for a laugh and play yourself as the fool, you can’t turn around later and wonder why you’re not being taken seriously. Al Roker probably deserves a shot at replacing Matt Lauer as the host of The Today Show. But like Clint Eastwood growled, “Deserves got nothing to do with it.”

The problem of a blackout of Black talent from the television is an ongoing dilemma.   CNN has cast off Soledad O’Brien and told my old buddy Roland Martin to find another home for his contributions.    When MSNBC decided to shake up their prime time line-up, they exiled Ed Schultz to a weekend oblivion and promoted Chris Hayes over Melissa Harris-Perry as the newest sacrificial lamb to the “The O’Reilly Factor” juggernaut.    Byron Pitts left CBS and 60 Minutes  for another job at ABC leaving the venerable newsmagazine with no Black correspondent.

Yep, it’s a problem all right.   I’m just not convinced Al Roker is the solution.

By playing the fool so well and so long, Roker has effectively it impossible to be taken seriously. If you’re an executive at NBC and mulling over whom to replace Lauer because the President and the First Lady have invited the Today Show host in to speak to them, who would you rather have representing your show and network? Anderson Cooper or the guy who took a dump in his Dockers in the White House?

Too much information. Roker played himself. It’s not about any need to humiliate Roker or taking pleasure in his misfortune. It’s about when you know the odds are already stacked against you, but you’ve paid your dues and know the job, why ruin your own chances by demonstrating your unfitness are for the position?

Being mean about Roker, who seems like a genuinely nice guy feels a bit like kicking a kitten.  It’s completely  unjustifiable and unnecessary and I feel a little jerky for even mentioning it.

However, consistency means if I’m pulling for Black folks when they prove they are qualified for the job, I have to say “Sorry” when they show they are not.   Roker has played the second banana so well and for so long, it raises doubts he’d be a good fit in the Big Chair.

Nobody wants to see a brother get a break more than I do, but Roker’s image is one of  a former heavyweight who’s a total lightweight.

Heyyy baby, Even do it with gingerbread?

Disunity: NABJ and UNITY Find Life Without Each Other.

Holy cow, there’s a lot of Black folks here!

There are two sorts of conventions I’ve attend: The yearly National Association of Black Journalists conventions which I enjoy and the UNITY Journalists of Color conventions held every four years and those I flat out love.   Last week, Vice-President Joe Biden was the featured guest at the NABJ gathering in New Orleans, a convention that under normal conditions shouldn’t have occurred the same year UNITY gathers.

But a not-so funny thing happened to UNITY ’12 in Las Vegas.  After an acrimonious fight last year between NABJ and UNITY Inc. over issues of money, power and respect that remain murky, the Black journalists organization left to hold their own convention in New Orleans.  The three remaining original partners in UNITY, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian-American Journalists Association and the Native Americans Journalism Association chose to replace NABJ with the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association (NLGJA), to go forth with their shared convention in Las Vegas this August.

Many NABJ members only learned about the split when they attended the convention in Philadelphia last year. The leadership did not do a good job of informing the membership of what the issues were that led to the decision and they were unhappy and confused by it. But I don’t think UNITY has done much better in explaining their side of the story either.

I passed on New Orleans for the NABJ convention and I won’t be at UNITY in Las Vegas either. In part because I simply can’t afford it this year, but more because I’m disgusted with BOTH parties and their inability to work out their differences.

Writing on his blog, Rafael Olmeda said, “NABJ is in a difficult position now: it must decide whether to rejoin a coalition that responded to its departure by making drastic changes that call attention to the very points of contention that led to the split. If NABJ comes back, it will be to a very different coalition. If NABJ stays away, it does permanent damage to a powerful message it helped craft [that when we join forces, we do not dilute our voices; we magnify them].

A UNITY founding father has disowned his child.

But at NABJ’s convention this year the popular sentiment was UNITY should go their own way.  A commission that was appointed to explore reconciliation advised NABJ should stay out of the coalition “at this time.”   Even members who were bullish on a return cooled on the idea after NLGJA accepted the invitation to join UNITY.

The longer NABJ stays out the less likely there will be any urgency to return to UNITY and that sentiment received a huge boost from Juan Gonzalez, of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and one of the founders of UNITY when he agreed the coalition had strayed from its original purpose.

“The great moral authority of UNITY was its role as the key organization advocating better coverage of race and equal opportunity for journalists of color. Its power came from being organized and led solely by journalists of color. So when UNITY rushed to incorporate NLGJA before properly addressing the departure of NABJ — the largest and most influential group within the alliance — it sent a clear signal, whether intended or not, that racial and ethnic equality was no longer its main mission,”  Gonzalez said

It will fall to those within the five organizations who really want UNITY to be something more than a happy memory to make negotiation and reconciliation a priority, not a hope.

This task was complicated when NLGJA came in and “journalists of color” went out. I understand the reasoning that UNITY was no longer exclusively an organization for journalists of color, but the perception is NLGJA threw their weight around and they were accommodated by abandoning a vital element for UNITY’s very existence.

That suspicion was confirmed when it was revealed NLGJA said they would not attend the Las Vegas convention if “journalists of color” remained as part of UNITY’s name.

That’s a bit like your new next door neighbor telling you to paint your house their favorite color because if you don’t it’s going to be hard for them to get along with you. NLGJA were the new kids on the block and already they were setting conditions before they would play. It only reinforced the hard-liners in NABJ who either never wanted to be part of UNITY or didn’t want to return to it.

The membership of the respective organizations who believe in the idea of UNITY should be willing to fight for it and if that means raising so much hell until the leadership of the five organizations lock themselves into a room and don’t come out until they’ve reconciled their differences, then that’s what should happen.

“Hey, nice logo.”

And reinstate the “journalists of color” tag to UNITY. If NLGJA has a problem with that, they can grab their hat and step off. Journalists of Color isn’t just a motto. It’s a relevant fact and if NLGJA has a problem with that, maybe they need to figure out WHY it’s such a problem for them. When Leroy Aarons, the former president of NLGJA, was running around UNITY ’94 trying to get a seat at the table for NLGJA, I don’t remember him saying, “Okay, now that we’re in, that ‘journalists of color’ thing is out.”

It is insensitive and insulting for journalists of color to watch a predominantly White organization join an existing entity and immediately demand accommodations be made to make them feel comfortable.

It shouldn’t have come as a shock to NLGJA that the name of the umbrella organization was UNITY: Journalists of Color. When he was at the first convention in 1994, I don’t recall Leroy Aarons demanding UNITY change their name as a precondition to admitting the gay journalists group. He just wanted them to have a place at the table. Now that they have that place NLGJA seems to be saying it doesn’t like the seating arrangements and wants to be at the head of the table.

It smacks of White entitlement at its worst. Why does NLGJA want to be part of a group of minority journalists if it wants to assert majority rules?  Why do the journalists of color that make up NAHJ, AAJA and NAJA want to be ditch their individual uniqueness to blend into a bland stew dedicated to “diversity.”

It’s NLGJA who seemed to have a problem feeling they were being excluded because apparently they don’t see being a predominantly White organization as having any racial connotations. NLGJA wanted to be part of UNITY originally because when Aarons was running it he recognized gay and lesbian journalists had commonality with NABJ, AAJA, NAHJ, and NAJA based upon shared oppression and lack of power.

NLGJA was left out of UNITY for two reasons: One, was homophobia. Simple and plain. But two was a lot of Black, Asian, Hispanic and Native American members disagreed that gays and lesbians are discriminated in journalism the same way they are. A closeted lesbian and gay journalist can “pass” in a way journalists whose racial identity is apparent cannot.  The power move by NLGJA to drop “journalists of color” may make White gays and lesbians feel more comfortable, but as a Black journalist, I don’t.

What it comes down to is UNITY was left with a huge hole in the coalition with NABJ’s exit.  The largest of the four partners was out and someone had to step in.  There were hotel rooms in Vegas that needed to be filled and NLGJA was a logical choice.  Only thing was, NLGJA  had some conditions of their own they needed to have met.

The true value of UNITY was it was the only event I am aware of where professionals of color came together under such circumstances. If lawyers of color or doctors of color or auto mechanics of color do something similar I’ve never heard about it.

Maybe UNITY will be better with swapping out NLGJA for NABJ and maybe it will be worse, but it will never be what it was. It may never even be what it might have been.

It’s always the kids who suffer when mommy and daddy fight.

Goodbye to all that.