Troubles between the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and UNITY came to a head at the 2012 convention in Las Vegas, when Steinberg was UNITY’s treasurer. Balta said UNITY missed deadlines to provide an accounting of revenues. Ultimately NAHJ was told it owed UNITY in excess of $10,000, according to receipts from the 2012 convention. Only after angry NAHJ representatives demanded an audit did UNITY revise its numbers, telling NAHJ it owned $4,535, said Balta in a Facebook posting. NAHJ has yet to agree that it owes UNITY anything, Balta said. (update, October 9: UNITY reps say that there was an audit scheduled to happen anyway.)

The Asian American Journalists Association was also told it owed money from the 2012 convention; Steinberg left it up to the individual associations to disclose how much each might owe. Paul Cheung, the group’s president and director of interactive and digital news production at the Associated Press, declined to say how much AAJA allegedly owes UNITY. “Financial sustainability and stability is always of concern for nonprofit groups like UNITY and AAJA,” he said in a private Facebook message. “However, I’m confident that newly elected president David Steinberg and I will work on a solution.”

Mission

NABJ’s Butler, a multimedia journalist with KCBS radio in San Francisco, said it would be unfair for his organization to comment on UNITY’s new leadership and future since the group is no longer a member of the alliance. Butler said he believes Steinberg is “a good journalist” and “a good guy.”

Balta was more blunt. UNITY “is no longer specific to journalists of color,” he said. NLGJA has every right to champion a candidate that represents its group to lead UNITY, Balta added, but he does not believe Steinberg was the best candidate. Instead, Balta said, the gay and lesbian association could and should have chosen someone who was gay and a minority.

“But they didn’t choose that,” he continued. “It’s not for me to say why or why not, but to be constructively critical, I think they made a major error in championing a candidate that did not fully represent the entire board.That will continue to have repercussions,” he said. “That continues to be a challenge in any discussion about the possibility of NABJ returning and I’m telling you right now it has to be part of the discussion for NAHJ.”

NAHJ will hold a virtual town hall meeting October 16 to answer questions from members about the organization’s future with UNITY; a week after that, the NAHJ board will reconvene for a vote. Balta said his recommendation to leave remains the same and is bolstered by Steinberg’s election.

Steinberg disagrees with those who say UNITY has lost its way. “I don’t believe, perhaps, what some have suggested: that UNITY had lost its way when it expanded its mission. I looked at it as not turning its back on the values and message of how it was founded, but by expanding that message and that mission,” he said.

Overcoming distractions

While Balta and his association reassess their relationship with UNITY, other coalition partners are rallying around Steinberg. AAJA’s Cheung said in a press release that he is “looking forward to working with David on how best to grow and shape UNITY’s future.” Janet Cho, a business reporter for The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the AAJA representative who lost to Steinberg, said, “the next few months will be critical ones for reassuring our alliance group members and others in the media industry that UNITY remains relevant and necessary.” Hudetz, president of NAJA, said she looked forward to working with Steinberg in the coming year.

Tracie Powell writes about the media and media policy, specifically on issues regarding piracy, media ownership, government transparency and the business of journalism. A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, she lives in Washington, DC. She has contributed to Poynter, NPR, and Publica, the first nonprofit investigative journalism center in Brazil.