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.
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.
Meanwhile, Steinberg is plunging into the nuts and bolts of governance and financial responsibility. UNITY currently lacks a permanent executive director, and there’s also no guarantee it will host a convention in 2016. Instead of an executive director, board members are discussing hiring someone with a different title or different job responsibilities, which may include writing grants and reports as well conducting audits. Two years prior to a convention, UNITY may hire a consultant to help with convention planning, Steinberg said. And while he hopes to have a convention, board members are only in the early stages of researching cities and, more importantly, potential partners that will join UNITY in producing a conference.
“If we reconfigure how we work, then we’ll also likely need to reconfigure staffing, which obviously would impact the costs. That could be a good thing if it helps make us more fiscally responsible,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg also wants to establish an advisory board made up of representatives of other journalism organizations—including NABJ and the Society of Professional Journalists as well as the American Society of News Editors—who share UNITY’s vision and can help promote media diversity. “By working together through UNITY, we can speak with a louder voice to promote causes that advance—and challenge obstacles that threaten—media diversity,” he said.
Steinberg acknowledges that UNITY will have to get its financial house in order and adjust the way it does business in order to be more relevant and responsive to stakeholders. “We have to restore the partnership and shared values that UNITY was founded on and try to overcome the differences that ultimately distract us from that mission,” he said.
*The story originally had AAJA and NAHJ membership proportions reversed.