Journalists Of Color To Gather At UNITY The UNITY Convention, considered the largest annual meeting of journalists around the world, kicks off tomorrow in Chicago. UNITY President Karen Lincoln Michel joins Farai Chideya to talk about the gathering and the importance of diversity in the newsroom.

Journalists Of Color To Gather At UNITY

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I'm Farai Chideya, and this is News & Notes. The UNITY Convention, considered to be the largest annual meeting of journalists around the world, kicks off tomorrow in Chicago. The convention brings together the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian-American Journalist Association, and the Native American Journalist Association.

This year's theme is a new journalism for a changing world. Joining us to talk about the gathering is UNITY president Karen Lincoln Michel. So Karen, can you give us a diversity report card of how the industry is doing overall regarding journalists of color?

Ms. KAREN LINCOLN MICHEL (President, UNITY): Yes. The Radio-Television News Directors Association just released a survey yesterday that showed that there were some slight gains that were made in television among women and minorities. And I'm not sure if that also showed if the work force is shrinking in broadcast, but there some gains made there. But it's still below the levels of people of color in the U.S. population.

There's a recent employment survey of minorities in the newsroom done every year by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. And this year's showed a very slight increase in the number of people of color in supervisory positions. Now granted, the whole industry shrank by about 2,400 positions, and nearly 300 of them were people of color. But in this climate, I think you need to build on small gains like the slight increase in people of color in supervisory positions.

On Wednesday evening, during the opening ceremony of UNITY '08, we will be unveiling a new initiative called "Ten by 2010." It's a pilot project designed to promote more managers of color into senior manager by mid-year 2010. So we're very excited about that because it's a partnership between UNITY and media companies to help people of color become part of some of the executive management teams that are reshaping where the industry is going from here. So we need a diverse group of people making those decisions, and this program will help us go down that path.

CHIDEYA: What's the purpose of a convention like this, which I should say I will be attending? But, you know, it's one of these things where some people go for recruiting purposes, some people go for, you know, sort of to check in with the state of the industry. What do you think the purpose really is of this convention?

Ms. MICHEL: Well, it's really to put diversity, the issue of diversity, in the forefront where it belongs. That's one thing that we're doing. And, you know, it's an opportunity for people of color in the industry to shape the discussions that are taking place about what's happening in the news industry. You know, our theme is about a new journalism for a changing world. And that's where we're at right now, the reality of the industry. And so we're going to talk about that.

So that's one thing. And the other thing is that things are changing so quickly, with multi-media and, you know, just technology and how that has impacted what we do as journalists. So this is an opportunity for our members to come in and get training if they need training and attend workshops and just help them navigate through all these changes that are happening in the industry.

It's also a time for us to reconnect with each other, because, you know, we're out there every day working in the trenches, and it's always good to come together and reconnect with folk.

CHIDEYA: Now you're a past president of the Native American Journalists' Association. And I remember a particular moment at the previous UNITY, where a questioner from the Native American Journalist Association, asked President Bush about tribal sovereignty, and his answer was, circular, to put it that way. Is it important for people from the different ethnic journalism Associations to be able to talk to the newsmakers who end up coming to these conferences?

Ms. MICHEL: Oh yes, decently. Your mainstream coverage, there's certain questions that are asked, and a lot of times the perspectives of the communities that we come from, those types of questions don't get asked. So this is an opportunity for our members to, you know, ask those kinds of question that affect the communities where we come from.

CHIDEYA: Now, Senator Obama is scheduled to address the convention on Sunday, last week we spoke to Richard Prince, of the Maynard Institute, who said, that the presidential forum, that was scheduled for Thursday was quote, "all but dead." Of course, Senator Obama is traveling internationally. How did you secure him coming for Sunday, and given that Sunday is essentially the very last day of the convention, do you expect turnout that's going to be significant?

Ms. MICHEL: Well, the talks with both presidential candidates have been taking place for a while, and the invitations were extended many, many months ago. And so, talks have been taking place, and you know, with schedules it's really difficult to nail that down. With this Middle East and Europe trip coming up for Senator Obama, that came into the mix, just in recent weeks. It came down to a choice between having the Senator come on Sunday, or not at all.

CHIDEYA: So the Senator McCain invitation is still out, but it has not been accepted or rejected?

Ms. MICHEL: Right. We're still working on it.

CHIDEYA: Well Karen, thank you so much.

Ms. MICHEL: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Karen Lincoln Michel was the Madison Bureau Chief of the Green Bay Press Gazette. She's also the president of the UNITY Journalist of Color Alliance.

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