The right time to take a stand

There seems to be an undercurrent of opinion in some circles that black people are not allowed to speak on any issue until and unless they address particular issues within their own community. Concerned about police brutality? You can’t address that until you address black on black crime. Distraught that a seemingly clear case of excessive force resulted in (surprise!) a decision not to indict a cop? You can’t address that until you address the dissolution of black families and the raising of black children without their fathers in the home.

Preacher [Click on photo for source]

This patronizing, condescending, paternalistic attitude toward our black brothers and sisters has to end. We do not get to tell people when to voice their concerns. This is not a matter of “You don’t get to go to the movies until you clean your room.” We’re not their daddies. We don’t get to tell them when to talk or what to talk about.

If LeBron James wants to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt, he can and should, and he should be prepared to defend his decision to wear it. The exchange of ideas is how we improve society. Telling him he should wear a shirt that says “Be a better father” is condescending in the worst way. When pro-lifers march for abortion restrictions, do we tell them to take care of the pedophile priest problem first? When the Tea Party marches for limited government, do we tell them to take care of white-on-white crime first? No. Why not? Because it’s irrelevant, that’s why.

Black-on-black crime is irrelevant to police brutality. You don’t have to fix one to opine on the other. White-on-white crime is irrelevant to securities fraud and tax evasion. You don’t have to fix one to opine on the other. Latino-on-Latino crime is irrelevant to illegal immigration. You don’t have to fix one to opine the other.

Let’s call it what it is: It’s non-black people putting black people in their place by telling them when they can protest, what they can protest about, and what hoops they have to jump through in order to earn the moral authority to protest to their moral superiors – the non-black elite.

There’s a word for that.

It pains me on a personal level to see Geraldo Rivera, someone I once considered an ally in the fight for equality in America and for fair coverage of racial issues in the media, become such an apologist for racist attitudes masquerading as deeper social concerns.

No one is excusing black-on-black crime. No one is excusing the deterioration of the family unit (among all races). But no one, NO one, has the right to tell black America “you can’t complain about this until you take care of that.”

Who the hell do you think you are?

Where’s THAT T-shirt?

Note: This post was written on my time and expresses my opinion. It does not reflect on my employer or my previous associations in any way.


Restoring NAHJ will take more than words

I made a donation today to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

I did it because NAHJ needs the help of every member to meet its immediate and  long-term goals. Members want an effective website, a responsible and responsive staff (of more than just one overworked person), increased training and networking opportunities and a voice that will be heard and respected within and beyond our profession. It costs money to provide what NAHJ members deserve.

Renewing our membership and paying our dues is the least we can do to meet NAHJ’s financial need. Those of us who can do more, must.

I am a lifetime member of NAHJ. I never have to “worry” about paying dues again. But NAHJ still needs to operate and to build on the foundation laid by previous presidents and boards. This has never been true more than it is today. The last few years have been rough on non-profits, and NAHJ met the challenge with a series of difficult and painful but necessary decisions that kept the doors open and poised us for growth. But, as NAHJ President Hugo Balta said during his campaign, the decisions that saved NAHJ were not decisions that could be repeated. Simply put, there’s nothing left to cut.

Balta and the board of directors are already hard at work turning a campaign agenda into a concrete strategy for growth. By making my donation, I am sending him and the rest of the NAHJ board a message: I am inspired by you. I expect you to deliver on your promises. And I want to be a part of it.

Help me amplify that message today by making your own contribution to NAHJ. For those who, like me, are lifetime members, I ask that you make whatever donation you can. Balta has asked for $20 as part of NAHJ’s “1,000 Voces” campaign. If you can make that donation, it would be a huge help. But I would go further by asking lifetime members to give at least $75, the same amount we are asking first-time members to give when they join NAHJ. It’s the least we can do.

I am excited and proud to be a member of NAHJ, and I hope you can join me in giving this board the support it needs to follow through on its promises. It’s your move, members. GIVE HERE.


A suggestion for the #UNITYJournalists alliance partners


Congratulations on another UNITY convention receiving high marks from those who attended. I’m sorry I missed it, and I vow to be with you at your next convention.

About that…

What’s say we do this again in 2014? Hear me out. I know this idea has been floated and rejected before, but that was a different time. A lot has changed in the three years since that decision was made, within UNITY and within our profession. We’ve lost one ally and gained another.

I suggest (it’s just a suggestion coming from a lowly member) that each alliance board weighs the pros and cons of coming together under the UNITY banner in 2014 and votes on it this fall. The votes will give the UNITY board direction to begin planning when its new leadership takes office in January.

Realistically, if you do this, NABJ will not be in the mix. You would have to plan the conference with the assumption that our former (and future?) ally will not participate. I submit to you that this won’t pose much of a problem because we’re starting with their presumed absence (unlike the Las Vegas convention).

As another blogger suggested, UNITY would probably need to hire an event planner rather than (or in addition to) an executive director to make it happen on such an abbreviated timetable.

Yes, it would take a lot of work to pull this off, but it’s the same amount of work you would be expending on planning individual or combined conventions in 2014.

Think about it. I think you have a chance to do something great here. I’d love to be a part of it. And I suspect I’m not alone.

My comments on the #NAHJ board meeting Twitter controversy

One of the challenges one faces when granting an interview with a reporter is recognizing that not everything he or she says will be used in the article. The trick is to measure everything you say so that no matter which quote is pulled, it can stand on its own without confusing anyone. It is an art I have not mastered.

Today I was quoted accurately in an article in UNITY News about NAHJ blocking student reporters from tweeting and recording during a board meeting. I stand by that quote, but I wanted to add a little bit more context than the reporter had room to provide.

For those who don’t know the back story, click here to read the article. I’ll wait.

Now that you have the story, here’s the context to my statement.

Has Been

I was president of NAHJ at a time when Facebook was still emerging as a force and Twitter was in its infancy. I did not have to contend with the kind of instant reporting that the current NAHJ board faces. As such, my board and previous boards did not have a policy barring social networking during meetings. We did not block reporters from covering meetings in the traditional manner, and (speaking solely for myself) I would have been personally and professionally offended had someone tried to implement such a policy. Yes, NAHJ is a private, non-profit organization (rather than a government). But we are also an association of journalists, and as such, we have a responsibility to recognize the message we send when we implement policies.

Current NAHJ President Michele Salcedo (whom I endorsed and voted for) is dealing with a different set of realities than I faced, and if NAHJ legally implemented a policy blocking tweeting and live reporting from board meetings with her support, then I have no choice but to defer to her leadership and judgment. That doesn’t mean I agree with the policy. I don’t. I think it’s wrong, and I call on the next president and board to repeal it as its first official action this weekend.

I am familiar with the type of board training that Salcedo mentioned in the UNITY News article, having sat through it multiple times and played a key leadership role in it at least twice. I am familiar with the advice that only the president and the executive director should speak for the organization. For the most part, I agree with that. But the advice ignores a significant reality when it comes to NAHJ: The representatives on the NAHJ Board are elected by the members, and as such, they are accountable to the members. As far as I was concerned, any member of the NAHJ board could grant an interview to any reporter, with the understanding that the board member was speaking for himself or herself, not necessarily for the association. I understand that this may conflict with the principle of the board speaking with one voice, but blocking such communication conflicts with a greater principle in my eyes. Board members are elected by the association’s membership and are entitled to communicate with members any way they see fit, including by blogging, tweeting, using Facebook or talking to reporters. True, they may not speak for the association, but no one has the right to stop them from speaking for themselves in their capacity as elected officers.

NAHJ must adjust its policies around its principles, not the other way around.

I am a member of NAHJ, and I am speaking for myself.  Thanks for listening.

Hugo Balta for NAHJ President

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is going through some tough times. I do not envy the current board for the difficult decisions they have had to make over the last two years, and I will not second-guess them. I applaud President Michele Salcedo and Vice President/Financial Officer Russell Contreras for taking their roles seriously and making tough calls without worrying that their decisions might not be popular.

Contreras is now running for president. If elected, I think he would do a good job and I would offer my support, counsel and assistance without hesitation.

But at this point, I think Hugo Balta would do a better job. He has my endorsement.

Hugo Balta for President of NAHJ

As I’ve looked at this campaign, I’ve seen Contreras point to his record in putting NAHJ back on a sound financial footing. We can bicker over how NAHJ achieved this worthy goal, but Contreras and the board did not have the luxury of just bickering. Their job was to do something about it, and they did.

The key question is, now what? And that’s where I believe that Balta represents the better choice.

I share his concern that we have not chosen a site for the 2013 convention and don’t have a clear idea what will happen.

I share his belief that we need to shift quickly from crisis-management mode to visionary-rebuilding mode.

I share his belief that we need to formally address the changes that have affected our membership. Our bylaws (with its then-appropriate restrictions) were written at a time when the journalism profession was growing and thriving. The contraction of the last decade and the societal changes that have redefined “journalism” compels us to rethink the way we categorize and limit the participation of members, especially those who made a “lifetime” commitment to its mission.

And I share his belief in transparency and responsiveness to members’ concerns and ideas.

Michele Salcedo and Russell Contreras saved NAHJ. But it’s going to take leaders like Hugo Balta to restore it.

Two years ago, when I endorsed Hugo’s opponent (Michele), I privately made it clear to Hugo that I would still do anything he asked of me if he won. I publicly extend the same offer to Russell Contreras. This is not about personalities. It’s about an organization of people we are committed to serve.

In addition to Hugo Balta, I support the return of Rebecca Aguilar to the board as VP/Online and the election of Mekahlo Medina, a relentlessly positive and enthusiastic supporter of our mission, for VP Broadcast.

With respect, I’m keeping my choices in other races to myself. I also do not want any of these endorsements to be construed as criticisms of the opposing candidates. You earned my respect the moment you put your name up for consideration.


UNITY should welcome NABJ members to Las Vegas

Some of the discussion about what will happen now that NABJ has pulled out of the UNITY: Journalists of Color coalition centers around whether NABJ members will be welcome at the UNITY conference in Las Vegas next year. One answer that was floated around (not an official UNITY answer, but an educated presumption) was that NABJers could pay the non-member registration fee to attend UNITY or join one of the remaining groups (NAHJ, AAJA, NAJA) to get the membership registration rate.

This is just a suggestion: NABJ members should not have to join another association to get the membership rate at UNITY 2012.

NABJ members who choose to attend UNITY 2012 will either be doing so in addition to the NABJ convention that year or instead of it. While I would encourage NABJ members to support their association by attending NABJ 2012, I would also encourage them to support UNITY.

A strong NABJ membership showing at UNITY 2012 is a concrete way to show that support. UNITY should do whatever it can to encourage it.

Would NABJ members attend two conventions? It wouldn’t be unprecedented. I know Black and Latino NLGJA members who make room for two conventions a year (and I’m sure there are those in NAJA and AAJA who do so as well: I just don’t know them).

The bottom line is that this is no time to nickel and dime NABJ members who might want to attend UNITY 2012.

We are still allies.

Dis UNITY: NABJ split avoidable, regrettable… reversible?

Like many others, I have been watching the unraveling of the UNITY coalition with increasing dismay over the last few weeks. I was concerned about weighing in too heavily because I thought my uninvited observations might not be articulated or received in a constructive manner. With yesterday’s action by the NABJ board to pull out of the UNITY coalition, I can’t imagine my views could have made matters much worse. So here goes nothing.

The withdrawal of NABJ from UNITY was avoidable. Borrowing a line from Bill Clinton’s first inauguration speech, I wrote recently that there was nothing wrong with the UNITY coalition that could not be fixed by what was right with the UNITY coalition. This alliance survived tougher existential questions in the past. Its formation overcame more obstacles than its undoing. It should not have come to this. NABJ could have made just as strong a statement passing a resolution declaring that it will withdraw from UNITY after the 2012 conference.  Such a move would have sent the same message without putting the former partners in the position of staging a competing conference.

The withdrawal of NABJ from UNITY is regrettable. When we formed this coalition, we did not add the strengths of NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA and NAJA. We multiplied them. But what NABJ warned against, it has now made a reality through its action: NABJ and UNITY will now be in direct competition for dwindling sponsorship dollars. Not that we should let our media sponsors dictate our direction, but they were urging us to work together more frequently, not less. Now news organizations that planned to attend UNITY’s convention in 2012 (looked FORWARD to it, from a financial perspective) will either have to attend two conferences or choose one. From that standpoint, there won’t be many winners in 2012.

Another reason I find the split regrettable is that, in my opinion (and I hope I’m wrong), it diminishes our moral authority to preach diversity to the profession when we show an inability to work through our differences and achieve a consensus.

The withdrawal of NABJ from UNITY is reversible. UNITY should extend membership registration rates to NABJ members who sign up for the UNITY convention in 2012.

It should turn this crisis into an opportunity to rebuild UNITY from the bottom up. Create a new framework for the alliance that includes rotating 2-partner conventions and a more focused mission. NABJ should be a part of that discussion.

NABJ may no longer be a UNITY partner, but it will always be an ally.

Don’t let it end like this.