By Jacquelinne Mejia
Amateur sports have the Olympics, professional soccer has the World Cup, politics has the presidential elections, and minority journalists have the UNITY Convention.
Every four years, journalists from the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), and Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) come together to learn new strategies to become better journalists, network, and have fun at events planned out throughout this week-long event.
“I like UNITY because it gives journalists of all backgrounds the opportunity to come together … it’s important to all get together to improve the coverage of our own communities,” said Stella Chavez, a member of the NAHJ-Dallas Chapter.
This year’s UNITY ’08 Conference was held in Chicago, Illinois from July 23-27th.
The home of the Sears Tower and deep-dish pizza provided the backdrop for the theme of the conference, “a new journalism for a changing world.”
This theme of ‘new journalism’ sparked many of the panel discussions and talks during the week. One panel in particular was about the adventures in multimedia journalism, led by Sharon Epperson, personal finance reporter on CNBC, Maria Hinojosa, senior correspondent on “NOW” PBS, and Jose Antonio Vargas, from The Washington Post.
The three seasoned journalists advised that journalists should make themselves more marketable by learning how to blog, make their own videos, and using the Internet to enhance their reporting — whatever medium they are in.
Aside from the myriad of topics that were presented at the conference, a career expo that lasted five days and included exhibitors such as ABC Television, CBS Corporation, Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, Inc., and The New York Times, helped journalists make connections with prospective employers, gain constructive criticism by the critique of their resumes, clips, and broadcast tapes.
“When you come here and meet people in the industry, you gain a wealth of knowledge … it’s been helpful in my career,” said Darrell Gissendemer, a first-time UNITY participant and NABJ member.
After hours of listening to panels and meeting with media recruiters, participants of UNITY were offered many chances to unwind.
One of the first events of the week transported the members of all four organizations to Spain, held at the Alhambra dancing club in downtown Chicago and sponsored by NAHJ. AAJA, NABJ, and NAHJ all sponsored mixers during the week and closing parties.
But perhaps the most anticipated event was an open discussion with Barack Obama, presidential candidate. The event was changed from Wednesday afternoon to Sunday morning, due to scheduling issues and unfortunately meant that many attendees could not attend because they had already scheduled flights home.
Nonetheless, Obama answered questions posed to him on immigration, his foreign policy analysis, and his stance on supporting an apology bill for Native Americans, which he said he would.
In the end, UNITY ’08 was a way for journalists of color to come together and learn how to keep making progressions in the newsroom.
“(UNITY) is not coming out just to network, but for inspiration, and diversity in the newsroom…we have to preserve diversity,” said AAJA-LA member Rachanee Srisavasdi.
Jacquelinne Mejia is freshman at the University of Missouri at Columbia. She is a 2007 AAJA-LA scholarship recipient.