Unity '08 Conventions kicks off in Chicago

July 23, 2008 3:21:45 PM PDT
Unity '08 Convention, which kicks off on Wednesday in Chicago, is the largest gathering of journalists of color.The conference comes at a time when many in the business are finding themselves victims of the troubled economy.

Unity represents nearly 10,000 African American, Latino, Asian American and Native American journalists.

ABC7 viewers and readers may notice differences changes in the industry, like more online content and thinner newspapers. As the press covers stories about downsizing and layoffs, many media outlets are dealing with the same economic challenges.

Bring thousands of journalists together and there will be talk. At this year's meeting, there is much discussion about changes in media. Like other industries, many journalists feel the downturn in the economy.

"It might continue to have a few cuts, but then at some point we'll hit the breaking point. What remains to be seen is at what point that actually will occur," said Suzanne McBride, Columbia College professor.

News layoffs at newspapers have made headlines. For example, Ron Kitagawa, the features editor at the San Jose Mercury News, says the paper reduced its staff by more than half since 2000. With fewer people, he says diversity in staff and content is crucial to keeping readers.

"Now we're at a point where we have to think about it a little more, but when you make those choices, diversity still comes in. It's still one of the first things we think of when we're covering things," said Kitagawa.

"Nowadays we need to make sure there is a fair representation of all races, of all genders in our news rooms, on television, on radio, that yes, it is more important now to make sure that our voices are heard," said Ruben Luna, Detroit News.

Some media outlets are finding opportunity by expanding content online and focusing on specific audiences or issues like ESPN.

"We'll cover something in depth that a local station can't really do, and we'll give it to them on radio, we'll give it to them in a magazine column, we'll give it to them in a dot.com column," said Al Jaffe, ESPN.

Jill Geisler is with the Poynter Institute, a school for working journalists, future journalists and teachers of journalists. Geisler says conventions like Unity hold more significance as the industry changes with the times.

In challenging times, Unity offers journalists training, feedback from others and news about jobs openings. Journalists hope the end result will be more of what the public wants to see.

The convention runs through Sunday with an address from Barack Obama Sunday morning. John McCain was also invited to speak but he declined.


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