UNITY 2012 panelists in the session From Tiger Mom to Jeremy Lin, from left, Jeff Yang, Phil Yu, Jocelyn Wong and Lisa Fung.
By BOB SAN
AAP staff writer
LAS VEGAS (Aug. 5, 2012) — I attended this year’s UNITY Convention Aug. 1 to 5 in Las Vegas full of curiosity. This was the third time I attended a UNITY Convention, the first time being in 2004 in Washington, D.C., and the second one in 2008 in Chicago.
UNITY Journalists of Color was formed about 20 years ago to improve diversity in the nation’s newsrooms and advocate better coverage of the ethnic community. Since 1994, UNITY has held a convention every four years where all its member groups gather.
The 2012 UNITY was different because it marked the first time that the National Association of Black Journalists (the largest group in the alliance) was not involved in a UNITY Convention. The NABJ decided this spring to pull out of UNITY Journalists of Colors, for according to a UNITY press account, financial and governance issues.
After the NABJ pulled out, the name of the organization was changed to UNITY Journalists and the organization enlisted the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association to join the Asian American Journalist Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.
This year’s UNITY was held at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, a beautiful and colossal hotel on the south end of the famed Las Vegas strip. Perhaps because of the hotel’s sheer size, or perhaps because attendance was relatively low, the immediate feeling I got when I walked into the convention was that it was not as crowded and full of buzz as the previous two UNITY conventions.
According to UNITY organizers, about 2000 registered for this year’s convention, a sharp drop from the 7,500 who attended the 2008 convention, when then presidential candidate Barack Obama boosted attendance with a well publicized appearance. The huge Mandalay Bay venue and smaller attendance also meant that I didn’t get a chance to mingle and mix with fellow attendees as much.
I remember in D.C. and Chicago, people were crawling all over the venues and you bumped into people or you sat right next to people all the time, therefore you got to chat with fellow journalists. I must have exchanged 30, 40 business cards at those two conventions.
This year, I had about six. I had to qualify by saying that I did not attend any galas, receptions or parties when networking really took place. So other attendees probably had different experiences from me when it came to networking.
That aside, organizers did a nice job of putting together many good sessions and panels.
I attended the opening planery session titled: A Difficult Conversation: Our Personal Identity and How We Cover Race, Ethnicity, Culture and Gender Issues.” Panelists wer PBS Newshour journalist Ray Saurez, Independent Journalist Helen Zia, Navajo Times Reporter Marley Shebela and CNN executive Mark Whitaker. The discussion ranged from Trayvon Martin to Jeremy Lin. I was curious to see if UNITY would address the NABJ pullout issue at this opening session attended by many convention goers but not a word was spoken about it by UNITY folks.
I also sat in on several forums and I particularly enjoyed two with Asian American connections.
The first one was titled: Emerging Markets, Emerging Jobs. Hosted by CNN associate producer Chi-Chi Zhang, former South China Morning Post Hong Kong journalist Michael Logan and World BizWatch Productions Executive Producer Farland Chang, the panelists shared their experience working in Asian countries and provided tips on how to work as journalists in those emerging Asian countries.
Some of the interesting points I heard was that Burma is probably a good place to venture into because it is relative untouched by journalists and that Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong are good places for western journalists to get a foot hold in Asia. Those places have press freedom and one does not need to speak the local language to get a job with news organizations.
Zhang also raised some very interesting points about her experience working in Communist China. In one of her graphics, she said that “Journalists are the third most dangerous jobs in China.” She relayed her experience covering sensitive stories in China and said that sometimes one has to weigh “How much risks you are willing to take to get a story.”
Overall, the three panelists were knowledgeable in their fields, eager to engage with the audience and provided very good information for journalists interested in working in Asia.
The second session I really enjoyed is titled “From Tiger Mom to Jeremy Lin.” It’s more of a discussion on sociology than about journalism but it was fascinating none the less, mostly due to the excellent panel members. Wall Street Journalist online columnist Jeff Yang, Angry Asian Man blog creator Phil Yu, Wrap News editor Lisa Fung and Metroblogging executive officer Jocelyn Wong engaged in a lively discussion of the two biggest Asian American related stories of the past year–Tiger mom Amy Chua and NBA star Jeremy Lin.
The panelists said that the emergence of Chua and Lin spotlighted attentions on Asian Americans, positively or negatively, from mainstream America. A Wall Street Journal used the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” in its story on Chua’s publication and it created a storm. And the rag to riches story of Lin galvanized not only the Asian American community, but also touched fans of all races. The panelists were particularly pleased by the fact that Chua and Lin not only invited mainstream America to explore Chinese Americans in more detailed lights rather than the typical stereotypical angles, they also energized the normally silence Chinese American community members, who openly spoke of and defended Chua and Lin when inevitably some offensive and hurtful stereotypes and remarks emerged (such as ESPN’s now famous Chink in the Armor headline).
For the panelists, the notion of a tiger mom who forces their Asian sons and daughters to play piano and violin is nothing new. The story of Lin is more inspiring, since Lin’s success on the basketball court proves that Asian Americans can succeed in areas other than medical, engineering and finance, and that they can pursue sports if they choose.
Yu gave a humorous comment to Lin’s case: “Lin proves it’s Ok for Asian Americans to pursue sports as a career–after you got your degree from Harvard.”
There was also a presidential candidate forum. Much to my disappointment, neither candidate made it so I did not attend. President Obama sent Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) to speak on his behalf. It was interesting that Mitt Romney was actually campaigning in North Las Vegas during the convention but chose not to attend and did not send a representative. In 2004, both George W. Bush and John Kerry spoke in the D.C. convention and Obama made a rousing appearance in his home of Chicago in 2008.
There were many other interesting sessions ranging from how to cover minority communities, immigrations and the southwest border, to From Blog to Business, to audio telling workshops, to the emergence of social media in news (I counted four sessions) and how to write for on-line audience.
There was also the exhibition hall where about 100 booths representing news organizations and universities were present to hand out information and in many cases conduct interviews. I am no longer looking for a job. I attended moe to show my support for AAJA and UNITY. If I were I am sure I’d learn some new skills or new ways to market myself at this convention.
Overall, UNITY 2012 was a fantastic experience. Even though attendance was much lower than the previous two, I still found it inspiring to be surrounded by journalists of all colors and ages. I’ll always remember being approached by a young reporter who was working as a student journalist for the convention newspaper. I asked if she was enjoying the convention and she said, “It’s so great to see so many people of color actually working in this field. I can do a lot of networking here.”
I will surely attend the next UNITY, wherever it may be. My hope is the NABJ will return to the alliance by then. UNITY is much stronger with NABJ’s presence.