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Minority Journalists Congregate for Historic Meeting in Atlanta

July 24, 1994 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) _ Black, Asian, Hispanic and American Indian journalists, once barely visible in an industry dominated by white men, are joining forces this week at a conference called Unity ’94.

Almost 6,000 members of the four distinct professional groups will meet together for the first time since they were founded in the 1970s and ’80s. Also attending in observer capacity will be members of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, which was formed in 1990, after planning for Unity was under way.

″The portrayals of these communities have been very similar,″ said Paul DeMain, president of the Native American Journalists Association and of Unity’s board of directors.

″Someone else, mainly white males of European descent, has been portraying us for us. We don’t want to control that portrayal, but we do want to contribute.″

The conference starts Tuesday with a town hall meeting moderated by talk show host Geraldo Rivera. Groups in Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., will be linked by satellite to discuss coverage of women, racial minorities and homosexuals. The conference ends Saturday.

Each of the groups, which also include the Asian-American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, will hold its annual convention at the Atlanta meeting.

Scheduled seminars cover such topics as eliminating myths and stereotypes and perfecting the on-air look.

Organizers say two of Unity’s goals are to increase the number of minorities in journalism and to change the way the news media portray minorities.

″With Asians, we’re all portrayed as rocket scientists or gangsters, and there’s no one in between,″ said Lily Eng, a reporter at The Seattle Times. Eng is both a member of the Asian organization and a director of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

″With gays and lesbians,″ she continued, ″the media have covered it the same way. We’re either all pedophiles or drag queens.″

The organizations wouldn’t be needed if the industry were more diverse, said Diane Alverio, president of the Hispanic journalists. ″Our groups just keep getting bigger and stronger, but our goal is to work ourselves out of business.″

Conference organizers hope to set up a network that will help promote minorities into all levels of journalism.

″Some of the hiring is in place, but it’s all at the entry level. No one is rising to the top,″ Ms. Alverio said.

The conference’s biggest attraction may be its job fair, which gives journalists a chance to speak to representatives of 200 news organizations and other potential employers and, in turn, presents media recruiters with an opportunity to diversify their newsrooms.

Riche Daniel, a junior at Atlanta’s Spelman College, has a summer internship at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and says she will use the conference to help decide what career she wants.

″It’s a great way to interact with journalists in different fields and from different backgrounds,″ she said. ″You can get a lot of ideas, even if you’re not sure right now which way you want to go.″

Another goal of the conference is to let minority communities know the news media are accessible to them, said Dorothy Gilliam, a Washington Post columnist and president of the black journalists.

″We want to make some walls fall in Atlanta next week,″ she said, ″between members of the four organizations, between minority journalists and media executives, and finally between journalists and the public.″