Notes on the UNITY Chicago Conference

Posted By on October 20, 2016


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Notes on the UNITY Chicago Conference

UNITY: Journalists for Diversity will be holding a regional conference in Chicago on Friday Oct. 21. Here are notes on my remarks and information on the speakers in my panel and the schedule of the day’s events.


UNITY: Journalists for Diversity in partnership with Loyola University has opened registration for an exciting media summit in Chicago at Loyola University’s Schreiber Center on October 21.

The regional event titled “Rethinking Journalism in the Midwest” on October 21, 2016, will bring journalists from around the country to Loyola University for an event centered on prevalent and emerging issues within the Midwest.

Workshops will include diversity media coverage, community violence, systems issues/municipal finance, journalism tools, future of media and entrepreneurial journalism.

8:00 AM – 8:30 AM – Registration & Continental Breakfast – Wintrust Hall
8:30 AM – 9:15 AM – Welcome & Keynote – Russell Contreras, UNITY Board President; Neal Justin, Planning Committee Chair – Wintrust Hall



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AM Keynote: “The Power of Partnerships”, Teri Arvesu, News Director, Univision
Description: As audiences become more fragmented and newsrooms face challenges in resourcing, effective partnerships not only help offset deficiencies, but can also amplify messaging in order to be a catalyst of change.

9:30 AM – 10:45 AM – Sessions 1 & 2
Workshop #1 – “Forecasting the Future of the Media”
Ray Hanania, Columnist – Southwest News Group newspapers, Columnist the Arab News, Saudi Arabia, writer & owner – Urban Strategies Group media consulting;
Blanca RiosAssignment Desk Editor, ABC News 7 Chicago;
Tracy BaimPublisher & Executive Editor, Windy City News;
Moderator, Ameet Sachdev, former Tribune health industry reporter, now VP at Res Publica Public Affairs.

Description: News media is changing everyday, from information gathering and sourcing through social media, to opting out of desktops and into mobile devices. Everything points to covering and writing about issues faster and with more content. A candid discussion on how reporters balance the pressure of ‘feeding the beast’ while staying grounded on journalism principles of fact gathering and reliable reporting.


Workshop #2 – “The Power of Startups: Starting Your Own Media Company”
Panel: Eric Ortiz, CEO, Evrybit and Managing Editor, Truthdig; DeShuna Spencer, CEO, kweli TV and; Barbara E. Allen, Filmmaker and Executive Director, Middle Passage Productions, Inc.; Moderator, Jackie Serrato, Independent Journalist, DNAinfo, City Bureau, La Villita Page.

Description: Startups are changing the way media is created and consumed amid a changing landscape. Learn how these entrepreneurs are putting their ideas in action and promoting their plan.

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM – Luncheon Forum – “Our Stories, Our Voices: How We Diversify the News”

Panel: Margaret Holt, Standards Editor, Chicago Tribune; Paul Street, Author, Social Critic, Political Commentator; Leah Hope, Reporter, ABC 7 News Chicago; Adriana Cardona-Maguigad, Investigative Producer/Reporter, Univision Chicago; Moderator, Richard Prince, Journalist.

Description: Newsrooms need to be representative of the communities they cover. See how media organizations are reaching emerging audiences and strengthening coverage of race, identity and inequality.

12:45 PM – 2:00 PM – Sessions 3 & 4
Workshop #3 – “Community Violence: Beyond the Streets and into the Coverage”
Panel: Susy Schultz – President, Public Narrative; George Villanueva – Assistant Professor of Advocacy and Social Change, School of Communication at Loyola University Chicago; Jamie Kalven – Invisible Institute.

Description: Among the challenges covering community violence is getting to the heart of the story through effective community engagement. This workshop shares those challenges and discusses strategies from those who have delved into the issue.
Workshop #4 – “Harassment In and Out of the Newsroom”

Panel: Lucy Westcott, Reporter, Newsweek;
Tracy Samantha Schmidt, Founder,;
Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago;
Moderator, Mi-Ai Parrish, Publisher, Arizona Republic.

Description: Accusations of inappropriate, and often illegal behavior while reporters are trying to do their jobs continue to emerge. Yet most accounts go unreported. How much progress, if any, has journalism made in regards to dealing with sexual harassment in its own shops, on the beat and on social media? What steps should employees take when facing such an ordeal?

Chicago Mayor Harold Washington with the Chicago City Hall press corp in 1985

Chicago Mayor Harold Washington with the Chicago City Hall press corp in 1985

2:15 PM – 3:30 PM – Sessions 5 & 6
Workshop #5 – “Nifty Tools to Hold Powerful People Accountable”
Panel: Aimee Levitt, Reporter, Chicago Reader;

Description: From public records to web scraping to video apps to plain old dogged reporting, what tools and techniques can journalists use to keep the powerful in check and to engage all members of the community?
Workshop #6 – “When Disadvantage is Systematic: Digging Beyond the Surface.”
Panel: TBA

3:45 PM – 4:30 PM – Closing Remarks & Keynote – Russell Contreras, UNITY Board President – Wintrust Hall

PM Keynote: Karyn J. Taylor, Trial Consultant, The Strategic ImageSM; former Producer for CBS News 60 Minutes, ABC News Close-up and 20/20, and PBS Frontline.
“Journalism Reboot: Looking Back to Chart a New Way Forward”

Description: The news business has changed drastically since the late 1970s when the first wave of journalists of color breached the lily-white, all male bastion known as network television news. Those first pioneers came of age as producers, correspondents, and anchors in an industry defined by Cronkite, Sevareid, and Brinkley, but one mired in all the racism, sexism, and cronyism of the day. In a no-holds barred (but strictly off-the-record) analysis of how they succeeded and where they failed, we’ll use their 20/20 hindsight to explore how we can chart a new course for our industry, short circuit the violence in our communities, and make our voices truly count.


Here is a link to campus parking
Campus Map
A room block has been established in downtown Chicago for $185.00 per night plus tax:(seven minute walk to the Loyola Water Tower Campus)
Millenium Hotel Knickerbocker Chicago
163 E. Walton Place, Chicago, IL 60611
Group Code: 1610UJDLOY
Rate: $185.00 before taxes and fees
Dates Available: 10/20/16 – 10/22/16
Website: Click here to book online for the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel
Have questions about Regional Media Summit: Rethinking Journalism in the Midwest? Contact UNITY: Journalists for Diversity
Save This Event
When & Where

Loyola University – Water Tower Campus
Schreiber Center, Wintrust Hall, 9th Floor
16 E. Pearson Street
Chicago, IL 60611


Thoughts on the future of media in the Midwest

UNITY Conference October 21, 2016

By Ray Hanania

The future is bright for independent, community and ethnic media. The internet has created new delivery methods to reach wider audiences. But the economic pressure on the mainstream news media and its reduction in staffing has resulted in less coverage of community and ethnic news. If you want that news, and many more people do today, you need to go directly to the ethnic media.


The internet is amazing as a vehicle for community and ethnic media because it makes it easier for people to find you. You don’t have to have your newspapers at every news stand, which is impossible because the newsstands are controlled by the distributors.

Community newspapers can’t get onto the news racks in many locations like 7-Eleven for example.

But while the mainstream print media is seeing circulation drops, broadcast news remains pretty strong and compelling. My daily structure involves watching the news on TV in the morning and at night, and listening to news radio during my rush hour drives and weekend drives … The Internet can’t replace that although we are seeing more and more live broadcasts on Facebook and other social media.

So for the community media and ethnic media, the future is much brighter today than it was.

The mainstream media still doesn’t get the significance of ethnic news and minority minorities … these are minorities that are outside the mainstream minority community of Blacks and Hispanics. That’s one reason why the Asian media has been empathetic to these minority minorities like Arabs and Arab Muslims.

In addition to columns in the community media, I also write for publications in the Middle East. The archive websites where I host my writings, has huge readership statistics and the second site is growing …

I think online readership is significantly larger than the actual print readership for many minority minorities like Arabs and Arab Muslims.

We’re a growing demographic that the mainstream news media still hasn’t address and that the Internet is servicing.

+ + +

One of my first assignments covering the Nazi march in Marquette Park in 1978 for the Daily Southtown community newspaper.

One of my first assignments covering the Nazi march in Marquette Park in 1978 for the Daily Southtown community newspaper.

From my standpoint as a former mainstream journalist covering Chicago City Hall (1976-1992) who is now more of an “ethnic focused columnist,” today’s journalism world is much brighter.

As someone who is intensely interested in writing about the experiences of American Arabs and Arab Muslims, it’s far easier today than it was 40 years ago when I first entered journalism.

In 1976, the mainstream news media was much larger than it is today. There were far more newspapers. The industry was really competitive in covering news. That competition was a critical factor in contributing to the drive for excellence and breaking news. The scoop was important back then.

I used to write to several deadlines from City Hall, one at 10 am, one at 3 pm and one at 6 pm. The news changed and with it the coverage. News was delivered in different editions of the newspaper.

Ray Hanania at the studios at WJJG. I worked at WLS AM Radio from 1982 until 1992, and also for WBBM FM, WLUP FM, and many other radio stations hosting talk radio formats.

Ray Hanania at the studios at WJJG. I worked at WLS AM Radio from 1982 until 1992, and also for WBBM FM, WLUP FM, and many other radio stations hosting talk radio formats.

The newspaper was the alpha media at that time and it fed the broadcast media. Many TV and radio broadcast news reports basically followed up on newspaper reporting and newspaper reporters often were the primary source for discussions and talk formats.

The community newspaper worked in a defined geographic environment and the community press shared the stage in its neighborhood and community with the major daily newspapers and broadcast media. But they rarely went outside of their “community circle.”

The ethnic media was weak and reflected the health of the community it represented. The African American and Hispanic media were very strong and developed partnerships and mergings with the mainstream news media. But there was a group of “minority minorities” that were left out, like Arab Americans and Arab Muslims, and other Asian ethnic groups.

(By the way, that is one reason why the Asian American media and community have been more welcoming to the Arab American and Arab Muslim news media. The Asian American Journalists Association was one of the first professional journalism organizations to fully open its doors to American Arab journalists. Asian Americans supported American Arabs as they grew into mainstream professional journalism.)

It was just a typewriter and a telephone, back then.

Ray Hanania on radio

Ray Hanania on radio

Today, things have changed.

There are far fewer mainstream newspapers, and TV and radio broadcasting have enhanced their role in news reporting and delivery.

And the Internet is media now shares its space with the rest of the world through the Internet. The Internet has allowed the media to expand its delivery to readers and viewers who might not have ordinarily been in the original delivery zones of the mainstream news media. But today, everyone can be a “journalist.” Everyone can express their opinions through their own Blogs and websites.

The most significant change again is the broadening of the audience that the community and ethnic news media could reach.

This is most reflected in the ethnic media of “minority minorities” like American Arabs.

The mainstream news media has gobbled up most of the community news media. But the ethnic media has found new independence and is growing via the Internet.

My news website, which features the writings of some 15 other American Arabs, reaches more than 500,000 readers each month. You could never reach that level by simply publishing a print newspaper once each month or twice each month.

There are about 60 Arab American newspapers in America today that publish monthly or twice monthly, and only one that publishes weekly in Detroit. And there are only a few Arab radio stations, and three Arab cable TV programs, not including the Middle East Arab media like Al Jazeera or Al Arabiya which also provide news but news mainly focused on the Middle East.

Only recently, publications like Al Jazeera in Qatar and the Arab News in Saudi Arabia, where I write, have hired American Arabs to report on American Arab news, features and opinion perspectives. Hopefully, we’ll see more of that.


Some additional Observations about Arab American and Arab Muslims in America

For UNITY, October 21, 2016 Loyola University Conference Center, Chicago Loop

My journalism experience as an ethnic writer

By Ray Hanania

For a long time, American Arabs pushed to be involved in UNITY and I want to thank the board and its membership for opening that door wide during the past few years, and engaging Arab journalists in their regional conferences in Detroit and here…

Adapting to today’s world of journalism is not easy. Everyone is and can be a “journalist” now thanks to the advances in technology and the Internet. But they’re really not all journalists.

I was lucky to cover Chicago City Hall at one of its most tumultuous of times, 17 years from 1976 through 1992 covering Richard J. Daley and every mayor through Richard M. Daley, for the Chicago Sun-Times.

But being Arab always put me in a different place from other journalists because Arabs are stereotyped in a horrible way in this country. Even today, Daley’s successor Mayor Rahm Emanuel has rejected my requests to interview him.

It’s about being Arab and the aura of controversy that is imposed on us through misinformation, stereotypes, discrimination and racism.

American Arabs today are victims; and we act like victims. We’re defensive. We’re constantly beaten up in the media. The media includes entertainment where Arabs dominate the cast of terrorists, murderers and mayhem …. People have been taught to fear us and to hate us.

Worse, the Arab identity is being erased, and the focus is shifting to Muslims and Islam.

Americans are the most educated people in the World but the least educated about the world. Most people think I am Muslim. I am Christian, Orthodox, who happens to be married to a Jew with a Jewish son. You should have been to his bar mitzvah. Turns out Israelis and Palestinians get along great together.

Arabs are excluded from almost everything and we have to fight our way in. The U.S. Census is a good example. Inclusion in the Census allows for empowerment. When you have no real statistics on your demographics, it makes it easier to suppress a community.

Here are some estimates: There are 7 million Muslims in America, and only 22 percent are Arab. Being Muslim is NOT about being Arab.

There are 4.5 million Arabs in America. The majority, 65 percent, are Christian like myself. You wouldn’t know that from the way the media mis-portrays Arabs.

I fought my way into journalism in 1975. I was serving Active Duty during the Vietnam War in 1973 when I saw an Israeli and Arab debate on national TV. The Israeli looked, sounded and acted more American than most Americans. The Arab was confrontational, disheveled. Unshaven. Heavy accented. Dressed shabbily. And, he was angry, blaming the audience – Americans – for all his problems.

I recognized the problem and decided to change my college major from pre-Med to journalism and communications. I recognized the problem in the debate that day was in how each side presented their message to the “audience.” One knew his audience very well, the other did not.

It’s not what you say, but how you say it. If you want to influence Americans, you don’t just speak English. You speak “American.” The more you look and sound like them, the more they will embrace you. The less you look and sound like them, the more they will push you away.

It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about identifying with someone. It’s about appearing to be a friend, or a stranger. Americans will believe almost anything from a friend. They will shut out almost everyone who is a stranger.

As an Arab in a country that despises Arabs, I’ve been forced to fight my way every step of the way.

The very day I was Honorably discharged from U.S. Military Service, the FBI opened a two year-long investigation into my life. I didn’t know until years later. Bankers cancelled my bank accounts. People distanced themselves from me. I was fired from a job.

I got into journalism by hand writing Letters to the Editor every week, 10 pages long, reacting to the biased, racistly anti-Arab news media and delivering them to the local newspaper, the Southtown Economist. Eventually, the editor Marlin Landwehr, offered me a job, probably just to get me off his back.

I was told to keep my opinions to my side of the typewriter. And I did, until I started to notice not everyone else did. They wrote about their communities all the time. When I was hired by the Sun-Times, I wanted to write about being Arab American.

That was the career ender. They were so angry when I demanded in 1990 to be a part of a team of Jewish reporters they were sending to Israel to write a special 50 page magazine insert on Israel’s 48th Anniversary. I was the only Palestinian working fulltime at a major American newspaper, at the time. The Palestinian Intifada was raging. It made sense. But they fought with me and threatened me. They would fire me if I made any mistakes. And they did.

In the past, that would be the end of the journalism line. But I left journalism just as the Internet was entering our lives.

The Internet has given voice to ethnic and racial “minority minorities” like Arabs, allowing us to publish our views and opinions, and to distribute them widely all over the world.

Today, I write about Chicagoland politics and mainstream issues, baby boomers and lifestyle for the Des Plaines Valley News, the Southwest News-Herald, the Regional News and the Reporter Newspapers.

I also write for many Middle East newspapers, including a weekly column for the Jerusalem Post and Yedioth Ahronoth. Today, I write a weekly column for the Arab News in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

My websites are and

But being an independent journalist means I have to generate my own income, so I have to work in communications. And I do very well.

It’s too expensive to be a journalist. Unless you are salaried by one of the big media giants, it’s tough to survive as an independent journalist. And they definitely will not hire a loud-mouthed Arab who wants to challenge anti-Arab bigotry and bias.

I spend a lot of time writing books about who we are as Arabs. My first book is I’m Glad I Look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America, which offered the reality of life challenges for Arabs in a humorous way. The title of the book was recommended by a former editor and friend, Bernie Judge. The second is called “Arabs of Chicagoland,” which looks at the history of Arab settlement here. Numerous publishers said no one would read, let alone buy, a book about American Arab history and society. But they would if I delved into the pattern of terrorism and violence in America’s Arab community. It was finally picked up by Arcadia Publishing and it did well. And my most recent book is called PoweR PR: The Ethnic Activists Guide to Strategic Communications. I have a new book coming out next year on Chicago City Hall politics.

I’m no Gary Webb, but I sympathize with what he went through. The world of the Internet and social media has allowed me to build an online network that brings my opinions and my experience directly to people who might never see or read about those experiences in the mainstream news media.

Diversity is important but it must include minority minorities like myself. That’s why UNITY is so important.

This country will never truly be safe if we don’t understand the people we fear the most and recognize they are just like us.

I never wanted to be a journalist or an Arab Journalist. Just like the majority of Arabs, I just wanted to be treated fairly.

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at, and at, and at He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper,, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

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Ray Hanania


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