Abu-Jamal's death sentence has been stayed, with a hearing on a possible retrial in recess until next month.
Several NABJ chapters, including Philadelphia's and New York's, have called for a new trial because of reports of errors, inconsistencies and alleged racism in the 1982 conviction and death sentence. Free-Mumia groups have picketed the convention to accuse NABJ of failing to stand up for one of its own.
The board earlier this week called for journalists to "do what they are professionally trained to do" and bring out the truth of the case. But it sided with those who said that a stand calling for a new trial would compromise members' objectivity to cover the case.
The closed debate, heated at times and filled with conflicting and overlapping motions, according to participants, involved more than 100 of the estimated 2,200 delegates in the hotel.
"This is an association of journalists, not an association of activists," said Kenneth Cooper, who covers Congress for the Washington Post and who opposed NABJ support for a new trial. "Our role is to get the word out. We do not take a stand and become part of the story."
NABJ founder Joe Davidson, a new-trial advocate, said he offered the wording that was finally adopted, but abstained on the final vote because it was "used as a tool to deny language calling for a new trial."
On an earlier vote, he said, his wording passed overwhelmingly. Following that was a much narrower vote that called for a new trial, which the final vote in effect overruled.
The final statement of the organization's position said, "The National Association of Black Journalists, believing in the sanctity of life and justice for all, hereby calls for a full and fair disclosure and judicial review of all the facts involving the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal."