Sparks Fly at Latino Journalists' Convention

Sparks Fly at Latino Journalists' Convention

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National Association of Hispanic Journalists members — tempers flaring and emotions running high — packed a general meeting, June 24, in Denver, Colo., during the group's annual convention, demanding answers to concerns about the organization’s financial woes and dwindling membership.

Board members tried to allay their fears, insisting the organization is not in deep debt, despite raiding the scholarship and reserve funds to make ends meet.

They acknowledged that if $125,000 is not raised by year’s end, NAHJ could be in the red. They are looking for members to dig into their pockets — even in this recession in which many have lost or are in fear of losing their jobs — to sustain NAHJ’s future.

Members lobbed a series of questions, concerns and criticisms at board members, with some complaining NAHJ had not adequately communicated its financial woes.

Vicki Adame, a freelance writer and lifetime member, said she feels she has no voice on the board because her income doesn’t come primarily from journalism anymore.

“I will not donate until you give me a place where I will have a say,” she said.

NAHJ executive director Iván Román tried to calm the tense crowd. “I am very hopeful that we are going to make it,” he said. “Please be patient.”

NAHJ officials said the organization’s future includes a commitment to training and continuing annual conventions but not depending on them as “cash cows.”

The association now counts 1,340 members, 40 percent of whom are students. They pay $35 in annual dues versus $75 for regular, associate and academic members.

“I am going to cut to the chase,” said Dino Chiecchi, NAHJ’s immediate past financial officer. “These are troubling financial times for NAHJ. We are in a difficult bind.”

Chiecchi said the association has had to make cuts in order to maintain services to members. Staff took a three-week furlough this past year, and $75,000 was borrowed from the student scholarship fund and another $75,000 from the association’s reserve account after a $300,000 shortfall in 2009. Staff and board members also raised $118,000 last year in an attempt to meet the shortfall.

“The money was borrowed from the student loan and the reserve account in order to survive,” Chiecchi said.

NAHJ officials had hoped to return the funds to the scholarship account, but Román said that the organization’s finances prevented that from happening.

“To me, we are screwed,” NAHJ board member Brandon Benavides said during a panel meeting June 21. “We borrowed money from the scholarship account and we’re not putting it back.

According to Chiecchi, NAHJ is in deficit primarily because of a lack of profit from the Denver convention and fewer vendors who bought booths. He added that in previous years, convention profits were as high as $300,000. Last year in Puerto Rico, NAHJ made a $20,000 profit. This year, the convention is expected to break even.

Corporate and foundation sponsors contributed only $400,000 to NAHJ this year, just half of the $800,000 collected in 2007 during its San Jose, Calif., convention.

On top of that, convention attendance has also rapidly declined since 2006, when 1,800 people converged in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

This year, only 700 people attended the convention in Denver. “Having a profit from the annual conventions is what helps sustain NAHJ’s yearround expenses,” said Román.