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Hispanic Journalists feel industry´s pain - A little extra

 With tempers flaring and emotions running high, members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists packed a general meeting room in Denver during the…

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

Its officers tried to allay their fears, insisting the association is not exactly in debt despite raiding the scholarship and reserve funds to make ends meet. Leaders acknowledged that if an extra $125,000 is not raised by year’s end, NAHJ could indeed be in the red.

   NAHJ  asking members to dig deep into their own  pockets — even in this recession in which many have lost or are in fear of losing their jobs — to sustain NAHJ’s future.

   Members barraged NAHJ’s leaders with a series of concerns and criticisms. It had not adequately communicated its financial woes, they complained.
   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.”

   His answer echoes a concern cutting through the entire journalism profession as it tries to contend with the double whammy of a dragging national recession and changing public habits relating to how people choose to get their news.

   Massive staffing cuts, financial balance sheets and increasing public indifference about affirmative action show that Hispanics, blacks and other racial and ethnic groups are taking the biggest hits.

   Overall, in a country that’s nearly a third non-white, whites still comprise 85 percent of newspersons working for daily newspapers. Hispanics, 15 percent of the population, make up less than five percent of journalists working for the daily press.  
   NAHJ officials say the organization’s future includes a commitment to reaching ethnic parity in the business using their annual conventions as a major tool to recruit and train more Latinos but to depend on them no more as “cash cows.”

   In past years, convention profits ranged as high as $300,000. This year, NAHJ will do well to break even after the final accounting. Corporate and foundation sponsors pitched in with only $400,000 to cover its program costs this year,  just half of the $800,000 collected in 2007 during its San Jose, Calif., convention.

   Attendance has declined consistently since 2006, when 1,800 people converged on the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., convention. This year, only 700 showed up. 
   Founded in 1982, the association now counts 1,340 members, down several hundred from a few years ago. Forty percent of those are students, who pay only $35 in annual dues versus $75 for regular, associate and academic memberships.
   “I am going to cut to the chase,” said Dino Chiecchi, NAHJ financial officer who did not seek reelection at the convention. “We are in a difficult bind.”
   Chiecchi said the association had to borrow and cut “to survive.” The sum of $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.

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

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   Staff, already lean, was pressed to take three-week “furloughs” this year.  

   “We are screwed,” NAHJ board member Brandon Benavides said during a June 21 panel meeting

    Executive director Iván Román framed the association’s dilemma more genteelly, but with no less urgency. “Having a profit from the annual conventions is what helps sustain NAHJ’s programs year-round. If there isn’t a profit, it makes it difficult to stay afloat.”

   Ricardo Pimentel, who completed his two-year term as NAHJ president at the convention, maintained that the association is not in the red — yet. He urged members to contribute to the “Denver Challenge,” a fund drive to raise $25,000 to receive benefit of a matching grant.
   “We are not in the red. If we do nothing for the rest of the year, then we will be,” said Pimentel, who is editorial page editor at the Milwaukee Journal. “We are suffering as an industry. It has been two years of people losing jobs and being fearful, but we will get through this.”

   (Ernesto López is a spring journalism graduate from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, Calif. He wrote for the convention newspaper Latino Reporter. Email him at: [email protected])

©2010

 

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