Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Juan Gonzalez Questions For NAHJ Presidential Candidate Hugo Balta

Dear Hugo and Russell:

The tenor of the NAHJ elections has so far been both disheartening and embarrassing to many longtime members. You’ve both expressed a desire to refrain from any further personal attacks, either directly or through your supporters, and that’s a positive step. I applaud the courage of you both for seeking to lead the organization at such a critical time. But there continues to be too much outcry over the process of the elections, over the details of past finances, over how people are being treated personally, and not enough attention on the substance of how to rescue this organization and move it forward.

We all know NAHJ is in dire financial straits. We should all be thankful that the current board steered it through this long and painful year.

But it is imperative that we raise the level of the debate over NAHJ’s future. In any profound crisis, it becomes easier to point fingers, fight among themselves and split up, than to devise cogent, clear plans that unite the most people and move us forward.

Unless I’m missing something, neither of you has yet presented a cohesive plan or vision for NAHJ. Videos about personal histories and your work experience are all well and good. And slogans like Second Half and Yes We Can are catchy. But some of us are old fashioned. We tend to examine first the philosophy, policies and concrete proposals of a candidate rather than his or her commercials. In addition, given that promises are easier to make than to fulfill, we also examine how well the candidates have fulfilled past commitments.

Joe Torres forwarded to you today a list of media policy issues that a few of us veteran NAHJ members would and other members of your respective slates and independents address..

I have another set of questions, however, on how the two of you envision getting the organization off its feet, from where it is today.

1.    On annual conventions:
Hugo seems to favor moving forward with a national convention in 2013, hopefully in Los Angeles in a hotel, as opposed to a convention center. However, it is already extremely late for booking hotel conventions for next year, NAHJ’s track record in Orlando left it owing money (which will affect it’s credit worthiness with any future hotels), the organization has very little cash on-hand, and Los Angeles is an expensive city for hotels. How do you envision overcoming those obstacles, especially when we currently have only an interim director on staff? Remember, with no regular employees you would then have to hire a convention organization to plan and staff the event and that vendor would end up siphoning off a big portion of any convention revenues.
          Russell, if I am not mistaken, seems to favor making next year a regional convention year, and perhaps partnering in 2014 for a national convention with one of the Unity groups or another national Latino group. His plan would eliminate the risk of incurring greater debt immediately, but it would also eliminate the big draw for national sponsors to give money to NAHJ next year. It would leave NAHJ with virtually no money to service its members during 2013-2014, though the surplus from Unity could go to pay largely the salary of an interim executive director, who could then identify new sources of future funding. So Russell, how long do you think NAHJ can survive with no staff and no office, and when do you see reversing the downward spiral of less money and less services?


Thank you very much for this opportunity.
All of these questions require research, counseling and debate.

As far as taking the convention to Los Angeles, I will lean greatly on CCNMA (who have already reached out to the candidates with a willingness to partner in such an enterprise providing staff and local expertise) and of course NAHJ members. It is my understanding that there is a Los Angeles group who hope to present (to the new board) a plan.

I agree that a convention is Los Angeles will be costly, but there are benefits to offset some of the challenges – primarily destination (for members and sponsors). While I think hotels would be a good alternative to a convention hall….universities might also be a more realistic option.
I wouldn’t dismiss alternatives to a convention in Los Angeles (as long as it is fiscally and logistically prudent for NAHJ and its members). And I wouldn’t force an annual convention in 2013, if it did not make financial sense.

To your point…it might be too late to organize an annual convention in 2013. Such decisions have historically been made by the previous board leading up to the convention (and that is not the case this year).

It’s difficult to answer this question definitively prior to the election. If elected to be president – it will be one of the first items I will direct the new board to research, discuss and decide on.
2.    On student projects, mid-career development, and the Hall of Fame. Hugo, do you favor keeping the student projects next year if you are elected, and how would you pay for them? Russell, how would your “regionals every other year” approach address the student projects? And while your regionals approach would depend on local chapters and regional directors to do most of the organizing work, NAHJ’s track record of allowing local groups to keep some of the money they make from those events, or even their portions of dues money, has not been good. How would your regionals approach strengthen the local chapters? Do both of you envision keeping the Hall of Fame Awards and the journalism awards as annual competitions?


I do not support any program that does not have the funding required to plan and produce it.

I think what was needed in the past two years (as a compliment to or instead of the financial committee) was a fundraising committee. NAHJ, like all not-for-profits relies on fundraising to provide the services to its members. The loss of the staff has crippled NAHJ’s ability to do so.

In speaking with some sponsors there is an interest in supporting the student projects and mid-career training because those programs are in line with their own initiatives (and budget).

The question/challenge is what type of interest (if any) would there be for those programs outside of a national convention.
3.    On the issue of defining regular members. The issue of restricting NAHJ membership to working journalists has been a recurring one since the organization was founded. Clearly the industry has undergone dramatic transformation in the past few years. Many of our members have seen it necessary to go into public relations, while many do now do reporting on blogs and websites, yet earn the bulk of their income from other types of work. But given the enormous power of the public relations industry (the big companies not the small mom-and-pop variety), there is a real danger of NAHJ’s regular membership being inundated by former Latino journalists now working for major companies (just one example, and she is a very good friend of mine, is Mari Santana of Disney, who used to work for Channel 47). Please specify the position both of you on any bylaws changes to the definition of Regular and Associate Members?


It is my opinion that NAHJ needs to accept professionals in the communications industry as regular members and that there needs to be a seat on the Board in order to have their voices heard.

It is clear to me that the new Board will need to look at many of its bylaws and discuss changes that will better reflect the new reality of our industry (and members), make decisions to restore the association without undermining its present and future.

We can look to the other affinity groups who have tackled this same issue (as a guide on what’s best for NAHJ).

I understand and defend the “J” in NAHJ, but I would be foolish (as president) not to discuss changes with the Board and members.
4.    On changing the structure of the NAHJ board. Some veteran NAHJ members, like ex-president Diane Alverio, have favored bringing non-journalists from the corporate or financial world on to the NAHJ board to assist in some areas were our boards have historically been weak – financial oversight, fundraising. Would you favor such an approach? Why or why not? What do you see as the pitfalls or limitations of this?

I agree in exploring bringing non-journalists from the corporate/financial world on to the NAHJ board. We can only benefit from their expertise (that is their 9-5 job).

I do not dismiss any of the hard work by previous boards (and their financial officers); some who have some experience in (or talent for) finances.

But, I say – bring on the experts. It will still be up to the board to make the final decision. The only limitations or pitfalls is in handing over complete control. If the board appoints them, provides a reasonable timetable (with scheduled meetings) to discuss, approve, plan and execute – NAHJ would have much to gain.
5.    On “break-through” fundraising. Over the course of NAHJ’s life, there were three “break-through” ideas that drew major support from philanthropic foundations and media companies and helped the organization grow dramatically. First, was the original idea in the early 1980s to create a national Hispanic journalists group, made possible by several grants of $100,000 from the Gannett foundation that made the birth of NAHJ possible. Then came in the late 1980s, the idea of creating UNITY, which was made possible by huge grants from the Ford Foundation to help all the organizations grow and create our historic alliance. Then in 2003-2004 came the Parity Project, which ended up raising about $1.4 million from the McCormick Tribune Foundaton in several grants, as well as another  $125,000 from the Knight Foundation. It’s my experience that foundations and companies don’t donate money to help you out of a financial bind – they invest in powerful ideas that can bring about change in a society, community or industry. What “break-through” idea have you been mulling over for NAHJ, one for which you would take the lead in developing a business plan for and convincing a major foundation to invest in?


I think media companies are struggling to find candidates who will help them achieve their business goal to effectively target the booming Latino community.

We know that there is no “one way” to reach out to the 50 million + Latinos in the U.S.
The Census likes to put us all into one bucket because it’s simple, but the reality is that we are very diverse (language fluency, race, country of origin (personal or family), etc.)
 There are few Latinos who have the experience (and training) to navigate through both distinct markets (English and Spanish language), understanding of the differences between Latinos in the west coast Vs. the east coast and the sensibilities of a household where often there are preferences in the consumption of news, information and entertainment (English, Spanish, both languages).

     NAHJ can be the resource in helping these companies find these specialized candidates.

     It’s not just about training members at regional conferences and conventions or providing their resumes on the NAHJ website. I’d like to explore the possibility of using a format borrowed from the Parity Project in providing grants to place journalists (at all levels) in newsrooms. The program would be finite (3-6 quarters), specific (project driven), measured (scheduled feedback sessions) and hopefully result in permanent jobs. A rotation perhaps from one market (and platform) to the next during their tenure…field training and experience.

     I’ve had the benefit of working in both markets (English and Spanish) and can attest to the wasted resources (financial and time) by media companies who are looking for a silver bullet (and hiring fly by night experts) when they can be investing in a program that develops journalists, makes them more marketable and assists (the companies) for the long term.
Don’t feel you have to give provide detailed position papers on these questions. A paragraph or two would suffice. Please give us something of substance that we can judge your candidacies on. And good luck to both of you.

Juan Gonzalez

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