Friday, August 30, 2013

Pompousness Trumps Journalism

     A regrettable incident at the Excellence In Journalism 2013 (EIJ13) national conference deservedly garnered much criticism. Panel guests for the Latino Vote session were put in an uncomfortable situation. The how and why isn't as black and white as many would like to make it...each side championing the argument that best suits their point of view.

     What is certain is the end result which has been to the best of my knowledge fairly and accurately reported. What is also certain is the perception of NAHJ organizers cowering to pressure and making poor decisions. While perceptions might not be actual truths - they are truths to those who perceive them. As president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) I have taken full responsibility for the incident (NAHJ President Response To Concerns Raised Over Latino Vote Session at EIJ13). It is a critical lesson that will assist us moving forward.

     There's another lesson still to be discussed: fairness and accuracy in reporting. Our product are the stories we tell. Whether we like it or not...what we put out there people take as truth. Journalists are authority figures with great power and influence. We must responsibly and jealously protect our credibility and integrity...without it, we lose the trust of the community we serve. So, when someone like Ruben Navarrette comes along assaulting NAHJ for his own benefit - we can't just ignore him or worse give him a pass for poor practices because "that's just the way he's always been".

     We are all students of our craft. Here are some of the articles written about the session at EIJ13. All get to the heart of the issue and are fair in their constructive criticism, except for Navarrette. His is the last article.

     -Did CA Assembly Speaker Perez opt for “political bullying” at big Latino convention?

     -NAHJ President Response to Concerns Raised Over Latino Vote Session at EIJ13

     -NAHJ: "Mistakes Were Made" in Organizing Political Panel

     -Opinion: NAHJ political snafu proves Latinos need to start working together

     -Politics trumps journalism

     It took Navarrette about 6 paragraphs and 216 words of generalizations, insults and other rants before he finally got to the heart of the story.

     Here's how he promoted his story:
On FB:
"Here's the money: NAHJ President Hugo Balta, a producer for ESPN, confirmed that someone in the hierarchy was contacted by Perez, but he would not say who it was. He claimed he didn’t know. When I pressed him, Balta shouted: 'You’re harassing me! I’m hanging up now!' He did, but eventually called me back and admitted, 'We made mistakes."

On Twitter: "NAHJ stands for 'Not Actual Honest Journalists."

And when I started criticizing his questionable practices...
On FB:  "If Hugo was as good at protecting the reputation of Latino journalists, and the concept of journalistic integrity, as he is covering his own ass, there would have been no fiasco -- and no offending column."

      The sophomoric personal attacks became worse once I called him out on his bombastic approach. This isn't a concerned journalist or even wounded NAHJ member (on and off again as Navarrette describes). This is a self absorbed, irresponsible pompous opportunist who cut corners in his storytelling in order to increase readership.

      He failed to mention that I took his call and asked that I have time to gather information in order to provide him with a proper response. He didn't write that he continued to push for answers despite the fact that I told him I was driving (in an unfamiliar city) trying to follow GPS instructions. His response to that was "can't you talk and drive?" He was more concerned about SFGate coming out with the story before him than getting accurate information.

     He didn't think it was important to say that even though I was still managing through a national conference; I tried to connect with him several times that day. He didn't care to mention that as promised, I called him back the next day - once I concluded NAHJ business in Anaheim (less than 24 hours since his call). We spent approximately 30 minutes on the phone.

    Navarrette didn't even provide the official response I gave on the matter.

     Now, why do you think that is? It's fair. It's accurate. No, he was late on a story and he had to find an edge to get people all riled up. And so, he showed his true colors - a bully.

     As NAHJ president, people taking swings at me is par for the course...I'm ok with that. What's not ok is for Ruben Navarrette to use NAHJ's great reputation for his own benefit. An association that tirelessly works for its members and the community they serve.

     I've called and sent Navarrette several messages via social media since he posted his story. He isn't extending me the same professional courtesy I did to him. And I know why...

     Deep down inside bullies are cowards who's bark is often bigger than their bite. The difference between people like Navarrete is that while those antagonists talk the talk...people like the fine staff and volunteers at NAHJ (and its partners) who produced an outstanding national conference walk the talk.

     School's out and I'm standing outside, waiting for Navarrette to come call me - but I know he won't.

Hugo Balta
NAHJ President

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