The California Chicano News Media Association announced Thursday it would no longer present the prestigious Ruben Salazar Journalism Awards during the National Association of Hispanic Journalism’s annual conference, opting instead to present the award at an October event in Los Angeles.
The move was a direct response to an unfolding controversy involving NAHJ’s board of directors and a Wednesday vote to postpone a merger between the two Latino journalism organizations.
While NAHJ maintains the organization will continue to push for a merger — a negotiation that has been underway for two years and would unite the two groups for the first time in 35 years — CCMNA said the board’s decision would undermine the deal.
CCNMA’s decision to bump the Ruben Salazar awards presentation to a local conference, HispanicizeLA, a social-media focused event in Southern California, points to a growing divide between the two organizations.
“We didn’t want to present the Salazar Award under the cloud created by the NAHJ board,” CCNMA President Joseph Rodriguez said in a statement. “It would have been unfair to the winner and finalists and it would have stolen the spotlight away from an award that’s been around for a long time and is quite prestigious.”
NAHJ President Brandon Benavides said Thursday that he was unaware of the board’s plan to review the CCNMA contract at its Wednesday meeting. The national organization was exercising its right to postpone a vote on the contract in a “good faith effort,” he said.
“We wanted to make sure we know our liability and what NAHJ is responsible for,” Benavides said.
Benavides cited concerns about NAHJ’s financial and legal entanglements, including a $13,000 fine from the District of Columbia and a $100 fine from the state of California due to improperly filed taxes.
It was not immediately clear whether the contract had been reviewed by an NAHJ attorney. Benavides said it hadn’t been. But former NAHJ president Mekahlo Medina, who was instrumental in crafting the contract between the two groups, said the issue had been cleared.
When Medina worked on the contract, he faced backlash, but decided to go through with it anyway because he said, he intended for the merger to be positive for both organizations. He also said it was a key element of his residency.
“We’re stronger in numbers,” said Medina, who has been speaking on behalf of CCNMA.
If a new agreement between the two associations is not reached within a month, the planned partnership will dissolve Oct. 6.
NAHJ said in a statement after the Wednesday board meeting that the organization would spend the next month reviewing its partnership contract with CCNMA. Documents outlining the partnership were signed in 2015, but key provisions — namely, the hiring of an administrative manager for both groups — had not yet been implemented.
In a March letter, CCNMA said that NAHJ had not held up its end of the deal and never funded the administrative position. The organization said they were “blindsided” by the vote.
“It’s a lack of leadership, it’s a lack of intelligence,” Medina said. “It’s … not understanding the future of NAHJ and Latinos in general.”
This is a developing story. Follow The Latino Reporter on Twitter @latino_reporter for updates.