Interest dips as NAHJ elections leave five spots unfilled, three regional candidates unopposed

Candidates that are running for regional director positions in the NAHJ 2021 Elections. L-R, Melissa Macaya, Valerie Juárez and Cristy Farjardo.

FREEPORT, New York — The National Association of Hispanic Journalists represents journalists in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean, but only about half of the regions will have a regional director by the end of this year’s elections.

With voting coming to a close on Saturday, five regional director positions remain vacant, including for Regions 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7. The other three regional positions and the student representative are all running unopposed. 

The level of engagement at this year’s conference heavily contrasts to last year’s elections, in which there was a notably high turnout during board elections — the highest in NAHJ history. Though the elections themselves almost didn’t happen.

In a chaotic turn of events, NAHJ announced that the board had decided to cancel the elections ahead of the 2020 national conference amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The organization said it would instead allow those that held seats to remain in their positions for another year. Several dozen prominent members challenged the cancellation, eventually resulting in a reversal: NAHJ announced it would continue with the elections.

This year, the enthusiasm that flowed following last year’s election snafu has receded. The organization is once again struggling to engage members, convince people to run for leadership positions and, at a more basic level, vote. 

In 2019, candidates for all open seats ran unopposed and less than 5% of eligible members voted.

Nora López, president of NAHJ, said she believes that there won’t be a great voter turnout this year.

“Last year’s election, which was contested, was probably one of our highest turnouts,” López said. “So that was good, but now we’re the ‘no drama’ board, so let’s see if that continues.”

Julio-César Chávez, election committee member and NAHJ national vice president of broadcast, agreed. He said he expects a lower voter turnout than last year due to the fact that this was a virtual convention, there was a regional representative election and there were fewer nominations.

For the five vacancies, López hoped that write-ins would be able to fill the empty spots. If no names are written in, then the NAHJ board will attempt to appoint someone to those positions.

Chávez said the reason there were so many vacancies was because many potential candidates struggled to get the minimum of 10 signatures needed to be eligible to run.

“The first thing we need is for members to be involved in voting. If we have low voting numbers, if we have no nomination numbers, then there’s no incentive to run,” he said. “The key is just to get people engaged with the organization to begin with. That way we don’t have people struggling to get to 10 signatures, which is honestly a pretty low number.”

López added that one of her goals as president has been to encourage members to play more of an active role in the organization, so that there is a high voter turnout and amount of candidates running in the next election. 

“It really starts at the chapter level and so we need to encourage our chapters to grow and to be sustainable,” López said. “Hopefully they can maintain healthy chapters and then they’ll want to serve on the national board as well, so it’s about creating that leadership pipeline within our organization.”

Regional directors represent the members living in their specific geographic region and serve a two-year term. Candidates running statements can be found on NAHJ’s election website.

Region 1, which includes Puerto Rico, Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is not home to any professional NAHJ chapters, but has four student chapters who will not have a regional director immediately following the election. 

Angélica Serrano-Román is running for regional director as a write-in. The freelance reporter for Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism founded the first NAHJ student chapter at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and previously served as the student representative on the board. She said her mission is to reconnect with her region and to help solve the issues that impact the people there.

Region 2 has three professional chapters and two student chapters that will also not have a regional director. New York Times editor Jamie Stockwell was the outgoing director of the region, which consists of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Region 3 has two professional and two student chapters, with incumbent Melissa Macaya running unopposed for regional director. The senior editor at CNN Digital has been the regional director for the past two years, and prior to that served as president of the local NAHJ Washington D.C. chapter for four terms. The region includes Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.

“I want to continue to help support the growth, partnerships and programming of our local chapters, and help our members connect with news organizations in our effort to get more Latinos in newsrooms,” Macaya said in her candidate statement. “The representation and inclusion of Latino journalists in the nation’s capital is crucial.”

Three professional and three student chapters make up Region 4, with no regional director running. Elwyn Lopez, an ABC News correspondent, is the outgoing director of the region that includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Region 5 has three professional chapters and four student chapters that also doesn’t have a candidate running for regional director. Ninette Sosa, a digital media reporter at a NBC and FOX affiliate, was the regional director for the past two years and primarily intended to run again. However, Sosa withdrew her candidacy following her recent appointment as a professor at the University of Arkansas. The region covers Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Region 6 has three professional and three student chapters, with incumbent Valerie Juárez running unopposed for regional director. The multimedia reporter for NBC 26 was appointed as the former regional director last year in November, in which she learned a love for being on the “forefront of change.” The region includes  Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

“I think there is a lot more potential for growth in this region, in terms of membership development, more mixers for people, more events to really get out and for people to get to know each other, as opposed to just having everything being through Zoom,” Juárez said.

Region 7 is home to three professional chapters and two student chapters, with an open position for regional director. Radio news producer Johnny Cordoba was the former regional director of the area that includes Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Region 8, which includes Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, has the most NAHJ chapters, including four professional chapters and nine student chapters. Cristy Farjardo, a journalist at FOX 11 Los Angeles, is running to stay as the regional director for another term, in which she wants to help push for better and more accurate coverage of Latino communities. 

Another race on this year's ballot is the student representative position, which represents all NAHJ student members and serves a one-year term.

Jorge Flores, a student at California State, Fullerton, is running unopposed for student representative. Flores is co-chair of the NAHJ Student Committee and president of the Latino Journalists of CSUF club at his school. Some of his goals include improving communication between chapters, making the NAHJ Student Committee more accessible to student chapters, and increasing diversity and inclusion.

“My passion for working for our Latino community through journalism leads me to constant growth and development for our student chapters,” Flores said in his running statement. Flores is a reporter on the 2021 Latino Reporter staff.

According to NAHJ’s election guidelines, the transition to new leadership will begin as soon as the winning candidates are announced.

Maya Brown is a senior at Stony Brook University, where she studies journalism and political science. She is an intern on the social team at NBC Universal and has previously worked for CNN, WSHU Public Radio and the Long Island Herald. She hopes to pursue a career in political reporting. Reach her at mayaabrown10 [at] aol [dot] com and on Twitter @mayaabrown10.

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