NICARAGUA — A year after shattering a membership record of 3,000, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists has blown past yet another milestone: 4,000 members.
Taking advantage of his Twitter community and network, Robert Hernandez, a former member of the NAHJ board, helped start a trend that has contributed to the growth of NAHJ for two consecutive years.
During the days leading up to last year’s virtual conference, which was hosted by NAHJ and the National Association of Black Journalists last summer, Hernandez tweeted that NAHJ was close to having 3,000 members. Soon, colleagues began to offer to sponsor others’ memberships to help NAHJ reach the goal.
“It was like a well-oiled machine — getting names, emailing the people confirming they want it and giving them the instructions,” Hernandez said.
This year, something similar happened.
Yunuen Bonaparte, NAHJ's training and membership coordinator, sent a message to her team via Slack on June 17 saying the organization was a couple of hundred members away from reaching the 4,000 milestone. Her update was included in the NAHJ email newsletter and ignited Hernandez’s drive to continue paying it forward to benefit the organization by doing a callout on Slack and Twitter.
“One of the things that's really fascinating is that we got to the numbers faster than I thought,” Hernandez said, “meaning that people were inspired.”
Amanda Zamora, co-founder and publisher of The 19th News, backed the first 30 memberships toward the goal.
“It was a way to be able to both help with the membership goal and give back myself,” Zamora said.
The membership campaign came at a perfect time, she said, because people shared what resources they had in order to support others after a rough year — on a personal and professional level — for those in the media industry.
“The best part of what happened is just to kind of see how one spark led to another spark of people participating and contributing,” Zamora said. “That part's really awesome.”
By spreading the word on social media, people were not only inspired to donate but were as well reminded of renewing their own memberships or having their employers cover it, which also helped reach the 4,000 milestone.
“We give and take care of each other,” Hernandez said. “And this was just a natural extension of that.”
”Following Zamora's steps, Iliana Limón Romero, the deputy Sports editor at the Los Angeles Times and NAHJ’s Sports Task Force co-chair, equally donated 30 memberships. After Hernandez did his call for action, “it was a matter of joining and helping get everybody else excited about it," Limón Romero said.
This was Limón Romero’s second year contributing in ramping up NAHJ membership, which she said, can help people leverage their careers and contribute to having more Latinos in news.
“I've met some of my best friends, and some really outstanding mentors through NAHJ,” Limón Romero said. “Once I had that positive experience, I really wanted to offer that to other people.”
People are hesitant to join for various reasons, including not having heard about the organization before, not having had the money to join right away or not knowing that despite their heritage, as long as they believe in NAHJ’s mission of having more Latinos in news, they are welcome to join, Hernandez remarked.
As of Saturday, the last full day of the 2021 NAHJ conference, the organization had logged 4,440 active members.
Since the #NAHJ4000 campaign began on June 17, a total of 709 people renewed or got a new membership. Of those, 215 were sponsored by the fundraiser led by lifetime member Hernandez, including 33 renewals and 182 new members, according to NAHJ records. The annual membership price is $25 for students and $35 for regular academic and associate people.
Héctor García de León, 22, a recent broadcast journalism graduate from University of Central Florida in Orlando, said he knew he could renew his membership for free thanks to Limón Romero’s tweets. He filled out Hernandez’s Google Form immediately and within 30 minutes had heard back and completed his renewal.
“I did everything very quickly because I knew there were only a certain amount of spots,” García de León said. “I wanted to make sure I was one of them.”
NAHJ has been very helpful for him in connecting with people and learning about the industry, he said. He is now a summer visual intern with the USA Today network.
Being able to renew his NAHJ membership for free felt like a relief, he said, especially as a recent graduate searching for job opportunities while also paying bills and for basic necessities. He would would like to give back in the same way one day in the future, he added.
The chance of a free registration also benefited Nate Perez, 31, a general assignment reporter who covers indigenous communities in Wyoming for the Casper Star-Tribune.
Though he went to journalism school in Los Angeles, he had only worked in marketing and as a freelance writer in California. But eight months ago, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, he moved to Wyoming so he could start his journalism career.
“I knew I always wanted to get back to that,” he said.
When he saw Hernandez’s callout a year into his first membership, he thought it was the perfect time and opportunity to renew it.
As a new worker in journalism, he knew renewing his membership would come in handy to make connections and grow in the industry, Perez said. On top of that, journalists don’t make a lot of money and every opportunity to save up money is welcome, he added.
Through opportunities, such as the NAHJ career center, he has been reached out to by recruiters, which has served as a motivation to continue trying to do a good job and grow in his career, Perez said.
“It's just nice to have a resource and a community behind me,” Perez said, pointing out it’s important to have representation in newsrooms and in the overall media industry.
Hernandez had the privilege to pay for the 4,000th membership, he said. He did so in honor of Yaneth Guillen, NAHJ membership director, for the hard work she does.
“That membership changes somebody's life,” Hernandez said. “It allows a student to apply for a scholarship to possibly go on that CNN fellowship, or the ABC News fellowship.”
Hernandez said there still are about a dozen donated memberships to give away.
Aurora Martínez is a junior at the University of Florida, where she studies journalism. In 2021, she was awarded a grant to help educate diabetes patients in her home country of Nicaragua. She has worked at WUFT News, an affiliate of NPR in Gainesville, Fla., and its Spanish-language counterpart, Noticias WUFT. In the fall, she will return as an assistant producer for Noticias WUFT. Reach her at auroraceciliam [at] gmail [dot] com and on Twitter @AuroraCeciliaM.