Elections for a new National Association of Hispanic Journalists board of directors were intensifying at the organization’s annual conference this week as several board members, some of whom were also seeking reelection, mobilized behind their candidates of choice.
The 2022 election comes at a time when the board is finalizing their 5-year strategic plan to guide the organization into a new era. NAHJ’s membership has recently surged past 4,400, and candidates walked the halls of the convention this week, campaigning in person for the first time in two years. They were making promises to address issues such as lagging member engagement, student disenfranchisement, and making sure journalists who work in all mediums feel included in NAHJ’s programing and mission.
Polls, which opened in late July will close on Saturday, the final day of the annual conference.
Outgoing President Nora Lopez said she hopes members turn out to vote in this year’s board race and understand the weight of the tasks ahead.
Members “should want to know who is running and who’s going to be representing them and speaking in their name because NAHJ does try to speak as a whole for our members,” Lopez said. “So it’s really important that members take the time into reviewing candidates and to decide who it is that they want to vote for.”
Tensions build in races
The races for vice president of broadcast and financial officer have become some of the most contested in this year’s election.
Incumbent Julio-Cesar Chavez, who has said he wants to create group chats to connect broadcast members from across the country, help expand access to drone licenses and pursue summer scholarships for student members to travel for internships, is running against Daniela Ibarra, a former student representative and Student Project alumna, who has advocated for widening the supports for broadcast journalists who do not work in television.
General at-large representative Mc Nelly Torres, who is running unopposed for vice president of digital, sent messages to NAHJ members urging them to support Ibarra and boot Chavez off the board, according to someone who received one of these messages.
Torres accused Chavez of being “a disappointment” who has “done nothing,” according to the messages obtained this week by The Latino Reporter.
Torres went on to say that she was frustrated by board members she perceived to use their elected position to pad their resumes and “warm a seat.”
“They won’t even show up at meetings while some of us are here busting our butts,” she wrote. “Let’s change that.”
Torres has been a vocal champion of Ibarra, a criminal justice reporter for KTUL news in Oklahoma who served with Torres on the Investigative and Data Task Force.
Chavez said he reached out to Torres privately to discuss her “objections” to his time on the board.
“I am proud of my work with the NAHJ. I have dedicated two years to this organization because I care about helping Hispanic journalists across the country and across the world,” he said in a text message Friday.
Chavez said he has only missed one meeting in his two-year tenure — a day he was traveling with family that he said he had not seen in years. He added he even joined a special board meeting in May on the day he and his fiancée landed in Italy “running on four hours of sleep.” He listed several accomplishments he said point to his active involvement in the organization, including helping to secure David Peña as the nonprofit’s new executive director, providing hostile environment training for journalists covering unrest and violent protests and creating an initiative to promote freelancers.
“I am not on this board for personal gain or glory,” Chavez said. “I am on this board to help members because I care.”
Torres, when asked about the messages, acknowledged that Chavez attended the majority of meetings and said she was privately sharing her opinions.
“I’m entitled to my opinion,” she said Friday.
Incumbent Julio Cesar Chavez said he wants to “serve our producers, our photographers and our radio reporters” by creating group chats with broadcast members from different regions and apply for grants to fund continuing education opportunities as well as those who can not take time off to attend the conference.
Ibarra said she has had conversations with audio journalists who feel ostracized by the organization, which, she said, puts a large emphasis on television broadcasters. If elected, she said, she would try to change that dynamic.
“I know several members simply in audio who felt like they had been just kind of cast aside and forgotten about and I want that to change,” Ibarra said. “They need the representation and the training and the help that TV broadcasters get.”
In the race for financial officer, Marilyn Garateix — who was nominated and is on the ballot — is being challenged by write-in candidate Patricia Martell, whose bid has been backed by presidential candidate Yvette Cabrera, who is running unopposed.
Cabrera tweeted that “experience matters” and cited Martell’s work at CNBC as proof.
Garateix, a former editor who now freelances, has advocated for a long-term financial plan that ensures NAHJ is on stable ground into the future and said she would consider advocating for a paid-subscription model for The Latino Reporter.
Ibarra, the former student representative running for vice president of broadcast, has supported Garateix.
“You can really tell how she cares about the board, knew about the board and knew about the position that she is running for, ” Ibarra said. “It takes a lot of responsibility to be a financial officer and she’s done her research and she has the experience.”
Martell, who spent the conference handing out bright pink campaign material, said reporting on finances and the economy at CNBC and dealing with finances as co-head of NBCUniversal’s Unidos has prepared her for the role of financial officer. She remains optimistic, she said, despite joining the race as a write-in candidate.
“I don’t feel disadvantaged,” she said. “I think that when members understand my history and what I bring to the table and how I can help elevate [NAHJ] moving forward, then they will see I’m more qualified for this job.”
Pushing for inclusivity
Luis Joel Méndez González, a former student representative and investigative journalist in Puerto Rico, is running for general at-large officer against Estefania Mitre, a visuals and social producer from National Public Radio in Washington, D.C.
The at-large candidates have praised each other and said they will be happy for their opponent, even if they lose.
Méndez González said he wants to implement a diversity task force and change the NAHJ bylaws to give student members and the student representative full voting rights — enabling NAHJ’s sizable student constituency to vote for bylaws changes and other board positions outside of the student representative.
Méndez González cited his previous experience as student representative where he created a program that matches students to NAHJ members that can help them write essays and apply for scholarships, internships and other programs. He said if elected he would advocate for more scholarships for NAHJ members with intersectional identities, including those in the LBGTQ+ community and Afro-Latinos.
Estefania Mitre said she wants to expand outreach to Latinos who are not a part of NAHJ by hosting Twitter Spaces, workshops and make the conference more financially accessible to a wide range of journalists.
Mitre wants to see NAHJ become more inclusive of diverse members, including LGBTQ+ journalists, and shed light on issues like violence against trans women.
‘Up and down’
Election turnout continues to vex board members, who said they’ve pushed members to vote.
“Engagement over the years goes up and goes down,” outgoing NAHJ president Nora Lopez said.
Lopez and several other board members lamented low engagement in last year’s board race, which lacked candidates for several regional board positions. The year prior, NAHJ’s voter turnout broke records after the previous board of directors cancelled the election — citing the pandemic and shift to a virtual conference — but then quickly reversed course and reinstated the race. but the failed initiative led to the highest number of voter engagement that NAHJ has ever seen.
This year, Lopez said, she is “hopeful” that engagement will improve thanks to several contested high-ranking positions.
Vice President of Print Arelis Hernandez, who is seeking reelection unopposed, said the lack of engagement can be challenging but not uncommon for the nonprofit — or others like it.
“I wish there was someone running against me, because then that would show that we’re building a bench of people,” Hernandez said. “But there’s a lot of hard work that we have to do first […] because we have really dynamic, awesome chapter leaders and presidents who could work on the national board.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified one of Julio-Cesar Chavez’s proposals as a program for professional journalists. He is instead proposing a scholarship for students to travel to internships. This story has been updated.
Amanda DeJesus is a senior at Seton Hall University where she studies journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish. She is interested in pursuing a career in print/digital and audio journalism. Reach her at amandadejesus849 [at] gmail [dot] com and on Twitter @itsamandaparis.