NAHJ members leave 2023 conference with unanswered questions, calls for transparency

NAHJ National President Yvette Cabrera speaks during the membership meeting at the NAHJ Miami 2023 International Convention and Training Expo in Miami, Fla., on Sunday, July 16, 2023. AMMY SANCHEZ/LATINO REPORTER

After days of speculation over the sudden resignation of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ top executive and the motivations for withdrawing from a 2024 joint conference with its Black journalist counterpart, NABJ, members of the Latino journalism group confronted board members on Saturday with a litany of questions.

They left with few answers and mounting frustrations. 

David Peña, NAHJ’s executive director until July 28, resigned 12 days before the start of the NAHJ 2023 conference. During the annual gathering, members learned that the organization was pulling out of an agreement with the National Association of Black Journalists to host a conference together in Chicago next year. 

“I trusted you, but because we’re journalists we don’t just operate on trust,” said NAHJ member Dianna Nañez, who expressed her frustration over a lack of clear answers from members of the national board, who assembled on Saturday for a meeting with members. 

“Don’t tell me what you can’t tell me,” she said. “Tell what you can.”

The board’s refusal to address some of these issues head on began on Tuesday during a news conference with the Latino Reporter, during which board members said Peña’s resignation was a “personnel issue” and declined to discuss any details.

As the gathering in Miami came to an end, NAHJ confirmed the organization will host its own conference to celebrate the journalism group’s 40th anniversary in Hollywood, Calif. Officials released a joint statement with NABJ on Saturday about the change of plan. 

During Saturday’s meeting with members, about a dozen journalists asked the board to explain the sudden change of location, and why NAHJ pulled out of the joint conference with NABJ. NAHJ President Yvette Cabrera declined to offer details.

“That is a contract issue and those are legal related matters and I cannot discuss that.” Cabrera said.

Members had voiced concerns about holding this year’s conference in Florida over anxieties related to anti-LGBTQ+ laws and sentiments in the state. Manuelita Beck, an NAHJ member and senior politics editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, said the organization had told those who were worried about this year’s location that moving the gathering was not an option.

She questioned why the same standard was not applied to next year’s conference. 

“There are many people who are very upset with the organization’s response and their unwillingness to accommodate people who did not feel safe coming to Florida,”  Beck said. “Now we’re gonna move because the 40th anniversary is coming? It’s just a very bad look.” 

Geraldine Cols Azócar addresses the board during the NAHJ membership meeting at the NAHJ Miami 2023 International Convention and Training Expo in Miami, Fla., on Sunday, July 16, 2023. AMMY SANCHEZ/LATINO REPORTER

Other members questioned whether NAHJ would take a financial loss for pulling out of the joint conference with NABJ, but the board chose not to comment.

The former president of the Society of Professional Journalists and NAHJ Hall of Famer Rebecca Aguilar said she was concerned that the board did not seem willing or able to provide answers to its constituents.

“They had to put down a deposit. I believe that the president hides behind, ‘We can’t talk about it.’ But why? Did the lawyer say so? Who said it?” she said following the membership meeting.

Aguilar also said she understands Cabrera’s predicament, adding that NAHJ probably doesn’t want to put out information that could lead to misunderstandings. 

Other members brought up an ad printed in the 2023 program that advertises a 40th anniversary celebration in May in California. It states “See you in Hollywood, CA. May 2024 for our 40th Anniversary Conference.”

Some members asked if broadcast journalists whose stations’ fiscal years are already budgeted will be able to allocate the funds to send people to next year’s conference. Cabrera declined to commit to a date for next year’s conference and said the organization would take that into consideration. 

 Cabrera said more information will be released when the board is able to release it.

“The less they say, it’s red flags, it’s speculation, it’s distrust” Aguillar said. “This is a journalism organization, the more open you are the better.”

Ammy Sanchez contributed to this report.

Itzel Giron is a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso majoring in multimedia journalism with a minor in creative writing. She is aspiring to become a broadcast journalist. Reach her at iagiron [at] miners [dot] utep [dot] edu or onTwitter @itzel_anahi_16.

Evelyn Mejia is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln majoring in journalism with a minor in Spanish. She is currently a fellow at The Flatwater Free Press and aspires to become an investigative reporter. Reach her at evelynmejiasal [at] gmail [dot] com or on Twitter at @evelynmejiaaa.

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