NAHJ board asks voters to overhaul the nonprofit’s bylaws to boost membership, expand voting rights

NAHJ President Yvette Cabrera speaks during a Tuesday, July 9. 2024 press conference with the Latino Reporter. JACOB AMARO/LATINO REPORTER

NAHJ leaders want to make sweeping changes to the organization’s bylaws, which dictate how the nonprofit is run and who can serve and vote for positions on its board of directors. If approved by the membership, the new bylaws would take effect immediately.

Board members say the proposal, which will be put to a ratification vote during this year’s annual conference, broadens membership eligibility in ways that reflect shifts in the industry and allow for former journalists and retirees to stay actively involved in the organization. At least 243 members must vote in this year’s election for the vote to be considered valid. Two-thirds of eligible voters must then vote in favor of the changes before voting ends on July 13 at 5 p.m. for the changes to be approved.

Board vice presidents Arelis Hernández and Julio-César Chávez, along with the organization’s Membership Task Force, helped rewrite the bylaws, which would allow certain academic members to run for a broader number of board positions, college students to have a say in regional elections and a new “retired members” category.

“We wanted to make sure that we enfranchise people by including people who were left out of the original bylaws as much as we can,” Hernández said. 

While the organization has made amendments to its bylaws in previous years, national board members said this year’s overhaul was necessary to keep the organization current and growing.

The bylaws, as they stand now, require NAHJ’s student members to study print or broadcast journalism and members eligible to serve as vice-presidents are limited to newspaper and TV-station employees. Freelancers, board members said, are excluded from running. 

The last time the organization saw a revision to its ruling document was in 2018, according to a June 25 presentation to NAHJ members. In 2020, the board proposed numerous referenda that contained similar changes but those did not pass because the minimum number of votes was not reached.  This year, the bylaws are wrapped into one voter referendum, which authors hope may increase its chances of being approved.

Eligibility for NAHJ’s regular membership will also be broadened if the proposed changes are approved by voters. As of the 2024 conference, journalism must be the “principal means of support” for regular members. If the changes are approved, it would only necessitate that journalism make up 51% of a person’s income for them to qualify for regular membership.

Student members would have more power during elections and on the board. According to the current bylaws, students can only vote for student representatives elected to the national board of directors, but student representatives do not have voting privileges within the body. Proposed changes would broaden students’ voting rights to include regional directors. The national board’s student representative would also be granted voting power.

NAHJ Vice President for Print Arelis Hernández discusses proposed changes to the organization’s bylaws at a news conference on Tuesday, July 9, 2024. JACOB AMARO/LATINO REPORTER

Edward Franco, NAHJ’s student representative, said the updates to the bylaws are critical for students to have a greater say in the organization and ensure NAHJ represents their interests. 

“It is crucial for student voices to be heard not just by the student representative but the national board and all NAHJ members,” Franco said. “Giving the student rep full voting authority will be a step forward for student members to have their voices be heard and help enact change for the future of their industry.” 

Retired journalists would also be granted a new status under the proposed revisions. NAHJ has never had a category that would allow retired journalists to stay involved in the organization. To offer a pathway for continued involvement, the bylaws task force created a retired category with full voting rights.  

“It became clear that this is a group of people who still have a lot to give NAHJ and within the existing bylaws there really wasn’t a sort of codified place in which they felt like they still belonged to the organization,” Hernández said. 

Academic members who are professors or teachers who produce public-facing journalism — by running student newsrooms or overseeing publications — would be eligible to run for national board seats beyond the at-large academic officer position. But instructors who do not produce this kind of public-facing work would continue to only be eligible for that seat, officials said.

In the past, proposed changes that increased the voting powers of members who may not be traditional working journalists fanned anxieties over diluting the voting power of those who work primarily in newsrooms.

Chávez said he’s not worried about changes creating a shift on the board where other members outnumber working journalists. 

The bylaws also establish other updates, such as removing gendered language, allowing the national board to have a greater say on issues outside of the annual convention and clarifying membership for journalists whose organizations get financial support from the government. The organization has historically prohibited any employees from government-supported newsrooms from being NAHJ members — as regular members or associate members. 

Chávez said the task force decided to change the wording from “government supported” to “state-owned” in order to give rights to public broadcasting members, such as those who work for outlets like NPR and PBS.

NAHJ officials will announce the results of this year’s election at the end-of-conference gala on Saturday.

Click HERE to read the proposed changes to the NAHJ bylaws.

Juan Pablo Lopez is a graduate student at Georgetown University studying environmental journalism. He is the recipient of the NAHJ White House Correspondents Association Scholarship and a digital intern at Telemundo 44 in Washington, D.C. Juan Pablo aspires to report on political and environmental issues to the Hispanic community. You can reach him at juanpablolopezo24 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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