NAHJ pulls out of joint 2024 conference with Black journalists association

Volunteer Aneesha Hanif, center, reminds attendees that they must wear their mask at the NABJ-NAHJ Convention and Career Fair in Las Vegas, Nev., on Friday, August 5, 2022. LATINO REPORTER FILE PHOTO

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists will hold its 40th annual conference next year in Hollywood, Calif., an NAHJ spokesman told the Latino Reporter on Friday — not in Chicago, where the organization was scheduled to host a joint conference with the National Association of Black Journalists.

On Saturday, the organization released a joint statement with NABJ announcing the decision to pull apart for next year’s gatherings.

NABJ said the Black journalists organization will be also be celebrating its milestone 50th anniversary in 2025, which will coincide with a conference in Cleveland. NAHJ said that it had “expressed interest in a unique celebration” for its upcoming 40th anniversary next year.

“The organizations periodically host joint conventions, but the upcoming occasions present an opportunity for each to have its own individual spotlight,” the news release said.

NAHJ Spokesman Pepe Xicohténcatl said an official announcement would be made to members at the Hall of Fame Gala and Awards Ceremony on Saturday.

As of Friday morning, NABJ’s website was still promoting the joint conference on its online calendar and urging members to head to Chicago for the “2024 NABJ-NAHJ Convention and Career Fair.” Richard Prince’s Journal-isms blog first reported the news late Thursday the conference would be split next year.

The Chicago conference was scheduled to run from July 31 to August 4, 2024.

The NABJ website was still advertising a joint conference with NAHJ as of Friday, July 14, 2023. SCREENSHOT BY THE LATINO REPORTER

NABJ President Dorothy Tucker did not respond to questions from the Latino Reporter. NABJ Executive Director Drew Berry on Saturday pointed to the joint statement as NABJ’s official response.

Although many members were surprised by the decision to withdraw from next year’s joint conference — and only learned about next year’s Hollywood destination on Friday — a half-page advertisement at the back of the program book heralded next year’s event: “See you in Hollywood, CA May 2024 for our 40th Anniversary Conference.”

It was not clear when the programs were printed or how long before NAHJ’s kickoff in Miami officials knew about the change of venue.

The Latino Reporter reached out to seven members of NAHJ’s national board, but all refused to discuss the reasons behind the decision.

Arelis R. Hernández, national vice president for print, said she did not know when the programs were printed and that “the details were lost in the transition.” When asked about whether the decision to pull out of the joint conference was made by soon-to-be former executive director David Peña Jr. — who announced he would step down as NAHJ’s top executive 12 days before the 2023 Miami conference — Hernandez said the association “cannot discuss personnel matters.”

NAHJ’s interim chief operations officer, Yaneth Guillen-Diaz, also did not respond to requests for comment.

NAHJ President Yvette Cabrera said the Hollywood event would be a homecoming for the organization, which held its first conference in Los Angeles in 1984.

“We’re headed home,” Cabrera said in the news release.

NAHJ’s 2023 conference program contains an advertisement that says the organization would hold its conference in Hollywood, Calif., and not with NABJ in Chicago before it was announced at the Miami 2023 International Convention and Training Expo in Miami, Fla., on Friday, July 14, 2023. ANTHONY BAUTISTA/LATINO REPORTER

Some NAHJ members attending this year’s gathering in Miami were surprised by the decision, but not displeased.

Laura Castañeda, associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion and access and professor at University of Southern California, said she would be glad to have the conference in her backyard and also prefers how smaller conferences operate.

“It’s nice, frankly, to have joint conferences but it’s also nice to have smaller conferences, larger conferences can get unwieldy,” Castañeda said. “I think it can be challenging for everyone involved.”

Other NAHJ members had been looking forward to another year of collaboration with NABJ, they said.

Marc Ray, who attended last year’s joint conference between NABJ and NAHJ in Las Vegas and participated in the 2021 virtual student project, said he enjoyed connecting with journalists from both organizations and even made lasting relationships with members of NABJ.

“When we had it with NABJ, there were more opportunities to network,” Ray said. “I have mentors in NABJ and I hope to see them soon and reconnect.”

This is not the first time that collaborative efforts between diverse journalism organizations have faltered.

Unity, also known as “Unity: Journalists of Color,” and later, “Unity: Journalists for Diversity,” was a coalition of organizations that promoted diversifying the journalism industry. The project consisted of NAHJ, NABJ, the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association and, eventually, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. 

The coalition dissolved in 2018, after about 30 years and regular joint conferences.

NABJ voted to leave Unity in 2011 amid concerns about transparency and the way Unity proceeds were split among the other organizations at the time, officials said. NAHJ voted to leave the group shortly thereafter. The group fully disbanded roughly five years later.

Rafael Olmeda, former NAHJ president and 2009 president of Unity, said NAHJ had to prioritize its own interests and its members.

“For the time being, NAHJ has to do what’s best for NAHJ,” Olmeda said. “I understand the decision, I know people that went to Vegas that felt like we were the step-children of an NABJ conference.”

Olmeda still hopes that the organizations will find a way to collaborate again in the future.

“I think Unity can happen again, it’s only a matter of when and how,” Olmeda said. “We are stronger together than we are as individual organizations.”

NAHJ and NABJ jointly expressed a desire to continue to provide “training and advocacy inside and outside of our successful conferences that also recognize our unique histories, our triumphs and our future.” The organizations said that they “look forward to working together again to further the pursuit of journalists of color.”

No specific dates were provided for any future joint conferences.

Anthony Bautista graduated from California State University in the spring, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications with a concentration in journalism. He is passionate about sports and freelances on the weekends as a sports reporter. Reach him at anthonybautista8125 [at] gmail [dot] com or on Twitter @byanthonyba.

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