Almost 900 people attended the NAHJ convention in Orlando, an increase from last year’s close to 700. It’s projected the organization’s most important fundraising event will bring in a surplus of $170,000 to $200,000. But that’s nowhere near enough to solve NAHJ’s current financial crisis, which puts into question the future of the 27-year old journalism organization.
In April, the board voted to lay off all staff as a cost-saving measure. Staffers Michele Gonzalez, Azuree Salazar, Paulo Luizaga and Erwin Diaz, will be out of a job effective June 30, right after the convention. Executive Director Iván Román resigned. He’ll stay on until August. Only one part-time employee, Kevin Olivas, will remain, along with the new executive director, who, according to board president Michele Salcedo, will be announced in the next 30 days.
A bright note in the midst of the financial gloom of the organization: PepsiCo, one of the convention sponsors, announced it is contributing $50,000 to NAHJ’s Scholarship Fund. The company was also the main sponsor for the Newsmaker Luncheon, where top-level executives from Spanish-language media talked about the future expansion plans of their companies.
All the executives in the panel said their companies were hiring. The job fair, however, was half the size it was just a few years ago.
Many convention regulars were missing at this year’s event: Maria Elena Salinas and Ray Suarez, two of the most high-profile on-air journalists who have consistently attended the convention in years past, were not in Orlando.
The membership meeting on Friday got very emotional, with members and staffers crying over the layoffs and questioning the organization’s survival. Treasurer Russell Contreras said 2011 would be the last year NAHJ held a last stand-alone convention. The board will seek other organizations to partner with. RTDNA, for example, is partnering with SPJ this year for a joint conference in September. Many members I spoke with do not like or support this idea.
On Friday evening, Ernie Sotomayor, currently assistant dean for Career Services at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, was inducted into the NAHJ Hall of Fame.