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NAHJ meeting gets heated over finances, alleged censorship

BY CAROL KURUVILLA
UNITY NEWS

On one hand, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists is a nonprofit organization that has to answer only to its members.

On the other, NAHJ is an organization of journalists who fight for openness and transparency.

That conflict was front and center Thursday at the NAHJ membership meeting at UNITY 2012.

Under President Michele Salcedo, NAHJ has adopted severe cuts to the budget, including staff layoffs and moving into a virtual office. Whereas NAHJ once had some 15 employees, the organization now has one full-time employee and one part-timer.

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Elwyn Lopez, a freelancer for CCN national desk, reacts to NAHJ President Michele Salcedo’s presentation of the organization’s current fiscal situtation during Thursday’s membership meeting. The non-profit journalism organization has been criticized for its lack of transparency in recent years as the organization’s revenue plummeted. The organization reported a surplus for 2011 and 2012.

The board also decided to reserve seed money only for newly formed chapters, which means established chapters no longer have access to national funds.

While controversial, these policies have led to a surplus for NAHJ in the current budget, after years of being in the red. Russell Contreras, the organization’s financial officer, announced at the meeting that the budget for Fiscal Year 2012 will also result in a surplus.

Contreras is running against Hugo Balta to succeed Salcedo as the NAHJ president.

Monica Rhor, a member of NAHJ for more than 20 years, earlier this year asked the NAHJ board for any financial information the board has considered over the past year. After consulting with a lawyer, Salcedo said, the board decided not to release that information.

Rhor responded by asking for a statement from NAHJ’s lawyer. Although Salcedo insisted at the Thursday meeting that this information was sent, Rhor said later that she went through her emails and had not received a copy.

“I’ve been troubled by some of the board’s actions,” she said after the meeting. “I understand the board’s need to protect NAHJ, but . . . members should have access to the information they request and need.”

Rhor is a mentor for the UNITY student multimedia project but has recused herself from editing any UNITY News stories about NAHJ politics or finances.

Another controversy arose earlier this week when Nadia Khan, a reporter for UNITY News, was asked to leave an NAHJ board meeting that she was covering by live-tweeting. UNITY video lead Joe Vazquez was also told to stop shooting video.

“What struck me was . . . the idea of a journalists’ association not allowing people to be reporters,” said Marisol Bello, an NAHJ member.

Journalists should be able to use social media to report on board meetings, she said.

Salcedo responded that board meetings were open to members but not to journalists. “Because we are a private nonprofit organization, we are not required to be open to the public,” said Salcedo.

Regarding NAHJ’s finances, Salcedo defended the board’s fiscally conservative policies. The tough economic climate requires tightening funds, she said.

“It’s part of becoming prudent about spending,” said Salcedo.

Fernando Diaz, NAHJ’s vice president-online, said that the organization has to improve engagement with its members.

Votes in the ongoing board election numbered only in the “low hundreds” as of Thursday, he said. In contrast, NAHJ had 1,259 members as of July 2012.

“The fact that we’re focusing more on censoring a tweeting student instead of the platforms of each of the candidates and the solid financial footing that we’re leaving is a real travesty,” he said.

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