Some believe giving public relations professionals a vote dilutes mission
By BENÉT J. WILSON
Members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists will soon decide whether to make public relations professionals full members, a move for which not all members are comfortable.
Leaders of the association say the changes are designed to help NAHJ fulfill its mission of putting more Latinos in mainstream U.S. newsrooms.
The association’s current bylaws call for regular, academic, associate, student and honorary memberships. Those who support the association may join, but currently are not allowed to vote. A new proposal will change that, enabling those in media-related professions to also become fully vested members with the right to vote in association elections, said NAHJ president, Mekahlo Medina.
“We looked at other organizations who made similar changes, looked at how they did it and saw how they opened up their membership,” Medina added. “It’s simple. If you join an organization and pay a fee, you should have a vote.”
The association’s bylaws have not changed in 20 years, and some within NAHJ, including Medina, believe that it is now time to revisit and streamline membership classifications. But not all agree.
Patricia Guadalupe is vice president of NAHJ’s Washington, D.C., chapter and a freelance journalist. “One of my concerns with the proposed bylaws is that it adds people who are not full-time working journalists as full members. That changes what the organization is,” she said.
Guadalupe said she has no problem with PR and communications professionals joining NAHJ. “But it’s different when they can become full voting members. Other journalism organizations have different membership categories,” she said. I feel like this is being done to increase our membership, but it fundamentally changes what our organization is.”
Yvonne Latty is an NAHJ at-large board member and a journalism professor at New York University. She feels PR/communications professionals should be allowed full voting membership. “We talked about whether PR people should be full members at our spring meeting when Hugo [Balta] was still president,” she said.
There are lots of PR people now who are former journalists, said Latty. “These members stayed loyal, paying dues, volunteering and doing everything they are asked, but they can’t vote,” she said. “I think that it’s unfair to ask them for money and help, but not give them the right to vote.”
The bottom line is that the business is changing and the organization needs to change with it, said Latty. “As people of color, why are we holding onto a model that no longer works?” she asked. “Things are different than they were when NAHJ was founded in 1984. There have been so many changes in the industry and we have to adapt.”
Another proposed change to NAHJ’s constitution is to reduce the number of board members from 18 to nine, eliminating several roles including vice presidents of broadcast, online and print. They will be replaced with vice presidents for training and development, engagement and professional chapter development. The association also plans to add task forces and an at-large officer to oversee its student chapters, according to an email Medina sent to members this week.
“The [VP] titles of broadcast, online and print are archaic. And most of those VPs didn’t know exactly what their roles were,” Medina said. “Print has mashed with broadcast and broadcast has mashed with digital.”
Medina cited bylaw changes adopted by the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) in 2014 as a model for the NAHJ proposals. AAJA’s new structure is:
- Senior Vice President
- Vice President of Journalism Programs
- Vice President of Civic Engagement
AAJA’s governing board also has five non-officer members: two at-large representatives, two small/medium chapter representatives and a large chapter representative.
“AAJA gave jobs to their VPs. This is a smarter approach than them not having specific things to do. It gives them time to work on the things that are important to the organization,” said Medina.
The National Association of Black Journalists made changes to its constitution in 2014, including: allowing the president to serve for two terms; adding board seats for a VP-Digital and an academic representative; cutting the number of regional directors from six to four; adding a new membership tier for emerging journalists; and changing the name of associate members to media-related professionals. (Note: I am vice president of digital for NABJ, a role that was added when the association changed its constitution last year.)
Regional directors are no longer necessary, Medina said.
“Regional directors were the middle men between the chapters and the board, and it was wasted space,” Medina continued. “It’s easier for us to bring chapters in as an advisory council that is made up of chapter presidents who meet during our annual conference,” he said. “We will also elect two people from that council to serve on the board.”
Voting on the proposed bylaw revisions opened on September 15 and will remain open until one-third of all NAHJ members cast ballots.
Editor’s note: We want you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. Why? Every Saturday morning, subscribers receive a summary of our best stories of the week, along with exclusive content. Subscribe today by clicking here!
Benét J. Wilson is the founder and owner of Aviation Queen LLC, a freelance writing, multimedia and consulting firm. She is a freelance aviation/travel journalist and blogger who has written for publications and blogs including USA Today, AirwaysNews.com, CrankyFlier.com, ACI-NA Centerlines magazine, Aviation International News, Airport World, the Airline Passenger Experience magazine and the Runway Girl Network. She currently serves on the board of the Online News Association, where she chairs the Diversity Committee. She is also vice president-digital for the National Association of Black Journalists. She is the editor-in-chief of AllDigitocracy.org.