By Landon Bost
SJI Class of 2020
From significant losses of revenue to questioning bylaws, COVID-19 forced journalism organizations, like the Native American Journalists Association and National Association of Hispanic Journalists, to reconsider how they operate.
NAJA, one of the smallest journalism organizations with more than 600 members, announced May 12 the postponement of its annual National Native Media Conference in Phoenix to 2021. According to NAJA’s Executive Director Rebecca Landsberry, the conference is the organization’s biggest moneymaker.
“Sponsorships are a really critical piece of our fundraising strategy for NAJA,” Landsberry said.
“And so making the decision to cancel the National Native Media Conference in 2020 was a really difficult one. We did some analysis: The impact [postponing] may have on the organization financially could be as big as 50% to 60% of lost revenue for this 2020 budget.”
Similarly, the Association for Women in Sports Media postponed its 2020 convention, scheduled for June in Dallas. First-year AWSM President Ashley Colley, an associate producer at ESPN, said a significant factor for the postponement was uncertainty over whether members could afford to attend amid pandemic-related job cuts.
AWSM’s Chair of the Board Kelly Burke, a freelancer, was concerned about various convention-related costs: flights, hotels and registration fees.
“[Burke] was talking about how the impact on the freelance community was really hit harder than some of the other area,” Colley said. “And you have different people that we’ve seen have been furloughed. And so we also had to take into consideration; if we were able to have it, how many people are able to come?”
In addition to reunions and fundraising, conventions provide an opportunity for leadership elections. The NAHJ and the National Association of Black Journalists’ joint convention is going virtual, but the NABJ still plans to have a 2020 election. However, NAHJ had postponed its election until 2021.
Some NAHJ members expressed dissatisfaction with how the board handled postponing the election during a May 21 virtual town hall.
As a result, the board has decided to reschedule its election for the organization to be held in September.
Board member Nick Valencia, the NAHJ national vice president (broadcast), shared condescending comments toward members who were concerned about the board’s decision and questioned their commitment to the organization.
“[NAHJ] is crabs in a bucket,” the CNN correspondent said.
“It’s not a unified front. NAHJ, there’s so many of us,” he added. “We come from so many demographics and backgrounds. To think we can all be on the same page at once at 2,500 to 2,400 [members]: It’s unreasonable.”
“On behalf of the board, I apologize for an unwarranted reaction against members who attended the town hall to engage in civil discourse." @HugoBalta, NAHJ President
If you were unable to attend the NAHJ Member Town Hall, you may view it here: https://t.co/PiqhrDLjoE
— NAHJ (@NAHJ) May 22, 2020
Beyond rifts within organizations and missing revenue streams, emerging professionals are struggling the most without an in-person convention.
Julian Berger attended NAHJ’s convention last year for the first time and was excited to go to Washington this year as a member of NAHJ student projects. Now, the 2020 NAHJ Rubén Salzar Scholarship recipient is uncertain about forming new connections virtually.
“It’s easier to see someone and say, ‘Hey! How are you? My name is Julian. Here is my business card,'” said Berger, a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill. “But I don’t think it will be as beneficial meeting people online as it would in-person.”
NABJ Visual Task Force President Jarrad Henderson traces milestones in his career with connections he made through NABJ. His biggest fear, especially for student journalists, with the convention going online is losing camaraderie.
“NABJ’s chance to go virtual will be an indicator on how forward-moving, and how forward-thinking we are as we get ready for this convention,” said Henderson, a two-time Emmy Award winner.
“As of yet, NABJ hasn’t released many details about what an online convention looks like,” Henderson continued, “but for me, it doesn’t change the intent of what we’re trying to do, which is trying to educate our journalists with the tools that they need to continue to be effective storytellers out in the field.”