Joseph Rodriguez, CCNMA President
After a long career in journalism, I can look back now and credit my start and accomplishments to two Latino journalism groups that today find themselves on the brink of a disastrous divorce.
As many of you know by now, the biggest news from the Excellence in Journalism Conference in Anaheim was a vote by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists to revisit the fledgling partnership with the California Chicano News Media Association. If the two groups don’t strike a deal soon, the partnership could end, and Latino journalism in Los Angeles may never become the social, political and cultural force it ought to be.
But before I discuss how we can save this united front, let me tell you my story related to CCNMA and NAHJ.
Back in the 1970s, I was just another indecisive college student from East L.A., too unconfident to pursue a writing career—until I met members of the fledgling California Chicano News Media Association.
Today we’d call them “role models” or “disruptors” because they challenged the elitist, old boy hiring habits of American newsrooms and opened enough doors for me and thousands more young Latino journalists.
Not too many years later, as a reporter on the East Coast, I joined another new group, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists . It shared the same mission—to further integrate American newsrooms and deliver better and accurate coverage of Latino communities and issues. I served on the NAHJ board in the mid-1980s and helped to established the group’s student scholarship program.
Over the past decades, the two groups prospered and grew even as they feuded over turf. Que pendejadas, I thought back then. We’re the same people, with a common goal, the same “espirito!” Why don’t we join forces, even merge the two groups?
Eventually, as legacy news media have declined in the Internet Age, we got that chance. Looking for a way to remain relevant, some of us on both boards promoted the idea of a partnership based in Los Angeles. The deal basically allows CCNMA autonomy in its hometown and offers NAHJ a West Coast headquarters. L.A. journalists became members of both groups for the price of one.
We hammered out a Memorandum of Understanding in 2016. But today the agreement is in jeopardy. To be sure, each group has concerns as this merger evolves, so I’m just going to describe a path for saving the CCNMA/NAHJ partnership in Los Angeles from a premature death.
First, before this year ends, the NAHJ board should vote on the hiring of an administrative manager for the newly combine Los Angeles chapter in 2018. Initially promised to our chapter in late 2016, the position is our highest priority. You simply cannot run ambitious, influential programs –like saving high school journalism in Latino neighborhoods and teaching residents how to watchdog their city halls– without an office staff to raise funding, grow membership and revenue, and marshal the talents of individual, Latino journalist volunteers.
If NAHJ rejects the position, or even tables the decision, then the next step should be CCNMA’s.
I don’t think we should end the partnership for the lack of one office manager, as important as that person would be.
We could, for example, make this counter offer: Instead of getting the administrative manager, the CCNMA/NAHJ Los Angeles Chapter gets to keep 100 percent of NAHJ and CCNMA dues paid by members until we can hire a manager on our own.
The deal would accomplishment two things: Sooth the nerves of NAHJ board members worried about expenses and liability issues, and give the Los Angeles partnership a modest and steady income as it grows membership.
The partnership between NAHJ and CCNMA offers Latino journalism the best opportunity for growth and influence at a time our people and cultures are under political assau;t, and as too many news media organizations neglect their promises to diversify their ranks.
Our partnership offers too much promise to abandon so soon.
–Joe Rodriguez is a former reporter and columnist with the San Jose Mercury News, among other papers, and teaches journalism at San Jose State University.