News: Relationship in Question

Published by The Society of Professional Journalists.

A rift between two major Latino journalism organizations has postponed the presentation of the Ruben Salazar Journalism Award during the National Association of Hispanic Journalist’s annual awards luncheon.

Members of the California Chicano News Media Association were surprised to hear that board members of NAHJ announced a request to review the finances shared between the two organizations. NAHJ and CCNMA partnered together when a memorandum of understanding, was signed in March of 2016.

In an email sent Wednesday, Brandon Benavides, the NAHJ president, said he requested the MOU because board members wanted to review the financial and legal liabilities of the merger. Benavides sent the e-mail to Joseph Rodriguez, the president of CCNMA, and Mekahlo Medina, a former NAHJ president and one of the main architects of the requested MOU.

The board of directors decided to move into a 30-day negotiation period with an eye toward terminating the MOU if we cannot come to an agreement over our concerns during that period,” Benavides wrote in his email to Rodriguez and Medina. “We plan to make a good-faith effort to work out our issues, as the MOU clause states, and we hope CCNMA will join us in doing so. Otherwise, we will have to terminate the agreement on Oct. 6(.)

The board of directors is requesting a legal review of the MOU because we are concerned about our potential liability and the fact that this agreement wasn’t reviewed in advance by an attorney. The board of directors also requests CCNMA’s financial records as stated in the MOU and as we have requested since the agreement was signed. We also request CCNMA’s latest audit, if any exists.

Rodriguez, who did not attend the 2017 Excellence in Journalism Convention, said he did not know reviewing the MOU would be brought up during the NAHJ executive board meeting. Originally he said he thought they would discuss the hiring of an administrative manager for the CCNMA office in Los Angeles.

“They haven’t been forthright or clear about some motives,” Rodriguez said. “That position was supposed to take place this year, but they said they weren’t sure they had the money but we wanted it budgeted in 2018. That remains our highest priority, we want that position filled.”

CCNMA sent their financial officer, Rachel Uranga, to this meeting. Medina said once Uranga made a statement about hiring an administrative manager, NAHJ began talking about reviewing the finances for both organizations.

“We exercised a clause in the MOU on the fourth page that says that we can request for a 30 day review in a good faith effort to come to an agreement,” Benavides said in an interview with the EIJ News Team. “And if not, after 30 days, that the MOU will be dissolved. So that is what we exercised. It is written in the MOU. What we want to do is we want to see what financial and legal liability NAHJ will have with this merger. We are asking for a legal review and we are also asking for CCNMA to send us their financial records.”

Confused by the reasoning provided by NAHJ, Rodriguez said the board members of NAHJ have not responded to his requests for comment and clarification.

“I don’t know exactly what they want us to do,” Rodriguez said. “They’re talking about an audit, but an audit by who? Do they want us to do our own audit? Do they want an expensive lawyer or moderator? Legally we are a chapter of NAHJ. I don’t know if NAHJ has ever done that to a chapter. I’m asking you these questions because they haven’t clarified their position. It is all very fake and accusatory.”

Medina said the decision announced last night has the potential to damage the relationship between the two organizations.

“The clause was beyond a last ditch effort,” Medina said. “It was the beginning of the end. You only implement that clause if you want to leave. You’re just giving the other organization due notice. You’re not really working with them to figure out the problem.”

Since a clear solution has not been reached, Rodriguez said that the CCNMA has canceled the awarding of their Ruben Salazar Journalism Award. Salazar was a Los Angeles Times Reporter and the first Mexican-American journalist to cover the Chicano movement for a mainstream outlet. The honorary award is now given to journalist who fairly cover issues impacting Latinos in California. The awards will be presented at a CCNMA event next month.

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