<strong>By Deborah Kaufman</strong>
When the National Association of Hispanic Journalists meets June 24-27 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, its members will focus on one topic: staying afloat in a tempestuous industry.
Navigating an increasingly tough journalism environment is a trend that has been addressed in previous NAHJ conventions, but the current economic downturn has had a devastating impact on the organization’s members.
"If people weren’t convinced before about the depth of changes going on in the news industry, they’re convinced now," says NAHJ executive director Ivan Roman. "And they’re convinced that we’re not talking about a problem that will get better when the economy gets better. We’re talking about fundamental shifts in how people produce and consume news and how it’s paid for."
That means that attendees to NAHJ 2009 will find themselves at a radically different convention. "We blew up the model of what the NAHJ convention usually is and made it all about training," said Miami Herald foreign correspondent Frances Robles, who is NAHJ 2009 programming co-chair with Miami Herald Assistant World Editor Nancy San Martin.
Ms. Robles noted that past NAHJ conventions have dealt with issues impacting Hispanic communities, from immigration to the census, but that the realities of being a journalist in today’s tough environment mandates a change in focus.
"As Nancy and I sat down and made a list of what we needed, we kept in mind the number of people who lost their jobs," she said. "I’ve been going to NAHJ for 15 years and we fell into a routine of going over the same topics. Those seem irrelevant now that our journalistic world is falling down around us. We need to be changing our careers."
NAHJ President O. Ricardo Pimental concurred. "Before, we could weigh in on issues large in the media, and we still do some of that," he said. "But we’ve had to focus on helping our members stay afloat."
Mr. Pimental bemoaned the fact that, although the election of President Barack Obama highlighted the gains this country has made in civil rights and diversity, it was a step forward that still is not reflected in the newsroom.
"It seems to be at odds with the issues we’re suffering in the workforce as far as diversity goes," he said. "One does not affect the other."
<strong>75 Hours of Training</strong>
At NAHJ 2009, courses offering training in multimedia tools and techniques have tripled from last year’s offerings, said Ms. Robles, who noted that members can choose from 33 sessions totaling approximately 75 hours of training. In addition to courses on blogging, Twitter, video editing, podcasting, search engine optimization, streaming video and audio slide shows, NAHJ 2009 also will feature two cyber labs that will remain open throughout the convention.
Mr. Roman said some four-hour and eight-hour sessions are intended to provide maximum training in a short timeframe.
"The idea is to emerge from San Juan with a wave of Latino journalists who are knowledgeable when it comes to multimedia journalism," he said. "NAHJ has always offered training, but initially it was about getting Latinos in major newsrooms. Since then, we’ve reinterpreted that in a much broader way. It’s about people doing journalism, period, whether it’s freelance or in Spanish-language media."
<strong>New Tools, New Ideas</strong>
The new media environment not only requires Latino journalists to learn to use new tools, but to become more entrepreneurial, and Mr. Roman acknowledged that it’s a transition not everyone will make.
"Some people have felt for a long time that being a journalist was following the traditional route of working in a major newsroom," he said. "Many journalists are still in that box. Many others have had to struggle on their own as a freelancer or their own entrepreneur. What we’re looking at in training our folks to have multimedia journalism skills is how some of them can translate that into entrepreneurial journalism, to tell the story they want to tell and not be dependent on a major newsroom.
"Each journalist has to figure out for himself if that’s what he can do," he continued. "Everyone has to figure out their mentality to see if it fits for them or not. We’ll lose journalists who can’t make the transition."
<strong>600 to 700 Expected</strong>
One piece of good news is that NAHJ received two grants–$100,000 from the Ford Foundation and $50,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation–to pay for 76 journalists to attend the convention gratis. That’s not only been a lifeline for those journalists but also will boost the attendance at the convention, which Mr. Roman expects to draw between 600 and 700 people. Past conventions have numbered 1,600 to 2,000 attendees.
NAHJ veterans also noted–with some surprise–that young Hispanics continue to flock to careers in journalism, a bright spot in an otherwise grim picture.
KRON-TV anchor Ysabel Duron, who is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, said that, although she believes it’s still "a bit of a challenge" to recruit young Latinos, her own nephew is a successful graduate of NAHJ’s student group and has found a job as an NBC correspondent out of Burbank.
Likewise, incoming Hall of Famer Juan Gonzales, who founded community newspaper El Tecolote and chairs the journalism department at City College of San Francisco, reported that journalism still has an appeal for young Latinos. "I’ve seen more and more Latino students, especially women, majoring in journalism," he said. "They think, ‘I might not work for a newspaper but maybe I’ll start my own newspaper or find some other way to write my stories.’ They are passionate and enthusiastic and just want a chance to learn and make their own inroads."
The hope is that, at NAHJ 2009, some of that enthusiasm for adopting new-media techniques and new world journalism economics will catch on among the organization’s membership. "We don’t want to engage in hand-wringing and wallow in the trauma of what’s happening," Mr. Roman said. "We want to look ahead and see how this creates opportunities. What we need to do is look at how we can create media that we own, establish policies–governmental or otherwise–that allow more access to media on the part of our community.
"If we learn how to do it well, we can seize control of our story and tell it more effectively than having to depend on mainstream media to do so," he said.