A Treasurer Race for the Books

By Noah Tesfaye

The financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating, but NABJ has been able to overcome the challenges, even after moving this year’s national convention and regional conferences to virtual formats. 

“We will meet our budgeted revenue goals,” NABJ Finance Director Nate Chambers noted in a recent email sent to members by Executive Director Drew Berry. “That is impressive in the COVID-19 environment.”

This week’s treasurer’s race is a moment to shift not just who will be leading how finances are run, but also to add a millennial to the board. Ernest Owens and Walter Smith-Randolph, the two candidates, talked about their vision for the treasurer’s board seat.

Why are you running for treasurer?

Ernest Owens: I really wanted to, you know, bring in not only my LGBTQ representation but my millennial voice and my perspective as a professional entrepreneur and also represent freelancers and people who do different types of work. I thought that NABJ is heavily broadcast represented. We have a lot of broadcast network people. But I do think that we’re ignoring the voices of a lot of writers and media people and freelancers like myself, and we’re the future. And so I felt like that was a call to action. 

Walter Smith-Randolph: I thought I’d be the best treasurer because I’m an analytical guy who’s looking at spreadsheets. I’m used to holding people accountable. I’m used to advocating for transparency. So I thought that the treasurer position would be the best fit for me.

What are your policy goals? 

Walter Smith-Randolph: My goals are to diversify the revenue streams for NABJ. As you probably know, two-thirds of the budget comes from our convention, so we need to rearrange that model and start making money from other avenues. For example, I put on the political media summit every year in New York City with my co-chair. That’s the way that we get a lot of people to come get a taste of NABJ. So for important events like the Millennium Summit, like the Basics Boot Camp that happens in Region III, like the tech tracks. That way we can reach more members in different parts of the country.

I would say there are other areas we can also look at. I think we need to increase our advertising revenue. In 2017, we only made $4,000 in advertising revenue. Meantime, ONA made $40,000. We need to be looking at what other organizations are doing. And we need to be more transparent and accountable to our members. Right now you can only get up to the 2017 annual report on our website. 2018 should be there. 2019, once we get through the IRS, should be there as well.

Ernest Owens: I definitely think that one of the things that I really want us to do a better job of is strengthening our vetting process with the type of partnerships we have so they can match our ethics and match our values. I think NABJ, you know, for various reasons, is very ambitious when it comes to fundraising. Sometimes I don’t think we do a very thorough job of vetting our sponsors as much.

I’ve spoken to a lot of chapter leaders and people who do not feel as though the cuts that they get from partnering with NABJ is equitable. So, for example, NABJ wants sometimes more than 50% of the revenue and profit and proceeds made in a partnership with regions or chapters. And so those types of matters are concerning, and I think that we need to talk about how we divvy up the funds and partnerships with chapters and regions when it comes to joint events.

How do you hope to incorporate and address young people?

Ernest Owens: We always see people talk about the financial hurdles that they face. And that is the time where we often ask for people to give. But could you imagine if we did it year-round, you know, consistent donations where we were raising money and generating money around not only just for the organization but to set money aside, to increase our efforts to help people with affordability. And I think that that’s something that we need to really take seriously.

Walter Smith-Randolph: I hope to be a voice for the millennials, which is, I think, something I’ve been doing for the past four years as co-chair of the task force. We’ve been put on some awesome programming, whether it be the summit or whether it be the emerging journalists’ toast. So we have a feel for what millennials or the younger generation in Gen Z as well, who are behind us, are feeling. So I’d like to be you know, I like to be their advocate and be able to tell the board, “This is what we’re feeling. This is what we’re seeing. This is what we want, and this is what we need from NABJ.”

Any last words?

Walter Smith-Randolph: I just hope that people take a look at both of our platforms, take a look at both of our campaign pages, and make the choice that they think is the best choice. I, of course, think that I’m the best candidate for the job.

Ernest Owens: A lot of times we treat NABJ as a family business where we do things, based on the strength of who we like and who we know. And sometimes it’s important to step up and say, “You know what, it’s not just for those things.” It may be just it may be that we need to broaden our horizons and maybe we shouldn’t just only give up the people we know or give contracts to people we’re friends with or that we are close to.

Voting ends at 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight time this Friday, August 7. NABJ members received a link to securely log in and vote.

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