By Octavia Johnson
Of the seven seats up for election this year for NABJ’s board of directors, only one was contested. The other six—vice president of broadcast, vice president of digital, secretary, Region I director, Region III director, and student representative—were unopposed races.
It’s a trend that concerns some members.
“Committee members have been, you know, getting the word out via social media, but I think that we’re going to do it even more,” NABJ Elections Committee Chairwoman Melanie Eversley said.
Unopposed candidates are not new in the elections. In the past few years, some seats were either run unopposed or left vacant until someone was appointed to the seat. From 2011 to 2021, 37 candidates ran unopposed in NABJ elections and six seats were vacant and required appointment.
Former Vice President of Digital Benét Wilson ran unopposed during the 2015 NABJ election and said more effort is needed to gain more candidates.
Wilson added that in the 2009 NABJ Election she ran for the Region II director seat, and most of the seats were contested. Although she didn’t win, the election made her interested in helping more within NABJ. Her dedication led to her run for vice president of digital, where she ended up running unopposed.
She sees the lack of an opponent as a missed opportunity.
“There’s no discussion, there’s no way to talk about the future of NABJ and what those people can bring to the table to make a great organization even better,” she said.
Candidate Ken Lemon also ran unopposed in 2017 and 2019. This year he’s running for re-election for the vice president of broadcast seat unopposed.
“Sometimes you’ll see some positions that are highly contested,” he said. “And then other times, you know, you’ll have to fill positions … where sometimes the [seats] would be filled by the president.”
During the Presidential Candidate Forum, candidates Dorothy Tucker, the incumbent, and Manuel “Manny” Smith, the challenger, discussed the reason behind this year’s unopposed seats.
Smith claims the issue with unopposed candidates shows the level of engagement within the organization. He believes that communicating with new voices and elevating the veteran voices will help bring re-engagement into NABJ, which will encourage more people to want to run for a seat on the board.
“Unfortunately, when you have the largest leadership roles in the organization, and almost all of them are essentially unopposed, that speaks to a path of, you know, of gamesmanship, right, of only a select few people being appointed, or encouraged to run for roles,” Smith said.
Smith also used examples of his time as the president of PABJ and how they tripled their membership to about 200. He hopes by voicing the concern of the unopposed candidacies, there will be a change in the future.
“People always ask about the future of NABJ,” he said. “There it is clear as day, we’ve got people who are not interested in serving in some of our most crucial roles. Why is that and what do we do to fix it?”
Tucker argued that NABJ members were engaged this year virtually and the organization had more people in the webinars, events, regionals, grants, fellowships, projects, and the 2020 NABJ Convention. However, she also believes that during the pandemic, most of the journalists were trying to focus on the newsroom and “get back on track.”
“I just accepted the fact that there were times that our members were just overwhelmed,” she said at the forum.
Tucker later explained that although the pandemic may have played a part in the unopposed seats, “We shouldn’t blow that up.”
Both candidates agreed that they want to see more people from the younger generation running for seats.
“If students feel inclined to run and feel like that’s a way that they want to get involved, they should definitely do that,” said Tamia Fowlkes, candidate for student representative. “If they don’t want to do that, then definitely just apply to everything. There are so many opportunities in this organization, and increasing those opportunities is something that I really wanted to do.”
Smith said if he is elected as president, he plans to get more people into the organization by actively engaging with current and future members of NABJ.
Tucker said she has a great feeling about the future elections and if she’s re-elected, she hopes all of the local chapters know she’s here to support anyone who’s interested in running for the national board.