April 24, 2020

COVID-19 is forcing journalism conventions to abandon plans to meet in-person this year. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists announced Friday they would hold their joint convention virtually in August.

NABJ and NAHJ have known for more than a month that it would likely come to this but could not outright cancel plans to meet in Washington, D.C., until now because it would have cost more than a million dollars in hotel penalties to back out of the contracts.

The virtual conference will be held Aug. 5-9. The announcement said:

If we had officially decided and then publicly announced a final decision pulling out of the in-person conference regardless of a binding contract we had with the Marriott and Omni Hotels, we would have owed approximately 1.3 million dollars in liquidated damages. Proactively breaking such a contract is a terrible business decision. That obviously would not have been in the best interest of our organization, especially since we had the opportunity to avoid such damages. Timing, legal requirements, and tough negotiations on the part of NABJ/NAHJ and Marriott were all essential parts of getting to a final resolution.

The organizations promise details soon about what sessions will be included in the virtual convention. NABJ’s conventions often include big-name and sometimes controversial speakers. There were hopes that holding the conventions in Washington, D.C., this summer would be an open invitation to presidential candidates to appear.

NABJ and NAHJ conventions are important gatherings for networking and recruiting. The announcement promised that a virtual meetup will include networking opportunities and even virtual lunches.

There is no word yet about how to collect refunds.

Some other journalism organizations are still hoping to meet in person this summer, including Investigative Reporters and Editors, which delayed its June conference until August. The Asian American Journalists Association is still on the schedule for an early convention in Washington, D.C.

The joint Society of Professional Journalists and Radio Television Digital News Association conference is also still planning to meet in Washington, D.C., in September.

Al Tompkins is senior faculty at Poynter. He can be reached at atompkins@poynter.org or on Twitter, @atompkins.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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