Prez Column – Argento

Who the hell do I think I am?

By Mike Argento

President, NSNC

Mike Agrento, Past President

If you’re anything like me, and God help you if you are, you’re probably wondering, “Who the hell is this guy and how the hell did he get to be president of such an august body as the National Society of Newspaper Columnists?”

Who the hell am I?

Let me tell you.

OK, maybe I won’t. Let’s just say that people frequently ask me, “Just what’s wrong with you?” And I always say I wish I knew.

As far as my biography, I’m still working on that, having just completed the chapter about my experiences as a kangaroo wrangler in South America, which turned out to be fairly short considering there are no kangaroos in South America and I’ve never been to South America and I’m not sure there is such a thing as a kangaroo wrangler. I liked the sound of it, though.

My official bio goes something like this: I was born here in York, Pa., and educated, if you want to call it that, in public schools. I graduated from Penn State with a degree in humanities, which qualifies me to do whatever it is I do or work at Border’s. The highlight of my academic career came in my junior year, in a philosophy course. We were studying existentialism and I skipped a few classes. The professor left me a note that he wanted to see me and when I met with him, he said he noticed I hadn’t been to class and wanted to know if everything was OK. I responded, “What’s the point?”

Upon graduation, I went to work at a weekly paper edited by a guy who spoke, for reasons not known to me, with a British accent. He was from New Jersey. The paper closed ? it happened after I left so I didn’t kill it, but I may have been a person of interest ? and the editor went on to manage rock bands. Really.

I worked at another daily, owned, at that time, by Richard Mellon Scaife, a crazy rich guy. The paper frequently ran columns by a woman who was fixated on the issue of women in the military. She was against it because she believed that women in the military either became pregnant or lesbians. She wrote about that a lot. She was nuts.

I came to the York (Pa.) Daily Record in 1983 as a night cops reporter and soon worked my way through just about every beat at the paper. I was a features writer in 1989 when they decided that I couldn’t even handle that responsibility and they made me a columnist. I’ve been writing three columns a week since then.

Now, how the hell did I become president of this august body?

I’m still not sure.

A couple of years ago, some of the board members approached me and asked me whether I’d like to be on the board. I think they said something about being impressed with my professionalism and dedication to the craft of columnizing. I think they were drunk.

I told them that I don’t like doing things I don’t have to do, I’m very disorganized and I tend to forget things.

They said I was perfect.

Here it is, two years later, and I’m president.

Pray for us.

In Boston, Jeff Zaslow of The Wall Street Journal asked me how ambitious I plan to be as president. I told him I’ve been at the same paper for 23 years. What’s that tell you?

Anyway, I guess I have some ideas about how to make NSNC even better than it already is. Failing that, I hope not to screw up too badly. Actually, my ideas include figuring out how to make more of you do more of the work so I won’t have to.

Seriously, I’d like more of you guys to help out and serve on committees and do things to help NSNC be the best dang journalism organization it can be. It’ll accomplish a couple of things. It’ll strengthen the organization, and it’ll keep it out of my hands where bad things have been known to happen.

Already, things are going great. Stu Bykofsky of the Philly Daily News is well on his way to making Philadelphia in 2007 one of the great conferences in NSNC history. And for 2008, we’re already plotting our return to New Orleans.

Meanwhile, I’d like to hear from some of you to get some regional or state committees going. The idea, which was stolen from an NSNC member who said he really didn’t want credit, is to have local or state or regional events for columnists who can’t make the annual conference. They could be outings, luncheons, trips to the state capital to make fun of the legislature, drinking binges … whatever …

So there you have it. I’ve gone on way too long so I’ll just stop.

Aug. 17, 2006

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