President’s Message – Samantha Bennett

By Samantha Bennett
NSNC President
 
Samanta BennettI don’t mean to frighten you, but I’m also sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know: This is a weird and scary time to be a columnist.
   Almost every week, it seems, another newspaper announces layoffs or buyouts. Polls show the public doesn’t trust us or believe what we say. Blogging is shifting the business toward a model where writing is uncompensated. Even for those on a payroll, our meager wages can’t keep up with rising prices.
   Newshole shrinkage (which sounds like something you should see a doctor about right away) means that editors are unwilling to allocate precious page space to a new column, whether staff or freelance. Declining circulation makes editors more nervous than ever about running opinion pieces that may result in canceled subscriptions. And syndicates, which never paid much to begin with, won’t buy what they can’t sell to editors.
   But whether they know it or not, our readers and our publications need us more than ever.
   Editors may regard us, through narrowed eyes, as a liability, but readers appreciate what we do best — starting with good writing and storytelling. They also appreciate that we put forth a face, a personality, and explain what’s going on in a direct and conversational tone. We add another layer to what reporters report and what cameras capture, because our mission is to be a proxy and guide for the folks at home: to ask questions, to dig for answers, to wonder, to comfort, to scream bloody murder, to analyze, to humanize, to rabble-rouse, to reduce mountains to their rightful molehills, and sometimes just to point and laugh.
   The news media are writhing around right now like a cow trying to give birth to a Jet-Ski, and the public is looking for someone to trust – a friend who may not always tell them what they want to hear, but who tells them something real and meaningful. You are that friend.

   And the beauty of NSNC is that it unites you with other friends. We support each other and look for ways to stay inspired and remind the world what we do and why we matter. Individually, we can make a difference in our hometowns or niches; together, we can take on issues of wider importance like the national disgrace blighting the Gulf Coast. We honor master wordsmiths and encourage brave newbies who clearly aren’t afraid of poverty or disrespect. In this uncertain and unnerving environment, the NSNC is a kind of sanctuary. A welcoming community that wants to help you be the best you can be. It’s a meditation chapel — with a bar in the basement fellowship room. How cool is that?

   I’m honored to be your president at this difficult but exciting time. We look ahead this year to a book gathering our writings about New Orleans, and another outstanding conference in the making next year in California.

   Let’s have some fun. Let’s tell some stories and rattle some cages. Let’s commit some journalism. Our job is not for the faint of heart or easily daunted. You talk to me, I’ll talk to you, and we’ll all keep whistling in the graveyard until it gets light. Better yet: bring a kazoo.

8/6/08

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