Fort Worth Star-Telegram Columnist
I’m celebrating 20 years of NSNC membership. I got what I put into it. Great friends, more learning about column writing than anywhere else combined, an actual columnist job (hired while attending my first conference, no less), a lengthy career of growth and improvement, and, yes, worth mentioning again, lifetime friendships.
Let’s look at the next 20 years of the NSNC. With budget cuts at work and at home, declining column-writing jobs for newspapers and shrinking membership, it’s easy to be hard about the NSNC’s future.
Will we exist? What should our name be? How can we pay for this organization to continue?
Gazing into my crystal ball, I see, years down the road, a legacy organization. There may not be newspapers or newspaper columnists, but there still needs to be a National Society of Newspaper Columnists – with that very name.
Our Columnists Code of Conduct shows the values that we must continue to uphold. Here, I paraphrase key parts:
Inform, educate and entertain.
Work hard to provoke others to thought.
Offer opinions fairly and clearly.
Depict true events without fabrication or embellishment.
Yet stand up for parody and satire.
Display personal courtesies to critics and fans alike.
Honor the columnist as a representation of the basic American rights of free speech and open discussion.
Those values, our values, will stand the test of time. Most likely, they will be needed more than ever. Our legacy will be to promote the best of our craft, even if the paper product that carried us for three centuries ceases to be.
So how do we pull this off?
First, it’s important to remember the annual traditions, some of them more than 30 years old. From the silly Jeff Kramer Mystic Memorial Tie Contest and Sitting Duck Award to the serious College Columnist Scholarship, our own writing contest and the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.
We must maintain these for the foreseeable future.
Second, it shouldn’t be so difficult to recruit members from our core group of 200 or more to serve a year or two in a leadership position. I was on the nominating committee this year, and we heard a few too many no’s from people whose time has come to step up. If you are reading this, please make a promise to yourself in the next several years to put in your time. Come to the board and volunteer. Don’t wait until you’re asked. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about keeping a 300-year-old craft alive.
Third, our tax requirements mandate that we hold an annual meeting and file tax returns. Our education foundation meets annually in an online chat room. Our regular association holds an annual meeting on the Sunday morning of each conference at the hotel. These are simple requirements to remain a legal entity. We will continue to stay legal.
Now about that hotel. My final and most important point. The cost of our hotel-based conference model is one of the biggest strains on our budget. Eventually, we may want to hold more informal annual meetings in a chosen city. They don’t have to be in hotel ballrooms. They can be scaled-down affairs.
We can pick a hotel, negotiate a great rate and then gather in back rooms of nearby venues at a much-reduced cost. We can take tourist trips together and hold fast to our annual traditions. Our personal costs will be the same: airfare, hotel and meals. Cost to the NSNC would be minimal.
Trend lines show we will be forced to become smaller. Yet as a legacy organization that upholds our craft and its values, we can remain strong with a core group of mostly older folks, and some younger, who believe, as we do, in the power of columnist-like communicating.
There won’t be a secret handshake, but there will be an opinion-writing contest and accompanying happy winners. A talented college contest winner will get the weekend of his or her life. The John Kanaley Hospitality Suite may be in the back corner of a host city’s best-known downtown bar. (John wouldn’t mind.) And we’ll chip in for a plaque for the Ernie Pyle winner and, of course, treat him or her to free drinks.
The NSNC will never lose its great tradition of spirit and fun. Make a promise to yourself now that you will stay connected to us – and to our craft.
We don’t need to stop doing this just because the roof is falling in. For the NSNC, the sky is the limit.
Note: A Lifetime Membership to the NSNC costs $500. I’ve got one. Join me, and you’ll receive a beautiful bronze statuette of the NSNC logo along with a sweet tax deduction. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.