Larry’s Inaugural Address

President’s Message

By Larry Cohen
President
National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Larry Cohen
Larry Cohen

With the financial help of my mysterious Political Action Committee in the Cayman Islands; with a last-minute surge of support from the National Rifle Association; and with my foreign policy promise to transform Syria into a Disney amusement park; I was able to crush my opposition and sweep to victory as the new President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

What was I thinking?

First, the name. Yes, yes, we are “national” in the sense that we attract members from across the country, but we also have international members – and a few humor writers who I suspect are actually from Mars.

Yes, yes, we are a “society,” in that we share ideas and friendships and professional understanding of our strange craft, but except for erratic attendance at our annual meeting, we seldom come together, except through the wizardry of the Internet.

And, of course, there is that “newspaper” thing. For many of our members, a “newspaper” may well be a marketing target, but no longer can we assume that most of us trudge off to work each day, wearing our trench coat and fedora, to toil in the smoke-filled newsroom of a “newspaper.”

Most problematic of all, perhaps, is the “columnists” label. While most of us, in the warm glow of adoration we generate from readers, are comfortable with the “columnist” label, still shake ourselves awake at 4 a.m. and demand to recall our job title, and such stuff as “blogger” and “consultant” and “educator” and “freelancer” and George Clooney look-alike may come tumbling out of our mouths, with “columnist” far down on the list.

The national organization representing editorial writers recently changed its name, magically transforming its members into “opinion journalists.”

“Editorial writers,” you see, prompted visions of (dare we say the name out loud?) newspapers.

We are hardly flying under false colors by calling ourselves the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. We have a long, proud heritage and a tradition of sneaking into readers’ brains with opinion and analysis and advice and whimsy and rating the best sex toys.

But we do exist in a chaotic, confused, peculiar media world quite different than decades past. Our organizational name, the content of our organizational materials and conferences, our very sense of ourselves, is, and will continue, to change with the times.

Of course, the media marketplace is not the only modern upheaval we sort our way through. In perception, at least, our political/cultural/ societal environment is more angry, less accommodating to reasoned debate, and more black-and-white on complex issues than in times past.

As James Bowman wrote in his cranky book, Media Madness: The Corruption of Our Political Culture, the “binary,” for-or-against kinds of argument on issues such as health insurance, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and gun control, allows us all to vent, but doesn’t offer up real solutions. “Putting the questions in this form is a way of pre-determining the answer that people give to them, but it doesn’t bring us any closer to real-world solutions to any of the underlying problems.”

While there certainly are columnists who contribute to the sin that Bowman describes, in terms of fiery rhetoric, many columnists, whatever their job title or style of column, offer readers a “take a deep breath,” sit back and think about this, approach to the world’s challenges that is special, perhaps even unique.

To be sure, there’s room for some new marketing and public relations and (please, God) fundraising strategies for NSNC, perhaps soon to be renamed the International Organization of Handsome, Pretty People Who Type Real Fast and Think Interesting Thoughts.

Even as we evolve, we can be proud of our long-standing role in the marketplace of ideas, whether those ideas appear in print, pop up on computer screens, or spill over to the next generation of pundits in the classroom.

Keep the faith. According to reliable sources, NSNC has a god as President.

New Orleans Item newsroom, circa 1900
New Orleans Item newsroom, circa 1900. (Times-Picayune archive)
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