Conference Speakers ‘Volunteer’ for Duty

President’s Message

This column originally was published in the February 2014 edition of The Columnist, the members’ newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

By Eric Heyl
National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Eric Heyl

Eric Heyl

The NSNC Conference Speaker Recruitment Center is a constant hub of activity.

You don’t know that, of course, because you’ve never seen it. I’d never seen it until I became NSNC president. It sits in a cavernous underground bunker in a state whose location I am disclosing to you — and only you — as a reward for recently renewing your annual membership, or promising you’ll pony up first thing in the morning.

The place is in Nevada, just beyond the Winkie Burger that’s two traffic lights past Area 51. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

Federal Lands in Southern Nevada, including Area 51. Map by Finlay McWalter

Federal land in south Nevada, including Area 51
Wikipedia Map by Finlay McWalter

Inside the center, our trained screening teams constantly use highly sophisticated technology to identify the crème de la crème of potential conference speakers. Once the analytics are completed and the recommendations are approved by the NSNC overlords meeting in utmost secrecy, our crack team of recruitment agents spring into action. They are authorized to stop at nothing, including hypnosis and temporary abduction, to ensure that the NSNC’s annual conference has the best possible speakers.

Actually, none of the above is the slightest bit rooted in reality.

But after seeing who has committed to appear at the annual conference in Washington, D.C., in June, I couldn’t blame you for believing we go to such extreme measures to bring you such high-quality speakers.

The all-star lineup includes:

  • John Avlon, editor in chief of The Daily Beast and a co-editor of the two Deadline Artists column anthologies.
  • Mary Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist and contributor to The Washington Post.
  • Rhonda Graham, a columnist, editor and editorial writer for The News Journal in Wilmington, Del.
  • Llewellyn King, who writes a weekly syndicated column and is the executive producer and host of White House Chronicles on PBS.
  • Dana Milbank, The Washington Post columnist, author, and frequent MSNBC and CNN commentator.
  • Alexandra Petri, The Washington Post’s hysterically brilliant “ComPost” blogger.
  • Richard Prince, who writes the leading column on news media diversity issues for the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.
  • Connie Schultz, the nationally syndicated columnist and winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
  • Nikki Schwab, the “Washington Whispers” columnist for U.S. News & World Report.
  • Suzette Martinez Standring, the syndicated columnist, 2004-06 NSNC president and author of the recently published The Art of Opinion Writing: Insider Secrets from Top Op-Ed Columnists.
  • Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post, our 2014 recipient of the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Craig Wilson, who wrote the popular “The Final Word” column for USA Today for 18 years.
  • Michele Wojciechowski, an author and standup comedienne who writes a weekly column for and the syndicated “Wojo’s World” column.

Whew. That’s some lineup, don’t you think? You do? Great! I assume, then, that you’ll soon be registering for the conference, which will be held June 26-29 at the Washington Plaza Hotel. Remember, we used our super NSNC powers to snag an extraordinarily favorable rate for D.C. — just $149 a night.

More details on this extravaganza will be coming soon. In the meantime, how about a tip of the posh hat to this year’s speakers?

They’ve agreed to inform and entertain us even without the threat of being hypnotized or abducted.

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