March Forth for Froth

President’s Message

By Jerry Zezima
President
National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima

Beware the Ides of March. We have all heard this old saying and have promptly ignored it, especially if we’ve heard it in, say, November, because it raises an important question: What the hell is an ide?

It could be used to say, “Ide rather not talk about it.” Or, “An ide for an ide.” Imagine if kids played ide and seek. Or if Robert Louis Stevenson had written Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Ide. His masterwork was made into a 1931 film that featured an Academy Award-winning performance by its lead actor, Fredric March, for whom, of course, the month of March was named.

It has been said (not by me, because I’m still trying to figure out what an ide is) that March is a cruel month. But it really isn’t. For one thing, it follows February, which is short but not sweet, meaning anything is an improvement. For another, it’s the month in which spring begins. And it’s the only month that contains a command: March 4th.

That is what we in the NSNC are doing this month, as we march forth to Indianapolis, where our 2015 conference will take place in June, a month named for June Cleaver, the mom on Leave It to Beaver.

Conference co-chairs Amanda Beam and Michelle Freed have been hard at work (with fellow Hoosiers Ginger Truitt and Mike Leonard) to make this a memorable meeting.

Exterior of The Alexander, Indianapolis hotel

The Alexander, NSNC’s hotel for the Indianapolis conference

To whet your appetites — and to wet your whistles — here is some of what we have lined up for the weekend of June 26-28:

“Friday night,” Michelle recently wrote to me in an email, “we will begin with a walk to Scotty’s Brewhouse, a local Indy success story. Of course, our stay in The Alexander will be amazing. The views are gorgeous, and the original artwork and boutique style will be intimate and perfect for our group.”

Our keynote speaker Friday night will be Mary Schmich, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune. On Saturday night, Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, will receive the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.

Panels? Don’t be silly — I am the least handy man in America, so I won’t be doing carpentry. But I will be doing my best to convince you that some terrific ones are already on the schedule.

Stephen Key, executive director and general counsel of the Hoosier Press Association (no relation, I don’t think, to Francis Scott Key of the Maryland Songwriters Association), and our own Ben Pollock, NSNC’s director of media (as well as executive producer and show-runner), will conduct a panel on ethics.

When Michelle told me this, I said, “We’re supposed to have ethics? Uh-oh.”

I guess I have a lot to learn. And I will from this panel.

Another one will be led by Dave Lieber, Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News, who will answer two crucial questions: Doesn’t news happen in the afternoon in Dallas? And how can we take our talents and skills as columnists to the next level?

This second question is especially pertinent for people who are afraid of heights. Still, Dave, one of America’s great public speakers, will tell us how to focus on marketing, and not just for groceries. He’ll also tell us how to book speaking engagements and actually get paid for them. It will be an informative and entertaining session.

A panel on using podcasts to increase your marketability will be led by Dan St. Yves, a wonderful and very photogenic humor columnist from Canada, eh?

There also will be an open forum on the trends and challenges in our industry, one of which is that I am still in it.

Tony Messenger, editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, will discuss the events in Ferguson, Mo., and what it’s like as a columnist when your community is embroiled in such controversy.

On Friday, we hope to take an excursion to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the drivers go almost as fast as they do on the Long Island Expressway. Our dinner that evening will be at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which has an exhibit of the works of Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Bill Foley, who may speak to us, either that night or in one of our sessions.

On Saturday, we will have lunch at the Kurt Vonnegut Library. Order the Slaughterhouse-Five steak, medium rare.

We also plan to have conference T-shirts for sale. If you want to have your picture taken with the president, we can arrange to have a shirt that says, “I’m With Stupid.”

That’s it for now, but there is plenty more to come.

So don’t beware the Ides of March. Instead, embrace the conference in June. And when you get to Indianapolis, march forth to the hospitality suite and say, “Ide like a beer, please.”

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Jerry Zezima writes a syndicated humor column for his hometown paper, The Stamford (Conn.) Advocate.

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