Black and White and Great All Over

President’s Message

By Jerry Zezima
President
National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima

I had a beer with Miss Manners.

Never did I think I would write that sentence. But now, with great pride and, finally, a clear head, I can say that I did, indeed, clink glasses with Judith Martin, the aforementioned empress of etiquette, even though she was sipping white wine and I was slugging down a beverage that is absolutely de rigueur in the suds set, Bud Light.

I wouldn’t have had the opportunity if it weren’t for the fact that Mrs. Martin and I — and many of you — were in Indianapolis for the 2015 NSNC conference.

As Shakespeare might have said if he had been partying in the hospitality suite instead of being dead in Holy Trinity Church, how did I love it? Let me count the ways.

The Programs

From Dave Lieber’s educational and entertaining session, “How to Speak to an Audience and Make More Money,” to Rick Horowitz’s funny and comprehensive session, “Finding Your Writer’s Voice(s)” — and with two excellent presentations, “Panel on Ethics” by Stephen Key and Ben Pollock and “Reinventing Yourself” by Dan St. Yves, in between — the programs could not have been better. They got us to think more deeply about what we do, showed us how to expand our horizons and, most important, helped us be better columnists.

The Speakers

Lee Hamilton, Mary Schmich and Gene Seymour were impressive and inspiring. Hamilton’s gentle admonitions, Schmich’s common-sense wisdom and Seymour’s soaring flights were what we loved — and needed — to hear.

The Venues

The Indianapolis Star invited us to meet its News and Investigations Director Alvie Lindsay and Opinion Editor Tim Swarens, as well as St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Page Editor Tony Messenger, who provided a fascinating glimpse into the present and future of journalism, including how we cover such stories as Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri. And we got a tour of the Starship Enterprise-like newsroom.

The Indiana State Museum was nourishing in two ways: gastronomic (it’s where we had our dinner Friday night) and intellectual (the exhibit by photojournalist Bill Foley showed why a picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words, especially when taken by this talented, modest and charming man).

The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library may be small, but it loomed large as the place where we could take in the essence of the literary giant.

The Speedway

Columnists, start your engines. Actually, the wonderful folks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway started ours with a tour of the internationally famous track that has to be seen to be believed. A ride around the oval, albeit in a cart doing 25 miles per hour, made us feel like winners.

The Hotel

The Alexander is one of the best hotels we have ever stayed in, with superb accommodations, a pleasant and efficient staff, delicious food and a spacious hospitality suite that afforded us a spectacular view of the city and the means to engage in our legendary conviviality. Speaking of legends, we will never forget the Devil With the Blue Dress On (or, in one brief, shining moment, Partly On).

The Town

Indianapolis is both homey and sophisticated, a city with diverse offerings, friendly people and a warm appeal that made it a great place for our conference.

The Sponsors

Thanks to Michael Huber of the Indy Chamber and Brandon Brown and Steve Campbell of the Mind Trust for their generosity. Thanks also to the Indiana High School Press Association, the Pulliam School of Journalism at Franklin College, the Media School at Indiana University, the Will Rogers Foundations and GingerTruitt.com.

The Committee

Amanda Beam and Michelle Freed put it all together, with help from fellow Hoosiers Ginger Truitt and Mike Leonard. No amount of thanks could suffice. Same goes for Luenna Kim, who worked tirelessly on the conference and is the linchpin of our organization. (And a tip of the hat to Tim Beam for his assistance and good humor.)

The Guests

We were honored to have Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, who presented the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award to Indianapolis Star reporter Marisa Kwiatkowski on Friday night. On Saturday night, we were honored to have Wynne and Jerry Maschino of the Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation and Owen V. Johnson, editor of the upcoming book At Home With Ernie Pyle.

The Board

Congratulations to the new members of the NSNC board of directors: Telly Halkias (secretary), Kathy Eliscu (treasurer), Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski (contest chair) and Amanda Beam (membership chair). Congrats also to Dave Astor, who won re-election as archivist.

The Future

Next year’s conference will be in Los Angeles. California, here we come!

The Awards

Congratulations to Bill Tammeus for winning the Legacy Award. Congrats (I think) to Dave Astor, who won the Jeff Kramer Mystic Tie Award, and Donald Trump, who won the Sitting Duck Award. And kudos to all the contest winners, including, of course, Judith Martin, who received the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award in front of a large crowd that included her husband, Robert; their children, Jacobina and Nicholas; and their children’s spouses, Ron and Rebecca.

Mrs. Martin gave a witty, heartfelt speech. And she made it up to the hospitality suite, where she chatted with her many admirers and, best of all, clinked glasses with me.

Cheers, Miss Manners!

• • •

Jerry Zezima writes a syndicated humor column for his hometown paper, The Stamford (Conn.) Advocate. This column first was published in the July issue of the members-only newsletter The Columnist.

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