By Lisa Smith Molinari
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
I was just outside Mrs. Rowley’s kindergarten class, giggling uncontrollably. Dancing in the coat room was all Marshall’s idea. He was just a little guy, with a skin condition and an odd personal aroma. But having been his table mate for months, I knew he had a great sense of humor. He jerked my hand, mimicking an immature waltz, as we twirled in circles among the raincoats, umbrellas and galoshes. It is my earliest recollection of a real belly laugh.
It was 1970, and Marshall was my best friend.
Seven years later, a group of about 20 columnists got together in a hotel bar in Virginia Beach, and although there are no reports of twirling in circles, they did share a few belly laughs about their profession. Those friends were the original founders of NSNC.
Ever since NSNC’s founding, the keystone of the organization has been true friendship. Even as the world of journalism undergoes drastic changes, NSNC has held fast to the founding principle that camaraderie among like-minded professionals helps everyone succeed.
In support of that mission, NSNC has formed close relationships with other organizations for the purpose of sharing information, promoting charitable endeavors, and networking.
In 1997, NSNC member, Bob Haught, proposed an award to recognize columnists for humanitarianism in the name of his favorite cowboy columnist, Will Rogers. Bob worked for a couple of years to develop the idea with the help of contacts in the Will Rogers family. Finally, the first Will Rogers Humanitarian Award was presented at the 2000 NSNC Conference in Arlington, VA to Wall Street Journal columnist, Jeff Zazlow, who died in a car accident in 2012.
For the last sixteen years, NSNC has had a close working relationship with the family of Will Rogers and various entities bearing his name. Rogers’ great granddaughter,
Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, is the official family representative today. She has taken a deep personal interest in NSNC and has been responsible for some generous financial support. Most recently, at the 2016 NSNC
Conference in LA, Jennifer invited attendees to the Will Rogers Ranch, where she hosted a private tour and spectacular awards dinner.
“I have had the opportunity to make amazing friendships with so many of the NSNC members,” Rogers-Etcheverry said. “I owe this to Bob and Mary Haught, the founders of the [Will Rogers Humanitarian] Award… For them I am forever grateful.”
When Tim Bete, former director of the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, came to speak at the 2005 NSNC Conference in Dallas, TX, he and a few NSNC members came up with the idea to form a marketing partnership. Since then, many members of NSNC have attended the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshops, and at the recent workshop in March 2016, 152 attendees signed up to join NSNC.
“We are proud of our longstanding partnership with NSNC,” said Teri Rizvi, current EBWW Director. “We share a love of the written word and the ability to poke fun at life’s absurdities.
In the words of Erma, ‘When humor goes, there goes civilization.'”
More recently, past NSNC President, Jerry Zezima, launched a partnership initiative to increase membership diversity. In May of 2016, NSNC announced a networking partnership with the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, a group dedicated to fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues. NLGJA’s Executive Director, Adam Pawlus, attended our 2016 Conference in LA, where, one night in our hospitality suite, he used his tactful sense of humor to field a battery of spontaneous questions from NSNC members.
“It is important to diversify,” Jerry said, “but it is just as important to unify. Our partnerships help to do both. They also lead to even more good times in the hospitality suite. Just ask Adam Pawlus.”
And in a few short weeks, NSNC will announce another networking partnership with the Journalism and Women Symposium. JAWS “supports the professional empowerment and personal growth of women in journalism and works toward a more accurate portrayal of the whole society.” NSNC and JAWS are both excited about collaborating in the years to come.
Marshall moved away a couple of years after our kindergarten waltz, but the friendship taught me to be myself, to take risks, and to have fun – lessons that I use in column-writing to this day. Similarly, NSNC has learned that it can increase diversity, expand networking reach, and promote professional camaraderie through its relationships with other organizations.
All it takes is a few good friends, one shared interest … and plenty of belly laughs.