A brief NSNC history
The society began in 1977, thanks to Larry Maddry of the (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot, who sent out letters to all kinds of columnists suggesting they get together and tell war stories, commiserate about editors and so forth.
So a handful of columnists showed up in Virginia Beach in the first year of the Carter presidency, sat around in lounge chairs, drank adult beverages, told stories, met other people who did the same goofy job for a living and reflected on how happy they were to be out of the office. Who were these people? Oh, they included, among others, Maddry, Richard Des Ruisseaux from Louisville, Tom LaBelle from Grand Rapids, Shelley Rolfe and Steve Clark from Richmond, and Bob Terrell from Ashville. All white men, it turned out, reflecting the reality of newspapers — and particularly of newspaper columnists — in those days. (Maddry has written further about the founding in this post.)
Des Ruisseaux recalls: “I was so goddamn excited about this idea of forming an organization and an annual gathering of like-mind hacks that when we talked about getting together the next year I volunteered Louisville.” How did that second annual gathering go? “We had a terrific group that year. Memory says 38, and we had folks from far and wide — and women, by God, a miracle.”
Des Ruisseaux and Big Bob Hill of Louisville then pretty much carried the organization on their backs through the 1980s. In 1990, at the gathering in Nashville, some of the newer members decided the outfit needed to appear and actually be a little more professional so that editors might pay folks to come to conferences and others might take the NSNC more seriously. That year the leadership was turned over to Mary Ann Lindley of Tallahassee as president and Bill Tammeus of Kansas City as vice president. Within a few years, there were actual committees and bylaws and real officers with term limits and other phenomena that columnists usually don’t understand very well.
The organization slowly grew on the strength of volunteer help and the amazing enthusiasm of people who couldn’t get enough of the annual gatherings, the newsletters and the terrific friends they were making in the group. By 2000, the NSNC, then with its own Web site, had outgrown its volunteer base and hired a professional administrator. The group also began calling its conventions conferences on the theory that the latter sounded more serious.
Des Ruisseaux again: “Thank God (that) over those years we got some people with organizational skills, like Bill Tammeus in Kansas City, who really deserves credit for smoothing — as much as possible — the rough edges of a ragtag group, giving it some overdue structure and — dare we say it — legitimizing the organization.”
Over the years, the NSNC has worked hard to help columnists become better at their jobs, but the group has not lost the touch of zaniness that has characterized its conferences, its newsletters and especially its leaders since the beginning.
That’s why we give lifetime achievement awards to people like David Broder and Herb Caen but also spend time playing croquet against Marines and beating English teachers in spelling bees. It’s why we bring in top-notch speakers at conferences where we also challenge pre-law students in the hotel to a dance contest. So for more than a quarter of a century, the NSNC has existed for professional assistance, advocacy, communication, camaraderie and great fun. It’s hard to know how the republic got along for 200 years without us.
- Richard Des Ruisseaux
- Big Bob Hill
- Lawrence Maddry
The early National Society of Newspaper Columnists operated informally under the leadership of Richard Des Ruisseaux, who served as our George Washington, until its formal organization in 1990.
After that, each president served for two-year terms.
- 1977-1989 — Richard Des Ruisseaux – Louisville Courier-Journal (Ky.)
- 1990-1992 — Mary Ann Lindley – Tallahasee Democrat (Fla.)
- 1992-1994 — Bill Tammeus – Kansas City Star (Mo.)
- 1994-1996 — Sheila Stroup – Times Picayune (La.)
- 1996-1998 — Jonathan Nicholas – Portland Oregonian (Ore.)
- 1998-2000 — Regina Brett – Plain Dealer (Ohio)
- 2000-2002 — Pete Rowe – San Diego Union Tribune (Calif.)
- 2002-2004 — Mike Leonard – The Herald-Times (Ind.)
- 2004-2006 — Suzette Martinez Standring – Self-Syndicated (Mass.)
- 2006-2006 — Mike Argento – York Daily Record (Pa.)
- 2008-2010 — Samantha Bennett – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- 2010-2012 — Ben S. Pollock – Blog-column (Ark.)
- 2012 — Larry Cohen – writing for the Hartford (Conn.) Business Journal from Sanibel, Fla.
- 2012-2014 — Eric Heyl, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
- 1977 — Virginia Beach, Va.
- 1978 — Louisville, Ky.
- 1979 — New Orleans
- 1980 — The Greenbrier, W.Va.
- 1981 — Grand Rapids, Mich.
- 1982 — Phoenix
- 1983 — Oklahoma City
- 1984 — Louisville
- 1985 — Columbus, Ohio
- 1986 — Norfolk, Va.
- 1987 — Phoenix
- 1988 — Honolulu
- 1989 — Mystic Seaport, Conn.
- 1990 — Nashville
- 1991 — Huntington, W.Va.
- 1992 — Columbus
- 1993 — Portland, Ore.
- 1994 — Sarasota, Fla.
- 1995 — Kansas City, Mo.
- 1996 — Snowbird, Utah
- 1997 — Williamsburg, Va.
- 1998 — San Diego
- 1999 — Louisville
- 2000 — Washington, D.C.
- 2001 — San Francisco
- 2002 — Pittsburgh
- 2003 — Tucson
- 2004 — New Orleans
- 2005 — Grapevine, Texas
- 2006 — Boston
- 2007 — Philadelphia
- 2008 — New Orleans
- 2009 — Ventura, Calif.
- 2010 — Bloomington, Ind.
- 2011 — Detroit
- 2012 — Macon, Ga.