Columnist Sympathizer

Card-Carrying Columnist Card
Card-Carrying Columnist Card

A nice thing just happened. On Jan. 31, I was elected vice president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. I’ve been a card-carrying columnist since 1991, joining during the run of my column Mirthology, in the old Arkansas Democrat. The post is interim, to cover after a resignation, until the annual membership meeting in July in Bloomington, Ind.

VP should be just another officer and not particularly noteworthy. First I was archivist from 2005-07, then elected secretary and last summer re-elected minutes-taker. It’s cool that it’s a national group, but also comfortable in not being too big, around 300 members in a given year.

But veep is not just another officer. According to the motion, I am “to be willing to be on the slate as a nominee for president at that meeting.”

That’s what I’m in for. And barring nominations from the floor — a qualified candidate could get my vote — I’ll be out front for 2010-12.

Here’s the thing. I am a former newspaper columnist. My last print-published column, Loose Leaves, was dropped when I was downsized from that newsroom, in fall 2001. I’ve repeatedly made the fact known to board and lay members alike. For several years, different people have suggested I make myself available to the nominating committee, but I’ve insisted the NSNC president has to be a columnist. It’d be like the Bar Association run by a subpoena server, the Teamsters headed by a CPA, the American Veterinary Medical Association led by a Shih Tzu.

Times are changing. No need to detail here changes in the newspaper business/craft/industry/profession/racket.

The motion by longtime member, and currently newsletter editor, Robert L. Haught lists, too generously, my alleged qualifications:

The president needs to be someone who has been a member of NSNC long enough to know the organization well, who has demonstrated genuine interest in the future of NSNC, who is attuned to the conditions in the news business that affect columnists, who is articulate, promotion-minded, persuasive and able to lead. Ben possesses all these qualities and more. He has gone beyond the responsibility of the offices he has held to provide valuable assistance on the web site, the contest, the bylaws and other areas. He is the right person at the right time to move into a leadership position he has earned.”

But, I am a former newspaper columnist. For nearly six years, my 40-hour, insurance-carrying job has been news page designer and copy editor. When I was a columnist, it was always a weekly gig, a few hours taken from my business-card title of some kind of editor or another.

On reflection, though, I’m a former lots of things. Ex: reporter, metro editor, editorial page editor, low-brass musician, watercolorist, freezer assembly lineman, wire editor, photojournalist, book and show critic, public radio news producer, journalism scholar, college instructor. …

Former isn’t forever. Most of these things I can pick up again, should something happen to the current gig. Buy a picture of a trombone?

No worries: I am a columnist in a 21st-century sense: I blog. I opened my Web site back in 2002, a long time for this medium.

Most of our members who still produce columns for newspapers have an online presence as well, both staff and freelance writers. Yet we’re gaining members whose essays run solely online, either at their own or on broader sites.

Sure, among my former selves, newspaper columnist is tops. I’m a realist, though, so I press on under my own masthead. Brick gets a lot of hits.

These are interesting times. Thank heavens I’m still a columnist.

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One thought on “Columnist Sympathizer

  1. No worries — you’re suited to the role. Student of the business, practitioner of the craft, explorer of media. You can point the way for the inexperienced, sound the trumpet to rally ’round the cause and carry the torch for the tried and true methodology in pursuit of excellence.

    From grad school to newspapers small and large to the Internet, you know how it works and what it means for writers — and readers.

    Lead on!

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