President’s Farewell Address

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Dateline: July 15, 2020. Mendon, New York. As I sit down to type this, my final NSNC President’s letter, I am struck by how much has changed, how much is changing, and how much change is yet to come.

I understand my being here is an accident of fate. Isn’t that true of us all. No matter where we are. No matter who we are. Providence has constructed for us a happy accident.

So here we sit, at this unique time, at this unique place, at this unique crest. A paradise in a maelstrom, if you will.

Suzette wanted me to recount the accomplishments of the NSNC over the past two years. I think she implied they belong to me.

They don’t.

If anything, they belong to us all, because the NSNC is the sum of its members. We’ve all had a hand in our success, in overcoming obstacles, and in building a foundation for a greater tomorrow.

While I can name many, time permits me only to focus on a handful who have helped ease my happy accident.

I’ll begin with Artie – I mean Dave Lieber. No sooner had I been elected to serve as NSNC President two years ago, then Dave made sure this was handed down to me. It a Jams Thurber print originally from 1933. He warned me, as President, I will never be able to sleep, for the moment I laid down to rest, another nightmare would appear.

Little did he know I love the letter “C.” Not only does both my first and last name start with see, but so does “chaos.” That excited me, for, as we all know, in chaos lies opportunity. There is always good to come, even when tidings appear their worst.

I always looked up to scoutmasters, for they must stand stoic athwart the coming storm. I may not have the angular jaw and toned torso of the stereotypical scoutmaster (after all, a man’s got to know his limitations), but that same resolve beats through the depths of my heart. Was Dave trying to warn me or trying to scare me? I don’t know. What he did do was propel my enthusiasm.

Dave’s been a steady rudder, guiding me through the rocky shoals his veteran eyes saw where my naïve eyes saw only the bright unreachable stars. He told me the tale of the education foundation, and I hoped I helped nudge that to a better place, if only by a smidgen.

And speaking of steadying the ship, must gratitude goes to Tony Norman. Tony gladly stepped into the role if Vice President to help ease our vessel, rocked by the unfortunate reality that tends to rock all vibrant populations. The turbulence still gently buffets us a bit, but we’re past the worst. And Tony, when he takes the helm, will make a superlative president.

Dave Astor. What can I say about this Dave? One of these days I hope to pay him handsomely to edit my best-selling series of action-adventure fiction. Of course, you won’t know it’s me who writes it. That’s not what it’s all about.

The rest of the board, particularly this year’s board of directors and advisers – all eagerly embraced their respective duties and the challenges that came with those duties and their position. We all learned a lot this year. And we learned a lot about each other. This is the biggest change that has occurred. We have forged together a team of unlimited potential. And that bodes well for the future of the NSNC.

Ah, the future. That’s the part that especially delights me.

Of course, there would be no future without Bonnie Jean Feldcamp, the NSNC Communications Director. Her commitment to continuing content represents the glue that binds our far-flung family as we travel to the next level.

Indeed, the next level. Bonnie has already announced it. Since Lisa first past the gavel I had this vision of a member-engaged website percolating with multidimensional activity. The pieces are already being put into place. Some you know about, some have yet to be revealed.

Which gets me to the “happy” of my happy accident. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for one person. Heck, the NSNC wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this person. In many ways, she embodies the coming change, albeit a bittersweet one.

Suzette Standring, our outgoing Executive Director, brought me in to the NSNC. I sat like a rapt freshman listening on the edge of my seat as she presented “The Art of Column Writing” at the New York Press Association’s Spring Conference. I made sure she didn’t get away after the talk so I could ask her more questions. She saw my enthusiasm and immediately invited me to the Manchester NSNC conference. I accepted and joined.

The rest, as they say, is history.

It was Suzette’s encouragement that propelled my enthusiasm further. Her faith in having a conference in Buffalo made feel indescribably good. I say “indescribably,” but I will nonetheless describe it.

You see, I was born in Buffalo. I grew up in the shadows of the Bethlehem Steel plant in the blue-collar melting pot known as Lackawanna. You know that Billy Joel song “Allentown” where he speaks about elementary school kids being taught how to make steel? That was my elementary school. We were trained for but one purpose – to make steel.

How did that dream turn out?

I was the first generation of my immigrant family not to work at Bethlehem Steel. It became the rusted-out posterchild of a declining Buffalo. By then, I had moved on, but never away. I would ceaselessly defend the honor of my hometown against the prejudices of those who had not grown up in my shoes or, more importantly, my friends, shoes.

Alas, this is the sad part of that happy accident. Fate has its own destiny, and often it separates you from those whose memories you will forever cherish. Fate took me away from my friends. Then it took my friends away from me. From that moment on, I have dedicated my life to sharing the blessings of their memories with as wide an audience as I could.

And that meant showing them a Buffalo that they never heard of. A Buffalo that blossoms every spring. A Buffalo that shines every summer. A Buffalo that parties every fall. A Buffalo that huddles comfortably as one every winter.

And what better people to help spread this word that the finest columnists from across our nation.

Suzette, you never knew this about me, but you helped me fulfill my destiny. And I’m sure you’ve helped others in the same way. For you certainly have done things no other could have done for the NSNC. You’ve cheerfully tackled tormentors without once losing your smile. You’ve amazingly solved unsolvable problems as if you were naturally born to the solve them (and you were). You’ve led horses to water AND you got them to drink.

And, during my term, it was more than merely embracing the idea of holding a conference in Buffalo. Why I suggested “Why don’t we offer members a gift they can always use?” You said, “Why not?” and we did. Unfortunately, with no Tulsa our members missed the chance to see this benefit in action by the very person in charge of the newspapers.com historical archive.

But wait! There’s more…

More to come, that is. At Suzette’s request, the NSNC has begun working with Zoom. You should anticipate more webinars, courses, and virtual experiences, especially now that Bonnie has the new membership site coming.

Here’s the thing about Suzette that I will always be grateful for. Suzette sees the glass half full. This is especially true about people. She always saw the best in me, she always saw the best in all the officers and the Board, she always see the best in all NSNC members.

And that consistently brought out the best in her.

And perhaps that’s the best adage I can leave with.

If you presume the best in others, it will bring out the best in you. And you are the best. Don’t forget that. And I won’t forget you.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve, forgive me for not sharing more of myself than I could have, than I want to, and, remember this always, tomorrow is next.

*    *    *    *

I’ll see you there.

*    *    *    *

I’ll going now.

Will you join me?

I’d Rather Have A Bottle (of Diet Pepsi) In Front of Me…

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Those of a certain age remember Dr. Demento. Those who aren’t of a certain age should discover Dr. Demento.

Dr. Demento was what might be called a “free range” DJ in the waning days of AM music. He didn’t fit in any acceptable genre. He played novelty songs no one else would play. In doing so, he popularized Elmo and Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and would help launch the career of Weird Al Yankovic.

It wasn’t all about the music. Dr. Demento’s shows featured oddball skits and comedy routines. In the late 1970s and early 1980s it was likened to an audio version of Saturday Night Live. (Those of a certain age know that was Saturday Night Live when it used to be Continue Reading “I’d Rather Have A Bottle (of Diet Pepsi) In Front of Me…”

Merrymaking in the ‘Nati

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The Championship Winners flank either side of the affable play-by-lay announcer. NSNC Photo

As I sat down to write this account, a profound thought struck me: It’s much easier to go from writer to talker than from talker to writer. I’ve been both. I’ve had fun at both. But never, until now, have I ever attempted to shift from play-by-play announcer to sportswriter. But here goes…

Named for George Washington’s Roman protégé, with a nod to that ancient empire’s capital the city of Cincinnati has long been called the City of Seven Hills. Indeed, for a hundred or so of the nation’s finest columnists, the undulating topography of Cincinnati’s inclined streets no doubt left an ache in the shins that echoed for several days.

Nonetheless, it was in this Queen City of the West that they gathered. At once to dine at the Mecklenburg Gardens – a dinner that lasted well past its “sell-by” date – and to cavort with the giraffes during happy hour at the Cincinnati Zoo.

For many, though, the highlight of the event wasn’t Jerry Springer apologizing for ruining the culture, or even George Clooney’s equally famous dad Nick regaling the crowd with stories of Walter Cronkite and ruffage. For attendees, and at least a handful of the hotel staff, the pinnacle of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists Annual Conference was Continue Reading “Merrymaking in the ‘Nati”

The Difference Between a Reporter and a Columnist

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I interviewed a prospective intern the other day and she asked a very interesting question. I was explaining how, because our vast publishing empire does so many things – from print to digital, from text to video, from social media to books – we have the flexibility to design an internship program customized to her specific needs and wants. I asked her, “What should you have on your resume that would most impress your future employer? Chances are, you can get that by interning here.”

She was contemplating a different question, though. Something I had told her about what I do intrigued her, and she wanted to explore that. So, instead of answering my question, she asked me one of her own.

“What’s the difference between a reporter and a columnist?”

I leaned back in my chair. Wow, I thought, what a great question!

I had told her I did both. She wanted to know specifically how the two journalism functions Continue Reading “The Difference Between a Reporter and a Columnist”