Saturday, March 10, 2012

NCEW makes me a Life Member

The National Conference of Editorial Writers, a group I have been part of since 1984 and that I served as president in 2002, this year honored me with a Life Membership. It practical terms, it means I don't have to pay fees for future conventions. But what is more important is the recognition from my friends and colleagues in the opinion-writing world of journalism.

This text is posted on the NCEW web site, but it is in the members-only section, so I am posting it here. Below the text is my response. Thanks to all who made this possible.

From the NCEW Convention, Sept. 17, 2011, in Indianapolis, IN.

This year’s honoree as an NCEW Life Member is gentle man, but also a man with firm, well-grounded convictions he never shies from defending. During his fourteen years as an opinion writer, he wrote with style and argued with substance. His soft spoken approach belies the intensity of his convictions.

He well understands that a key role for opinion writers is to help those he serves to understand and deal with the complexities life presents. His principled approach to his chosen profession made him a valuable guide and his graceful style fortified with persuasive substance made him an effective and respected writer and editor.

His understanding of and loyalty to his home state and its capital was at the heart of his long and productive career.

But his leadership was not confined by the Wisconsin state borders. He brought his skills to the NCEW as a committee member, board member, Foundation trustee and, ultimately, as president. During his service on the NCEW board and during the years he held the ladder offices leading to his presidency, he was always the voice of reason, steadiness and creativity. He cares deeply about our profession and about how NCEW can make its members better at their craft.

His leadership leading up to and during NCEW’s management changes set him apart. He was sensitive to the needs of all involved and yet deeply committed to the need for NCEW to move to a new level of operation. His skill and grace were nowhere more apparent than during that difficult transition.

When he decided to shift his devotion to "speak truth to power" in a different venue as a minister of his faith, a newspaper colleague wrote that he was "one of those men who actually practice what they preach." His NCEW colleagues know the truth of that.

Therefore to Phil Haslanger, with appreciation and deep and great affection, NCEW renders its most significant honor, Life Membership, for all that he has done and all that he will continue to do.

I could not be at the convention to receive the award, so Neil Heinen of WISC-TV in Madison arranged for me to do a video response. Here's what I said:

Why, oh why, you might ask, when I should be with you in Indianapolis to be totally surprised at this wonderful award am I instead sitting in Neil Heinen’s TV studio talking to you in disembodied form?

While you are letting that dinner settle in and awaiting what I know will be a delightful presentation by Joel Pett, I am on an airplane somewhere between North Carolina and Wisconsin. I’m now on the board for the Religion News Service, run by the Religion Newswriters Association, and that meeting is still going on. I also need to be back for that church thing I do on Sunday mornings where we have some special things happening tomorrow.

I’m really sorry not to be with you tonight, especially when I get this incredible honor from my friends and colleagues at NCEW. I know how significant this award is – not because I get a price break on future conventions (that’s nice, of course) but because it represents a recognition by some of the most important people in my professional life of my connection to this amazing organization.

Since I joined NCEW in 1984, it has been the primary journalism organization that has nourished me professionally. It was an NCEW seminar in San Antonio in 1995 that introduced me to the possibilities of using the Internet as a new way of extending the opinion role of journalism. The insights I gained there led me to be part of the team that moved my own paper in Madison, The Capital Times, into what we then called cyberspace. That experience continues to enrich my work in connecting people, whether through journalism or the church world I now inhabit.

It was through NCEW that I had the chance to be part of a group having lunch with Ronald Reagan at the White House, with Kofi Annan at the United Nations, to go deep inside Cheyenne Mountain where the nation’s air defense system was headquartered and to share a seat on the King Kong ride at Universal Studios with a couple of Pulitzer Prize winners. There is no end to NCEW convention stories, of course, but you can hear some of those from the folks you are sitting with tonight.

Mostly, I just want to say thanks for this honor, thanks for all NCEW has done for me professionally and personally over the years, for the many friendships that have grown out of this organization. I’m glad that over the years, I could play a role in helping lead it through some times of transition. My best wishes to all of you as you navigate the choppy waters of journalism in 2011 and help create a future where informed opinion can emerge from the cacophony of public life to strengthen our democracy.

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