National Press Club

108th Press Club President Hughes pledges support for press freedom, new media

January 26, 2015 | By Sean Lyngaas | sean.lyngaas@gmail.com>

Michael Bloomberg (left) inaugurates John K. Hughes (Right) as the 108th president of the National Press Club, Jan. 24, 2015.

Michael Bloomberg (left) inaugurates John K. Hughes (Right) as the 108th president of the National Press Club, Jan. 24, 2015.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Bloomberg LP editor John K. Hughes vowed to fight for press freedom amid threats to journalists worldwide after being sworn in as the 108th president of the National Press Club on Jan. 24.

“Our profession needs us more than ever,” Hughes told a packed Press Club ballroom. “As attacks against journalists intensify, we will push back harder than ever.”

Hughes, an editor at Bloomberg’s First Word breaking-news desk in Washington, acknowledged the Club’s storied tradition while calling for inclusion of more voices from a new generation of online-media companies. That outreach was already underway as BuzzFeed White House reporter Evan McMorris-Santoro served as master of ceremonies for the evening.

Hughes succeeds Myron Belkind, who had drawn from his long career overseas with the Associated Press to bring multiple heads of state to speak at the Club.

Hughes embraced the night’s lively and good-humored atmosphere. The Minnesota native quipped that he had bucked a historical trend of Minnesotans who had run out of luck in Washington. Michele Bachmann, Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey all lost their presidential bids, while comedian-turned-senator Al Franken “lost his sense of humor here,” Hughes joked.

The inauguration had a bit of everything. Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton of the Minnesota Vikings sent a video congratulating Hughes, and Broadway star Mary Michael Patterson rattled the rafters with her soprano.

Bloomberg LP founder and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg swore Hughes in as president on a Bloomberg magazine, one of a handful of tongue-in-cheek moves from the billionaire keynote speaker.

But the former mayor also had solemn words in defense of a free press. “Censorship, no matter how well intentioned, always backfires,” Bloomberg said, adding that no infringement on press freedom should go unchallenged.

Hughes, who was an aviation and transportation reporter for Bloomberg LP for more than a decade, continued the First Amendment theme in his inaugural address. He pointed to the Club’s strong support for journalists under siege last year. Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah al-Shami, whom the Egyptian government had jailed for months before releasing in June, came to the Club last year to thank members for their support, Hughes noted.

The new president traced the evolution of the Press Club over a century of changes to the profession. Though the first members in 1908 “wouldn’t recognize much of what we do today,” Hughes said, “they would recognize our principles … our dedication to the profession of journalism, our devotion to public service, our fight to protect the First Amendment, and our search for the truth in all that we do.”

Prompting the last of several standing ovations, Hughes added, “Let these principles be our guiding light in 2015 and beyond as we work together to continue to transform the National Press Club.”