National Press Club

Club Members Welcome New President at Bjerga Inaugural

February 1, 2010 | By Melissa Charbonneau |

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Posted by Sylvia Smith - 02/01/2010 | Email the editor
Club Members Welcome New President at Bjerga Inaugural

NPC President Alan Bjerga and Sen. Amy Klobuchar during the inaugural dinner
Photo: Noel St. John

With snow flurries blanketing the streets of Washington in white and bison on the menu, Alan Bjerga of Bloomberg News joined hundreds of guests to celebrate his inauguration as the National Press Club’s 103rd president Jan. 30.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., swore in Bjerga, a fellow Minnesotan, with Bjerga's hand on a Minnesota Vikings Brett Favre jersey, Bjerga took a (traditionally irreverent) oath to “thoroughly investigate the NFL referees whose decisions kept his team out of the Super Bowl.”

In remarks, Bjerga called on colleagues in the news business to celebrate their profession during difficult times when every week another is out of a job and the work grows more dangerous.

“Journalists continue to lay down their lives while organizations lay off their employees,” said Bjerga, who succeeds USA Today’s Donna Leinwand as president for a one-year term.

Despite restructuring, and industry uncertainties, Bjerga described the work of journalists as no less important.

“Free speech and a free press are still an abstraction for many people around the world. These places need good journalists. Journalists continue to find a story people need to know and to tell it," Bjerga said.

Keynote speaker Amanda Bennett, executive editor with Bloomberg News, praised Bjerga’s reporting and recounted one of his articles on the world food program. Bjerga tracked a food shipment from its origin as seeds in North Dakota to its destination in Ethiopia, which arrived too late to save a family of seven.

“It was an effective story. It was an important story,” Bennett said. “It was meant in some degrees to change the world, and isn’t that what we all got in the business to do?”

Klobuchar struck a lighter chord, noting that Bjerga earned his degree from the University of Minnesota.

“It was in ice fishing,” she said.

The daughter of a newspaperman, Klobuchar said with recent changes in the industry, Bjerga has an important job ahead.

“It’s never a good time when Jon Stewart jokes about newspapers as 'black, white and completely over,' ” Klobuchar said.

In the past month, she said, Haiti has proved that “without journalists reporting from the scene, what is out of sight would truly be out of mind.”

Mark Wojno, host for the evening’s events, read letters of congratulations to Bjerga from Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and the Motion Picture Association of America's outgoing president, Dan Glickman. Wojno introduced a surprise videotaped message from Alex Trebek, host of the television game show Jeopardy, on which Bjerga once appeared as a contestant.

“It’s obvious that being on Jeopardy can lead to wonderful things at the National Press Club,” Trebek joked. “However, I can only wonder what great things might have been achieved had he won on Jeopardy.”

During his roast, Bjerga was teased for getting stumped during his television appearance on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Bjerga walked away with winnings from the show, but he had to request an audience lifeline to answer whether raw eggs cause salmonella poisoning.

In a video message played for the audience, Millionaire host Meredith Vieira gave kudos to Bjerga for his pledge to boost free speech and journalism training. “We can definitely use a lifeline for that,” Vieira said.

After enduring on-screen images of himself sitting on a farm tractor at age 3 and a video clip of himself performing a rap song with friends, Bjerga handed the microphone to CBS’ Bob Schieffer and his band, Honky Tonk Confidential. But Schieffer took to the dance floor when Bjerga again took the stage, strapping on a guitar and singing a Johnny Cash classic “Folsom Prison Blues."