National Press Club

NPC President Ballou touts Club camaraderie, press protections in inaugural speech

January 16, 2017 | By Yasmine El-Sabawi | yasmine.elsabawi@gmail.com

Jeffrey Ballou takes the Oath of Office delivered by the Hon. Eric T. Washington as his hand rests on his mother’s bible, held by Simeon Booker. Jeffrey’s sister, Karla Ballou, also witnessed the swearing in at the NPC on Jan. 14.

Jeffrey Ballou takes the Oath of Office delivered by the Hon. Eric T. Washington as his hand rests on his mother’s bible, held by Simeon Booker. Jeffrey’s sister, Karla Ballou, also witnessed the swearing in at the NPC on Jan. 14.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

The 110th National Press Club President has pledged to bring his hometown “Pittsburgh values” and their “winning tradition” to Washington, focusing on strengthening the Club for the future, enhancing the membership experience, and going the extra mile when the craft of journalism is threatened.

Al-Jazeera Media Network news editor Jeff Ballou took his oath of office on his late mother’s bible at his sold-out inauguration the night of Saturday, Jan. 14. Congratulatory video messages came in from Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and Ballou’s beloved Pittsburgh Penguins.

98-year-old Simeon Booker, who in 1982 became the first African-American journalist to win the National Press Club's Fourth Estate Award, joined Ballou on stage for the swearing-in. Also displayed on the table was the historic marble gavel George Washington used in 1793 to lay the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol.

Ballou, 49, is the first African-American male to lead the organization and the first to represent a non-U.S. news outlet. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto even designated Jan. 14 as Jeff Ballou Day for the occasion.

“We have to lean on our veterans, the wonderful energy we get from our Owls, our senior members," Ballou said in his inaugural address, in addition to "our Young Members who showed us how to grow membership in an age of news cutbacks.”

“But we’re vulnerable if we don’t know how to find, track, or utilize each player’s talent, or merge the energy from multiple generations and mediums,” he added. “This Club is special, and we’re gonna make sure it feels like a unique privilege that other colleagues want to be a part of.”

But first, Ballou said, he intends to secure the Club’s financial future by “taking our rainy day savings to new levels” following the 2015 sale of the “Norman Rockwell visits a country editor” painting.

The NPC president also pledged to “revamp” the structure of the Club’s volunteers and replace the term “committee” with “team."

“It’s not simply a name change, it’s a mindset shift,” he said.

“Our teams will have license to look at and thoughtfully change some old conventions, to design new plays, but also to keep and expand some of the best elements,” he announced.

And with a far more elaborate U.S. presidential inauguration taking place only days away for an incoming administration that has shown hostility to the press, Ballou vowed to fight for the rights and integrity of journalists at home in the same way the fight has long been taken to foreign governments.

“If you come for our Club, if you come for our profession… we will call you out, we will defend our colleagues, because this Club, at its best, speaks truth to power,” Ballou said.