National Press Club

“A Club of Champions,” First Quarter Time Out and Playbook Update

Jeffrey Ballou | May 2, 2017

First, a Thank You
To say that it has been a shotgun start to the year is an understatement. Many of you have come up to me, written, or called to say, “You picked a heck of a year to be club president!” You’re right. Not only did we have ambitious goals as a team of elected club leaders, we didn’t expect that we would have to become guardians of the first amendment from attacks by the U.S. government. Who knew? Two things I know for sure. First, thank you for your support of your club and electing me as your president. It’s a tremendous honor, it is exhilarating, tiring and humbling all at the same time. I don’t take this responsibility lightly and have applied myself to the task. But an effective club presidency is not executed as a solo act. We have a great group of officers, strong Board of Governors and a Marvel Avengers group of team leaders dedicated to great programming for us that’s already well underway. I’d to take a few minutes of your time to update you on some things underway and on the drawing board for your club.

Press Freedom
Fellow members, it is no accident that I chose the week of World Press Freedom Day to release my latest President’s blog. You may have noticed that your team of member-leaders has been extremely busy overall, but particularly in the arena of press freedom. There’s no shortage of statements and letters we’ve released, interviews conducted, speeches on the road and panels held at the club in the name of protecting the first amendment and its principles.

When you look at the indices assembled annually by journalism organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, led in part by NPC’s own Delphine Halgand and, the Committee to Protect Journalists, attacks on press freedom are at a high-water mark. That’s tragic to say the least. Worldwide between dictators and democracies it’s harder than ever to practice the craft of journalism. Blaming the messenger is one of the oldest tricks in the authoritarian book. People die committing journalism. A frightening addition to current data which place countries like Turkey and North Korea in the bad actors column, is an increasing concern on what is happening in the Americas and specifically the United States. We have a U.S. President who actively and tactically undermines the very first amendment he took an oath to uphold and protect. Not only does the President rhetorically undermine confidence in the press, much like talking down stock on Wall Street to devalue it, those who believe his rhetoric are using the courts to deconstruct one of the cornerstones of our democracy—a free and independent press. The sad apparent contradiction is that our members who lead newsrooms are saying on club and institute jointly-sponsored panels, that the leader of the free world is trashing journalism by day and directly dialing up journalists at night (and other times) to give them scoops. So is attacking the press a true belief, or merely tactical? Either way it hurts democratic integrity when the governed are driven not to trust the constitutionally enshrined watchdog. There isn’t a month that goes by in the 110th club presidency where I don’t get a note from the legal counsel to the club and journalism institute to lend our name to an amicus brief on a case seeking to keep access open to government agencies where it’s being blocked, a right to cover news in public spaces and other tactics that promote darkness where light should prevail. I have been on panels, on the road, in print and on the air fighting on our behalf to protect the First Amendment and the role of a free and fair press in it. Reminding all as I wrote earlier, that because we the press, are part of the founding documents of the United States is why I had the words, “We are the Constitution,” emblazoned across the masthead of our website.

I encourage you to support our National Press Club Journalism Institute with your time, talent and treasure. The institute does so many things to protect press freedom, award scholarships through events like Wednesday’s wonderful programs on World Press Freedom day May 3rd, the details which are here: http://www.press.org/events/protecting-first-amendment-world-press-freed...

The NPCJI also has an upcoming invitational golf tournament May 31st, and a host of professional development programs. More on the NPCJI is here: http://www.press.org/institute/about

Security Gates
The club’s security gates, installed as part of a multi-year security review launched years ago when you first elected me to the board, went live on April 19th.

Well north of 600 members and counting have received either their QR codes or physical key fobs to enter the club.

The system is working. We are able to admit members and guests with minimal problems.

We are also able to keep out people who are not authorized to enter the club, backed up by contracted security that keeps our members and guests safe and secure. I pledged not to have members die in our facility on my watch and meant it. That said, the system is not yet perfect and we continue to make tweaks to it. Suggestions are welcome to members@press.org

Financials
I won’t get into actual numbers here as to not spoil the general membership meeting presentation on May 12th. I can confidently say that the 110th administration inherited a very strong financial position from the 109th administration of Thomas Burr, and, as of this writing, thanks to your support of the club, the quick study of Board Treasurer Ferdous “Danny” Al-Faruque and the business acumen of executive director Bill McCarren and his staff, it remains so.

Membership
When your current leadership ran for election in the fall of 2016, one thing I mentioned in building a “Club of Champions,” is to take a 360-degree approach to membership. To make such an approach work, first we had to make the process of becoming a member more administratively fleet afoot so that we do a stronger job of choosing quality members and attending to your needs once voted onto the rolls.

Membership Secretary Michele Salcedo, Membership team leader Yasmine El-Sabawi and Membership Director Suzanne Struglinski have formed a formidable trinity along with a larger team of members and staff to make improvements. Membership applications are way up by the way. You may have also noticed themed taco nights and other types of outreach. If you wish to help, or have suggestions, again, write to members@press.org and the team will be in touch.

Implementing the Team Concept
Both during the 110th administration’s campaign for office and the inaugural, you elected us with one overriding theme—“A Club of Champions.” The theme of “A Club of Champions,” meant in part strengthening member ties with one another to make our club feel more like a home. To do as much, we sought to eliminate silos where members individually and collectively didn’t interact across professions, generations or anything else. We also sought to do away with inefficiencies and basically write a new playbook for how the club does business. We first renamed our huddles of member volunteers from committees to teams and committee chairs, team leaders. Second, where teams overlapped doing essentially the same task, we converged them and established a duo of team leader coordinators in Club Secretary Jen Judson and Lindsay Law Murphy. Third we held a leadership retreat at the beginning of the year and very recently held a “end of the first quarter,” locker room huddle, so we could check the game plan and make adjustments before retaking the field. The goal of the team concept is for members to collaborate more on professional and social programming. Vice President Andrea Edney, Board Chair Alison Kodjak, Vice Chair Derek Wallbank and Governors Tom McMahon, Lindsay Law Murphy and Board Secretary have collectively worked very hard to take a concept and turn it into a workable blueprint.

One example of how the team concept has been implemented is converging the efforts of the former Book and Author, Newsmakers and Speakers committees. The three have been merged and renamed “The headliners team.” Much like the Olympic hockey miracle on ice and basketball dream teams, we assembled the leaders of the committees as one team, redesigned the workflow and created a one-stop clearinghouse for all club guest speakers. The goal is to make sure we choose quality over quantity, be newsworthy and give every headliner the best attention and attendance of we, the members, and our guests.

To lead this team I sought out former NBC “Meet The Press” Executive Producer Betsy Fischer Martin and long-time AP veteran turned Hager-Sharp Vice President Lisa Matthews. The combined duo, as in the tradition of its Speakers committee predecessor remains invitation-only. If you feel that you can help the club land a newsworthy journalism leader, head of state, leader of industry, athlete, entertainer, or other headliner, please look at the pitch form at http://www.press.org/suggest-headliner to suggest a headliner, or write us at headliners@press.org if you wish to apply for the team.

To generally apply for the teams, take a look at the list at:
Send us a note on volunteers@press.org

Some Programming Highlights
Earlier I mentioned that the member volunteer teams have been busy putting on programming for you. Here are some of what has already taken place:

  • Marcus Samuelsson who predicted a day without immigrants during his wine dinner in late January
  • Democratic Congressional leaders Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi prebutting the President’s address to the nation who predicted that the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would stall due to Republican infighting.
  • Classes on how to use Congress.gov
  • Pfizer CEO Ian Read on health care and debated calls for unilaterally lowering drug prices for life-saving drugs
  • Richard Trumka on trade, the labor movement and the Trump White House
  • Actors Equity President and former Miss America Kate Shindle on proposed Trump Administration cuts to arts funding
  • IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on Taxes
  • Legendary member Marvin Kalb, last of “Murrow’s boys” talking about press freedom tied to a screening of the movie, “Good night and Good Luck.”
  • American Ballet Theater Principal Ballerina Misty Copeland on healthy exercise, diet, body image and her new book
  • Training members to track cities and states use of corporate tax breaks
  • How to respond when journalism becomes the story
  • “Preserving Italy” wine dinner with Domenica Marchetti
  • Covering war with a viewing and a panel discussion of the movie “Danger Close”
  • Hosting Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Fahrenthold and CNN Cronkite Award winner Jake Tapper in a joint effort of the Young Members team and the Kalb Report to discuss freedom of the press and covering the Trump Presidency.
  • Providing encryption training for journalists
  • Hosting authors Laura Caldwell, House of Cards executive producer John Mankiewicz and exonoree Jerry Miller to discuss wrongful convictions as told in the book “Anatomy of Innocence.”

Upgrading the Clubhouse
At my direction, Board of Governors Vice-Chair Derek Wallbank alongside House team leader Paul Merrion have assembled several members and staff including to continue our work to upgrade our physical space, including workspace. Their task force is also looking at how we serve and market our food and beverage offerings. We have actually already started with some upgraded adult beverages in our restaurants and amenities like mouthwash dispensers on the 14th floor member-level restrooms. There’s more to come. If you have any ideas shoot me a note on president@press.org and I’ll pass it along.

There’s so much that I have not listed and more to come with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, authors Amie Parnes and Jonathan Allen to discuss their book, “Shattered.” Members continue to create podcasts (you can learn too), organize pub quizzes in the Reliable Source member’s restaurant, theater outings and are even practicing for a dragon boat race and so much more.

If you have a question or comment, or want to get involved to help your club, check out the club website on www.press.org, you can always write me on president@press.org follow me on twitter @NPCPresident, or make an appointment to see me at the club.

Thank you and let us get back on the field and continue to build “A Club of Champions,” together.

Jeff