National Press Club

Leinwand Accepts President's Gavel

January 19, 2009 | By Myron Belkind, Club Secretary

ylvia Smith, center, passes the presidential gavel to Donna Leinwand. Former President Gil Klein is at right.

ylvia Smith, center, passes the presidential gavel to Donna Leinwand. Former President Gil Klein is at right.

Photo/Image: Suzanne Struglinski

Despite temperatures that dipped to 10 degrees, more than 80 NPC Members turned out for the annual membership Meeting on Friday to review "an extraordinary Centennial year" under outgoing President Sylvia Smith and to prepare for a "challenging" 2009 led by new President Donna Leinwand.

Against a backdrop of unprecedented difficulties facing the journalism profession, with continuing job losses and threatened newspaper closures, there was a common theme throughout the meeting that the state of the National Press Club is strong, with year-end profits of $370,237 compared to $203,507 in 2007 and a strong membership base that is holding its own, with new members growing by 7.2 percent last year.

"We are going to have a challenging year, but the Club is ready," said Leinwand, a reporter for USA Today who became the Club's 102nd president when Smith handed her the gavel at the membership meeting. Her Inaugural Gala is Jan. 31.

Leinwand said the Club has enormous capital in the vast talent and skills of its members. "I hope the Press Club is a place where we can help one another," she said. "We have so many skills we can all use."

She said the Club would facilitate members "to grow with new professional skills" offered through its professional development programs.

Leinwand paid tribute to outgoing president Smith, who received a standing ovation, for "an extraordinary year."

Smith said the new president "comes with lots of great ideas, charm and energy. I am sure she will find this year as rewarding as I found 2008."

Smith also introduced the other new officers: Alan Bjerga of Bloomberg News, vice president; Keith Hill of BNA, treasurer; Myron Belkind, retired AP foreign bureau chief, secretary; and Mark Hamrick of AP Broadcast, membership secretary. The three new members of the Board are Jessica Brady of Roll Call, Mike Soraghan of The Hill, and Shawn Bullard, owner of the Duetto Group.

In her report, Smith listed highlights of the Centennial year accomplishments including improved communication with the members through the new NPC Wire offered online, creation of a Freelance Committee, refocusing training programs to keep journalists up to date on changing technology, emphasizing the Cub's history through the Centennial documentary and the nation-wide professional seminars organized by past president Gil Klein and a Fourth Estate Dinner honoring CNN Special Correspondent Christiane Amanpour "that both raised money and was an en excellent event."

"And, of course, we've had fun," Smith said. "Four hundred people attended the Centennial Gala; 700 attended Journapalooza and there was plenty in between them."

Smith also said two major renovations during the year would contribute to strengthening the Club's finances: the remodeling of the Library to create a classroom that also can be used for rentals and the renovation of the Fourth Estate Restaurant with redesigned access to the Winners Room.

The Club's strong operating base was reflected in the reports by Membership Secretary Mark Hamrick and Treasurer Alan Bjerga,

"The membership news is remarkably good in this climate," said Hamrick, who reported that the Club's membership of 3,640 at the end of 2008 was almost at the level of 3,673 a year ago, a loss of only 33 despite the economic cutbacks in the industry. "How do we explain that? Because in these times, the value of membership is more important than ever."

There were 503 new members in 2008, compared to 469 in 2007, and total members Under 35 were 325 compared to 306 a year ago. Total resignations and suspensions were 554 in 2008 compared to 612 in 2007.

Treasurer Bjerga reported that the key financial indicators were positive. Costs had increased by only 2.7% to $12,277,928, while revenue had grown by a little more than 4%, to $12,648,165. The result was a profit of $370,237 compared to $203,507 last year.

Bjerga said the Club needed to build up its Reserve Fund and to do so it was budgeting profits in 2009 of a little more than $600,000.

"It's ambitious, but I think we can hit it with more rental space now available in the Club," he said.

Bjerga also said the Broadcast Operations Center was operating in the black and that double-digit growth was forecast.

Past president Klein said that the Club's Centennial Project of holding forums on the First Amendment, Freedom of the Press and the Future of Journalism reached 38 live audiences in 35 states and the District of Columbia and thousands more people who saw the panels on C-SPAN and local television and radio. The project was underwritten by Aviva North America. (See full text of Klein's remarks in another Wire item.)

"Everywhere I went, I found people had a high regard for the National Press Club and were amazed and pleased that we were bringing our program to them," Klein said.

"Yes, I found journalists struggling with the deteriorating economy and the burdens on the basic economic model for the news business by rapidly shifting technology. But I also found determination to provide serious journalism in the face of these conditions and enthusiasm for the possibilities of developing new ways of telling our stories and reaching new audiences."

Klein said that in his travels he found that "demand for accurate, dependable news is still great and growing."

"Credibility is a commodity we convey. If we lose that, we're out of business."
-- Myron Belkind, NPC Secretary

The text of President Sylvia Smith's remarks to the membership:

Thank you for the honor of serving as the Club president. It’s been both a joy and a challenge, and I appreciate both.

In a moment you will hear from our new president, Donna Leinwand, who comes with lots of great ideas, charm and energy. I am sure she will find this year as rewarding as I found 2008.

And speaking of 2008, let me review some of our centennial year accomplishments.

I promised to improve communication with our membership, and the feedback I get from the Wire suggests this is one mission accomplished. Thanks to all who submit items for the Wire, which keeps everyone up to date on what a vibrant place the Club is.

I promised that during our centennial, we’d keep part of our focus on our history. Certainly the major way we did that was through our documentary and the excellent work Gil did throughout the country.

But there were events in each of the named rooms highlighting the journalism careers of each of those luminaries. And of course there are the placemats!

I said I would keep in tune to the training needs of our members. As a result, we created a Freelance Committee and refocused the thrust of our training programs to keep journalists up to date on changing technology and in repackaging themselves when their traditional newspaper job disappeared. Librarian Beth Shankle’s regular classes on Facebook, Twitter and other formats and platforms have been well received.

And, of course, we’ve had fun. 400 people attended the Centennial Gala. 700 attended Journapalooza, and there was plenty in between.

On the financial end, we tried to keep in mind that we can do all the improvements an expansions in the world to our social and professional programming. But if the business side doesn’t perform well, the club could go under. That means the board tries to consider the financial implications of all we do.

One thing I’m quite proud of is that we were able to produce a Fourth Estate Award Dinner that both raised money and was an excellent event. This was the first time we sought donors for this dinner, and it was a huge success. Also, our excellent remodeling of the library – thanks to JZ for his work last year on this – allowed us to create a classroom that can also be used for rental, providing needed income for the Library. And the renovation of the Fourth Estate includes a rearranged door that allows the Winners Room to also be used with more flexibility, which includes rental income.

I thank the committee chairs for their hard work, creativity and energy. And I thank the staff for everything they have done and continue to do. Bill McCarren runs a great shop, and it’s been a pleasure to work with him.