It was humorist and keen social observer Groucho Marx who famously spoke of clubs and his role therein. To paraphrase, he said that he would be reluctant to join any organization that would allow him to be a member.
What then of one that hands you the keys?
Yours truly will wake up the morning of Wednesday, September 19 as the newly minted president of the Milwaukee Press Club--the oldest continuous such organization in North America. Job #1 for me is to make sure that string is intact when I leave office because I'd hate to be dude who snaps 133 straight years of being in business.
Reading the list of past presidents is indeed humbling: folks I recognize from my youth as I scoured the pages of the Journal and Sentinel (yes kids, there was a time when they were two different entities) as well as those I watched on black and white TV or heard on crackly AM radio. I had the honor of working with a few in my adult life, and all spoke highly of the club.
And why not?
"The purpose of the club," our online mission statement says, "is the welfare and advancement of the journalistic profession and related vocational activities and to support the public's right to know." Lofty goals, indeed. We endow scholarships, hold Newsmaker/Behind The Headlines luncheons where we delve deep into the stories of the day with those most deeply involved in them. Our Hall Of Fame event acknowledges past local broadcast/print achievers, and the Gridiron Dinner is where we award our coveted Sacred Cat to a journalist of national note (most recently Jonathan Alter, Cokie Roberts, Marty Baron, David Fahrenthold and Ann Compton). It's there that we also honor local broadcast/print/digital achievement at the college and professional level. And, we toss the city of Milwaukee it's annual birthday party each January.
We're probably best known for our signature collection: chalk autographs from Presidents, candidates, politicians, celebrities, athletes and all manner of other famous folk. Some are on display at our headquarters at the Newsroom Pub on Wells Street. The rest of the 1200 or so that date back to the 1890's are archived at UWM. The Pub is open to the public (except during the odd Press Club function or two) and we'd love to see you during this weekend's Doors Open event (I'll be there from 11 until 1 Saturday).
Expect to see more in this space about Club activities as my term continues (or until the Board realizes what it's done and makes a change). It's a joy to work with so many folks who care about the industry, its future and its direction. At a time when media criticism is running so high--and trust me, we deserve some of it--our job has never been more clear. We need to be our own best advocate in acknowledging great work, educating a next generation of journalists, keeping government accountable, and making sure the elected are accessible to both reporters and to voters.
And, we can (and do) have fun in the process. One of the great things about the Milwaukee Press Club is the social aspect. The networking prospects are endless, the accessibility unmatched.
Find out more here. That's our website, where you can fact-check what I just laid down here, read more about what the Club has done, and (most importantly) you can find out why our mascot is a fossilized cat, one that's on display at the aforementioned Newsroom Pub.
I've had a blast being both an MPC member and a part of the board of governors. Now comes a new adventure. I am humbled at the thought of being at the helm of something that's been in business for 133 consecutive years. Like any group, we have issues but we also have possibilities as well as an incredibly bright future. The way we do our jobs may have changed over the decades, but the mission is the same. It's all about the truth, and nothing but. The longtime Press Club mantra remains true now as it was when someone first thought of it: the only thing dead is the cat.