Reprinted from the Fall 1996 Masthead
A half-century of provocative journalism
FIFTY YEARS OF CONVENTIONS, board of directors meetings, resolutions debated and disposed of, ideas generated and kept or discarded - all are elements of the evolution of the remarkable organization that endures, indeed thrives, as the National Conference of Editorial Writers. Ever since the "API 26" gathered at Columbia University in January 1947, commentary writers and editors have been stimulated and energized by the spark of mutual recognition, common cause, and professional fellowship. In the pages that follow, we invite you to savor the story of NCEW and how it grew.
NCEW stands stronger than ever
BY KEN RYSTROM
NCEW life member Ken Rystrom is professor of communication studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. before leaving the newspaper field, he was editorial page editor of The Columbian in Vancouver, Wash.
THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY of NCEW comes at a time when we increasingly see reminders that editorials are not the only opinion show in town.
Traditional print and broadcast opinion writers face competition from talk radio, reader-dominated opinion pages, public or civic journalism, the Internet, Sunday talk shows, and Oprah.
My reading of the almost-50-year history of "organized" editorial writing suggests that editorial writers are a resourceful, innovative, scrappy hunch who can be counted on to hang onto the the best of the old ways and grab hold of the best of the new.
They've been that way ever since their first get-together in January 1947, at American Press Institute's first seminar for editorial writers at Columbia University in New York City. Realizing now what a break-through that session turned out to be - and how much has changed in the field of editorial writing since - is hard for us.
Twenty-six editorial writers showed up at API, but when they got together again just nine months later, an incredible 101 came. That gathering in October 1947 in Washington, D.C., be-came the first annual conference (now called convention) of NCEW.
Until API's session, editorial writers from across the country had never assembled. One attendee of both meetings described his fellow writers as "anonymous wretches," unknown to each other and largely unknown to their readers.
Publishers and editors had been getting together at lavish conventions for decades, but editorial writers had remained "cloistered" (a description by another API participant) and didn't dare to leave their typewriters. They feared they would be seen as uppity by their bosses, assuming privileges not given to editorial writers.
Once out of the editorial closet, however, no one has been able to push the writers back in. By October 1996, they will have held an unbroken series of 50 annual NCEW conventions, each of