There comes a time when every president, whether he heads a small or large business or nonprofit organization such as ours, must move aside and leave it to others to carry on. My time has come.
Approximately 15 years ago, I was elected to succeed outstanding investigative reporter John O’Brien who was preceded by veteran journalists Sy Adelman and Earl Moses. John died too soon and both Adelman and Moses are enjoying their retirement. Since then, it’s been a long journey filled with joy, nostalgia and never forgetting our long history and tradition of comaraderie, which began in 1939 when the Chicago Press Veterans was founded by Joseph Davis, William McKay, Warren Brown and John Brady. McKay was elected our first president.
Thirty-six other presidents followed.
Now, it was 2002 and my turn. The technology evolution had already been underway. Social media was rapidly becoming king. Journalists began carrying cameras and laptops as they reported their stories from different locations, but that changed somewhat when cell phones shifted from a verbal communication tool to a multimedia tool.
Millennials were rapidly becoming the generation of new journalists; newspapers were experiencing reductions in advertising revenues and circulation; many reporters and photographers found themselves unemployed; nonprofit organizations , such as ours, were also experiencing a reduction in revenues as older members either passed away or could no longer afford to pay their annual dues.
We required a new engine and wasted little time putting it to work.
In 2003, we became known as the Chicago Journalists Association. But not everyone was a happy camper. Several of our older members emailed their displeasure. I explained it was an opportunity to transform our image and recruit younger members.
No longer would we present one award — the Chicago Journalist of the Year — but added the Lifetime Achievement and Daniel Pearl awards; continued our tradition of honoring local journalists who entered the annual Sarah Brown Boyden competition; and, most recently, thanks to a contribution by Dick Simpson and the Stork family, added the $1,000 Dorothy Stork Award in memory of the late syndicated newspaper columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner. She was a CJA member.
We established an Associate Board several years ago consisting of young college journalism students in hopes of a few moving up to our Executive Board after graduation. I appointed Stephanie Choporis as its chair and she has done a remarkable job, periodically scheduling and attracting these young men and women to numerous CJA networking events.
We are working diligently to make this a success story, but it may take time.
The long established custom of presenting $1,000 scholarships to qualified journalism students came to a halt in 2016 as did the scheduling of our 77th annual dinner because of insufficient funds.
However, despite an anemic treasury, our board of directors voted to have our 78th annual dinner at the Union League Club of Chicago last month. It was a courageous decision and a gamble. We selected outstanding journalists we thought would attract a crowd big enough to pay for this event and chose NBC5 anchor Rob Stafford and Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed. Judea Pearl’s choice was Washington Postcorrespondent Souad Mekhennet for the award named after his son, the late Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Mekhennet became the first Muslim journalist to receive our CJA honor.
Approximately 140 guests attended what many refer to as “our finest hour”. Except for our board of directors, not one CJA member was present. Not unusual, but once again disappointing. Except for a few, it seems as though many members had abandoned the pride and passion of our founders.
At this point, I want you to understand that none of our past accomplishments could have been made without the support of our ever-changing Board of Directors, professional men and women journalists who volunteered their time throughout the years. Special thanks go to 2017 directors Maudlyne Ihejirika, Stephanie Choporis, Yudi Zhang, Pat Michalski, Mary Frances Fagan, John Schmeltzer and Frank Bennet Rowder.
Last but not least, let’s give a big salute to our cost-conscious suppliers who supported our organization. Thanks John Nesbitt, president of JS Photo and Print, Webmaster Neal Bradley and Dan and Shirley Friedlander, owners of our secretarial service, the Office Center of Gurnee.
Early this January, I will be meeting with our directors for the last time. The session will focus on the future of our organization. Can CJA remain viable despite its poor financial posture and dwindling membership? Should we consider the possibility of a merger? Later, we will inform you of what decisions were made and look forward to your comments.
Meanwhile, my wishes to you and CJA families for a Happy and Healthy