I first visited the Pen and Pencil Club in January 2009, as a spunky, 23-year-old. After visiting frequently, I finally became an official member of the country’s oldest surviving open daily press club in early 2012.
Then, in 2013 I ran and was elected to the club’s board of governors, with some encouragement from then club President Chris Brennan, a celebrated politics reporter and columnist who worked hard to grow the kind of members in the club. I was growing a reputation with Technical.ly and an active local organizer of the Online News Association.
I was proud. I learned a lot, and I put a lot of effort into being a board member. Next week, rather than run for a fifth term, I am stepping down. Here I share some of what I accomplished during the last four years.
First, a note on why I’m stepping down.
One of my biggest resolutions for myself this year is to focus on fewer projects. After four years of making progress on my goals at the club and having learned plenty, I want to make room for new voices — correct, it is not lost on me that I am a white male and after years of widening P&P membership, we need another step.
Now here are some examples of what I’m proud I did as a volunteer member of a board that had some long established traditions (and inertia):
- I launched and grew the Philadelphia News Awards. It caught some resistance when I first brought it up, but from 3,000 votes the first year to nearly 10,000 last month, it has become the single largest celebration of journalists by journalists. My specific intention was to create an attractant to the club for new and established corners of local journalism. I wanted to develop a major annualized event that was a cornerstone, where all the best and brightest could rub elbows. I also cared a lot about it being a place to on-board new members of that community. I think that happened.
- Encourage conversations around diversity. It was a priority of mine to check on the pipeline of award nominations, so it was a point of pride that the 2016 awards featured six winners of color and 12 of the 14 individual categories featuring nominees of color. The news industry is one of many that has struggled with diversity, and I wanted these awards to help bring new communities together. I tried to do similar work on the board, if subtly, and I believe in lots of ways we’ve seen meaningful progress in the membership and event programming. There is a lot more to do there.
- Establish process for the Awards. A nut for making things last, I’m proud that I’ve transitioned a pretty specific and actionable document on the process to keep the awards alive.
- Noted and pushed for the 125th anniversary. In 2015, I realized that, since we counted 1892 as our founding year, 2017 would be our 125th anniversary. I helped identify the celebration and plan some modest plans.
- Accurately place the club in its historic context. I annoyed the heck out of my board mates, but I sniffed out some hyperbole in our calling ourselves the “country’s oldest surviving press club” and helped find that, yes, the Denver Press Club opened before ours but is not open daily, nor run as regularly as ours. Yay for accuracy. (I did visit the Denver Press Club back in September and spoke to a slew of members)
- Push forward process. One of my biggest concerns when I joined the board was how much of our process was kept only in the memories of board members and staff. I highlighted membership tracking and other processes that needed to be digitized or transitioned. This needs to be continued but I hope I was a part of it.
- Basic shared IT resources. I created a shared Google Drive folder and rediscovered an existing board-specific Gmail account. I also updated the board-wide group email. I also helped manage the website and our webmaster relationship. I created a document of all IT resources to consolidate in one place all of the services we used.
- Sponsored dozens of new members. At our events in my chatters, I’ve sponsored or led tens of members to the club. I’ll clearly continue to do this.
- Host dozens of events. Between off-the-records and ONA meetups and staff gatherings and bringing together other related communities, I introduced many other people to the club. I’m proud of being a small part of connecting a creative writers group to the club, in addition to meetups for journalists of color and female reporters that now host regular meetups there. I worked also to connect to a few TV news leads and other independent media and even a few freelancers too. I wanted the club to feel as welcome as it could to as many relevant new members as possible.
- Led social media. It wasn’t particularly great given my time constraints but for four years I led our social media. I grew our consistency and our following. I got more images and chased down a higher-resolution version of our logo to use, as it was previously pixilated. Oh, I also really like that I updated our Twitter bio: “Founded in 1892, we are one of the country’s oldest surviving press clubs. The downstairs bathroom is unisex. Tweeted by our duly elected board of governors.”
A lot more needs to be done, which is why there’s always work for journalists who care about supporting a shared-space like the P&P. The club is in need of more process, we still underperform in revenue for our location and we could grow membership even more. There are lots of writerly communities we don’t quite touch yet for membership. I look forward to seeing what the board will continue to do. And I look forward to maintaining my membership and adoration for the club.