D.C. Confab Parties On: From Newseum to ‘Secret Agent Man’

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By: Joe Strupp

The Capital Conference media convention gave attendees a double-whammy party night Monday with a dinnertime bash at the Newseum — followed by rock ?n roll with the legendary Johnny “Secret Agent Man”) Rivers.

Busloads of those attending the joint ASNE/NAA/NEXPO confab rolled up to the just-christened news museum around 6 p.m., greeted in the main lobby with several open bars and dinner goodies that ranged from chicken wings to lamb on a stick and dumplings. As the guests noshed, under an NBC traffic helicopter hanging from the ceiling, a breaking news electronic ?zipper? circled above with today?s headlines.

Among the chatting groups was D.C. media power couple Geneva Overholser, she of the Missouri Graduate School of Journalism, and David Westphal, McClatchy?s D.C. bureau chief. Both were being covered with well-wishes for their just-announced move west. Overholser, the former Washington Post ombudsman and Des Moines Register editor, has been tapped as the new director of the Annenberg School of Communication at USC.

?I pondered it for a long while,? Overholser admitted as she took congratulations with white wine in hand. ?I went out there in February. We had been thinking about a move for a long time. We grew to feel very excited about living in Los Angeles.?

Westphal, just two years removed from the McClatchy takeover of Knight Ridder that put him in charge of one of Washington?s biggest bureaus, said he had ?mixed feelings.? But, he added, ?she has swatted away multiple great job offers and only recently got the leadership bug.?

Just a few feet away, Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of Associated Press, was getting her own warm wishes concerning AP photographer Bilal Hussein, who is supposed to be released on Wednesday after two years held in Iraq by U.S. and Iraqi officials. ?We will be glad to see him,? Carroll said. She also acknowledged that an AP fee cut announced Monday, just months after numerous editors complained about the prices, will help ease such concerns. ?AP?s other businesses have performed well, enough that we are in a position to do this.?

Holding court in several locations was William Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group, who has spent much of the conference tooling around in a motorized scooter. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis more than 20 years ago and currently sporting a cane, Singleton said he had been using the scooter to get around the huge convention center, which spans several blocks.

?I?ve used one before and they suggested it to get around the two buildings,? he said, in between handshakes and chats with publishers and editors. ?When it is just me, it is okay. But when I am with others, it can slow them down.? It did not seem to slow Singleton down as he cruised through the party and kept up his usual industry talk with the likes of USA Today Publisher Craig Moon.

As guests toured the five-story homage to journalism, most were drawn to the wall of front pages from Sept. 12, 2001, along with the mangled broadcast tower of the World Trade Center and a huge chunk of the Berlin Wall (a sign clearly banned anyone to touch the cement structure.) The bomb-damaged car of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles, who died in 1976 as he was investigating local mob ties, was another draw, along with exhibits about Watergate and the Clinton impeachment.

A major interest was the Pulitzer Prize photography hall, which showed the award-winning stills from the past 90 years. Charlotte Hall, editor of the Orlando Sentinel and incoming ASNE president, said seeing photos of the 1978 blizzard in Boston that won the spot news photography award for her old paper, the Boston Herald American, reminded her of what it was like covering that storm. ?It was bringing me back to the blizzard, what it was like at the paper, no electricity,? she said.

Also talking Pulitzers was Amanda Bennett of Bloomberg News and a member of the Pulitzer Board, which just a week earlier had given The Washington Post six awards. ?It wasn?t any great sweep we were thinking off,? she recalled about the review procedure. ?We just did it one at a time.? She added that, ?coming out of the Pulitzers, I felt really good, it was stuff that really, really mattered.?

The Newseum?s signature, its daily front page exhibit, drew many viewings, including from Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News. ?I wish they had built this two or three decades ago,? said Rivard. ?It places the First Amendment front and center. There are too many Americans who don?t know of its significance.?

As the 9 O?Clock hour struck, guests began loading up buses to return to the Renaissance Hotel for the Johnny Rivers show, co-sponsored by MediaNews (which in years past had brought the same crowd the Four Tops, remnants of the Beach Boys and others) and USA Weekend. The opening group, ?Judge Smith,? included several USA Today employees, according to Editor Ken Paulson, who was among the first to hit the dance floor.

?Not bad for a bunch of journalists,? Singleton quipped from his scooter, parked next to the dance floor. Before the big attraction, Singleton, who had arranged for the ’60s hitmaker to perform, presented Sue Clark-Johnson, the outgoing NAA president, with a gift ? a framed Johnny Rivers CD.

?Isn?t she just one of the nicest people in the business,? Singleton said about the Gannett executive who recently announced her retirement. Johnson?s reaction to the present: ?This is perhaps among the most unusual gifts.?

Rivers opened with his”Midnight Special” and played a mix of cover tunes and his own, dedicating “Summer Rain” to Singleton. As the music played, guests continued to approach Singleton and offer thanks and good wishes. ?Music is my second passion, after newspapers,? he said. ?It?s great, I love to make my peers happy.?

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