Page Gets Lifetime Honor at Columnists Conference

By: Dave Astor It was a big night for Ohio at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference Saturday, as Dayton native Clarence Page won the NSNC Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award, Columbus Dispatch columnist Mike Harden received the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, and a former Toledo Blade columnist was one of six first-place winners of the NSNC column contest.

Page, the Chicago Tribune columnist syndicated by Tribune Media Services (TMS), thanked the NSNC for the Pyle award while noting that a lifetime honor is "an occasion for mixed feelings. There's no denying I'm getting old, but I hope I have a few more miles on the tire treads!"

The 1989 Pulitzer Prize winner recalled that he was hired by the Tribune in 1969 partly because the paper was trying to diversify its almost all-white newsroom.

"Some were concerned I might be a little 'militant' for the Tribune," said Page, noting that his look back then included a lot of hair, a walrus mustache, a goatee, a dashiki, and jeans. But the paper took him on, and Page compromised by buying a more traditional suit.

Page became a Tribune columnist in the 1980s. "I was itching to give my opinions," he said, adding that columnists get an opportunity "to make sense out of the news" (quoting Ellen Goodman) and "explain things" (quoting the late Mike Royko.

Also, Page welcomed the challenge of "reaching the coveted place every journalist wants to be -- attached to the refrigerator doors of readers." And he loves the challenge of trying to come up with a great column when a huge story breaks, such as 9/11. Page noted that Leonard Pitts Jr. of The Miami Herald and TMS wrote the best post 9/11 column (the one that memorably addressed the hijackers as "you bastards").

Page also expressed sympathy for Pitts, who, this month, received many hostile calls and letters after his home address and phone number were published on a white-supremacist Web site.

And Page praised the man his lifetime honor is named for. "I have the highest regard for Ernie Pyle," said Page. "He was an ordinary guy who had a gift and used it to bring the war home." Pyle died while covering World War II.

Harden won the Will Rogers award for his many efforts to help less-advantaged residents in and near Columbus. In presenting the honor, The Oklahoman columnist Bob Haught noted Harden attempted to save a health-care center for the poor, took Columbus to task for trying to slash spending to bury the indigent (the decision was reversed), and championed a program to buy school supplies for the poor.

The Dispatch columnist also supported a program to send care packages to people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, helped raise $15,000 for medical expenses to save a therapy horse for children who was going to be put down after breaking a leg, and gave up his vacation time to help on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

"Mike is one of the great human beings and columnists on the planet," said NSNC President Mike Argento of the York (Pa.) Daily Record.

In accepting the award, Harden said columnists can be "the court of last resort" for people who desperately need help. He also suggested that the NSNC make a decision at its Sunday-morning business meeting to devote at least one hour at each of its annual conferences to discussing how columnists can best "cover the have-nots."

Harden received applause for his idea, and Argento noted that the NSNC will do even more than Harden suggested when it meets in New Orleans next year and devotes much of that conference to having columnists fan out and cover the parts of the city still devastated by Katrina.

First-place winners of the NSNC contest included Bill Johnson of the Denver Rocky Mountain News (general interest/over 100,000 circulation), Brian O'Connor of The Detroit News (humor/over 100,000 circulation), Alfred Doblin of the Herald News in New Jersey (general interest/under 100,000 circulation), Richard Connelly of the Houston Press (humor/under 100,000 circulation), and Glenda Wolin of the San Antonio Express-News' (online column).

Also, Russ Lemmon won first place in the items category for his work at The Blade in Toledo. He has since left that paper to join Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers in Florida.

Several awards-night speakers lauded conference host Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News for his work on putting together the meeting, which drew the most columnist attendees (127) in the NSNC's 30-year history.


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