New APSE president Naila-Jean Meyers gave her induction speech on Wednesday night during the Awards Dinner of the annual APSE Summer Conference in Las Vegas. Here’s her speech, in its entirety.
Two years ago, when Lisa Wilson stood in this hotel and gave her farewell address as president, she said to me, seated at the officers table for the first time right about where Paul is now, that I was probably starting to write this speech right then.
In fact, I had started to write this speech well before then. I started a few months before then when Tommy Deas surprised me by nominating me for second vice president at the 2021 winter conference. I didn’t know he was going to do this. The conference was on Zoom and I was chatting with Justin at the time. Some of you may remember the stunned look on my face. I didn’t accept the nomination in the moment, I said I would think about it. After the meeting ended, Tommy called me – to apologize, but also to encourage.
I told him I wasn’t ready for this, that I didn’t have any ideas. He told me I was wrong. I told him I would take the weekend to think about it, and if I had something to say, I’d run.
Obviously I thought of something to say because I am standing here right now. And what I am going to say now is not very different from what I said then in my platform, but with two years of inspiration from my predecessors Gary Potosky and Jorge Rojas, my fellow officers Dan Spears and Ed Reed, Bill Eichenberger and Glen Crevier, many of the stalwart members here, and even new advice from Claire Smith and the past presidents I met this week.
I will start by thanking Tommy for the nudge. And thanking everyone who has given me a nudge along the way that brought me to this podium.
That begins with my parents, Willi and Dali, who are here tonight. They tolerated a sports-obsessed child who insisted on watching baseball on TV while doing her homework. I’d sit on the floor of their room for hours to watch ESPN so I wouldn’t tie up the big TV in the family room. They nurtured my fandom by being season ticket holders at Iowa State (great at the time for men’s basketball, not so great for football) and fostering my love of college sports.
As an aside, I am the biggest sports fan in my family, but my mom is the second biggest. She immigrated from the Philippines in the 1970s to St. Paul, Minnesota, and became a fan of the Purple People Eater-era Minnesota Vikings. I inherited that too — also not great — but I now cover the Vikings for a living so life has a way of coming full circle.
Anyway, nudges. When I was a kid, I wanted to be the next Harry Caray. What could be better than calling baseball games. But by the time I got to college, I wasn’t focused on sports anymore. But there was the nudge from Jim Wilhelm and Mike Wilkinson, my editors as an intern at the Toledo Blade, who convinced me to dress up like the baseball mascot Muddy the Mudhen for a story.
It was the only sports-related story in my clips package when I was a senior in college. But it got me a nudge from Benson Taylor of the Sporting News, who pulled my resume and clips package from a stack collected at a job fair. He gave me my first job as an “online editor” at sportingnews.com when that was still called “new media.” It was a great first job because I did editing, writing, photo editing, web production and even some html. I learned how to be a newspaper copy editor from the fine folks at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where I got a nudge, a nudge and another nudge from Jason Stallman to apply for a job at the New York Times.
I hadn’t ever dreamed of working at the New York Times, but there I was, at 27 years old. Jason and many others nudged me more when I got there, into new projects and new roles, even persuading me to go back to being a reporter for a bit.
But it was a nudge from Jim Luttrell that brought me to this organization, inviting me to join him at judging several years ago.
I met many of the great people in this room in Florida that year and kept coming back for winter and summer conferences, gaining career encouragement and leadership training by proxy each time.
And if it weren’t for this organization, I wouldn’t be in the job I am in now. I know I am not the only one in this room who is in their current job because of APSE. I met Chris Carr in Phil Kaplan’s car on the way to the Grand Ole Opry during the Nashville conference in 2018. Eighteen months later, Chris was sports editor in Minneapolis and hired me to help run this department. Our professional relationship was built at APSE conferences. He and Tommy and others here are among those who saw things in me that I did not, who saw a path for me that I didn’t expect.
I know many people just associate APSE with the contest, and the contest is how I first got more involved with the organization. And it’s the reason that many new members join in the first place. But I now associate APSE with connections. We celebrate great journalism today, but in the day-to-day life of this organization, we need to be nurturing journalists.
I know this job is a lot about fundraising and dealing with access issues with the leagues we cover. One of the first items on my agenda is the ever so exciting task of examining our bylaws and evaluating our dues structure as we try to maintain financial stability and better reflect the state of our industry.
But our greatest asset is our people. So my biggest goal is get more people into this organization and get more people engaged in our organization.
In our opening meeting on Sunday, our big question came up: “what do we offer people?” Bill Dwyre, one of our past presidents, at a panel yesterday put the challenge this way: “What are you fighting for?” I might reframe that to “Who are we fighting for?”
Our issues today are existential. Look no further than what happened this week to my former home, New York Times Sports.
That is the biggest question facing this organization. To which I say, programming, programming, programming. Engaged membership leads to strong programming, which leads to more membership.
We recently put out a membership survey, and by recently, I mean on Sunday. One of the questions the officers asked was “What do you expect from your APSE membership?”
We only have about 20 responses so far, so this is not scientific but networking and mentoring came up a lot. So… connections. More communication about what is going in the organization also came up. So….connections. Another thing mentioned a few times is more events outside the contest and the conference.
Our members want to connect. They want opportunities to talk to one another. We need to use our comfort with video conferencing developed during the pandemic to offer more opportunities throughout the year to make these connections.
The good news is that some of these efforts are already underway. We voted to revamp our regional structure in an attempt to spur engagement and leadership. We have a calendar of events. Our website is fixed. Our newsletter is back. Jorge Rojas set a good example of regular president reports. We had a meeting just today about a welcome kit for new members.
But we need to be more strategic in our promotion and communication, more timely in how we are advertising our events. Frankly, I find out about most events from other journalism organizations on Instagram, so we should probably get around to that first.
It doesn’t all have to be talking shop or virtual.
The Super Bowl is in Las Vegas next year. Can the West Region host an social event for APSE members or reporters from member organizations that week?
The men’s Final Four is in Phoenix. Could we partner with the Cronkite School at Arizona State for a career development event?
The women’s Final Four is in Cleveland. It’s the Midwest Region’s turn to show out.
Heck, the Big Ten men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and the US Olympic gymnastics trials are in Minneapolis next year. What can I do as APSE president to meet as many members or potential members as I can?
You get my drift.
I will pick up the initiative started by Jorge Rojas, and in conjunction with our region chairs, career advancement chair Lisa Wilson and Diversity Chair Sherrod Blakely, grow our student membership by, at minimum adding more student members but ideally adding more student chapters. I want to revive the writers wing.
Making connections also means more collaborating with other journalism organizations on programming and policy. It means sustaining development opportunities and supporting members through various stages of their careers. I am particularly interested in discussions on leadership and management, and using our network in a more formal way to be a resource for people dealing with transitions.
Thanks to the Diversity Fellowship and Lisa’s post-presidency focus on career development, we are doing well by students and young journalists. What can our experience and expertise offer a midcareer journalist? How can we help you make career transitions?
I’ve been part of the APSE mentorship program for two years. Both of my mentees are reporters. So our jobs are quite different. But both times my mentees have started new jobs early in our time together, so we mostly talk about moving, starting jobs, learning about new communities — things I too have recent experience with.
I am the fifth — only the fifth — woman to lead this organization. I had plenty of offers to leave sports in my career, but so many women were leaving sports or leaving the industry all together, and I wanted to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I look forward to working more closely with the APSE Foundation and the Diversity Fellows in our most important mission to make our sports departments look more like the communities we cover, to recruit and RETAIN more women, journalists of color and LGBTQ journalists to our departments.
I have been lucky. I have worked for big, independently owned news organizations for most of my career. I never had to be the one-person sports department in a small town far from home. I never had to work for a big chain or network like Gannett or McClatchy or Advance.
So I want to know you. Those of you doing those things. I want to know what you do, how you do it, what we can do to help.
I want to know these things because the more of you I know, the more I know WHO can help YOU in this organization. Because there is someone who is going through or has gone through whatever you’re going through. As another past president, Garry D. Howard, said this week, we can lean on each other.
Here is one example of what I am talking about. We are going to talk about the Donn Walden grant after me, but this spur of the moment idea that came together very quickly with not a lot of planning turned into a shining example of what we are capable of.
The goal of the grant is to provide $1,000 for an editor or reporter at a small news organization to help them come to conference if they otherwise couldn’t. We had 11 people apply, many of them first-time sports editors looking for advice on how to make this transition. We could only pick one winner, but for the other 10, we decided to offer one of the panels at this confernece to them virtually and I sought out an APSE member from their region to introduce them to. When I asked the APSE members whether they would be willing to connect with a new member, so many said “Absolutely!” When one of the applicants wanted to talk to someone who had made the transition from a small newspaper to a local high school sports website, I knew exactly who to ask to talk to him.
Maybe one of those people will get a nudge from a fellow APSE member like I did.
I hope I can do Tommy and all the rest of you who gave me a nudge along the way proud as your president. Thank you for this honor.