How did you sleep?



The biggest day of my professional career awaits at 8:30 a.m. when I am speaking to the National Press Club in Washington, DC, for World Press Freedom Day on May 3. They have graciously put me up at the Cosmos Club, a renowned and historic place with air compressors on the roof that power ancient air conditioning. It’s 1 a.m. and it sounds like former pressman Jim Robinson is tuning British motorcycles up there.

It reminds me of my old college dorm in St. Paul, built in 1912 with clanking steam radiators and four flights of stairs. But it was cheaper there and then.

And I told them so.

They gave me a better room, were very nice and promised never to put a hearing person in room 416 again. Since many of the members of the club are at the age when they take the cosmos seriously, there might be enough of a deaf sample to make that room efficient.

My accommodations were better than Martin Mendez, 26, a journalist from Mexico who fled to the US after his life was threatened for uncovering government corruption in Acapulco. He has been detained by Immigration Customs Enforcement in El Paso, Tex., for 94 days awaiting deportation and certain death because he cannot show sufficient connection to a community in the US. Press organizations have offered him a job. Reporters Without Borders and other press freedom organizations are campaigning for his asylum in the United States. So far, ICE has turned a cold shoulder. Mendez could be deported at any time.

Mendez was the sobering focus of the National Press Club symposium that included media from around the world. When you hear “lamestream media” or “fake news” think of Martin Mendez entrapped in a concrete cell. Or Daniel Pearl of The Wall Street Journal, who was beheaded by terrorists in the Middle East. Or Terry Anderson, the AP Iran correspondent from Iowa who was held as a hostage for years. That’s what World Press Freedom Day was all about.

So the Cosmos Club was pretty swank.

I was gawking at a wall that included photos of all the Pulitzer Prize winners who were members. Nick Katz of The New York Times. Walter Lippman. Huge names. I stood there with jaw agape. A couple approached and wondered if I were lost. I told them that I had just won a Pulitzer Prize and was marveling at the fraternity.

“Oh, you’re from Iowa,” she said.

So was she. She attended the University of Iowa.

She knew all about me.

Her husband, David Brugger, was in on the founding of Iowa Public Television.

I sauntered to the outdoor bar and smoking area. I had noticed a young man working two cellphones and a printed copy of The New York Times. I asked about his reading habits, and the gentlemen said he reads The Times, the Washington Post and Boston Globe every day. Why would I want to know? he asked. I told him I was a newspaper editor.

“You just won the Pulitzer, didn’t you?”

Why, yes. How did he know?

“I’m from near Clinton. Sabula, Iowa. I live in Cambridge, Mass., now but my brother has been sending me stuff about you. We’re all proud as Iowans.”

Turns out he works in renewable energy for the federal government and knows more about Buffalo Ridge than I do.

He tells me a friend is showing up but that I should hang around and visit. The friend sits down. I notice a Norsky accent. I ask if he is from Minnesota or North Dakota. He says Coon Rapids, Minn.

“Oh, I went to school up there. At St. Thomas.”

“So did I,” the new friend said.

At the National Press Club little old me sat on two panels: The State of Local News, and The Economics of News. We talked a lot about community journalism and how being close to your readers is the key to sustainability in the fractured information age. I was the token apologist for print, arguing that ink on paper still drives revenue, and that no model has been shown that can sustain community journalism on a digital platform. Print still rules, and print still rocks. The Storm Lake Times is doing fine. We’re locally owned. The Minneapolis StarTribune is doing fine. It’s locally owned by Glen Taylor. Sunday print circulation is growing in Minnesota.

I was also honored to be the subject of a video interview with Chris Adams of the National Press Institute in DC. Chris, a native of Cedar Rapids and former editor of the Iowa State Daily at Iowa State University, won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting with the Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau. He is married to Caralee Johnson, another Iowa Stater who worked for me at The Daily Tribune in Ames. So I got a good dose of Ioway in the nation’s capital.

It also was awfully nice that John and Mary’s son Justin showed up to listen to his crazy uncle rant all morning. He works for the federal government but took unpaid leave.

I took my leave for the friendly confines of the University of St. Thomas, which has been generally unaware that I once trod its campus. The Tommies were most gracious to host me for a reception where I waxed on about journalism to students, faculty and alumni — including several Murray cousins originally from Storm Lake, plus native Storm Lakers Mike and Carolyn Veehoff. Had to reach for my hankerchief.

What struck me is how we alums all talked fondly about living in that 1912 Ireland Hall that I advertised in the Cosmos Club. The kegs of beer we would roll up the stairs. Shooting pool in the dark basement. Hanging by our feet out the fourth-story windows. The stuff of which education is made.

New dorms have been built all around it. The new student center looks like Fifth Avenue in New York. I dial up and see that Buena Vista University is spending $14 million on upgrading Siebens Forum. Forty years from now they will complain that their stinky old college dorm room was better than this hotel. And they would be right, and they would struggle to remember what they did, if anything, in that new student center or in that remodeled Siebens Center. But they could still hear that clanking radiator and immediately recall rolling that keg down four flights of stairs when the dorm rector, a 75-year-old priest, caught them. That was not a story we retold with the dean sitting in front of me last Friday.