London City Press Club needs reinvention

Berton at press club

London Free Press editor-in-chief Paul Berton bids farewell to newspaper employees at the London City Press Club on June 5, 2010. Berton is now editor-in-chief at the Hamilton Spectator.

I can’t say I was surprised by this morning’s story in The London Free Press about the imminent closure of the London City Press Club. Saddened and a bit nostaligic, maybe, but not surprised. Come to think of it, saddened and nostalgic are a bit of a stretch, too, since I was never a member.

I should have been (a member, that is). As one who worked as a journalist in London, Ont., for more than 20 years (two of them at London Magazine and 18+ at the newspaper, the last seven as its editor), I should have been a regular at the club. Maybe even served on its board. So when I read this morning’s story, the inescapable conclusion was that I — and dozens of people like me — was at least partly to blame. More than a few times, I held a membership application in my hand; each time, I set it down.

It was always an entirely hospitable place and I enjoyed each of my visits there over the years, whether it was a special function or just a swing-by visit at the invitation of one of the club’s members. And I might have joined had my commitment to a spouse and responsibilities as a dad to four kids not made a more substantial claim on my time — especially the all-too-precious time away from the office.

The London City Press Club, with its venerable history and a committed core of ardent supporters, also laboured somewhat under the stereotypes of what press clubs were a half-century ago: the early-hour, post-deadline refuge of hard-bitten reporters and editors, who, having let the presses roll or signed off the air, wandered into the club for their nightcaps. They told each other the stories behind the stories of the next day’s front pages (tales that often grew slightly larger with each telling), complained about their bosses or the rookies under their tutelage, and waxed nostalgic about the good old days when journalism was still real journalism.

The arrival of a new generation of journalists in Canadian newsrooms in the early 1990s, many of them women and many among both genders attuned to a different set of personal priorities, began to change the internal landscape of newsroom culture. Life-career balance became an imperative for many. The shrinking size of the city’s newsrooms — newspaper, magazines, radio and television — had an impact too. And those developments were mere precursors to the much more profound effects of more distributed types of community journalism through a much wider variety of delivery platforms, most of them Internet-based.

It would be a thrill to see the London City Press Club reinvented — not as a tenant or lessee that operates an establishment, dominated by a bar, around which rattle the ghosts of journalism past, but as an organization that promotes dialogue and collaboration around important political and journalistic issues within the city and its environs. An entity that looks forward as much as it looks back. Open the doors to journalists, both full- and part-time, who contribute in some manner to the growing diversity of media voices within the city, across all platforms. Sponsor the appearance of important speakers or workshops, seminars or panel discussions on emerging journalistic themes. Hold them in meeting spaces, banquet halls or private rooms in local sponsoring hotels or restaurants. Think meetup in terms of format; think Canadian Club of London in terms of organization.

The closure of the press club’s doors at Dundas and Colborne streets doesn’t need to signal the end of its life as an organization to promote collegiality, professionalism and (dare we think it?) transparency and accountability. The club simply needs a reinvention that will give it new life as London City Press Club 2.0.

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