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You know the Guild is throwing a hot party when even Berkshire-Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett wishes he could attend.
The Buffalo Newspaper Guild marked 75 years of dedicated activism on behalf of its members with an evening gala Nov. 14 in the Harbour Club at HSBC Arena. It was a night for celebrating tradition, saluting a legacy, laughing and singing, and honoring dedicated leaders from the past and present.
More than 150 current and former Guild members, News managers, executives and other guests enjoyed dinner, music and special presentations in the spacious venue.
In honor of the landmark occasion, the Guild extended an invitation to Berkshire-Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett. Although he was not able to attend, he wrote the Guild a note on the back of the invitation and sent it back with a crisp $20 bill. It read:
Dear Guild members, I would like to join you – though I’m not much of a dancer – but the date won’t work. I have to be in Chicago. But here’s $20 for a ticket so that you will keep me on the list for an invitation to your 100th. Best wishes, Warren E. Buffett
News Publisher Stan Lipsey also recorded brief remarks expressing his regrets for being out of town. They were played on the Harbour Club’s overhead TV screens.
Bernie Lunzer, president of The Newspaper Guild, flew in from Washington, D.C. to give the keynote address.
“My last visit came in the midst of a snowstorm,” he said. “I drove over from Erie, got in the door and was greeted by Jay Bonfatti, who said, ‘Why do you keep coming here?’”
Lunzer offered some frank remarks about the challenging state of the industry and spent considerable time discussing the work of The Newspaper Guild in developing sustainable models for the future delivery of news.
“At the national level, we are trying to navigate this crisis period,” he said. “We are trying to get through to what I call ‘the other side.’ And there are many people who say there is no other side. I think they’re wrong. I think that whether it’s newspapers or whether we’re distributing information in a different way, it’s clear that strong news organizations — strong regional and local news organizations — are going to make the difference, and democracy needs it.”
He offered plenty of praise for the Buffalo Newspaper Guild, saying that this local enjoys a very good reputation at the national level, unlike some others.
“You’re probably not perfect, but in my estimation, you’re damn good,” he said. “Fix what you need to do, but give yourself credit and you will continue to succeed. You’ll be a big part of the future of the news.”
He also mentioned the News’ ownership by Buffett.
“I do believe that places like Buffalo can be incubators for the answers,” he said. “I have to personally believe that an owner that can see the wisdom of buying a railroad in the 21st century would certainly see the wisdom of bringing frontline workers into the process to building a future for media.”
Following Lunzer’s remarks, the celebration program featured a special 10-minute video on the history of the Guild, written and narrated by reporter and former Guild President Phil Fairbanks and digitally edited by News Digital Media Producer Joe Popiolkowski, both of editorial.
Titled, “The Guild: Rooted in Struggle and Uncertainty,” Fairbanks interviewed a number of former Guild activists, Lipsey and others about the Guild’s legacy of fighting for better contracts and improved working conditions, often under difficult conditions. It offered perspective on the difficulties facing the Guild today.
Though Fairbanks was expected to introduce the video, he was absent due to illness and Popiolkowski introduced the video instead. In his remarks, he said that while he had only been a Guild member for two years, producing the video gave him a new sense of respect for all the Guild has endured and accomplished over time.
One of many highlights in the evening program came when the Tammy Turnbull, local service representative for the Guild announced four awards for members who have offered outstanding service to the organization and its members over time.
The Outstanding Service Award was given to three Guild leaders: medical reporter Henry Davis, for his hard work in negotiating fully covered health benefits to members; investigative reporter Jim Heaney, for his activism and bargaining work; and Fairbanks, for his longstanding leadership.
A special Achievement Award was given to Marian Needham, a staff representative for The Newspaper Guild and formal local service representative who has been the Guild’s adviser and guiding hand over the past 20 years.
Guild members Dan Herbeck and Steve Watson of Editorial, led a comedic segment with some inspired, congratulatory Twitter notes sent by local and national celebrities.
Then, in keeping with longstanding Guild party tradition, the world-famous Lonnie Hudkins Memorial Singers stepped up to the microphones for a rousing rendition of some artfully reworded pop and Christmas tunes. Their set concluded with a singing of “Guild’s Lang Syne,” by Guild member Sandy Tan, in honor of Guild members who have passed away over the years.
Guild President Pat Gormley wrapped up by thanking the Guild’s 75th Anniversary Committee for its hard work in planning, organizing and fund-raising for the event.
The 75th Anniversary Committee included Tan, reporter and vice president for mobilization; Turnbull; Tricia Clark, social chair from Inside Circulation; reporters Watson, Aaron Besecker and Denise Gee; and Renee Mikler of Classified Advertising.
More than 20 Guild members volunteered their time to help make the evening a success, though the anniversary committee saw the high-profile event through from start to finish and raised more than $3,000 to offset ticket prices for the event.
Much of that money was raised through the generous contributions of other unions and organizations, including The Buffalo News, which took out ads in the 75th Anniversary commemorative program.
Gormley then introduced the much anticipated Guild band, “Jeff Simon’s Desk” – named for the infamous desk of the News’ movie critic. The group performed a hard-rocking set that blew the doors off the joint.
The band members featured Popiolkowski and Besecker on guitar and vocals, editorial music critic Jeff Miers on drums, News photographer Charlie Lewis on guitar and vocals, and Miers’ friend Dave Hill on bass guitar.
Gala attendees were surprised to hear the Guild band came together for the first time just to perform at the gala event and had been practicing together for only two months. Many Guild members said they hope their first performance won’t be their last.
by Derek Gee – Chief Photographer, Editorial
The Guild: Rooted in Struggle and Uncertainity
by Joseph Popiolkowski – Digital Media Producer, Editorial
Keynote address by Bernie Lunzer
Awards presentation by Tammy Turnbull
Lonnie Hudkins Memorial Singers
Jeff Simon’s Desk