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Wrangling legislatures.

Imagine one great big editorial board meeting that includes editorial writers from most of your state's newspapers. For Texas, needless to say, that's quite a group. What politician possibly could say no to appearing before them?

That was the concept two years ago when the Texas contingent of the National Conference of Editorial Writers held its first legislative conference. (The Texas Legislature meets every other year for five months, so it is a high-anxiety time for the state's editorial writers.) That was a cozy event with editorial writers facing off up-close and personal with the state's major leaders, and it was such a success that we decided to do it again this year.

However, this year, the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors decided to undertake a similar effort, so the two groups decided to join forces. Reporters and editors joined editorial writers January 10--the day before this legislative session started--for a day-long session. They grilled major statewide officials including the governor, lieutenant governor, house speaker, and comptroller. They also had a session on freedom of information and a panel on school finance reform, the state's top issue this spring.

The dynamics changed this year, needless to say, when the group grew from thirty to ninety. While the sessions were equally valuable, editorial writers to some extent were lost in a sea of their newspaper colleagues.

NCEW kicked in one thousand dollars to help host the conference--a benefit now available to members all over the nation who want to organize state or regional conferences. The organization hosted an opinion-writers-only reception Sunday evening before the Monday conference.

NCEW vice president/treasurer J.R. Labbe joined with APME colleagues to hammer out details of this year's event. She included all the state's editorial writers, not just NCEW members, because the organization views it as a great recruiting as well as educational opportunity.

The legislative conferences are working so well that the next step could be a conference in the off-legislative years on major issues. This has proven a great way for Texas editorial writers to get to know their colleagues, as well as to get briefed on upcoming state issues.

In the days after the sessions, the state's papers were brimming with all the news and opinions gleaned from the day in Austin. To others thinking about such an idea, we highly recommend it.

Lynndl Burkett is editorial page editor of the San Antonio Express-News and is immediate past president of NCEW. E-mail kBurkett@ express-news.net
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Title Annotation:Legislative conferences
Author:Burkett, Lynnell
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2005
Words:413
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