By Ryan Murphy
The Working Press
Money may not buy happiness, but at the Excellence in Journalism convention, it may net you a little bit of history.
At two auctions, conference attendees will have the chance to bid on several pieces of history: a one-of-a-kind press plate from the Washington Post issue commemorating President Barack Obama’s inauguration, a copy of the final issue of The News of The World and one of seven director’s chairs signed by the Washington Post staff members, including Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who revealed the Watergate scandal are all up for auction, along with 66 other lots.
Proceeds from the auctions — one silent and one live — benefit the SPJ Legal Defense Fund, which helps journalists “fighting the good fight,” according to committee chairwoman Hagit Limor.
“What the society is all about is defending the freedom of speech, and the LDF is here to help that,” she said.
The LDF distributes grants to journalists involved in litigation regarding First Amendment rights who otherwise wouldn’t be able to fund their legal battles.?The LDF recently took up the cause of Douglas Higginbotham from TV New Zealand and other journalists who were arrested while covering the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Higginbotham was arrested for standing on top of a telephone booth to get a better view of protesters being cleared out of Zuccotti Park by the New York Police Department.
The LDF awarded Higginbotham $1,000. The NYPD eventually dropped the disorderly conduct charge against him.
“What happened to him unfortunately happens across the country,” Limor said. “He was on public property, so there was no reason to arrest him and prevent him from filing his story.”
The auctions are the sole source of revenue for the fund. Last year, they raised more than $7,500. Another signed Watergate chair sold for $3,300. ?The silent auction will run through 4 p.m. Friday in the Exhibition Hall while the live auction will be held at the President’s Installation Banquet on Saturday.
“The live auction is going to be lively,” Limor said. “Even if you aren’t going to be bidding, it’s worth going to the LDF auction for the comedy of the event.”
Two years ago, an audience member’s tie caught someone’s fancy during the proceedings and was auctioned off.
At the silent auction, attendees can bid on lots ranging from signed photos of NBA and NFL players to registration to other journalism conferences, such as the 2013 National Association of Black Journalists’ convention and the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference next June.
A number of the lots include front pages from American newspapers highlighting milestones in U.S. history.?The historic headlines up for grabs include the Apollo 11 moon landing, the resignation of President Richard Nixon and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. Most of the papers were donated by Paul Byers.
“I’ve worked as a journalist since I graduated high school (in 1961) and I collected them as I went,” Byers said. The veteran journalist said he’d be retiring soon from teaching, after 25 years at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., and that he and his wife were planning to move into a smaller home.
“One of the things we struggled with was what to do with the newspapers,” Byers said. “I couldn’t think of a better cause than the LDF.”