If bags need stuffing for SPJ’s national convention, Bill McCloskey will walk around the table of loot 600 times if that’s what it takes.
Though friends say the 63-year-old prefers to work behind the scenes, McCloskey’s tireless service to SPJ hasn’t gone unnoticed.
In the spring, 14 past presidents of SPJ and 13 past presidents of the Washington D.C. Pro chapter wrote in support of awarding McCloskey with the 2008 Wells Memorial Key.
McCloskey, a former Associated Press telecom reporter, accepted the award Sept. 6 during the 2008 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Atlanta.
First presented in 1913, the Wells Memorial Key is given to a member for outstanding service to SPJ. The award was named in honor of Chester B. Wells, Sigma Delta Chi’s second national president, who died in office in 1913 at the age of 26. It is the highest award given to a member.
The two dozen SPJ leaders who nominated McCloskey for the award say few embody the spirit of the Wells Key better than McCloskey.
“Bill McCloskey is a guy who will do anything our Society needs, whether that is to craft a bylaws amendment for the delegate meeting, or head out to the store to buy some beer,” former national president Dave Carlson wrote in his nomination letter. “In my recollection, Bill has never refused a request for his leadership or declined an opportunity to serve — at high levels or the lowest.”
Rather than talking much about himself, McCloskey used his stage time to urge media companies to support the continuing education of journalists by sending them to professional development sessions offered by SPJ and other journalism organizations.
“I wish you in management in journalism companies would go back and deliver that message,” he said.
Typical McCloskey, said Ann Augherton, Region 2 director and former Washington D.C. Pro chapter president.
“Bill’s the type of guy who … if you couldn’t afford to get to the convention, he’d find a chapter with the money in its budget to send (you),” Augherton said.
McCloskey’s career began as a high school junior in 1961, when he took a summer newsroom job at WIP Radio in Philadelphia.
“When you start out, if you work with people who know what they’re doing, you can learn more,” McCloskey said in a phone interview in mid-September. In 1966, after graduating from Villanova University, he was drafted into the Army.
His tour of duty took him to Vietnam, where he was assigned to the information office of the 1st Signal Brigade and wrote press releases about the Army’s telephone system. He traveled around to signal outposts conducting interviews that were aired back in the U.S. on local radio stations. He also gathered stories to run in the brigade paper and occasionally in the soldier’s paper, “Stars and Stripes.”
When he returned in the late 1960s, Metromedia, the company that owned WIP Radio, asked him to set up a news department for WASH-FM in Washington, D.C. He worked for the organization until 1975 as news director, network correspondent and a TV news producer and writer.
In the mid-1970s, McCloskey joined the AP in Washington, D.C. He started as assistant managing editor for its 1,100-station radio network and ended his stint there as a telecommunications reporter, covering the Federal Communications Commission, telephone and broadcast companies, and communication-related legislation on Capitol Hill.
But it wasn’t until 1986, right before McCloskey joined BellSouth Corp. as manager of media relations, that he joined SPJ at the urging of Tack Nail, a competing telecom writer for Communications Daily.
“He heard I was leaving and going over to the dark side and suggested that I join SPJ while I was still eligible,” McCloskey said, adding that Nail used “valuable networking” as the hook.
The following year, McCloskey was asked to join the Washington D.C. Pro Chapter board, and he’s been a fixture in leadership at the organization ever since.
“I’ve done everything but treasurer,” McCloskey said. When asked why that’s the one role absent from his resume, he joked: “That sounds like work.”
He’s also served as director of SPJ’s Region 2, national parliamentarian and chairman of the bylaws committee.
Last fiscal year, McCloskey was named to SPJ’s public outreach committee by past-president Clint Brewer. Though that committee’s most immediate task is promoting SPJ’s 100th anniversary in 2009, McCloskey said he’d also be working to help the group give journalism a makeover in the public eye.
“We need to get journalists more appreciated by the reading and viewing and listening public,” McCloskey said. “We really need to do something quickly to get the public to understand what we do and why we do it. … People are confused by what is journalism and what is show business. We need to make the line a little brighter.”