History of the PCLI Awards

Former PCLI President Vicky Penner Katz Whitaker wrote about the history of the Press Club Awards …

I believe the first awards were presented in 1982. The ceremony was at the Holiday Inn, Plainview, where we normally held our other PCLI meetings. There was no dinner. Just a bunch of seats in a small room with thin walls, where, as usual, we were being drowned out by the noise of a union meeting in an adjacent room. I believe Jim Bernstein (Newsday) was president at the time. I don’t think there were more than 40 people present.

The decision to create the Media Awards Contest was a very much a quicky thing. We were sitting around at an executive board meeting at club secretary Jan Hickman’s house discussing ways to raise money when someone (and I believe it was Bruce Reisman) suggested an awards competition that would bring us some bucks.

At that point in time, there was no charge to attend the annual Holiday Party since the Watermill Inn gave us everything for free, including dinner. There was also no Media Guide to provide additional income. Our treasury was based on dues, with PR people paying a higher rate. (Our exec board reflected this mix: Jan was PR for LILCO; Bruce, PR for NY Telephone; and Dave Woods, a former newsman and one of the club founders, PR for Stony Brook University.

At the meeting, Dave and I — then the only two members of PCLI who were in SPJ (as members of the Deadline Club) — were the only board members to vote against creating an awards program. We knew how much was involved in putting together the annual Deadline Club awards program and didn’t think we had enough of a body of members to carry it off. Back then, the Press Club was an independent organization…not affiliated with SPJ. I believe more than half of our members were in public relations. But the board voted to proceed, and as somewhat of a joke, voted to make Dave and I in charge of all aspects of the competition.

At the time, Dave was PR for Stony Brook and I was managing editor of the Smithtown News/North Shore News Group. We basically tried to copy the way the Deadline Club operated its award program, bringing judges to one site to make their choices. The first judging was held at Stony Brook.

Ironically, that decision opened the door to PCLI becoming a satellite of the Deadline Club and eventually an SPJ chapter on its own. But that is another piece of history.

Vicky Penner Katz Whitaker

Past President