Michael P. King takes notes during a brainstorming session at the 2019 winter board meeting in Athens, Georgia. Photo by Sue Morrow
This is my final opportunity to address you in these pages. In February, I’ll pass the gavel to my successor. Although I’ll stick around for a year or two as past president, supporting and advising our new president, I’m already emotionally torn over the sunsetting of my service to the NPPA.
I’m sapped from the demands of this volunteer position and the others I’ve held over the last 10 years. I’m excited to be a regular member again, far more present with my family and more engaged in my work. Yet it’s been one of the greatest honors of my professional life to be entrusted with leading NPPA during a time of great challenges and change.
The prospect of separation gives me pause: I am not prepared for the void this will create.
The weight of any presidency, even NPPA’s, is heavy. As president, the fate of this association — founded 73 years ago and kept alive by generations of dedicated people before you — is in your hands. And you never forget it.
It’s been said that “good things in life are fragile and easily lost.” I’ve always believed wholeheartedly that NPPA is great. I’ve learned through experience that, despite its good health, the association is also fragile. NPPA has never been a machine that runs itself, and there have always been people and forces working against us, our efforts and our voices. Our association requires active, supportive care from every person in every level of the visual journalism community — from our regular members to the very top ranks of our leadership.
I’ve enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to help “steer the ship” where it needed to go. But consequential decisions weighed on me heavily, especially the ones that would disappoint people I know and respect. My solace was knowing that I was committed to what was best for the association: our duty and fiduciary obligation as board members. I quickly came to empathize with past presidents and what they toiled with. I’ll forever appreciate and respect that each president after me will have to face the unique issues of their time.
With all the anxieties, would I do it all over again? In a heartbeat.
This decade of my life has been an education. I feel like I was a very different person when I was first elected to the board: a young professional, just a few years out of college, green as ever, idealistic, with a shallow and one-dimensional understanding of the many facets of the photojournalism industry. Most of all, despite being an engaged and enthusiastic member, I hadn’t a clue how NPPA operated and was pretty ignorant of everything it offered. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. All I knew was that my dream of breaking into this field had come true in large part due to the inspiration, education and mentorship I received by being an NPPA member. I wanted to ensure that others would have access to those same footholds as they rose in their careers. It wasn’t as simple as I figured it would be.
But what I learned is that the more you’re involved in NPPA, the more you appreciate it; the more you understand its workings and strengths, its failings and blind spots; the more you understand the value it brings members and the overhead required just to exist. Simply: The more you’re involved in NPPA, the more equipped you are to shape it and improve it.
My worldview and industry-view have greatly evolved. Today, I know that far more unites us than divides us, despite years of culture that failed to promote mutual respect among our ranks and full representation in our leadership — because I was a product of that culture until my attitudes and assumptions were shattered by working side-by-side with so many dedicated people from every segment of our membership who espouse NPPA’s ethics and values every single day. Today, I better understand the real value of inclusion and diversity — because I’ve seen it in action at NPPA, greatly enriching our board and our programs. Today, I know NPPA changes lives — because it changed mine.
In summary: I hope that I have helped NPPA at least a fraction of the positive ways it has influenced me.
I know NPPA still has lots of room for improvement. But friends, that’s a reason for leaning in rather than backing away. It’s a reason to double down on your support and involvement in the affairs of the association. We need more of you who care deeply to give your time, talents and treasure.
If NPPA didn’t exist, our world, our jobs and our industry would be in far worse shape. We live in a less cohesive society where individuals have been led to believe that their voices — of support or protest — are equivalent in power to those of an entity. Even thousands strong, NPPA still faces Goliaths.
My prayer for “tomorrow” is that our members and others in our field will rally behind this true association. In 1946, a voice was born. May it never be silenced thanks to your support and your efforts. ■