Monday, December 14, 2009

Friends Who Are Boys: The (First) Editor

And now a break from our regularly scheduled narcissism to shout out to my friend Alan, who on Friday was elected president of the National Press Club.

Not just the regional press club. The National Press Club, the "world's leading professional organization for journalists." The kind of club that interviews the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The kind that, for Alan's inauguration ball in January, is featuring Honky Tonk Confidential, a band led by CBS "Face The Nation" host Bob Schieffer.

Of course, the story is that I knew Alan "when." Since April 1993, my first day as features editor of our college newspaper and he, assistant editor, sat with his feet on the desk, dressed in standard-issue tie-dye, Chuck Taylor All Stars, and Kurt Cobain hair.

Looking back at who I was then, it was rather unlikely that I'd hit it off with someone as outspoken and gregarious as Alan -- known on campus at that time, primarily, for antagonizing the College Republicans. He grew up near Motley, Minnesota and was planning to be a history professor, I believe, and he turned me on to REM during that year of long nights in the newsroom.

But we did hit it off. We rode bike down to Fargo's first trendy coffee shop. He taught me chess. I wrote a long non-fiction profile of him for my senior seminar and he made me a tape of Nirvana's Heart-Shaped Box on repeat. He took a road trip with his girlfriend to see my hometown. Here we are in front of the Concordia bell tower in 1995:

I'll fast-forward through our intervening years. Obviously, Alan did not become a history professor. He helped run the newspaper at the University of Minnesota, followed it with jobs at a series of Midwestern dailies, and landed in Washington in 2001. He now covers agricultural policy for Bloomberg News and has traveled on fellowships to China and Ethiopia, among many other achievements.

We've always stayed in touch, some years meeting up at the NPC for karaoke night (true!) or other years, time only for a cup of coffee on the fly. He's a runner, so we'll talk about running. Or the incongruity of me working in finance. Or pop culture of any sort. Or about what we miss about Minnesota.

It's good to have old friends. Especially one whom, from the first day, was so smart and ambitious and chutzpah-driven and curious and a cut-above that you knew he was capable of achieving anything he chose to do, and that some day you'd be writing a piece about "Alan Bjerga .... yeah, the guy standing there with Dick Cheney on The Daily Show .... I knew him when ...."

So of course I'm not surprised he is in charge of this country's journalists, 15 years after being in charge of me.

Many congratulations, my friend.

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