Convention location offers a unique variety of activities for SPJ convention-goers
By Jack Raskopf
Fort Worth and Dallas SPJ Pro chapters have joined forces along with the SPJ Headquarters staff to host and produce the 2002 SPJ National Convention, Sept. 12-14,in Fort Worth.
“Like all SPJ chapters, we’re loaded with highly competitive and talented journalists, so it’s just natural that we’re determined to make the SPJ 2002 convention the best ever,” said Kay Pirtle, editor of three bi-weekly publications and local planning committee co-chair of the upcoming SPJ convention. “It’s a bit early to announce specific speakers, sessions and topics that will be part of the convention, but we can give you some insight into the fun and games side of the Fort Worth venture.”
Forth Worth city boosters brand their city with the theme: “Where the West Begins.” SPJ convention planners have massaged the slogan a bit, giving it an added allure with a more tempting message: “Fort Worth, Where the West Begins and the Fun Never Ends.”
“That’s just what we’re fixin’ (using the Texas word for ‘planning’) to provide,” Pirtle said, “some exciting and enjoyable events and experiences that will balance out the serious side of the convention.”
Fort Worth boasts a unique ambiance – coupling vestiges of the wild and “old timey” west with a significant network of world-renowned cultural centers of a much more sophisticated nature.
“We want our visiting SPJers to enjoy a good cross-section of the total lifestyle of Fort Worth,” part-time cowgirl Pirtle said.
The main western attractions lie in the north side of the city, known as the Stockyards district. The Stockyards are just a brief, free-ride distance away from the convention site. Trolleys, replicating the nineteenth century models, will leave from convention headquarters to the Stockyards on a frequent schedule.
Fort Worth challenges any other city to match its daily ritual of a passle of cattle being guided through city streets. Authentic, ranch-experienced cowboys and cowgirls herd the city-owned Texas Longhorns twice a day back and forth on Exchange Street to grazing areas. That’s one reason why convention planners clearly warn attendees, “to be sure to wear your cowboy boots.”
Within the historic Stockyards is the site of the convention’s Opening Night Reception – the famous Billy Bob’s. Recognized worldwide as the planet’s largest honky tonk, it has a full-sized bull-riding ring where professional riders compete every weekend for prize money. If you want to really get rodeo-ed, right next door to Billy Bob’s is the Stockyard arena which every weekend offers full-scale displays of man and beast mayhem, known in western lore as a rodeo.
On a more genteel level, a top-of-the-ratings western band will perform, with instructors available for SPJ members who have the urge – but not the step-knowledge – to do wild west stomping such as the Cotton-Eye Joe, the Texas Two-Step and other boot-bouncing, spirit-elevating exercises.
“Don’t scare ’em away from our convention with a strictly western pitch,” Pirtle warned. “We’ve got more to put on their plate – something to satisfy every palate.”
Pirtle referred to the Kimbel Art Museum, with its multi-million dollar display of original old masters. Just like the trolleys, it’s free. Nearby stands the recently refurbished Amon Carter Museum, which will be of particular interest to journalists (especially photojournalists) with its unrivaled collection of photographic exhibits, including early news-oriented photo displays. Sounds repetitious but that’s free, too.
Despite all these freebies, you shouldn’t leave your purse or wallets at home. The Stockyards District boasts the largest collection of Wild West souvenirs in the world.
The bunk house for convention-goers will be the four-star Renaissance Worthington Hotel, which also will be the site of all convention programs and sessions.
The hotel is in the center of one of the nation’s most revitalized downtown areas, known as Sundance Square. The square was named in honor of one of Fort Worth’s most noted businessmen, the Sundance Kid. In the 19th century, the Kid used to visit – some refer to it as holing-up or hiding out – there between what his fans called “business trips.” Others, such as sheriffs, U.S. marshals, bounty hunters and the Mexican army referred to his out-of-town trips in other terms.