I’m enormously proud to take the reins as President of the American Society of News Editors. Here is the text of my opening address to members at the 2016 ASNE-APME-APPM News Leadership Conference in Philadelphia, Pa.
John S. Knight, builder of one of the most respected and influential news companies in American journalism, once said, “There is no higher or better title than editor.”
Elbert Hubbard, an early 20th-century writer, once defined the role of an editor as a person employed by a newspaper whose business is to separate the wheat from the chaff and to see that the chaff is printed.
Today, editors have to be so much more.
We lead storytelling across multiple dimensions: narrative writing, video, still photography and data visualization.
We deliver it on multiple platforms: mobile, desktop, social media, print, virtual reality and even over-the-top television.
We analyze audiences and plot strategies for growth.
We collaborate with colleagues across disciplines to grow audience and revenue.
We are chief content officers, news directors, content strategists and story coaches.
We juggle priorities in ways never imagined by John S. Knight and his forebears. Although our titles and responsibilities might be different, our collective mission is not. We uphold and defend First Amendment freedoms and tell stories that others will not tell.
Walter Williams, who was the dean of the journalism school at the University of Missouri, offered these words at the dawn of the 20th century about the profession I have made my life’s work. I’d like to share them with you today:
I believe in the profession of journalism.
I believe that the public journal is a public trust — that all connected with it are, to the full measure of responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of this trust.
I believe that clear thinking, clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.
I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true. I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.
I believe that the journalism which succeeds the best fears God and honors man; is stoutly independent; is unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power; is constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of the privileged or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance — and as far as law, an honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance.
Those words are as true today as they were then. And they are the credo that guides my life and work.
Thirty-five years ago this summer, I walked into the newsroom of Sun Newspapers right outside Cleveland, marking my first foray into professional journalism. My career has carried me from that suburban weekly to reporting, editing and corporate leadership roles at some of the nation’s great news companies.
Today, I am honored and humbled to assume the presidency of the American Society of News Editors, an organization that has supported me from my days as a cub reporter. I find energy and inspiration in both the news of the day and a deeply-rooted desire to make our profession stronger, our newsrooms more connected to our audiences and our news staffs more representative of the communities we serve.
Let me take a moment to congratulate our newly-elected and appointed board members:
- Paul Cheung, The Associated Press
- Lucy Dalglish, University of Maryland
- Mandy Jenkins, Storyful
- David Haynes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
- Karen Magnuson, Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle
- Hollis Towns, Asbury Park Press
- Lauren Williams, Vox.com
My deepest thanks to our outgoing board members:
- Anders Gyllenhaal, The McClatchy Company
- Rene Sanchez, Minneapolis Star Tribune
My mission as president of ASNE, building on the successes of our immediate past President Pam Fine, is to employ all the tools at our disposal to help drive our organization, our members and our partners toward a bright and prosperous future.
I’ve learned a few things during more than three decades serving newsrooms and communities as diverse as Akron, Ohio, Evansville, Indiana, Tallahassee, Florida and, now, our entire nation through the USA TODAY Network.
I’ve learned we have so much more to accomplish when it comes to transforming the practice of journalism to meet the challenges posed by the shift of news consumers toward mobile, social and video platforms.
That’s why ASNE is committed to focusing our annual News Leadership Conference on innovation, multi-platform storytelling and audience engagement. As we announced earlier today, our 2017 joint conference with the Associated Press Media Editors and the Associated Press Photo Managers will be held adjacent to that of the Online News Association at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.
I’ve learned we have much work to do to ensure that the makeup of the nation’s newsrooms reflect the communities they serve. That’s why ASNE is focusing its energy and resources on diversifying the leadership of U.S. newsrooms, including our successful Emerging Leaders Institute.
This model has been developed by ASNE Vice President Alfredo Carbajal and noted leadership development expert Jill Geisler. It has trained more than 400 mid-level leaders from organizations, including The Huffington Post, CNN, NPR and The New York Times in disciplines that will enable their rise to the top echelons of news organizations.
Our annual Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey will continue to evolve as a tool to measure newsroom diversity across every content platform and enable ASNE and its industry partners to focus on programs that help us demonstrate measurable progress toward this goal.
I’ve learned that our advocacy efforts on behalf of First Amendment freedoms and open government must be unwavering. Indeed, they must be strengthened and enhanced. Under Pam Fine’s leadership, we expanded our service to member news organizations by establishing a Legal Hotline led by ASNE General Counsel Kevin Goldberg. Every week, Kevin is on the front lines in Washington pushing for greater access to the inner workings of government. We are also working to attract new partners and bring new energy to our annual Sunshine Week celebration. Your annual investment in ASNE helps make this possible.
I’ve learned we also have much work to do to transform ASNE into a truly representative organization of America’s news leaders, and when I say news leaders, I say leaders at all levels, from those who aspire to leadership roles to those who have already arrived. To that end, let me once again welcome members of the Association of Opinion Journalists to full membership in the organization and to David Haynes, editorial page editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, to the ASNE Board of Directors.
In the coming weeks, we will announce a brand-new membership dues structure that not only incorporates opinion editors, but also a full range of digital news enterprises. The ASNE board has enthusiastically supported this strategy as critical to positioning us as the premier organization for news leaders. Let me also recognize our first two corporate partners, NPR and The McClatchy Company, for understanding the value of ASNE membership for their newsroom leaders.
Finally, I have learned that as a society, we are becoming more insulated from the world around us, less tolerant of our fellow citizens and the institutions many of us are a part of.
When it comes to seeking news and information, we are more likely to seek those points of view that reflect what we believe and less likely to seek out and understand points of view that differ from our own.
That’s why ASNE, through the leadership of past President Chris Peck, established the National Community and News Literacy Roundtables Project. Today, we are researching ways to scale that work to influence constructive dialogue and problem-solving in even more communities.
Tim Rutten, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, said, “There is a long and painful history to teach us that when liberty of expression is suppressed, the public square does not become a silent place but one where the only sound is the voice of authority.”
In a democracy, the best idea wins, and one critical role of the press is to preserve, protect and defend the marketplace of ideas that makes our communities, our states and our nation strong.
We are grateful to our partners, from the Associated Press Media Editors to the Knight Foundation, the American Press Institute, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Gates and Pyramid Peak Foundations, the Scripps Howard Foundation and many others for helping support ASNE’s important work.
I am honored, humbled and proud to serve as your ASNE president for 2016-17. Our new board of directors, officers and staff are committed to elevating our value, our programs and our impact, with one overarching goal: to help you more effectively lead the newsrooms and communities you serve.