Restoring trust in journalism

In 2018 and 2019, I had the great privilege of serving on the Knight Commission on Trust, Media & Democracy, a joint initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute. I was invited to reflect on the Commission’s work and recommendations in a talk to the California News Publishers Association. Here’s what I shared:

One of the most frightening conversations I’ve had in my career was with a dear friend who had a secret to share.

She told me that she had been feeling down in the dumps lately, so she took the advice of a friend of hers who happened to be a psychologist. Several weeks after following that advice, she said, her mood brightened significantly.

The treatment was simple. It didn’t involve anti-depressant drugs, counseling or shock therapy. It wasn’t even one of those miracle herbal cures touted on late-night TV.

Best of all, the cure for her ills was painless – and it didn’t cost a dime. In fact, it even saved her money.

She was so excited that she couldn’t stop talking about it. But I wish she would.

The secret to her positive mood swing was a “news fast,” a term that describes a period of avoiding Web surfing, television newscasts and newspapers because the content is, well, too depressing.

Folks like Andrew Weil M.D., a holistic health guru, suggest that constant exposure to negative news can have an adverse impact on one’s mood, potentially aggravating already present feelings of sadness and depression.

To add insult to injury, my wife came home one day, told me all about it and said that Oprah Winfrey even recommended it.

For me, THAT was depressing.

It was depressing because I’ve made the practice of journalism my life’s work, dating back to starting a class newspaper in the third grade. I was drawn to journalism, both then and now, because of its power to give voice to people who don’t have them, to be a watchdog of the public interest and to serve as a check on civic institutions.

Today, I believe journalism, indeed, America, faces a challenge that will take enormous energy and effort to overcome.

I’m talking about the growing lack of trust in democratic institutions and, even more troubling, a lack of trust in those individuals positioned to work on our behalf.

Now, there are times when that distrust is justified: A clergy member accused of misconduct and abuse, a journalist caught fabricating sources, an elected official caught in a lie.

These examples have always been with us – indeed, politicians, journalists and members of the clergy are human, and as humans, we all make mistakes.

Today, however, what seems like a crisis of distrust is aided and abetted by people using social networks and other tools of modern communication to exploit the last layer of those we trust even more – our friends and family members.

The advent of bad actors using the people closest to us to spread disinformation and lies has the potential to pull us apart even further.

Into this breach waded twenty-seven people convened by The Aspen Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation – a group now known as the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy.

I’m proud to have been a part of that Commission and even more proud to give you a high-level view of our recommendations. I’ll then dive in to one specific recommendation that has significant implications for publishers as we seek to derive more revenue from the consumers of the news and information content we produce.

The entire report can be found via the websites of the Aspen Institute and the Knight Foundation, and I commend it to your attention.

Much or our discussion centered around the issue of transparency, and more specifically the idea that transparency breeds trust.

At my core, I’m a community news editor most familiar with places like Camarillo, Palm Springs, Redding and Salinas, newsrooms I work with in my corporate role with Gannett and the USA TODAY Network, and the three communities where I occupied the role of Editor: Akron, Ohio, Evansville, Indiana and Tallahassee, Florida.

As a reporter and editor, I learned the hard way that trust had to be earned every day through complete, comprehensive and fair local news coverage. We had to be accurate, and when we weren’t, we had to quickly and publicly own up to our mistakes. I felt then and still believe today that to know a local journalist is to trust one.

This is the perspective I brought to the Commission, and it is from this vantage point that I’d like to take a deep dive into one of our major recommendations for news organizations – the concept of radical transparency.

About 13 years ago I was leading the newsroom at the Akron Beacon Journal when one of our local columnists came to me with a sensitive story. He’d been spending time on a new social networking platform called MySpace, and he was appalled at what he saw: High school students posting pictures of drug and alcohol use, massive parties when parents were out of town – you know, the same stuff some of us did long before the advent of the internet.

Now, our columnist didn’t want to ‘out’ these kids for bad behavior, but he did want to send a message that when you put something out there, it literally is there for the world to see.

So we prepared a story explaining how these new social networks function, and included some identifying information – notably, the schools some of these students went to. The package also included tips for parents on how to talk with their kids about these new platforms that were just coming on to the scene.

I realized my phone and e-mail would be lit up with complaining readers, so I wrote a column to accompany the story explaining what we did, why we did it and the questions we weighed as we prepared the article before publication.

We then posted the story, along with my column, on our website and published both in print the next morning.

Instead of criticism, we received a wave of understanding, support and gratitude for helping parents have important conversations with their children.

That, in a nutshell, is radical transparency in action. The Commission believes that in order to rebuild trust in the media, news organizations need to embark on what would seem to be the radical practice of routinely explaining what we do and how we do it.

All too often, we assume that the public understands how we practice journalism. For example, some of my colleagues believe that displaying a writer’s name and photo atop an online story signifies that they are writing opinion or commentary, even when that label is not used.

Other news organizations liberally utilize anonymous sources but fail to explain why that source is seeking protection from public disclosure.

In both cases, news industry practices that have become common and automatic do less to inform citizens and more to sow seeds of distrust.

The Commission urges leaders of organizations that report and distribute news to adopt common standards and best practices that promote transparency.

They include clearly labeling fact-based journalism and opinion; clearly communicating standards on corrections, fact-checking and anonymous sources – and avoiding the use of advertising formats that blur the line between content and commerce.

In addition, the Commission urges news organizations to engage more deeply with citizens and communities, building two-way communication between journalists and the audiences they serve to improve the quality and relevance of news reporting.

Tom Friedman of the New York Times once said that if you really want to get through to people as a journalist, you first have to open their ears, and the best way to open their ears is to first open your own … show them the respect of listening. He said it’s amazing what they will say after that, and it is amazing what you might learn.

The benefits of greater – indeed, radical, transparency are clear – and backed up by real-world examples from advocates such as the Trusting News Project at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. Let me share a few of those benefits from the Commission report:

  • Transparency provides a means for holding news organizations more accountable for the accuracy and fairness of their content;
  • It encourages high standards in reporting by revealing more about how that reporting is conducted;
  • It gives audiences the opportunity to discover and explore additional information that might otherwise be hidden in reporters’ notebooks, files or cameras;
  • And it gives audiences a better understanding of who journalists are and how they operate.

Aside from the change we would like to see in the relationship between news organizations and the audiences they serve, we would be remiss if we didn’t reinforce that government, at all levels, has a corresponding responsibility to be transparent about their actions and methods.

In short, greater transparency across the worlds of journalism and government will reinforce a role that I believe we all embrace – that of being a civic or public servant. But I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that accomplishing this goal takes work.

Back in my own newsroom, I had to anticipate the questions readers would have before they were asked – and address them as directly as I could.

That was the same approach my colleagues at USA TODAY utilized in another case of radical transparency – when it published an unprecedented first-person account from a writer on the impact of her mother’s suicide.

News organizations typically avoid writing about suicide, saying it is too personal a topic. Yet suicide rates have increased by a third over the past 20 years, leading to what some would suggest is a national public health crisis.

Amid our determination to tell the writer’s personal story of coping with suicide in full, we consulted with experts, connected with suicide survivors and explained to readers what we were doing and why we were doing it.

We created a survivors Facebook group to facilitate conversations and told the stories of others who came forward to share their experiences.

The result was an outpouring of support for those affected by suicide and, we hope, increased awareness of its impact. John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, wrote USA TODAY hours after publication saying that he believed the stories would “save lives and that they need to be read, far and wide.”

That, to me, is one of the greatest benefits of an open, transparent approach to journalistic practice: One that gives us the courage to tackle uncomfortable subjects in ways that save lives.

Thanks for being here today.

Advocating for leadership, diversity and press freedom

It’s been a great honor to serve as the 2016-2017 President of the American Society of News Editors. As I hand the gavel over to incoming President Alfredo Carbajal of the Dallas Morning News, I had the chance to share thoughts on the organization’s accomplishments over the past year.


ASNE announces annual Diversity Survey results and new partnership with Google News Lab

Washington, D.C. (Oct. 10, 2017)- The American Society of News Editors announced at the annual News Leadership Conference that minority journalists comprised 16.6 percent of the workforce in U.S. newsrooms that responded to this year’s Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey. This finding shows only a half-percentage-point decrease from last year’s figure and is still several percentage points higher than the percentages recorded for much of the past two decades.

In online-only news organizations, the survey found minorities comprised 24.3 percent, an increase from last year’s 23.3 percent.

ASNE also announced its new partnership with the Google News Lab, which has produced data visualizations of this year’s survey results and historical data dating back to 2001. The News Lab’s newly launched interactive website ( will serve as a visual archive of the ASNE survey data, in addition to this diversity page at

The annual survey also found that 25.5 percent of the news organizations reported having at least one minority journalist among their top three editors, and 74.8 percent reported having at least one woman in a top-three position.

The results summarize responses from 661 news organizations, including 598 newspapers and 63 online-only news websites.

Although direct comparisons to 2016 data show slight decreases in the overall diversity of news organizations, this year’s results indicate that newsrooms are still more diverse than they were during the two decades prior to 2016 when diversity figures essentially plateaued and minorities consistently accounted for between 12 and 13 percent of newsroom employees.

“The 2017 survey matched the methodology of the 2016 survey, so ASNE feels confident in comparing the two years’ results,” said Adam Maksl, an assistant professor at Indiana University Southeast, who has directed the survey for the past five years. “Although we were pleased to see the results last year that showed minority journalists were making up larger parts of American newsrooms, our findings this year help show that the growth observed last year wasn’t a blip and might indeed show continued movement toward parity with the general population,” Maksl said.

Maksl said it is still too early to say there is indeed an upward trend, especially because this year showed a slight decrease from last year, but he looks forward to seeing results in the next few years to find out if this is an upward trend.

Different from previous years, this year’s survey included open-ended questions asking news organizations to provide specific examples of stories and other best practices that show their commitment to diversity recruitment and retention. Results will be reviewed and shared later.

Other highlights of the survey showed:

– In 2017, minorities comprised 16.55 percent of employees reported by all newsrooms in our survey, compared to 16.94 percent in 2016. Among daily newspapers, about 16.31 percent of employees were racial minorities (compared to 16.65 percent in 2016), and 24.3 percent of employees at online-only news websites were minorities (compared to 23.3 percent in 2016). The percent of journalists of color was still greatest at the largest news organizations. For example, at newspapers with daily circulations of 500,000 and above, nearly a quarter (23.4 percent) of the average workforce was made up of minorities (compared to 23.7 percent in 2016). The average newsroom workforce at all 661 legacy and digital sites was about 11.2 percent minority (up from 10.6 percent in 2016).

– Women made up more than a third of newsroom employees overall (39.1 percent in 2017 compared to 38.7 percent in 2016), with a higher number employed at online-only websites than at newspapers. Women comprised 38.9 percent of daily newspaper employees in this year’s survey (compared to 38.1 percent in 2016) and 47.8 percent of online-only news organization employees (compared to 47.6 percent in 2016).

– Women were the majority of the workforce at 30.2 percent of the online news websites (compared to 37.4 percent in 2016) and at 15.5 percent of the daily newspapers (compared to 14.2 percent in 2016).

– Of all newsroom leaders, 13.4 percent were minorities (compared to 13 percent in 2016), and 38.9 percent were women (compared to 37.1 percent in 2016).

“We are seeing encouraging growth trends in the percentage of minorities and women in the top ranks of newsroom leadership,” said ASNE President Mizell Stewart III, vice president of news operations for Gannett and the USA TODAY Network. “ASNE believes that diverse leaders build diverse newsrooms, and our organization’s professional development efforts are oriented toward that goal.”

“I’m encouraged by the increasing emphasis on diversity and the commitment of new partners to help ASNE advance the cause,” said ASNE Diversity Committee Co-Chair Karen Magnuson, executive editor of the Rochester (New York) Democrat & Chronicle. “It’s more important than ever for newsrooms to properly reflect and authentically cover communities of color. Continuing to improve in this area will help build trust and grow audience. It’s critical to our industry’s future.”

“It’s important to paint a picture of how newsrooms are changing and visualizing that against the communities they report on in a way that is easy to understand,” said LaToya Drake, inclusive storytelling lead for the Google News Lab. “We hope this presentation is one the industry will value. We believe inclusion is crucial to creating media that opens us up to new perspectives on significant issues of our time, and this partnership with ASNE is a step in that direction.”

“We cannot make strides on diversity and inclusion inside newsrooms without being able to measure it,” said Jennifer Preston, vice president for journalism at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “Although the survey signals improvement, it shows that more ambitious efforts need to be made to improve diversity, help rebuild trust, and ensure that the news and information needs of underserved communities are being met.”

ASNE also announced a $300,000 grant from the Democracy Fund, which will help create a more comprehensive and data-driven survey that catalogues newsroom diversity numbers for U.S. print and online publications. The Google News Lab and Knight Foundation are also key supporters of the annual survey.

In 2012, the ASNE Diversity Committee created the Minority Leadership Institute to train and develop up-and-coming, mid-level newsroom leaders and connect them with a network of established ASNE leaders. In 2016, ASNE rebranded the program as the Emerging Leaders Institute to include all emerging leaders with diverse backgrounds. ASNE has hosted 16 institutes since the first one in 2012.

ASNE plans to host four institutes in 2018. Dates and venues will be announced before the end of this year.

About the ASNE survey

Since its inception in 1978, ASNE’s diversity research has revealed the degree to which newspapers and, more lately, online-only news websites reflect the public they aim to serve. Over the years, the survey has been revised to maintain its relevance as a useful and aspirational benchmark for racial and gender diversity.

In 1998, ASNE began to ask for the numbers of women employed in newsrooms. Until then, the research tracked only employment and general job categories for black, Asian American, Hispanic and Native American employees.

In 2014, the survey began asking for the number of women and people of color in top newsroom leadership positions.

In 2016, we made two notable changes, which we applied this year, as well.

First, we stopped estimating the number of journalists working in newsrooms, as the changing structure of modern newsrooms made it increasingly impractical and error-prone to try to estimate the number of working journalists.

A second major change was that we did not ask news organizations to classify employees by job category, other than breaking out leadership separately, because new jobs outside of the norm are constantly being created in many newsrooms.
For survey methodology and detailed tables, go to this link.

Google News Lab and Knight Foundation provided the funding for this year’s survey research, which was directed by Adam Maksl, Ph.D., assistant professor of journalism at Indiana University Southeast. The research team at the School of Communication + Journalism at Florida International University, led by assistant professor Yu Liu, Ph.D., administered the questionnaire and collected the data.

Applications now open for the 2017 Poynter-NABJ Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media

We’re back!

I’m excited to announce that the groundbreaking Poynter-NABJ Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media will be back for the second year.

We will be joined again by Poynter’s Butch Ward, digital media strategist Ju-Don Roberts, NABJ President Sarah Glover and an all-star cast of visiting faculty members, including Rashida Jones of NBC Universal, USA TODAY Network colleagues Russ Torres and Tim Wong and the amazing Amanda Zamora of the Texas Tribune. For more details and information on how to apply, visit

Communities will benefit from the commitment of news leaders to staff diversity

By Mizell Stewart III, President, American Society of News Editors

As the news media transform, the urgent need for the nation’s newsrooms to reflect America, in all its facets, is more vital than ever. We need the help of every news leader to make that a reality.

As digital platforms, such as Google and Facebook, and digital-only news organizations grow in influence, reach and revenue, it is critical that issues of diversity be on their agenda, as well.
That’s why the American Society of News Editors is proud to welcome Google News Lab as a new partner in its annual Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey. We are launching the 2017 survey more committed than ever to helping news leaders advance the cause of diversity in staffing, as well as content and coverage.
Your participation in this effort is critical if ASNE is to present an accurate picture of the makeup of the U.S. newsroom workforce. It is an important credibility issue during a time when many question our ability to truly reflect the communities we serve.
Almost 50 years ago, the Kerner Commission, also known as the National Advisory Committee on Civil Disorders, declared, “the journalistic profession has been shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring, training and promoting Negroes.” Ten years later, ASNE set an ambitious goal for newsrooms to reach parity with the percentage of people of color, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and African-Americans, in the U.S. population by 2000.
The ASNE diversity survey was established to help track progress toward that goal. Unfortunately, the year 2000 came and went with the U.S. newsroom workforce far short of the desired mark; in the meantime, ASNE extended the deadline for reaching parity to 2025.
In my more pessimistic moments, I believe our industry has made little progress since 1968. That is not because of a willful disregard for diversity; on the contrary, countless programs and initiatives are in place with the goal of bringing persons of color and women into the industry, and women and persons of color occupy top leadership positions in media organizations of all stripes.
The lack of progress is palpable because the continuing transformation of media business models has led to dramatic reductions in newsroom employment, particularly at local newspapers.
In many legacy news organizations, moving the needle on staff diversity took a back seat to the survival of the enterprise. Instead of a tool to keep issues of diversity on the front burner, the ASNE survey was used as an annual barometer of the changing fortunes of local newsrooms.
Our Diversity Committee made several changes to the 2016 survey to address those issues. We quickly recognized that some of those changes were viewed negatively. We adjusted immediately once that feedback was received and are redoubling our commitment to transparency, sharing staff statistics from each participating newsroom.
This year, with the help of Google and the continuing support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, we are adding questions about best practices in coverage and community engagement to provide news leaders with actionable strategies for better reflecting community interests.
We are also increasing efforts to reach digital-only news organizations and exploring ways to more deeply examine the challenges for news leaders across all platforms aiming to diversify their staffs.
To make the survey as useful as possible to you, to your news organization and to the communities you serve, we need your participation. Please take the time to complete the survey. If you don’t receive an invitation to complete the survey by the end of this week, then please reach out to ASNE at
Thank you in advance for your commitment to furthering the cause of diversity. By working together, we can help our newsrooms truly mirror our communities and our country.

Sunshine Week celebrates your right to know

Column by Mizell Stewart III, President, American Society of News Editors; published in USA TODAY, March 12, 2017

Rita Ward had a question: Why did a weekly listing of causes of death suddenly stop appearing in the local newspaper?

It turned out the health department in Vanderburgh County, Ind., halted its practice of providing causes of death to the Evansville Courier & Press. When Ward and a reporter for the newspaper asked why those records were no longer available, the department cited an Indiana law intended to protect citizens against identity theft.

“I truly do believe printing the cause of death is important,” Ward told the Courier & Press in a 2012 interview. “Maybe a reader might see a neighbor who died of colon cancer and make the decision to have their first overdue colonoscopy. It can be a first step toward a change for the better. It can touch a reader. It’s personal. That’s why it is important.”

Ward and the newspaper sued for access to the information under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act. They lost two lower court rulings before the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that the records, focused on the decedent’s name, age and cause of death, should continue to be made available to the public. In their ruling, the judges underscored “the importance of open and transparent government to the health of our body politic” and held that “the public interest outweighs the private.”

The court’s explicit link between government transparency and the welfare of citizens underpins Sunshine Week, a national, non-partisan effort to highlight the critical role of open government and freedom of information at the local, state and federal levels. The Sunday-Saturday celebration is led by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Gridiron Club and Foundation.

Now, more than ever, Americans are urged to recognize the importance of open government to a robust democracy. Access to meetings, minutes and records of our elected and appointed representatives — and to those officials themselves — is a key element of the constitutional right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It is not strictly for the benefit of the news media.

That is true whether the fight is for transparency from local governments or the White House. The Obama administration promised to be the most open ever, but it punished whistle-blowers harshly. In the Trump administration, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to travel without a press pool on his first trip to Asia.

In addition to ordinary citizens such as Rita Ward, access to government information helps citizen groups hold public officials accountable through firsthand observation of their actions. Access also enables historians to accurately describe past events and gives individuals critical information on public safety in the neighborhoods where they live.

Recently, the National Park Service, fulfilling a request under the Freedom of Information Act, provided aerial photographs that showed a sharp contrast between crowds on the National Mall for the inauguration of President Trump and those who turned out for the first inauguration of President Obama.

Despite public statements by Trump and White House spokesman Sean Spicer that crowds for Trump dwarfed those of Obama, the photos — not the words of government officials — told the full story.

In addition to state laws in Indiana and across the country, the Freedom of Information Act gives citizens the right to obtain information from the federal government — information that your tax dollars paid to collect. In addition, more and more local governments are leveraging technology to make public information, from traffic data to public transit schedules, even more accessible and more useful to citizens.

This week and every week, take a moment to consider what your life would be like if government officials operated in total secrecy and restricted your access to information. Support organizations fighting against those in power who seek to weaken open government protections. Join with fellow citizens in seeking disclosure. When you want information from a police department, local government or school board, ask for it.

Just like Rita Ward learned in the Indiana death records case, you have the right to know.

President’s message to members of the American Society of News Editors

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,

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.

Thank you.

Just got a newsroom promotion? Follow these 3 steps to be successful

Originally published on Reposted with permission.

All around me, newsroom leaders are starting new jobs and taking on new or expanded responsibilities. I’m in the same boat as well, writing this just a few weeks into a new job leading news operations for Gannett and the USA TODAY Network.

Earlier this year, top newsroom editors in Tronc, formerly known as Tribune Publishing, took on additional responsibilities as publishers in their markets. As ever, new editors are taking over in newsrooms across the United States. Still others are shifting to different jobs, different companies and new content platforms.

Not everyone will make it. Leadership transitions are challenging under the best of circumstances. But the added pressure on news companies, the constant cycle of change and countless other factors make it even more important that leaders take a systematic approach to starting a new job.

Studies of individuals in executive or similar leadership posts show that success or failure in a new job is largely determined within the first 90 days. Those who fail to firmly establish themselves with bosses, peers and subordinates in the first three months are at a higher risk of derailment — reaching a career plateau or experiencing outright failure.

Here are three keys to successfully taking on a new job:

Develop competence: Recently promoted leaders have to develop competence in their new job — but competence goes beyond simple subject-matter expertise. You may have been a top-flight digital producer, but you have to develop competence as an executive producer — competence as the one in charge — to be successful.

The first step in that process is all in your head. As Michael Watkins describes in his book, “The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter,” you have to “promote yourself.” That means making the mental break between your old job and your new one. That can be tough in newsrooms with ever-flatter leadership structures and situations where the newly promoted take bits and pieces of their old jobs with them.

The main thing is to understand that every situation is unique, and the behaviors that made you successful in your old job are not necessarily the skills that will help you be successful in the new job. “The dangers of sticking with what you know, working extremely hard at doing it, and failing miserably are very real,” Watkins writes. If people don’t see you as competent and in control of your new job within the first three months, your leadership reputation (or lack thereof) is largely cemented.

Seek understanding: Building competence is a process of getting to know your new place in the organization, its workplace culture, identifying the resources you have at your disposal and understanding what you need to do to be successful. This requires taking a systematic approach to develop relationships with peers, superiors and subordinates, identifying and addressing your blind spots and begin buildinging your internal network.

Learning is critical. If part of your job involves managing budgets, but you’ve never successfully balanced a checkbook, you need to bone up. It is your responsibility — not that of your employer — to be prepared to do the work you are being paid to do. Relationship-building within your workplace, with the people who have knowledge and resources that you lack as a newcomer, is absolutely critical to your success.

Get on the same page: The most important task you have in taking on a new job is getting aligned with your new boss’ way of thinking. It’s one thing for you to understand what it takes to be successful. It is another thing to make sure that you and your boss see success the same way. Start by finding out what your boss is being asked to deliver. Continue by figuring out basic ground rules for your relationship:

  • What expectations does she have of you?
  • What is his preferred method of communication?
  • What are her pain points?
  • What problems can you solve quickly?
  • What does your boss want to be informed of and/or have a hand in deciding?
  • What constitutes a “surprise” that would catch your boss off-guard?
  • How often do you need to meet one-on-one to compare notes and keep projects on track?

Short of a Vulcan mind-meld, you may need to capture this information in a series of conversations. These conversations also provide an opportunity for you to negotiate realistic, achievable expectations.

It is absolutely critical that those of you working in a so-called “matrix” organization, where you have to maintain relationships with more than one boss, i.e. a corporate leader and another at your local operating unit, clarify and reconcile expectations between the two. Those who successfully navigate matrix organizations take responsibility for making that happen instead of waiting for their multiple ‘bosses’ to get on the same page.

Taken together, these three keys build upon each other to help you establish credibility in a new job. Learning about pain points and problems that can be addressed quickly are all part of identifying “quick wins” that enable new leaders to build momentum. On the flip side, a failure to recognize blind spots, such as understanding what constitutes a “surprise” to your boss, diminishes credibility and makes those around you question your competence.

One recommended approach to ensuring a successful transition is to negotiate a 90-day onboarding period with your new boss, setting the expectation that this will be a period of learning, understanding and growth. If you are promoted within the organization or have done a good job of researching the new organization you are joining, you should have plenty of information to plan how you will spend your time and what you hope to accomplish during this period. It’s a good idea to put your plan in writing and share it with your boss, yet another opportunity to ensure alignment between the two of you.

Taking on a new job is an incredibly stressful endeavor. The flood of new people, new information and a different way of operating can take its toll. This is why it is also important to practice self-care, starting with exercise and a healthy diet.

Finally, it is important to note that these same techniques can and should be used in the event that you aren’t changing jobs yourself but end up getting a new boss.

If you are long past the first 90 days but believe your leadership transition is off track, you can employ these same techniques to reset your relationships up, across and down within your organization. It’s far better for you to realize your performance isn’t quite measuring up and to initiate a plan than for someone else to do it for you. The latter is a crystal clear sign your days might be numbered. No one wants to see that.



As uncertainty looms, how can you lead your newsroom through change?


The news hits you like a thunderbolt. There’s a corporate reorganization. An offer is on the table or, even more definitively, your company is being sold. Countless thoughts race through your head, not the least of which is, “what does this mean to me?”

But you have even more to be concerned about. Whether you are a top newsroom leader or a mid-level manager, your team is looking to you for information, for guidance and for the answer to that critical, personal question — not so much for you, but for themselves.

Leading through major events, such as a big corporate departure or the sale of your company, takes time. And, if they’re not managed carefully, they can sap energy and ambition.

I’ve had my share of experience with transition. Over the years, I’ve led teams at individual newsrooms through three sales processes. I was also chief content officer of Journal Media Group and led our team of more than 700 journalists through our 2014 spinoff from The E.W. Scripps Company and our 2015 sale to Gannett.

It is important to note that transition can take many forms, and the sale of an enterprise is perhaps the most dramatic of them:

  • A new approach to newsgathering requires changes in processes, systems and workflows.
  • New platforms require a rethinking of how stories are reported and distributed to current and emerging audiences.
  • Leadership changes at the company or corporate level mean not only a new boss, but potentially a new set of priorities.
  • The sudden departure of a key newsroom player puts an important initiative in jeopardy.
  • A career change means moving to a new job in a new city.

In his book, “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change,” organizational change consultant William Bridges describes transition as a psychological process that people go through by internalizing and coming to terms with the new situation that change brings about.

Bridges’ work in helping leaders navigate change prompted him to develop a three-step model for the transition process. While change is a constant, he writes, “the transition process by which people get through change is well-mapped.”

He describes that process in three phases:

  1. Ending, losing and letting go.
  2. The Neutral Zone.
  3. The new beginning.

Transition begins with an ending. It’s a time of loss, particularly of the old ways and the old identity. Depending on the nature of the transition, it can be quite painful.

After the newsroom I led in Tallahassee, Florida was sold to a new owner in 2005, I remember breaking down and crying one morning as I dealt with the reality that I would have to leave a staff and a community I had grown to love if I was to continue running a local newsroom.

Letting go is necessary to move forward. Perhaps the best way to deal with the first phase is to recognize that sense of loss and encourage people to express it. There’s a reason we have rituals around the death of a loved one, and the transition process is not unlike moving through the Seven Stages of Grief.

Leaders can best demonstrate emotional and psychological support by demonstrating empathy and being available; one of the biggest mistakes I made in 2005 was retreating to my office, in some respects counting the days until I had to clean out my desk. In doing so, I let my team down and failed do my best to help them begin their own transition.

Transition continues in a murky period that Bridges calls The Neutral Zone. Far from a construct out of “Star Trek,” it’s a period with enormous positive potential. It’s a time where the old isn’t firmly in the rear view mirror but the new isn’t completely in place.

Perhaps the most important aspect of leading through The Neutral Zone is being proactive in your communication, providing support, attention and feedback. This is also the best time to introduce learning and development initiatives aimed at helping people move from what they are letting go of to what they need to embrace. It’s a tricky balancing act, particularly when you are leading through a situation when your own role isn’t quite clear.

My former team has been there. Last fall, just after Gannett announced its bid for Journal Media Group, the company’s editors gathered for their annual meeting at the conference of the American Society of News Editors. In a session facilitated by our friends Michele McLellan and Vikki Porter of the Knight Digital Media Center, our editors developed this list of insights to guide newsroom leaders charged with leading teams through uncharted territory:

Personal and professional development (for staff and leaders)

  • Focus on growing your individual brand or value.
  • Use this as an opportunity to blaze a trail and make a mark for yourself.
  • Do soul-searching about what you want to be professionally and about what changes you are willing and able to make.
  • Continue to progress and move forward. Do not fall into paralysis.
  • Be in the now and help staff be in the now.


  • Be genuine, trustworthy and honest. Continue to have open conversations. Share what you know and can share. Include staff in discussions about the transition.
  • Acknowledge the fears and concerns people have.
  • Have a lot of individual conversations as well as group discussions.

Organizational strategies:

  • Focus on quality journalism.
  • Consider the readers’ perspective and how they are perceiving the change.
  • Develop allies in the rest of your organization.
  • Keep celebrating innovation.
  • Remember that local leadership makes a difference. The quality of our work is dependent on us, not corporate.
  • Help staff grow skills to help with their future.
  • Don’t wait for permission. Examine coverage areas and parts of your organization that need to changed and change them.
  • Do reporting projects and coverage initiatives that help community, build skills and keep people engaged.

The new beginning is just that — and for the JMG team, started with the close of the Gannett deal in early April 2016. Though many questions about the combined operation remain, we’ve learned that treating change as an event and transition as a process helps leaders act boldly to usher their teams through uncertain times. I couldn’t be more proud of how our newsroom leaders led their teams through the process.

ASNE and NAA team up to share advice for industry leaders on newsroom culture change

Pam Fine, president of the American Society of News Editors, moderated a great panel discussion on changing newsroom culture at the recent annual convention of the Newspaper Association of America. Panelists included Dave Harmon, Chief People Officer of Gannett, Bill Church, editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and myself. NAA posted a great recap of the session.