David Lawrence Takes ASNE Helm: Newsroom Pluralism Is Top Priority for Editors' Group President

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David Lawrence takes ASNE helm

Newsroom pluralism is top priority for editors' group president

There is no question at all about the top priority of the American Society of Newspaper Editors' new president.

David Lawrence Jr. has been a vigorous voice for a more diverse newsroom and newspaper staff for years. Probably no other newspaper executive is so thoroughly identified with this industry cause as the publisher and chairman of the Miami Herald.

As long ago as 1978, Lawrence was on ASNE's minorities committee. He chaired the industrywide Task Force on Minorities in the Newspaper Business when it issued its landmark "Cornerstone for Growth" report in the spring of 1989.

For this work on encouraging racial diversity in newspapers, Lawrence has been honored with awards ranging from the Ida B. Wells Award to the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith's First Amendment Freedom Award.

It is not surprising then that even before Dave Lawrence formally took the ASNE reins, he issued this marching order: "One thing I've asked every committee chair to do is weave, in some way, pluralism through that committee. Of the 15 or so chairs, each of them ought to have some theme of pluralism in their activities, in some measure," Lawrence said in an interview from Miami.

Pluralism, diversity, multiculturalism -- by any name building and keeping a newspaper staff that reflects the society at large -- will be a central theme at this year's ASNE convention April 9-12 in Boston.

ASNE will issue a new survey on newsroom diversity. In past years, this has been a rather dispiriting portrait of glacially slow progress.

Lawrence says that this year there is good news.

"The newest ASNE figures are going to show honest growth in the pluralism of U.S. newsrooms. Specifically, they will show that a higher percentage of new newsroom hires are minorities," he said.

"That fuels progress for the future," Lawrence added.

Two developments lend an even greater urgency to this task, however.

The first is the growing impatience of civil rights groups and others with the heretofore slow progress.

Recently, for instance, the NAACP hinted strongly that it may look for a legal remedy to the problem.

Lawrence said that he shares that impatience.

"Newspapers have not been a particularly good home for minorities, or women, for that matter. Too often we are satisfied with making progress in increments of one [employee].

"There is an honest and often justifiable frustration," Lawrence added. "I don't think, however, the answer is to involve more lawyers. I'd rather figure out how to do things ourselves than have a court or judge do it."

ASNE's good news also, of course, comes against a background of continuing bad news in the economy.

Progress in minority new hires is less comforting when dozens of newspapers -- including prosperous papers such as Lawrence's own Miami Herald -- are laying off scores of current employees.

That is precisely why newspaper staff pluralism must be emphasized now, Lawrence said.

"I'm saying that even in these tight economic times that we not be permitted to use that as an excuse for not making progress."

In any case, Lawrence added quickly, newspapers are headed back to good times.

"I enter all of this extremely bullish about the future of good newspapers," he said.

"The Persian Gulf war demonstrated once again how vital newspapers are. We saw that in circulation increases [across the country]. At the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald [the paper's Spanish-language daily] we sold tens and tens of thousands of extra papers. TV simply could not provide the context, the sense of meaning, that newspapers can," Lawrence continued.

For that matter, Lawrence argues, newspaper pluralism is an economic imperative itself. …