Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Surfing at the ASNE Convention

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Surfing at the ASNE Convention

Article excerpt

Why do I think that this year's American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in Washington, D.C., had the most highs and was the most varied of the 30 or so I've attended?

ASNE conclaves are so much different now than years ago when we editors were slightly more fatheaded and the success of a convention rested upon how many Washington potentates the editors lured into their banquet hall.

Then, whoever spoke, be it Nixon, McCarthy, or whoever, was applauded madly. This one, masterfully emceed by ASNE president Bill Ketter of the Quincy, Mass., Patriot Ledger, involved far more nuts and bolts, shop talk and philosophy. Editors also seemed more relaxed, concerned but not defeated by the outlook for paper are print. Also, they drink less and eat more.

The first high was the opener. It was an emotional salute to the most beloved newspaper leader of this generation, James K. Batten, the Knight-Ridder CEO who was prematurely felled by cancer last year. The Marine color guard marched by his widow, Jean, sitting on the dais, and through the hall to the strains of the Marine band.

Then Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence, who could have excelled as a preacher, delivered a most moving tribute to Jim, his friend and colleague.

Next up was Ketter for the traditional president's speech in which he deftly rang all the right change. He gave a plea to top editors to "get off their fannies" and gave a swift kick in the pants to publishers.

"We are scaring the people who work for us into thinking they are crewing the Titanic .... If we keep it up, we will surely frighten this business to death."

Ketter reminded newspaper owners of "the need for just plain decency in how they treat their newsroom and their editors .... There should be minimal standards of manners and grace that go with reorganization." So there!

Then Salinan Rushdie startled the folks at the breakfast table, suggesting that novelists and journalists share a common bond. The international hero's pitch: "The news has become a matter of opinion. And his puts a newspaper editor in a position not at all dissimilar from that of a novelist. It is for the novelist to create, communicate and sustain over time a personal and coherent vision of the world that entertains, interests, stimulates, provokes and nourishes his readers. It is for the newspaper editor to do very much the same thing with the pages at his disposal. In that specialized sense - and let me emphasize that I mean this as a compliment - we are all in the fiction business now."

The biggest dose of shop talk came from media consultant Richard Harwood, who headed up the society's ongoing ASNE Journalism Values Institute. With the help of 30 editors, this project came up with a handbook which outlines and discusses the stuff of decent journalism, what readers expect of their papers and their importance to a democratic society.

It's all good, basic stuff, well worth reading - like going to your doctor for an annual checkup. At least, you know what's needed.

Breaking precedent, the convention planners staged a workshop on "Copy desk job satisfaction." All the right things were drilled into the supervising editors. How often do copy editors make a convention agenda?

The high theater-of-the-week award clearly went to a so-called debate on the subject: Is there a need for radical change in the newsroom? …

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