By: Debra Gersh Hernandez
Immediate past president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors William Hilliard offers advice to his colleagues sp.
WHEN EDITORS THINK about what it takes to run a good newspaper, William Hilliard wants them to remember three things.
Hilliard, editor of the Portland Oregonian and immediate past president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, told those at the organization’s recent annual conference in Washington that the three things are cultural diversity, civility and First Amendment abuses against student journalists.
“Our profession took giant strides toward cultural diversity when professors in our schools of communication and journalism stopped telling people of color, especially young blacks, as one professor told me, that big newspapers wouldn’t hire them,” Hilliard said, noting that the ASNE’s goal of having newspapers mirror the cultural makeup of their communities by the year 2000 was another step.
Cultural diversity, which he said is more than simply race or color, also means making buildings accessible to wheelchairs and guide dogs and the “unique accouterments of our employees with disabilities;” white journalists not dressing down when meeting Indian tribal officials; and not letting sexual orientation affect hiring, firing, promotions or assignments.
“We will have achieved true diversity when the differences among us don’t make any difference,” Hilliard said.
The values of great newspapers also are society’s greatest virtues: “Tolerance, respect and unyielding commitments to common values,” he said.
Hilliard warned, “Any newspaper editor still in denial about our nation’s cultural evolution may sometime in the next century be part of a displaced institution when people of color comprise the majority in America.
“To those few who are threatened by that prospect, let me remind them that this is not a case of winners and losers. No one has to be disenfranchised when we accommodate and nourish cultural diversity everywhere ? in our newsrooms, in our communities and in our nation,” he said.
“The Oregonian did not fire a white male reporter to make room for me. And I was not promoted at the expense of more competent or deserving colleagues. Nobody lost because I succeeded,” Hilliard continued.
“On the contrary, I want to believe that over the years, scores of young people of color have looked at me and said, ‘It can happen.’ “
When someone applies for a job at the Oregonian, Hilliard added, that person’s only worry should be, “Am I good enough? Not, am I man enough? Or white enough? Or young enough?” he added. “Not, can I cut it as a black reporter? Or a lesbian reporter? Or a disabled reporter?
“Just, can I cut it as a reporter? That is all that counts,” Hilliard said, pointing out that the industry is only a third of the way toward its diversity goal for the year 2000.
When it comes to civility, Hilliard said, “American politics seems destined to be awash in blood feuds that rank retribution above common decency, above accountability and above the salvation of the Republic.
“The question then becomes,” he said, “Are American newspapers independent, objective chroniclers of events? Or is our future mortgaged to grotesque one-upmanship where news stories begin and end with an empty headline?”
Hilliard thinks “we misjudge our readers’ capacity to tolerate the media’s sometimes manic and ill-tempered self-indulgence,” and he does not believe that readers “have an infinite capacity to tolerate incivility.”
Any newspaper editor “who expects infinite indulgence does so at his or her peril,” he cautioned.
Hilliard also spoke to the ASNE audience about the importance of defending the First Amendment rights of student journalists.
“In our business,” he said, “the quickest way to rally the troops is to challenge free speech. Nothing is as righteous and heroic as an embattled newspaper editor exercising and defending his or her sacred duty to resist being told what he or she can print and what he or she can’t.
“Well, there is a need to rally the troops when the local college or university suspends the campus newspaper for offending some ivy-covered moral protocol ? almost always ill-defined,” Hilliard said. “There is a tendency for most of us to report the incident as news and too often to forego an editorial opinion.”
The First Amendment was not designed to “be held in abeyance through one’s adolescence. If the American newspaper establishment fails to defend free speech for high school and college journalists, how can we claim it for ourselves?” Hilliard asked. “Can we be credible models and leaders in our profession and condone censorship at the same time?”
While the ASNE has taken some meaningful steps, it “needs to step into the campus journalism censorship fray every time a meritorious opportunity arises,” he said.
Hilliard summed up by adding, “Because I am an individual who has suffered personally from the indignities of discrimination, I am extremely sensitive to the feelings of those around me, so these values have a special meaning for me.
“I believe the daily newspaper is indispensable to the survival of a free society. It can show best the need to celebrate one’s ethnicity and its bene-
fits to a multicultural society ? the achievements of women, black Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and Asians,” he said.
“In doing so, we must be careful to move more toward a unified America without divisions along racial, economic and cultural lines.”
?( Any newspaper editor still in denial about our nation’s cultural evolution may sometime in the next century be part of a displaced institution when people of color comprise the majority in America.) [Caption]
?(-William Hilliard, editor, Portland Oregonian) [Cpation]