By: Joe Strupp
The first thing editors saw when they arrived in Washington for their annual conference Sunday was the size of both the event and diversity of participants.
Inside the massive Washington Convention Center, ASNE editors were set to gather with the Newspaper Association of America, NEXPO, and Associated Press for the next few days. Most were used to the smaller confines of the J.W. Marriott Hotel down the street, with its handful of meeting rooms and ballrooms. In this much larger location, which included the mammoth NEXPO exhibit floor, it took time to find some rooms and get a feel for the place.
?It feels a little bit less-comfortable, yes,? admitted Rex Smith, editor of the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union. ?Part of the attraction of ASNE, the character is getting to see your old friends.? But, he said during such difficult newspaper industry times, it was right to have so many groups meeting together. ?The value of having our whole team here is significant,? said Smith, noting five people from his paper were attending.
Fellow Hearst Newspapers editor Jeff Cohen of the Houston Chronicle welcomed the multi-group approach. ?I think it makes sense for publishers, editors and production people to come together to focus on issues important to all of us,? he said. ?The business of newspapers is a team effort.?
One sign that guests were entering a Washington, D.C., newspaper event was the large banner outside the Massachusetts Avenue entrance proclaiming: ?The Washington Post Welcomes Newspaper Executives? and surrounded by logos of the major groups involved, as well as colored balloon images reminiscent of a political convention.
Inside the main lobby the Post struck again with a six-foot high sign boasting of its six Pulitzer Prizes announce last week. The Post also happened to have one of the few wide number of news racks inside offering free copies of the paper.
A large wall guide charting the various Capital Conference groups? events resembled something out of mega-cable television programming grid. Even the registration desk needed guide ropes and signs to direct members to their appropriate group.
As the editors and their non-newsroom counterparts eased in to the first day, which included a handful of sessions with minimal attendance, they offered a list of top issues facing the business, many using the term: ?crisis.?
Gilbert Bailon, outgoing ASNE president and editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, cited two broad concerns: ?multimedia and new media? and ?press freedom and press access.?
?Journalists have to be able to do what they do around the world,? Bailon said. ?It is the shield law, it is press access, it is journalists being safe in Iraq.?
He also pointed to the ongoing revenue and business model uncertainties: ?The day-to-day life of the editor is still about the transition of our economic model and a lot of continuing ownership change.?
Added Bailon: ?We are trying to do a combination of what we should be practicing as journalists and find a deeper understanding of our business.?
David Boardman, editor of The Seattle Times said: ?The over-arching issue, by far, is the business question. The business model question. How do we monetize the work we do and how do we pay for it??
Clint Brewer, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and editor of The City in Nashville, Tenn., offered a similar view: ?How do we capitalize on the readers we are finding online? How do we make money there??
Some have even joked that having Pope Benedict visit the city this week as part of his U.S. tour could offer some ?help from above.?
Others looked at the image of newspapers as a dying business and the need for those in the industry to rally against that. ?We have to embrace the fact that quality journalism is not at risk,? said Carolyn Washburn, editor of the Des Moines Register.
?Do not use that as an excuse.? Jennifer Carroll, Gannett vice president of digital content, agreed: ?The top issue remains doing quality journalism and unlocking the business model.?
Smith of the Times-Union pointed to ?audience renewal? as his top concern. ?We need to work not just on the supply side, but also the demand,? he added. ?And young readers — there aren?t any.?
The joint conference offered some perks most ASNE events do not, such as the ASNE/NAA VIP lounge with a free open bar and coffee station, as well as large screen television where one group spent time Sunday watching The Masters golf tournament.
The Capital Conference Web site at www.naa.org, is offering a blog for attendees of each groups? events to blog about their experiences. So far items ranging from a Youtube video used in one conference to different ideas from another have been posted.