Cocktail Chatter at ASNE’s Gay Reception

By: Joe Strupp

The second annual American Society of Newspaper Editors gay reception on Thursday night, inside the upper level of the Westin Seattle?s Coldwater Bar and Grill, was jJointly sponsored by the Star-Tribune Foundation and the USC Annenberg School of Communications. The cocktail party drew both gay and straight participants, just as organizer J. Ford Huffman had hoped.

?I?m trying to let gay people feel comfortable at ASNE in their roles as editors,? said Huffman, a deputy managing editor at USA Today and former board member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. ?This is one way of demonstrating that support.?

When the event premiered last year during the ASNE gathering in Washington, D.C., more was made of the party. Huffman offered opening remarks then in an effort to break the ice, while also noting the honoring of Roy Aarons, NLGJA founder and former Oakland Tribune editor who came out during a speech at ASNE years ago. He died in 2004.

?The response last year made me think we had to do it again,? Huffman said as he welcomed guests to Thursday?s event, which took on a more informal atmosphere. As guests noshed on pinwheel sandwiches and Asian fare, no opening comments were made or tributes, just a gathering of gay journalists and their supporters, as Huffman put it.

?Rick and I are coming out as a couple,? newly-elected ASNE president David Zeeck joked after entering the party with outgoing president Rick Rodriguez, who offered a mild smile.

Guests sipped the wines offered and chatted as they had at many other ASNE-related gatherings this week. There were New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. and George Irish, president of Hearst Newspapers, discussing something at the end of the bar. When approached, neither would comment on the event of the week, the MediaNews Group purchase of four former Knight Ridder papers from McClatchy, with a little Hearst help.

Sulzberger said he had nothing to say on the deal, although he remarked how much he liked Mt. Rainer, which he said he had never seen before.

Irish called the sale a good move. ?Hearst has a number of partnerships,? Irish said. ?MediaNews is a good company.? When pressed to further explain what Hearst planned to do with the two papers it will temporarily own, Irish declined. ?Hearst will not hold the two newspapers, it is a partnership,? he said. ?I won?t get into the economics and tax issues.?

Irish did add that ?it?s all going to be for the good, these newspapers will continue to be good.? When asked if such consolidation of properties is harmful, he said, ?consolidation is going to disburse the Knight Ridder assets over many companies.?

Meanwhile, elsewhere, Janet Clayton, an assistant managing editor at the Los Angeles Times, said editors were getting their fill of media criticism, both in and out of the conference, this week. ?There is a lot of self-flagellation weariness,? she said. ?I have heard from a few people this week about this endless beating yourself up.?

Finally, we turn to the married team of David Westphal and Geneva Overholser. She the former Washington Post ombudsman and current professor for the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and he the Washington, D.C. bureau chief for McClatchy, which will soon include Knight Ridder?s vast D.C bureau.

?We are the FOI power couple,? Overholser declared, while nursing a glass of white wine. She was noting her place as co-chair of the National Press Club?s freedom of the press committee and his spot as co-chair of the ASNE FOIA committee.

When talked turned to how the couple got together during their days at the Des Moines Register, when she was editor and he was managing editor, she demurred, stating only, ?I fell in love with the guy.?

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