Outgoing ASNE Prez Challenges Colleagues

By: Joe Strupp

After a year as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Diane McFarlin had a simple message for her colleagues before leaving her post this week: don’t back down.

McFarlin, the publisher of the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, told the hundreds of editors gathered for her farewell address on Wednesday that they needed to push forward to keep newspapers vibrant, ethical, and connected. Citing the increased reliance by Americans on 24-hour cable television news and the Internet, McFarlin urged editors to make sure they do not succumb to competitive pressures and reduce their commitment to quality. She suggested that neither cable TV nor the Web uphold the same journalistic standards and rules of newspapers.

“The challenge is to dig deeper, find ways of improving everyday, and not just when tragedy strikes,” McFarlin said. “The war has reminded everyone of the unique characteristics of newspapers.”

McFarlin said that while newspapers have done a good job covering the post-Sept. 11 developments and the war in Iraq, editors and publishers needed to maintain that quality through everyday events. “If that was the moment of awakening, this is the here and now,” she said. “We are on the path that leads us to ask the questions that are painful, reach for access in the face of those who see us as unpatriotic, that leads us to insist that newspapers have the resources.”

The outgoing ASNE president left her colleagues with five areas of proposed improvement: doing a better job of “telling our own story,” maintaining ethical purity, making a strong case for investment in journalism, launching initiatives for newsroom retention, and mentoring more high school and college students.

“It is easy to lose our perspective when the modern media strays,” McFarlin said. “Newspapers are stewards of credible journalism and we must be true to that.”

Peter Bhatia, executive editor of The Oregonian in Portland, will become the new ASNE president on Friday.

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