An ASNE Notebook: Friday Edition

By: Joe Strupp If you need another sign that every vote counts come Election Day, look no further than ASNE's own Board of Directors election this week. Sources within the vote-counting crew say the seven open seats were won by one of the narrowest margins ever.

While Julia Wallace, editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (and E&P's editor of the year) garnered the most ballots, for a comfortable first-place showing, the fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-place slots were separated by a total of three votes. In addition, the unlucky eighth-place loser -- whom officials would not identify -- lost by just one vote.

Editors can feel some guilt for the close finish, as apparently only 50% of the 500 or so eligible voters turned out.

"That is pretty pathetic," an editor who participated in the counting said. "Considering that we are always editorializing for high voter turnout. We even allow people to vote by absentee."

Among those ballots that were cast, 12 were tossed, says one insider, because the voters failed to follow rules that required them to choose seven candidates, no more, no less.

But at least, we're told, there were no problems with pregnant or hanging chads. [Friday, 9:00 AM]


Don't think First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams came to speak at ASNE simply to extol the virtues of a free press and urge editors to support a proposed federal shield law. He was also hawking his new book, "Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment" (Viking Press), at $26.40 a pop.

After a lively panel Thursday on freedom-of-information needs and a speech by Abrams that was part history lesson and part call to FOIA arms, the famed attorney gladly signed copies of the new work for ready shoppers. [Friday, 9:00 AM]


Signs that this year?s ASNE conference is the victim of cost-cutting include the lack of free conference tote bags -- a first in recent memory -- for members in attendance, none of the traditional large piles of free papers from the nation?s biggest dailies in the lobby for the taking, and only one major evening party -- the opening night reception by Cox Newspapers.

Then there is the oil painting of an old-fashioned editor?s desk, by Denver artist Darrell Anderson, on display near the registration table. It's up for silent auction. As of Thursday afternoon, no bids had been offered up for the artwork, which sports a $2,500 minimum bid requirement. [Thursday, 4:30 PM]


Was J. Ford Huffman, the organizer of ASNE's first-ever reception for gay editors, trying to coax some people out of the closet during the event Wednesday night? Huffman, an openly gay editor at USA Today, reminded those in attendance that the late Roy Aarons, former executive editor of The Oakland Tribune and founder of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, had himself revealed his homosexuality at ASNE 15 years earlier.

"You are more than welcomed to identify yourself as gay tonight," Huffman told the crowd of about 25 who gathered in the J.W. Marriott's Governor's Room to snack on hummus, egg rolls, and fruit plates. "I only ask that if you are straight, please don't act that way in public."

Huffman also noted that, as far as he knew, there were only about four or five openly gay editors in ASNE, compared to at least seven total ASNE members from Canada. "There are more from Canada than there are openly gay?" he asked, with an air of disbelief.

But, as the organizers made clear, the reception was not just for gay and lesbian editors, indicated by the appearance of editor Chris Peck, of The Memphis (Tenn.) Commercial Appeal, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times. [Thursday, 9:30 AM]


Outspoken liberal columnist and author Eric Alterman approached New York Times media writer Katherine Seelye at Wednesday?s luncheon with a kind hello. ?Didn?t I see you in Boston?? he said, extending a hand.? Seelye?s response, ?Yes, that?s where you trashed me.?

Still, Alterman was invited to join the table, which also included Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Times Assistant Managing Editor Michael Oreskes, and Cynthia Tucker, editorial-page editor of The Atlanta Journal Constitution. During the lunch, and Rupert Murdoch?s speech afterward, the table remained civil, with Oreskes, Seelye and Alterman actually engaging in lively, friendly discussion.

Sulzberger and Tucker, meanwhile, could not hold back some mild snickers when Murdoch declared his Fox News Channel to be ?fair and accurate.? [Wednesday, 6:40 PM]


The hottest ticket for conference-goers is not President Bush?s Thursday luncheon speech or a table at one of D.C.?s trendiest restaurants. It may be a seat at RFK Stadium Thursday night for newly relocated Washington Nationals' first home game. The concierge at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, where the editors are meeting, says demand for tickets to the historic event began just as ASNE members were arriving Monday.

?There have been quite a few questions about how we can get hem,? he said. ?It?s just started and has not stopped.? [Wednesday, 2:40 p.m.]


When Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer began her speech to the ASNE group Tuesday, she couldn?t help but point out the lack of political balance in the list of guest speakers this week.

She said that when San Francisco Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein invited her to speak before the conference, she asked about the other speakers. ?He said it would be a very balanced program,? she said, but she also recalled that he did not offer names right away. ?So I asked him who else is on the program.? That?s when he told her it would include President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch.

Still, ?I though it was OK because Phil was here to protect me,? said Boxer, noting her longtime relationship with the fellow Californian. ?But Phil is not here, so you have to protect me.? [Wednesday, 2:35 p.m.]


With all that bad luck at recent conventions -- and with newsrooms seemingly under attack from all said -- did conference planners think editors needed some spiritual help? The possible message wasn't lost on ASNE members when a gospel group was chosen to entertain them during the opening of this year?s convention Tuesday. E? Marcus Harper and Friends, donning hip-hop attire over their traditional choir robes, belted out ?Stand? and ?Yes We Can? for the newsroom leaders.

?There?s a great vibe in the room,? Harper declared as the music flowed behind him. ?We know it?s not easy to do what you do. We want to sing a song for you when you don?t feel appreciated.?

There is no truth to the rumor that some editors got on their knees and prayed for more copy editors. [Wednesday, 2:30 p.m.]


This may be the first time in four years that the American Society of Newspaper Editors has what might be called a "normal" conference. Last year, the editors' group shared its time in Washington with the Newspaper Association of America, which combined its yearly confab with ASNE. Many attendees ended up lamenting the idea, when they learned the NAA's hotel was miles north of the ASNE location.

That followed the 2003 event in New Orleans, which was beset by not just bad weather but also a smaller population, caused when many editors stayed home to handle the start of Iraq War coverage.

And let?s not forget the 2002 ASNE gathering, which was forced to relocate to a new hotel just hours before its start thanks to a water-pipe burst that flooded all meeting rooms.

?We are watching things very carefully,? ASNE executive director Scott Bosley told E&P. ?Knock on wood. We are hoping nothing bad happens.? [Wednesday, 2:30 p.m.]


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