ASNE's three-year rule

By: Mark Fitzgerald & Joe Strupp Clinton promises to open up flow of NATO information, speakers underscore implications of the Digital Age

Newspaper editors are often accused of being so preoccupied with getting out : The Daily Miracle" they never take the long view of what they are doing.
For four days in San Francisco, however, more than 500 editors focused almost obsessively on the future of newspapers, even as they chewed over yesterday's mistakes. It was clear from the conversations at formal sessions and in the hallways at the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) annual meeting that editors believe that today's troubles with readership, public credibility, diversity, and technology not only have their roots in past failings threaten the long-term future of the newspaper industry.
Speakers told the hundreds in attendance that they had to focus on explaining what they do to readers to mend some past wounds, while also recognizing that better local reporting and new efforts at foreign coverage were needed.
The editors also got a visit from President Clinton, who promised to work on opening up the flow of information from military leaders in Kososvo.

From the very first session, ASNE editors were confronted with a kind of a death sentence pronounced by the Digital Age pioneer Andrew Grove. How long, the co-founder of Intel was asked, did the newspaper industry have before it reached the terminal stage, what Grove calls a "strategic inflection point?"
Not long, Grove said, Maybe three years.
If the editors were not that pessimistic and almost uniformly they were not- they clearly took to heart to something Grove said later: "Nothing sharpens the awareness of the situation like the sight of the gallows."
That thought was echoed often during the April 13-16 meeting. William F. Woo,m the former St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor, uses a similar image when he talks about the continuing gap between the number of minorities working at newspapers and the number in the nation's cities and suburbs.
"Too many of our newsrooms look like the ghosts of the America is of the past and not the America that it has become," says Woo who now teaches journalism at Stanford University. "We either reflect the changing reality of America, or we forfeit our credibility".
For more than two decades, ASNE has pushed to increase the number of minority newspaper journalists, but in recent years it has also had the doleful/ annual task of documenting the painfully incremental progress.
This year was no exception: The percentage of daily newspaper journalists who are black, Hispanic, Asian American, or Native American crept up from 11.46% a year ago to 11.55%. Forty percent of the nation's 1,500 daily papers have no minority newsroom employees at all, the ASNE survey found.
And no group except Asian Americans showed a noticeable increase in employment ant the very small number of Native American Journalism Association president Kara Briggs. "It's hardly any progress at all:.
During the keynote address, ASNE president Edward Seaton called on newspapers to forge a better relationship with readers through an emphasis on accuracy and trust over scoops and big headlines.
"We need clear statements in writing about what constitutes fairness and accuracy for readers, so readers can understand our decisions," said Seaton, editor of The Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury. "The average person sees the press as biased. sensation, and not ever willing to acknowledge its profit-seeking efforts.
Participants also heard that newspapers are losing credibility because readers see too many errors and believe reporters are biased,m uninformed about the community, and focus too much on sensational news, according to a study released by Urban & Associates of Sharon, Mass., which included data collected through interviews with 3,000 newspaper readers, sessions with 16 focus groups throughout the country and questionnaires filled out by more than 1,700 journalists.
The results, according to consultant Christine Urban, indicated that readers believe credibility continues to slide.
"You've burned a lot of people," Urban said during an explanation of the results. "We're talking about a long road back, but credibility will return if you work at it."
Another survey released at the conference showed that most journalists think they are providing enough local news coverage to satisfy readers and place local and metro news among the top priorities of their daily. But the same editors and publishers surveyed for the report also say they need to find new, innovative beats for local reporting that go beyond the usual City Hall and school board coverage, but tighter budgets are hindering efforts to expand the local news view.
"Editors and publishers have heard the word about the importance of local coverage", the report states. "This report paints a picture of an industry justifiably proud of local news coverage, aware of the need for further investment, but still seeing significant economic barriers to further improving the product."
The survey conducted for ASNE by Clarke, Martin and Barolomeo Inc, of Englewood Cliffs, N.J. , was presented by Frank Denton, editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison. He also touted a new ASNE guide for local news coverage, entitled "The Local News Handbook, " which includes ideas and examples from editors at more than a dozen newspapers of ways to provide better local news coverage.
"The handbook suggests that most of what we are doing is appropriate," Denton said. "But we could change some of it, and this is truly an opportunity for improved newspaper readership".
The survey questioned more that 800 editors and publishers at newspapers nationwide, asking them how important local coverage is to their paper and how well they believed they were providing it. The study also asked what made better local news coverage difficult and how it could be improved. Those who responded said the keys to good local coverage included an emphasis on high school sports, school news beyond school board agendas, recognition of local heroes and good samaritans, crime coverage, and local community information. In addition, sponsoring local events and aiding in locals causes also helped coverage, the survey said.
About 90% of the respondents attached a high degree of importance to city/metro coverage and community news, according to the study. It also revealed that they were doing an excellent to very good of of covering local news.
Editors and publishers also were urged to do more to link international issues with local readers by two authors of a book on localizing foreign affairs: Louisiana State University journalism consultant George Krimsky.
They discussed their handbook, "Bringing the World Home," which provides ways local newspapers can be expanded to cover global events.
"The smaller the town you are in does not diminish the relationship you can have to foreign news," Hamilton said. "And specialty expertise is not always a necessity. You just need to find the right people and ask the right questions."
Krimsky, who called the handbook a "how-to guide for doing it in a cos-effective way," said the publication also includes results from several surveys showing that readers want more international reporting.
"What people feel about foreign news might differ a bit from what editors traditionally think readers feel about if, which is a natural disinterest," Krimsky said. During their discussion, representatives from 22 newspapers reviewed ways they had brought foreign issues into local communities.
Examples ranged from The Providence (R.I.) Journal reporting on the effect that new immigration laws would have on Rhode Island's Liberian community to the Riverside, Calif., Press-Enterprise sending a reporter to Nicaragua to give its immigrant readership a glimpse of life back home.
A lively panel on privacy issues, moderated by Washington Post ombudsman E.R. Shipp, took different views on how press coverage of personal lives and private citizens should be done, but most agreed that the key factor is whether the information obtained is relevant to a necessary news story.
"We are still struggling with it, and I think that is good," Shipp said after the discussion. "There was a lot of it with Clinton [and the Monica Lewinsky affair], but I don't think anyone has abdicated the responsibility to discuss these things before they are decided."
Finally, Clinton was taken to task by editors following his address to the conference, in which he defended U.S. involvement in Kosovo following the recent mistaken attack on a group of refugees by a NATO pilot.
Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie spoke for most in the conference when he urged Clinton to push for more information about the military activities to be released to the press.
"Would you instruct the defense department to provide greater information about the bombing?" Downie asked. "We are receiving much less information than was provided during the Persian Gulf War or Operation Desert Fox."
Downie's request came about a week after a group of seven news organizations, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and CNN, sent a letter to defense secretary William Cohen that criticized the limited press briefings and demanded greater access.
Clinton agreed with Downie that information was not as forthcoming as he would like but said some of the problem had to do with NATO's lack of experience with such a large military operation and the physical limitations in the Balkan region, which has a rough climate and mountainous traveling conditions.
"I am aware that this is a difficulty," Clinton said. "Unless there is some specific security-related reason, the more information we get out, the better."

?(Editor & Publisher Web [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher April 17, 1999) [Caption & Photos]


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