After the Storm
At ASNE, editors focus on the future.
By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (firstname.lastname@example.org) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.
Not long before his appearance on a panel at the American Society of News Editors convention today, Christoph Pleitgen, the managing director of Reuters, got some words of reassurance from a friend. Since the subject was the future of journalism, the friend said, "As no one has a clue, you should be OK."
This year's gathering in Washington, D.C., was an ASNE convention like no other.
Traditionally these things are more about schmooze than substance, networking extravaganzas. The panels are apt to be heavy on weighty topics, public policy and foreign affairs. The receptions are at glitzy venues like the Smithsonian or the National Building Museum. The luncheons feature speeches by presidents and other big name public officials.
Not this time. The opening night reception was in the convention hotel. There was just one appearance by a major pol. This one was all about journalism, about how the embattled but proud profession might navigate the stormy seas and shape a future.
The sessions started early and went late. And they focused on relevant front-burner issues: the future of mobile, social networking, paywalls, collaboration, hyperlocal news, foundation-funded investigative reporting, hot technology trends, the possibility of government subsidies.
They were engaging subjects presented to very engaged audiences.
So major props to outgoing ASNE President Marty Kaiser, editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and convention co-chairs Dave Boardman, executive editor of the Seattle Times, and Pam Fine, Knight Chair in News, Leadership and Community at the University of Kansas. They put on a convention absolutely in tune with the zeitgeist.
The convention had no shortage of mood swings. At one panel, Huffington Post impresario Arianna Huffington and New York Times media maven David Carr seemed downright ebullient as they contemplated the exciting possibilities of the future. So much so that a member of an ensuing panel, John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation, felt compelled to voice his astonishment at their sense that the worst was over when in his view that couldn't be further from the truth.
To be sure, there were plenty of warnings throughout the convention that tough times and more carnage lay ahead. But there was little gnashing of teeth or rending of garments. There was no pining for the past. The outlook was post-apocalypse. You got the sense that the editors know that things have changed irrevocably and the mission now is to plunge ahead and try to figure out how to preserve good journalism and to determine, as Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley put it, where the money will come from.
Said Pleitgen, "This doesn't feel like a funeral."
It had to be a particularly sweet week for Kaiser. In a speech Monday morning, he passionately embraced the importance of quality public service journalism. At the Journal Sentinel, Kaiser has championed watchdog reporting, seeing it as a key part of the paper's franchise and protecting it in brutal economic times. Hours after his speech, the Journal Sentinel won its second Pulitzer in three years.
And his convention was a home run.