Outgoing ASNE President David Boardman's speech
- By: ASNE staff
- On: 09/19/2014 17:25:31
- In: Convention
Outgoing ASNE President David Boardman gave his speech during the ASNE business meeting Tuesday at the ASNE-APME conference in Chicago. Read what he had to say before he passed the gavel to incoming President Chris Peck.
Good afternoon. This is always an intimate affair, a gathering of the unique individuals who would rather attend to ASNE business than be at the hotel bar. So I thank and salute all of you.
I trust you're enjoying the conference as much as I am.
Notably, this historic meeting – the first joint conference of ASNE and APME, after nearly two decades of courtship – comes at a time when some inside and outside our organizations are asking whether groups such as ASNE and APME are even needed anymore.
It's a question we in the leadership of ASNE asked ourselves a couple years ago as the organization was teetering on the financial brink. Was this an organization worth saving? Did it exist for its own sake, as a sort of old-order club – “Drink up, Shriners!” – or was it really needed for some greater purpose relevant to the future of journalism?
After much discussion, we came to this conclusion: We've never been needed more. That was true three years ago, and it's even truer today. We, the leaders of America's newsrooms and journalism classrooms, must be the champions of this thing we hold dear: Smart, accurate, fair, fearless, inclusive, meaningful journalism done for the public's welfare.
We must, because others won't.
With precious few exceptions, the publicly traded corporations that own many of our publications will not. We have seen that in stark relief in recent months, as we have watched four of these companies spin off their newspapers like so many now-boring first spouses, in favor of the higher-margin trophies of television. At this very meeting last year in Washington, we heard the CEO of one of those companies profess her “love for the publishing business” and for quality journalism, as she gave her assurances that her company's acquisition of more television stations was simply to round out its portfolio and create new synergies. So much for that, as her company last month spun off the publishing division from TV and digital.
And by the way, please take note that in each of these recent cases where a CEO has engineered the spinoff of the newspaper portion of his or her business, that CEO never chooses to go with the new newspaper company.
We must stand up for great journalism, because they won't.
Our government officials, at the federal, state and local levels, certainly won't. They are charged with protecting the rights of the public's press, yet every year we see more efforts to withhold and obfuscate information, to plug leaks through heavy-handed intimidation, to flout the First Amendment in a fashion few of us could have imagined 10 or 15 years ago.
President Obama came into office pledging “the most transparent administration in history,” but his White House is one of the most aggressively secretive in our lifetimes. From issuing blanket subpoenas of Associated Press reporters' phone records to prosecuting government whistleblowers, from prohibiting federal employees from speaking with the press to closing off photographic access to previously public White House events, this administration's disregard and disrespect for the crucial role of the Fourth Estate is appalling.
And all of that disregard is emboldening state and local officials, judges, school systems, universities, sports leagues and other entities as they seek to limit and control the free flow of information. For every high-profile case such as the arrest of reporters and photographers in Ferguson, Missouri, last month, there are dozens of offenses against journalism we never hear about broadly: City officials ignoring disclosure requests. School boards illegally closing meetings. College teams refusing to issue press-box credentials to reporters they don't like.
In the last year I was editor of The Seattle Times, the University of Washington actually tried to limit the number of times per quarter our reporter could tweet, claiming it was an infringement on their broadcast rights.
We must stand up for journalism, because they won't.
And what about the people we ultimately work for, the news-consuming public? Are they standing up for journalism? Will they?
The signs are mixed. On the positive side, we see, as we have hoped, that there is an audience willing to pay for quality. We see it in the strength of the digital subscriptions to The New York Times, which are running ahead of schedule, and the success that some of you are having in getting readers to pay for content. We see it in the growing philanthropic support for investigative nonprofits, both the biggies such as ProPublica and the Center for Investigative Reporting, and small, local efforts in cities and towns across America. We see it in the increasingly strong market position of NPR in many of America's largest cities.
We have seen it over the past month as Americans of all political and media preferences have expressed their outrage at the unconscionable murders of journalists James Foley and Stephen Sotloff, two of the 36 journalists around the world killed so far in 2014. Americans may place us just above real-estate agents in the annual poll of prestigious occupations, but they still see attacks on journalists as attacks on their values and rights, and take them deeply seriously.
On the negative side, however, we are witnessing the fickleness of readers and viewers at a greater level than ever before. We must concede that in most cities, the pay-for-content model is not working as well as we had hoped it would. While subscriber revenue is becoming a bigger piece of the revenue pie, that's as much about the pie shrinking than it is about a growth of customer revenue.
In the United States, only about 12 percent of news consumers pay something directly for that service, and the vast majority of the rest say they never will.
As we heard from Tom Rosenstiel and Amy Webb yesterday, news consumers are far less brand-loyal than they once were. A Pew study last year found that fully a third of 2,000 respondents had abandoned a news source they had previously relied upon because it wasn't getting them what they need. Worse yet, perhaps, an increasing number of readers report in various surveys that when they come to news through social media, as more do every day, they don't even notice the source of the story.
So will our readers and viewers stand up for quality journalism? Only if we give them a clear reason to. As Walter Lippmann wrote in 1922, when readers in every city had many daily papers from which to choose: “The newspaper editor has to be re-elected every day.”
We must stand up for quality journalism, so that they will.
So what can ASNE as an organization, and ASNE members as individuals, do? What does standing up for quality journalism look like today? Let me offer a few suggestions.
No. 1, ASNE must be a public and vocal champion for our profession and its values. We must, as we have assertively over the past year, call out infringements on press rights, whether they be at the White House, on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, or in stadium press boxes. Our advocacy is getting attention – resulting, for instance, in meetings between press leaders, the White House press secretary and the White House counsel – and we believe it will make a difference. We are at the point of the spear in the fight for a federal shield law, a law that would protect the Jim Risens of our profession as they pursue crucial national-security information from skittish sources.
On a local level, editors must take up this charge. Don't let your local public officials get away with violating your and the public's rights. Push back, even if it means taking them to court. If your publishers won't support that, turn to groups such as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press for help.
My former colleague Jim Neff, investigations editor of The Seattle Times, has done that consistently in Washington state. He filed 40 lawsuits against the King County Superior Court for improperly sealing court records, and won 37 of those cases. When he discovered that King County was withholding e-mails to which the public had a right, Neff fought back and got both the records and a $40,000 settlement.
On the international front, we must go beyond simply expressing the obvious outrage that journalists are being murdered and beheaded, to taking proactive steps to try to better ensure their safety in the field. Among other things, we must do some collective self-examination of the American press' heavy reliance on unsupported freelancers in the world's danger zones, and work together on new initiatives for international coverage.
No. 2, ASNE must continue to champion diversity in newsrooms and in news leadership. If the fast-changing population of our nation does not see itself reflected in our newsrooms, our news sites and our news pages, we are failing them and ultimately ourselves.
The annual employment census we produce is a powerful and sobering snapshot, but the lack of real progress it reflects can be used by some as a reason to stop trying. Over the past two years, we have embraced new approaches to improving diversity. One is what we call the Minority Leadership Institute, in which we are training journalists of color to become the top editors of tomorrow. The other is supporting and showcasing the sort of community-engagement effort you saw in a session today.
We are also exploring a more formalized mentoring program, which we hope will help increase minority representation of women and people of color in editors' offices.
And how about your role in your own newsroom? Ask yourself: Are you the advocate for diversity in hiring, leadership and content that you should be?
As you all know, this goes beyond just doing what is right. It is doing what is essential for our mission and our profession.
No. 3, ASNE as an organization and we as its members must do a better job of helping the public and even our own employees understand what is happening in our profession and what is at stake. The happy-talk spin of some industry representatives as to the health of the daily printed newspaper does no good at all for journalism, and in fact may be an impediment to the sort of innovation we see at media companies unencumbered by paper and ink.
Holding on to a failing business model with their fingertips is preventing many companies from rolling up their sleeves and reinventing themselves. We in this room are in the truth-telling business. Let's tell the truth to our users and to each other. Let's applaud those who do and call out those who don't.
Let's use our growing number of academic members to stimulate research that will help us run better newsrooms and better businesses. Let's share and highlight successful innovations, not just once a year at a convention but every week.
Finally, the best and most potent way to stand up for quality journalism is to produce it. ASNE and the relationships we build here can be an avenue to excellence. We can facilitate partnerships and collaborations that will produce and distribute great stories. We can capitalize on our new partnership with the Poynter Institute to offer more skills training for our newsrooms. We can work more closely with universities to ensure that students are graduating from them with the skill sets they need.
We can show, not tell. When the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel does an amazing investigation that reveals that across the country, newborns are dying because of widespread delays in blood screening, share it with your readers and look to localize it. When a gifted writer from The Washington Post provides an unprecedented, intimate portrait of life dependent on food stamps, make sure your community sees it.
Take Tom Rosenstiel's advice and establish franchise coverage areas, those things that because of local expertise and access, you can do better than anyone else in the world. Ask yourself and your staff each and every day whether your energies are going to journalism that will make a difference.
And let's support the emerging news-literacy efforts that will help the public better discern the wheat from the chaff. You'll hear more about that from our incoming president in a moment.
This is simultaneously the most uncertain time in our profession, and the most exciting. The fact that you are here at this conference demonstrates your commitment to being one of the people who will propel us “Fast Forward.”
Oh, and by the way: That meeting three years ago when we decided ASNE was worth saving? Thanks to some great leadership by the ASNE board and our stellar staff, we have done just that. We are on far more stable footing and, as demonstrated by this conference, we fully have our Mojo back.
It's been my honor to represent you over the past year. Your next president is a man to whom I have looked up for many years, since I was a cub reporter and he was a young, kick-butt editor in the Pacific Northwest. He has inspirational, ambitious plans for our organization going forward, and I can't wait to see where he takes us.
It's my pleasure to introduce the incoming ASNE president, Chris Peck.