'Get on with the future,' ASNE president Zeeck tells editors

Declaring it time to "get over our past and get on with our future," ASNE President David A. Zeeck, executive editor of The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., outlined a bold strategy for the association and the news editors it serves.

Declaring it time to "get over our past and get on with our future," ASNE President David A. Zeeck, executive editor of The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., outlined a bold strategy for the association and the news editors it serves.

"For ASNE, moving forward means refining our mission. For newspapers it means strengthening our content on all platforms," Zeeck explained in his President's Address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors annual convention in Washington, D.C.

After an ASNE member survey identified digital transformation and the First Amendment as top priorities, Zeeck explained, the first step was to focus most of the annual convention's agenda on those issues.

"We've also created a First Amendment Committee'" Zeeck said, announcing that USA Today editor Ken Paulson will be its chairman.

Initiatives within ASNE also include shortening future conventions to save members money on hotel and travel and to lessen the time they're away from the newsroom.

ASNE is moving toward the future with the following:

  • Ensuring financial stability by establishing an endowment with a challenge from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as well as more than $5 million in grants from Knight Foundation and the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to support high school journalism programs.
  • Partnerships with other associations, such as the Online News Association. ASNE and ONA already have discussed and participated in joint seminars and conference programming at each other's meetings. "We should pursue such partnerships with others who share our values and whose essential job is covering news," Zeeck added.
  • Proposed changes to the ASNE bylaws to allow absentee voting via e-mail and special board meetings via Internet, video or phone conference.

"But the biggest change ASNE needs to consider is broader - its very identity," Zeeck said, adding that ASNE's new logo, above, better reflects the group's role in newsrooms.

In the reality of tough economic forecasts and declining circulation, Zeeck encouraged editors to look at the strengths newspapers "can carry forward as we invent a new digital journalism."

Those include print and online dominance in local markets, which Zeeck said will continue for a long time. "We'll keep that dominance for a long time. We have the advantage…of more boots on the ground. Those boots give us the advantage of covering important news that no one else covers, and of presenting a high barrier to market entry for any competitor.

Another strength is investigative and enterprise reporting, he continued. "Newspapers are still the source of almost all serious accountability reporting in the nation…. And it's the investigative work of newspaper newsrooms that forces change in our communities and moves the national agenda - think NSA eavesdropping, think secret prisons, think Walter Reed hospital."

The third strength of newspapers, Zeeck noted, is the passion and skill of the industry's editors, and he urged them to make a connection with their communities.

Though resistant and first, Zeeck believes his column now "is the most important task I perform at the newspaper. It gives the newsroom a face and a voice. It's a place where readers can connect to at least one human being who talks about nothing but journalism.

"I hear it over and over from readers: 'I feel like for the first time I'm beginning to understand why journalists do what they do.' It makes us appear human, and - sometimes - reasonable. It lets them know we are not a heartless printing press looking 'to sell papers.'"

Despite the challenges, "if we produce journalism worthy of that First Amendment, and if we hold to our principles, if we cover our communities with affection but tell the truth, we can survive this crisis as we've survived so many others.

"The challenges we face are great. But the talents, the standards and the creativity of the people in our newsrooms - and of America's editors - can surmount any challenge," Zeeck said.

ASNE, with about 750 members, is an organization of the main editors of daily newspapers throughout the Americas. Founded in 1922, ASNE is active in a number of areas of interest to top editors with priorities on improving freedom of information, diversity, readership and credibility of newspapers.