Friday, April 6, 2012

A whirl through D.C. for ASNE conference

I just returned from the American Society of News Editors' annual convention -- the first time I've attended, and it was a treat. What a location for 2012: our nation's capital, in the midst of welcoming spring with cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Hundreds of editors, journalism professors, news media leaders and others gathered to talk about "What It Takes." For three days, we focused on how editors must lead the digital and mobile transformation of today's newsrooms.

The luncheon keynote speakers generated plenty of headlines, too: President Obama on Tuesday, and presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday. (My newsroom was a bit disappointed at my seating arrangement on Tuesday: Table 98 of 100. If you squint hard at my Droid photo, you can see the actual flags way, way up front...)

OK, enough of politics and back to journalism. Many of the ASNE sessions focused on the multitude of reporting and publishing tools available for seemingly endless platforms. I came back with a list of 50-plus apps we should be using based on a presentation by a leader from the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute. We had discussions with editors overseeing all sizes of newsrooms: from Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times, to A.M. Sheehan, editor of the Advertiser Democrat in Norway, Maine, which has one reporter and won the George Polk Award for an indepth report on conditions of low-income housing there.

Other panels were about reporting that has changed not just our knowledge about the world, but perhaps our world itself.

War correspondents/photographers C.J. Chivers and Tyler Hicks of the New York Times, and Rodrigo Abd of the Associated Press enthralled us with their experiences and what drives them. They outlined what every editor should consider when they put their journalists at risk, whether it's being embedded with a military unit or covering dangerous and traumatic events at home.

But my favorite: the venerable Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Woodward and Bernstein: They led the way for my generation of journalists. And there they sat on the stage, flanked by other panelists but stealing the entire show. Their editor, Ben Bradlee, sat in the front row, and they paid heed to his leadership and support throughout their discussion. Their passion for finding the truth rang out powerfully, all these years later.

So here we were, 40 years after Watergate, and editors wanted to know: How would the story unfold in the digital age?

Bernstein brought down the house, quipping, "We certainly wouldn't say 'This is what we're going to tweet'!" And there were some saltier observations about what would have happened if they'd gone into Bradlee's office with one confirmed fact to blog.

But their bottom line was far more serious: They worked for a newspaper where the bottom line was the truth. Reporters should get at the best of truths using the best methodology to get them there. No matter what app or pad they're using, Woodward urged, reporters should "go out at night and knock on a door."

"The light comes out in darkness."

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