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Coleman Champions Editors' "New Attitude"

April 14, 2010

Washington Post Veteran Assumes ASNE Leadership

With nods to Abraham Lincoln, Robert C. Maynard and others, Milton R. Coleman, senior editor at the Washington Post, pledged that "we've got a new attitude, and a new game" Wednesday as he became president of the American Society of News Editors, ASNE has assumed, Coleman said, "our rightful place as multi-platform news leaders."

Coleman becomes the third African American to lead the organization, following William A. Hilliard of the Oregonian in Portland (1993-94) and Karla Garrett Harshaw of the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun and Cox Community Newspapers (2004-05). ASNE was founded in 1922, and was formerly known as the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

It is an organization whose members are searching for a viable business model in the age of new media, and whose signature diversity effort - setting a goal that newsroom staffs equal the percentage of people of color in the population by 2025, seems more unattainable than ever as newsrooms recover from a loss of 13.500 journalists since 2007.

The ability of ASNE to steer members past the adversity has not always been clear.

Asked how the leadership of ASNE affects the average journalist, Carlos Sanchez, editor of the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald, told Journal-isms, "in this day and age . . . it would make little difference, and that will be Milton's challenge."

Sanchez said the diversity "call to parity" from ASNE in the 1980s made "a profound difference to me as a young journalist," and that Coleman needs to "issue some sort of edict or pursue some kind of goal or call to parity" that would be comparable. The media is under constant attack," Sanchez added. "We as media don't push back because we have so many different components."

However, others said ASNE clearly affects everyday newsroom workers through the information it provides to newsroom leaders, in forging alliances with other journalists and industry groups, and by using its bully pulpit on such issues as press freedoms, ethics, accountability and other traditional journalism values.

Coleman, 63, has learned Spanish and interacts with Latin American news executives through the Inter-American Press Association, of which he is an officer. Next year's ASNE convention is to be held in San Diego in conjunction with the IAPA. Coleman is expected to bring ASNE members closer to their hemispheric colleagues.

That's significant, said Gilbert Bailon, editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and 2007-2008 president of ASNE. Speaking of the continuing danger faced by Mexican journalists, Bailon told Journal-isms that, "Not enough journalists realize the importance in our own country."

Many hope that Coleman will act on backsliding diversity efforts. "To have a person like Milton, we will have a national face for the imperative of putting this at the forefront again," Ronnie Agnew, executive editor of the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, said. Agnew volunteered to be ASNE's new diversity chair, and Coleman said he quickly agreed.

Coleman acknowledged Maynard in his debut speech as ASNE president, a speech in which he noted that ASNE held its first convention "four score and seven years ago" at Washington's Willard Hotel, across the street from where he spoke to the ASNE audience.

He called Maynard "a pioneer, a door opener, a builder and a personal mentor, who inspired and launched an entire generation of journalists of color, telling and showing us how to get into the business, how to succeed and how to rise to the top, and one who pressed this organization to be a drum major for diversity in our industry." He thanked Dori J. Maynard, Bob Maynard's daughter and president of the Maynard Institute, for being present.

Under his leadership, Coleman pledged, "ASNE will be an organization that interacts with its members far more frequently than in the past, with useful and practical information to help you lead. The new technology will not be just something we talk about, but something we do - regularly and at times, almost exclusively.

"There will be an ongoing online program to better move us as an organization at the faster pace of communication today. More of our members will be involved through a more interconnected organizational structure, more active board members, and an expanded array of hard-working committees focused on key needs and issues. Our Web site will be a more essential and lively destination. As an organization, we will learn to function even better in times of less. And we'll very consciously do a better job of tooting our own horn about all the many essential and often unique things that we do."

Charlotte Hall, editor of the Orlando Sentinel and a past ASNE president, said of Coleman, "I expect him to be a visionary, to speak to our core values and at the same time be immersed in the creation of the new journalism." She said Coleman always reminded ASNE board members of the communities for whom editors publish. He would often say, "never forget why we do this - which is to serve human beings," Hall said.

Other journalists of color assumed ASNE committee chairmanships, the organization announced on Wednesday: Gregory L. Moore, editor of the Denver Post is convention program chair; Lorraine E. Branham, dean of the S.I.Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, heads Education for Journalism; Diana Fuentes, editor, Laredo (Texas) Morning Times, chairs the High School Journalism committee; Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor of Al Día, Dallas, co-chairs the International Committee; and Mizell Stewart III, editor, Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press, chairs the Online Programs Committee.

Diversity Chair Wants New Strategies From Media Firms

Ronnie Agnew, the new chairman of the Diversity Committee of the American Society of News Editors, says he hopes to "help change the strategies of some of the major companies" to restore "a sense of urgency" to diversity efforts.

"I think it's time to bring back the commitment that many of our companies have lost," said Agnew, executive editor of the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.  "In the '80s, you didn't have to do that. Now, in 2010, we have to start over in some sense.

Next week, he said, the Gannett Co., for which he works, is having a task force meeting on just that topic. "We want to leave that meeting with an action plan on how we recover," he told Journal-isms. "It's important for me to tell young people they have a future" in this business. "In the last two years, I have to tell you, that was a tough conversation."

Diversity "makes good business sense," he said.

On Sunday, ASNE released the results of its annual census. It showed that since 2001, the number of Asian Americans has risen by 4.4 percent, but the number of blacks has declined by 31.5 percent, Hispanics by 7 percent and Native Americans by 20.9 percent. The number of white journalists also fell by 20.9 percent.

"We lost so many people of color," Agnew said. "They lost trust in the industry. They took buyouts, they got laid off, or they just chose to be proactive and left the industry."

Richard Prince's column is published on The Root through special arrangement with the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

The original column can also be read on the MIJE site, here.