- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2000

Vice President Al Gore took a moment yesterday to tell several hundred newspaper editors that he is one of their own and to warn them that Texas Gov. George W. Bush is not. The governor, he said, can't be trusted.

"I worked in journalism long enough to know that some claims demand serious scrutiny," Mr. Gore told the American Society of Newspaper Editors at their annual meeting, which ends today.

The vice president worked as a correspondent for five months in Vietnam as an Army journalist 30 years ago, and later for the Nashville Tennessean.

Mr. Gore said Mr. Bush's approach to such issues as education and the environment are nothing more than "a headline without a story."

The editors, however, were already thinking about headlines and stories.

In recent years, the ASNE convention has signaled an industrywide identity crisis centered on the fate of print in an electronic media marketplace.

This time, editors are being hounded to mind their credibility, apologize to readers for brutish insensitivity and lousy spelling and nurture their sensitive sides. They seem particularly interested in nurturing their sensitive sides.

In fact, nurturing is very big with editors this year. "We're confused about who we are and what we do," ASNE president Christian Anderson says. He challenges the editors to consider their "role in creating, building and nurturing communities."

In the past three years, ASNE surveyed 3,000 readers and 1,714 journalists around the country about credibility issues like reader trust, factual errors, sensationalism and community involvement.

Readers, apparently, are still annoyed with their newspapers, and primed for a nice apology.

"Errors can be forgiven, but confession is required," says Judy Pace Christie, ASNE ethics and values chairman, and each newspaper must define its own credibility.

Which has led to some interesting permutations among eight newspapers that were test sites for "credibility initiatives" in the last few months.

Many brought citizenry into newsrooms to serve as "reader advocates," volunteer copy editors or advisers. The results, as any gruff old city editor of the kind long gone could have told them, are, uh, "mixed".

After the Colorado Springs Gazette opened its morning news meeting to the public and published reporter contact information, the editors probably expected standing-room-only crowds. Only 12 percent of its reading public even noticed the outreach.

But the outreach doesn't end there. ASNE information tables at the JW Marriott are loaded with material to help earnest editors craft an effective mea culpa. The "Journalism Values Handbook" advises on focus groups and core values, and such things as "Going Deeper: Working Through the Tough Discussion" and "Independent/Interdependent Vision."

Editors can also peruse advisories called "Turning the Tide," "Extending the Brand" and "Keys to our Survival."

One Washington celebrity had accolades for the print press yesterday, though. "You are still the great guardians of truth," retired Gen. Colin Powell told a packed ballroom, "even though you made my life miserable on many a day. Your job was to find out my secrets."

Gen. Powell confessed that his own office is loaded with every digital gizmo on the market, from Internet connections, cable and satellite TV and cell phones.

"I still start my day with a newspaper," Gen. Powell said, noting he trudged out to the front steps every morning to retrieve The Washington Times, The Washington Post, the New York Times, USA Today and the Financial Times. Said he, perhaps generous to a fault: "And there is no substitute for it."

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at 202/636-3085 or by e-mail at harper@twtmail.com.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide