News Leadership 3.0

February 27, 2009

ASNE cancels convention

Is this symbolic of a larger problem? Are news executives giving up on learning?

The American Society of Newspaper Editors canceled its annual convention “because of the challenging times we face,” says ASNE President Charlotte Hall, editor of the Orlando Sentinel. “... it became increasingly clear in recent weeks that our attendance would be low because editors need to be in their own newsrooms during this difficult time.” (Full announcement below)

It makes a lot of sense for editors to stay home if the dollars spent on travel to the convention and several nights in a hotel would be better spent in newsrooms wracked by cuts and uncertainty.

But I fear it may be part of a larger pattern of paralysis—that many editors are so immersed in the crisis of the moment that they are not taking time to learn the new things what they need to know to envision a future that looks radically different from the one they are watching diminish every day.

I don’t underestimate just how hard it must be right now.

But lack of innovation is a real crisis in the news industry and innovation requires that leaders turn from the urgent to the important. The traditional culture of newsrooms is one of command and control and the executive who never gets out of the newsroom epitomizes that. The traditional culture is also one that resists change, preferring instead to focus on perfecting narrow objectives.  It’s a culture that does not make time to learn to change.

Case in point, Knight Digital Media Center is developing an ambitious training program on social media strategy for news organizations. Most of the course will be taught online, culminating in two days of intensive expert coaching and project development for teams of two people from 12 different news organizations in July. All their expenses will be paid by KDMC and we have some wonderful applicants from newspaper organizations with ambitious online projects. But we’ve also had editors tell us they decided not to apply because they cannot even afford to be out of their newsrooms for two days in July.

What’s wrong with this picture?

I was just e-mailing about this with Vikki Porter, the director of KDMC (and my boss). She said: “I almost believe that the economic crisis has become the universal excuse for doing nothing, for clinging to the boat wheel in heroic fashion as the iceberg rips through the hull of the boat.”

Hall of ASNE promises to increase online resources for member editors as well. News University at Poynter is another great source of learning. I hope newsroom leaders are taking full advantage of them.

UPDATE: Steve Buttry at Gazette Communications offers ideas for next steps for ASNE: 1. Lead efforts to help editors pool knowledge. 2. Merge with APME.


HERE IS CHARLOTTE HALL’S ANNOUNCEMENT

ASNE’s leadership has decided to cancel our 2009 convention because of the challenging times we face. The text of the press release that is going out this morning follows this note.

The Convention Program Committee had put in place an innovative and relevant program, and I am very grateful to them. But it became increasingly clear in recent weeks that our attendance would be low because editors need to be in their own newsrooms during this difficult time. The board of directors will meet soon to deal with the financial implications of canceling the convention and map strategy for the coming year.

In the meantime, we will increase reliance on the Web to help editors share what they are learning as they reshape their news organizations for multiple platforms and operate with fewer resources. We plan to have our new Web site up this spring and we will produce more webinars and ramp up our recently developed newsletter, Editors’ Exchange.

As you know, we had planned votes at the Chicago convention on bylaws changes to drop “paper” from our name and expand our membership to include editors of online-only news Web sites and leading journalism educators. That, and the annual election of new board members, will now occur electronically. We will be touch with you soon on the details.

We will also move ahead with plans for our scheduled 2010 convention in Washington.

I want to thank you for your support and guidance. If you have any questions about the convention or other matters, please let me know.


Sincerely,

Charlotte Hall
President

Comments

I think it involves two other things, Michele.

First, I think editors flying to Chicago for a conference is the wrong picture to present to newsrooms that are cutting. It isn’t that we “need” to be there to run the ship as much as we don’t need to be seen going to a conference, no matter how valuable it could be. Leadership is also about image and perception as well as learning.

Second, how valuable is the ASNE convention? I won’t argue that it isn’t valuable—it’s been several years since I went. But I haven’t been for several years because I found the discussion topics off point. Much of what I’ve learned about audiences and technology and possibilities, I have gotten from reading the folks who wouldn’t be invited to ASNE.


I agree with you, John, that the ASNE convention may have become a luxury editors can ill afford at this time, either in dollars or perception.
I hope that you and others will chime in about the larger issue for leaders—how do you keep learning and leading your organization to new ideas during this crisis? Thanks for your thoughts!


Two quick thoughts:
*You don’t need a national convention to promote new ideas and learning. Each state has creative journalists, both digital and print. A one-day “retreat” could produce both learning and networking help. Hey, I might try arranging that.
* Having you and your blogroll on an RSS reader, you can get a great education and tap into a ton of good ideas or just interesting experiments to TRY. We don’t just try to do new things enough.


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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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