The American Society of Newspaper Editors, assembling in )) Baltimore for its 70th national convention, will be inaugurating its first black president this week. He is William A. Hilliard, editor of the Portland Oregonian, and observers within the industry and without are probably thinking, it's about time.
Big newspapers are published in big cities, where African-Americans cluster in huge and often majority numbers. Yet news and editorial operations, in terms of racial and ethnic diversity, do not often look like these cities.
Newspapers have been highly successful in opening their doors to women and promoting them to positions of responsibility. But the long campaign to attract, train, hire and promote black journalists has not gone as well, partly because of opportunities in other fields for budding black writers and editors and partly because efforts to increase minority representation in the industry have not been pursued aggressively enough.
What we are discussing here is not shop talk just for editors. How a newspaper functions, how it reflects its community, how it acts as a cohesive force in a centrifugal society is central agenda stuff for all citizens.
We live in an information age with revolutionary ways of getting news and knowledge to people. But at this stage in history, metropolitan newspapers are the only means of covering and reaching an entire community, rather than just a specific sector or a fractionated audience. So we congratulate Mr. Hilliard on his presidency and we congratulate ASNE even more for putting him in a position of such visibility. Symbolism is important as a precursor to substance.
The 1993 ASNE convention sets a precedent not only in Mr. Hilliard's election but in assembling in Baltimore for the first time in the organization's 71 years. This newspaper worked hard to bring the nation's editors here. We wanted to show that Baltimore is close enough to Washington to attract prominent federal officials and yet far enough away to give visitors a taste and a glimpse of a very distinctive region. Editors will meet in Baltimore tomorrow and Friday and travel to Annapolis Thursday to tour the Naval Academy and take part in discussions on national security affairs.
The ASNE convention will make Baltimore a world news center, if only for a few days. If it serves as a reminder that the news business is everybody's business, we hope the nation's editors will come back soon to celebrate victory over some of the problems highlighted by Bill Hilliard's election.