Arianna Huffington at the American Society of News Editors convention: "Trust is the new black"
But one sense you get at the American Society of News Editors convention, where a group of the nation's most powerful newspaper and journalims leaders have gathered over four days to hear words from the chaiman of Google and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, is that the worst may be over.
Perhaps we all are past the days of double digit declines in staffing to meet the worst media economy in decades. Perhaps we're past wondering if the entire newspaper industry is teetering on the edge of oblivion.
That feeling was helped, no doubt, by news of the Pulitzer Prize winners released Monday. (I may be a bit biased, but I felt the St. Petersburg Times Pulitzer finalist, Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore's For Their Own Good series, deserved the actual prize. And the lack of attention paid to our work on Scientology was both disheartening and mistaken)
Still, while starting a panel discussion this morning, one moderator noted the crisis was over in journalism with barely a ripple through the crowd. I expect to lead a panel discussion on the possibility of govenrment financing for newspapers that will challenge that notion.
But there have been striking moments here already. Huffington quoted Craigslist founder Craig Newmark saying "trust is the new black (for journalism outlets)...As we are bombarded by more information, trust becomes more important...Whatever we do, whatever compromises we make, trust cannot be compromised."
Some journalists still marvel at the way Huffington, a conservative-turned-liberal turned media mogul, has snatched a huge portion of the media conversation through her spunky, left-leaning Web site. She returned the favor by criticizing the news media for missing the lack of weapons of mass destruction which led to the Iraq war and missing the failures in safety which led to the most recent mine disaster in Virginia.
One question she didn't answer: How many reporters does the Huffington Post have, anyways?
She sat beside New York Times media critic David Carr, who regaled the crowd with bemused observations on the dangers of performing so much multi-platform journalism that the work suffers.
"You guys are editors, so you're in the business of asking the impossible - you wave a magic wand and we make the wand work," he said. "(But) just because my backpack has more computing power than the first newsroom in worked in, I still have to aim it at something."
The consensus: context, trust and creating a sound environment for public conversation is key -- along with figuring out a way to make enough money in journalism that the newsrooms earning Pulitzers can keep their awards.
"I think we're getting to the good part," Carr said. "For a while, I wondered -- does this (media downsizing) end with me typing my own name into a layoff (story)?"
I'm about to head off to lead my own panel where we'll explore that very question.
Interesting times, indeed. And more to come.