Yet, in our own profession, where all we are trying to sell is the idea that we are a service, hopefully a noble one, to the public interest, we spend a meager effort on this image. Consequently, there is mistrust and even hostility toward the media.
As I have already stated, the most important part of this fight is won by our own vigilance against slanted news, self-interest, and the inroads of government pressure. But if we begin winning that battle, then we ought to get about the business of repairing our image where repairs are needed.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very optimistic about the ability of the American press to do whatever is necessary to adjust to changing conditions, to do whatever is necessary to stay both free and vital in the years ahead.
Notwithstanding some of the things I have been talking about tonight, the fact is that the American press is the most innovative, most vibrant press in the world, bar none.
As I come to the end of my remarks, I would like to leave you with three words that I think must be given top priority in the years ahead as newspapers carve out their future.
These are the Three Commandments of the newspaper profession.
I am speaking of Accountability, Credibility, and Respectability.
Now, more than ever, do we owe it to ourselves–and to our readers–to be Accountable for what we do.
It’s been said that the pen is mightier than the sword, and it’s true–truer today, perhaps, than ever before.
And as this power increases, so does our obligation to be Accountable to the people we serve. We should listen more carefully to our readers and those who complain about what we print.
They are often more right than some of us edgy journalists–I include myself.
We must say what we mean and mean what we say–and welcome all opposing points of view.
Letters to the editor, prominently displayed correction boxes, Ombudsmen, and a persistent willingness to publish differing viewpoints are all part of Accountability.
In sum, where we err we must persist in setting the matter right, which leads us to the second Holy Commandment of the newspaper business–the goal of Credibility.
Credibility can’t be imposed by edict, or cajoled by contest prizes.
Like love and sex, if you have to ask how to go about it you’re unlikely to find out.
But one thing is certain: If your readers don’t think you have it, you’re not going to succeed as a newspaper.
That audience will decide whether what we have to say is to be believed. And they’re not going to be hoodwinked.
Our best hope is to believe in what we say editorially, and to bend over backwards to be more fair in our news columns.
I think the media generally has greatly improved on this matter of fairness over the past two or three years.
That may also mean being a little humble. The time for preachy self-righteousness and one-dimensional denunciation is past.
I sometimes think that we in the press often are too superficial, too sloppy on detail, sometimes too intolerant and often reporters too sparing of their shoe leather. Anyone who deals vigorously with these weaknesses is well on the way toward winning back Credibility.
In the face of an increasingly complex society, newspapers must be compassionate–as well as concerned.
And if they are, then Respectability will follow as night does day.
A newspaper that is not respected, in the end will not be read, either.
Newspapers can’t hope to be loved by everyone, but they can certainly try to be admired and respected by everyone–just as they must always admire and respect the viewpoint of all their readers.
I don’t believe those people who will try to tell you that the days of the newspaper industry are numbered.
I’ve been in this business for almost half a century now, and I’ve never been as confident about its future as I am today.
We have our problems, yet I am an optimist. And, I think, with good reason.
Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government–except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Like democracy itself, the American press is not perfect. But, our press is better than what you will find in most other countries in the world.
It has served our nation in our two-hundred year history as well as all our other institutions and in some cases, better.
I sincerely believe that it will be even stronger, more exciting, more professional, more productive, and more influential in the next decade ahead.
Why? Because United States newspapers respond particularly well in times of trial and crisis. Meeting challenge under deadline is our daily business.