People come in two varieties. There are the ones who go to every symposium, meeting, conference and round-table discussion at a convention. And there are the ones who don't.
"I simply skip most of the program," said John Block, editor of the Toledo Blade's Sunday magazine, at last night's welcoming reception for the American Society of Newspaper Editors' annual convention. "I know the organizers don't like that, but most of the meetings are like being in a prison or a boring drunk-driving rehabilitation session."
Block was, he said, "in a waggish mood." (Conventions do that to some people.) Waggishly, he proceeded to suggest that ASNE members once again be invited to a special White House reception as they used to be if they would change their name to something a little more politically exciting.
"Editorial Writers for a Stronger America," suggested Thomas Walton, editor of the Monterey Peninsula Herald in California.
"Editorial Writers for Rearming America," offered Blade Editor Bernard Judy. "The new ERA."
A quick glance at the ASNE schedule shows that no symposia, meetings, conferences or round-table discussions are planned to explore Block's proposal. Maybe next year.
In the Sheraton Washington's ballroom, a model of the White House gleamed just past the vegetables and dip and a Washington Monument rose from the middle of the room. (The Sheraton has gone all out for the editors -- the hotel's main lobby is filled with old typewriters and newspapers to make them feel at home.) Picnicking editors rested their plates of fried wontons on the fake green grass at the Monument's base and talked with one another about the things editors talk about -- minority representation in the news room, press credibility, libel and which larger paper is stealing which of their best reporters.
Former Carter White House press secretary and columnist Jody Powell didn't even make it to the Monument grounds. He was near the entrance, working the crowd of almost 1,000.
"If you're peddling a column, it makes sense to go out and sell it at something like this," he said. "At the end of the evening you can fall at their knees and tug. It's important to do it in a statesmanlike way."
Artificial-heart surgeon William DeVries was also there. He is scheduled to speak today on how the media cover medicine.
"Doctors need better training in teaching reporters," he said. "I think society is very medically oriented now. People are very interested in the topic, and they want to know about things. In addition, medical stories sell newspapers."
And there have been plenty of stories about DeVries.
"I think doctors have always been in the forefront of the community, but in a very quiet way," said his wife, Karen DeVries. "Now, there's more attention. Having been a high school reporter, I know you report the event, and then you write about the personality -- you get interested in that to tell the story. It seems inevitable."
One editor said all this was pretty heady stuff for visitors from "Bucolicsville."
"I remember one time I came -- it was so exhilarating," said H. Brandt Ayers, editor and publisher of The Anniston (Ala.) Star. "I went home with 10 feet of air under my every step. I got back, and the first thing my executive editor said was: 'We have a problem. They're trying to put a package store across from the Salvation Army.'
"Now, that is a very important question to many people. That kind of question affects people every day, questions of that scale. But being addressed by the secretary of defense -- this is particularly true for the smaller-scale papers -- and then you go back home and you find out they're trying to put a package store across from the Salvation Army, and the old world is the old world yet."