The formation of the American Society of News Editors

America’s news editors owe practitioners of public relations a great debt. Without them, there would probably be no professional organization known as the American Society of News Editors.

We have Louis Hill and his dad, James J. Hill, to thank for that.  

James Hill conceived of, built and grew the Great Northern Railway. Running from St. Paul, Minn., north, south, east and west, the Great Northern truly transformed the Northern Plains and Pacific Northwest from a “wasteland” into a farm, timber and mining economy. James Hill, the “empire builder” retired from the company he built in 1907, giving control of the company to Louis, his second son.  

Louis Hill’s motivations were different from his father’s. Although he inherited his father's business smarts and work ethic, he was less reserved. He was a dapper, Yale-educated, extrovert who was interested mainly in the promotion and public relations end of the business.  

Shortly after becoming president of the Great Northern, Hill went all out to secure the creation of a national park in the mountains of northern Montana. His motives went beyond a love of nature: The Great Northern line ran along the southern boundary of Glacier National Park that Congress established in 1910. A year later, Hill observed, "Every passenger that goes to the national parks, wherever they may be, represents practically a net earning."  

In 1911, Hill retired as president of the Great Northern so that he could devote full time to a concerted effort to make Montana's new national park "the playground of the Northwest."  

"The work is so important," he declared, "that I am loath to entrust the development to anyone but myself."  

During the next six years, the company funded the construction of a series of mountain chalets and lodges, the first roads along the eastern edge of the new park, and a network of scenic trails and tent camps throughout the rugged, glaciated back country. Hill personally supervised all of these projects. He selected the sites for each of the park's hotels and chalets, locating them with an eye toward their scenic backdrop.  

At the same time that Hill was supervising his crash construction program of park facilities, he launched a formidable national publicity campaign to lure visitors. He coined the phrase, "See America First," to promote all passenger travel to Glacier National Park. This publicity campaign included the creation of See America First Society, the use of motion pictures to show the beautiful scenery to moviegoers, and, great use of the most important news medium of the time, newspapers.  

In 1912, Hill started stoking the publicity fires in earnest. The park hadn’t been officially opened and many of the hotels wouldn’t be completed for a few years. But a few hardy backcountry visitors ready for a rugged visit (and who happened to buy ink by the barrel) would be welcome.  

So that summer, Hill selected newspaper editors from around the nation to visit his park. Invited 10 at a time, several groups of editors descended on St. Paul over the course of the summer.  

They were taken by train to Montana (aboard a train that had its own printing press and newspaper) where they were greeted by rugged outdoorsman, and accompanied by company officials, they rode horses, camped by lakes, sang songs and generally developed a camaraderie with each other.  

In early September 1912 on one of these trips was a group of 10 editors from the Midwest: Casper Yost and John Potts of St. Louis; C.C. Cline and Willis King of Kansas City; Malcolm Bingay of Detroit; and other editors from Cleveland; Cincinnati; Sioux City, Iowa; Des Moines, Iowa; and St. Joseph, Mo.  

They took the two-day trip from St. Paul to Glacier National Park and disembarked for a two-week trek through the wilderness, riding horses for miles and camping by the many glacial lakes. One night, beside Red Eagle Lake, Yost succumbed to the romanticism of the trail and the bonds built on the trip and outlined his vision for a society of newspaper editors who can share experiences and insight about their craft and commiserate together.  

Bingay told it this way 30 years later:

We sat around a campfire and listened to a man talk. He was telling us of a dream which possessed him.

The man was Casper S. Yost, editorial director of The St. Louis Globe Democrat. Mr. Yost was a quiet, scholarly person. He had eyes that a master might have used in painting a picture of St. Francis of Assisi.

His dream was the creation of an ethical organization of American newspaper editors. He wanted to see them banded together on the common ground of high purpose.  

At the time, no editor’s organization existed. The American Newspaper Publishers Association (forerunner to the present-day Newspaper Association of America) had existed for years. Formed in 1887, ANPA was and is the group that newspapers and their publishers belonged to. ANPA’s publications were largely tip sheets on deadbeat advertisers and summaries of the legislation (for good or ill) then pending before or passed by Congress. Likewise, the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and Inland Press Association existed – largely at a regional level – to serve the interests of publishers.  

The visit to Glacier National Park was probably the first time most of these editors had met and spent any time with their brethren.  

Yost ruminated over the dream of an editor organization for another 10 years — with World War I intervening — until he was spurred into action by two magazine articles. Published in January 1922 in The Atlantic Monthly, the articles were by Moorfield Storey, a well-known political independent and the first president of the NAACP, and Frederick Lewis Allen, secretary to the Harvard Corporation and creator (and likely first employee) of Harvard’s news bureau. Later he became known for his history “Only Yesterday.” Then men laid out arguments criticizing newspapers and calling for changes in them.  

Storey’s article, “The Daily Press” asked why the press “claims for itself great rights and great privileges — practically unrestrained free speech and reduced postage, among others” yet did not exercise those rights responsibly.  

The press must either lead or follow; and, if it follows by catering to a depraved public taste or a popular prejudice, it is largely responsible for the taste or the prejudice, for both grow by what feeds them. To every editor is presented the question, ‘Shall I seek money through increased circulation and advertisements, or shall I try to create a sound public opinion and make my journal a power for good?’

Allen’s piece, “Newspapers and the Truth,” is somewhat more sympathetic to the demands and problems of journalists. While noting the harried circumstances under which journalism was written, the poor pay, the lack of background in the subjects, he chastised journalists of the day with an impressive collection of excerpts of their own articles: comparing and contrasting the coverage of the President Harding’s inauguration, exposing shabby reporting and fanciful editing, and explaining why trade unions and leftist causes received slanted coverage, since in most cases they conflicted with owner beliefs. A little on the latter:

Editors and reporters find out that what pays is to write the sort of news stories which pleases the man at the top. In rare cases, of course, there may be actual corruption; but more often what puts bias into the news is merely the permeation of the staff by a sense of expediency. They put their jobs first and the truth second.

But Allen went one step beyond criticism: He wanted to improve the profession and thought it could be saved. His suggestions may be what spurred Yost to action.

A deliberate attempt ought also to be made by the more conscientious newspaper publishers and editors, acting presumably though their various professional associations, to formulate in more definite terms a code of newspaper ethics. … Associations of publishers or editors might also advantageously offer prizes for accuracy in the treatment of critical events, the awards to be made after thorough investigation by an impartial jury. … The important thing is to stimulate newspapers to present the unbiased truth.

The article was thorough in its attack and proposals. Yost was thoroughly incensed. Remembering 10 years later, he wrote:

The article attacked the newspaper profession very viciously and, I thought, unjustly. I thought of writing an editorial for my own newspaper in answer to it, and then it occurred to me that very few people ever read The Atlantic Monthly anyhow, and if I said anything, it would give much larger circulation to what this gentleman had said and wouldn't do any good.

But he did see the need for editors to come together to combat such attacks (ironically, something Allen, himself, advocated):  

I didn't know a half-a-dozen editors in the United States at that time. I couldn't name a dozen of them. We were all living a sort of monastic seclusion in our individual offices, and I though it would be a good thing if we could get together.

Why doesn't somebody do that, I thought. Why doesn't somebody take the initiative and start a society? Then it occurred to me with rather a shock, why not do it yourself? So I did.

Once committed, Yost wrote to a few dozen editors soliciting support. The responses were positive and, just a month later, in February 1922, a small meeting was held at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago. Attendees included Yost and editors from Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago. They gathered to discuss action they could take for the advancement of the news and editorial side, to develop a constitution and a code of ethics and to launch a recruiting campaign for the group.  

As the best way to reach the largest number of potential members, the editors called a meeting in New York that April, when editors would be congregating for the annual American Newspaper Publishers Association meeting (despite no formal mention of them by ANPA in its bulletins). Their efforts were so successful that by October nearly 100 charter members had signed up.  

A key question at the time was how ASNE would be different from the existing organizations. ANPA was concerned with publishing issues and legislation; the SNPA and Inland Press were decidedly regional. And membership in all of these organizations was for newspapers — not individuals.  

The founders decided early on that ASNE would be an organization of individual editors of big-city papers — limiting membership to editors of newspapers in cities of 100,000 or more. (This became less elitist as the years went by.)  

In October 1922, ASNE was launched with directors and officers; they hammered out a code of ethics, named committees and made preparations for the first convention at the New Willard Hotel in Washington the next April.  

The 1923 convention was the first convention of the Society. It has been held annually, with the exception of 1945 and 2009, mostly in the nation's capital.

The organization's first constitution — developed in 1922 — remains an excellent description of ASNE's purpose today:

To promote acquaintance among members, to develop a stronger and professional espirit de corps, to maintain the dignity and rights of the profession, to consider and perhaps establish ethical standards of professional conduct, to interchange ideas for the advancement of professional ideals and for the more effective application of professional labors, and to work collectively for the solution of common problems.

Today, the American Society of News Editors is not just an organization for an elite tier of newsroom leaders. Its members are actively engaged in developig the next generation of leaders in digital journalism, championing First Amendment freedoms and working to help U.S. news organizations become as vibrant and diverse as America is today.

Past presidents
Pam Fine
The University of Kansas

Chris Peck
The Riverton Ranger, Riverton, Wyo.

David Boardman
Temple University, Philadelphia

Susan Goldberg

Ken Paulson
First Amendment Center, Nashville, Tenn.

Milton Coleman
The Washington Post

Martin Kaiser
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Charlotte H. Hall
Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel

Gilbert Bailon
Al Día, Dallas, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch

David A. Zeeck
The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.

Rick Rodriguez
The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee 

Karla Garrett Harshaw
Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun and Cox Community Newspapers

Peter K. Bhatia
The Oregonian, Portland

Diane H. McFarlin
Sarasota (Fla.) Herald Tribune

Tim J. McGuire
Star Tribune, Minneapolis

Richard A. Oppel
Austin (Texas) American-Statesman

N. Christian Anderson
The Orange County Register, Santa Ana, Calif.

Edward L. Seaton
The Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury

Sandra Mims Rowe
The Oregonian, Portland

Robert H. Giles
The Detroit News

William B. Ketter
The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

Gregory Favre
The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee

William A. Hilliard
The Oregonian, Portland

Seymour Topping
The New York Times

David Lawrence Jr.
The Miami Herald

Burl Osborne
The Dallas Morning News

Loren Ghiglione
The News, Southbridge, Mass.

John Seigenthaler
USA Today and The Tennessean, Nashville

Edward R. Cony
The Wall Street Journal

Katherine W. Fanning
The Christian Science Monitor

Michael G. Gartner
The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.

Robert P. Clark
Harte-Hanks Newspapers

Richard D. Smyser
The Oak Ridger, Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Creed C. Black
Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader

John C. Quinn
Gannett Newspapers

Michael J. O’Neill
Daily News, New York

Thomas Winship
The Boston Globe

William H. Hornby
The Denver Post

John Hughes
The Christian Science Monitor

Eugene C. Patterson
St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times

George Chaplin
The Honolulu Advertiser

Warren H. Phillips
The Wall Street Journal

Howard H Hays Jr.
The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.

Arthur C. Deck
Salt Lake Tribune

J. Edward Murray
Detroit Free Press

C.A. McKnight
Charlotte (N.C.) Observer

Newbold Noyes
Washington Star

Norman E. Isaacs
Courier-Journal and Louisville (Ky.) Times

Vincent S. Jones
Gannett Newspapers

Michael J. Ogden
Providence (R.I.) Journal and Bulletin

Robert C. Notson
Portland Oregonian

Vermont Royster
Wall Street Journal

Miles H. Wolff
Greensboro (N.C.) Daily News

Herbert Brucker
Hartford (Conn.) Courant

Lee Hills
Knight Newspapers

Felix R. McKnight
Dallas Times Herald

Turner Catledge
New York Times

J.R. Wiggins
Washington Post

George W. Healy Jr.
New Orleans Times-Picayune

Virginius Dabney
Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch

Jenkin Lloyd Jones
Tulsa (Okla.) Tribune

Kenneth MacDonald
Des Moines (Iowa) Register and Tribune

James S. Pope
Courier-Journal and Louisville (Ky.) Times

Basil L. Walters
Knight Newspapers

Wright Bryan
Atlanta Journal

Alexander F. Jones
Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald-Journal

Dwight Young
Dayton (Ohio) Journal-Herald

B.M. McKelway
Washington Star

Erwin D. Canham
Christian Science Monitor

N.R. Howard
Cleveland News

Wilbur Forrest
New York Herald Tribune

John S. Knight
Knight Newspapers

Roy A. Roberts
Kansas City (Mo.) Star

W.S. Gilmore
Detroit News

Dwight Marvin
Troy (N.Y.) Record

Tom Wallace
Louisville (Ky.) Times

Donald J. Sterling
Oregon Journal

William Allen White
Emporia (Kan.) Gazette

A.H. Kirchhofer
Buffalo (N.Y.) Evening News

Marvin H. Creager
Milwaukee Journal

Grove Patterson
Toledo (Ohio) Blade

Paul Bellamy
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Fred Fuller Shedd
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin

Walter M. Harrison
Oklahoma City Oklahoman

E.C. Hopwood
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Casper S. Yost
St. Louis Globe-Democrat