Outgoing ASNE President Mizell Stewart III: Continuing to advocate for leaders, press freedom 

Photo Courtesy: Mizell Stewart

After spending his presidency advocating for diversity, newsroom leadership and First Amendment rights, Mizell Stewart III will be handing his role as the American Society of News Editors to someone new.

Stewart will step down and former ASNE vice president Alfredo Carbajal will begin his tenure at the annual ASNE –APME News Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. in October.

Stewart is the vice president of News Operations for the USA Today Network and a member of the adjunct faculty of The Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Previously, Stewart was the managing editor and chief content officer of Journal Media group and vice president of content, newspaper division for E.W. Scripps Co.

In a recent interview, Stewart talked about his expectations for the upcoming conference, what ASNE accomplished during his tenure as well as his own personal goals.

Which sessions and speakers do you look forward to hearing at this year’s conference? 

The element of this year’s conference that I’m really excited about that we put in place is leadership development track. We have a number of members who have said if they are going to make the time and effort to come to a conference, they want to come away with strategies and tools they can take back to their newsroom. We created a track on the first day of the convention to really focus on contemporary newsroom leadership issues. Things like the way newsrooms are organized to reflect the focus on mobile and other digital platforms – the kind of leadership that is necessary to transform newsrooms, particularly legacy newsrooms, from traditional platforms to fully digital. We have speakers coming from The Washington Post, Poynter Institute and other organizations to really bring those tools and lessons home to those who attend the convention.

Would you say this year’s convention is focused on the digital, multimedia aspect of journalism? 

Our conventions have been focused on that for quite some time. I wouldn’t say that this conference is different from that standpoint – we always try to blend digital innovation, leadership, diversity and First Amendment issues. Those are the core elements of all of our organizations because let’s not forget we have three organizations coming together for the conference between the American Society of News Editors, Associated Press Media Editors and the Associated Press Photo Managers. All three organizations are working together to really underscore those priorities.

What do you believe are some of the benefits in hold this year’s conference in Washington D.C.?

Being in Washington has enabled us to bring a unique set of speakers – people who have experience covering issues at both the local and national scale. Being in Washington in this particular point of time, given what is happening in national politics and the relationship between the White House and media, makes Washington really a perfect location for us to be. We did invite the president and vice president to address the conference. They declined to do so, but we wanted to extend that opportunity. We have a number of speakers who will be part of our gathering who will bring that perspective.

What are some things that ASNE focused on or accomplished this past year of which you are proud?

We will be announcing a couple of very significant grants at the conference to support our First Amendment work and our diversity work. Cultivating those partnerships and getting those resources in place has really been a major focus of our efforts over the last year.

The other piece that I am very proud of is that we have continued to grow our leadership training and leadership development efforts with the ASNE Emerging Leaders Institute. For the first time a group will go through the Emerging Leader Institute and right up until the conference, and will also have the opportunity to take advantage of the Online News Association conference.

What is something that you hope ASNE continues to do well or focus on in the upcoming year?

I am going to defer the upcoming year to the incoming president Alfredo Carbajal. Alfredo has been among other things, a driving force behind the Emerging Leadership Institute and I look forward to his leadership of the organization. A big part of our force is and will continue to be diversifying the leadership of news organizations around the country.

Where do you see journalism going in the future?

I think what we have learned over the past several months with the change in the White House is the vital role journalist play in explaining what is happening in areas where some would rather journalist would not be poking around. The watchdog function of journalist has gained a new prominence as we explore the new administration and the approach to govern.

To watch major news organizations, such as The Washington Post and New York Times, my own USA Today network, battle for the scoop of the day in terms of the news coming out of the White House and congress is a very spirited competition.

I think the other thing that this year has taught us is that with the dramatic increase in the quantity of distribution of platforms for information, how we convey it is for people to be influenced by less than credible news. We really need to reinforce how important values that are exemplified by the work of journalist who work for serious news organizations. We have standards in practice that validate their work, which are also accountable to the public.

What advice do you give to young journalists?

Remember what drew you to journalism in the first place. Most journalist are drawn to the work because they want to tell stories, they want to be engaged in the search for truth. Given all of the rhetoric surrounding the work of journalists, it can be discouraging. If it’s discouraging at moments for people like me who have 30 years in the business, I can imagine the effect that it has on young people trying to figure out if they want to pursue journalism as a career.

Many always look at journalism as a calling – a calling because you enjoy storytelling. A calling because there is a love for uncovering the facts. A calling because the desire to be the first to know and the first to inform others. I think focusing on those reasons for answering that call to be a journalist and not allowing the criticism of those who don’t like having journalism done is important.

What some of your personal goals in your post presidency year? 

My focus during my presidency and beyond is really focus on two things: one is that there are a number of organizations focused on the same goals of ASNE when it comes to diversity, quality journalism, defense of the First Amendment and growth with the next generation of newsroom leaders. What I intend to do is continue advocating for those issues but also championing organizations that have the same priorities and value to work more closely together. In a perfect world, we would continue growing, changing, even combining so that we are not in a competition for resources.

The second thing, as always, is funding the mission. I have been very fortunate under the leadership of our executive director; we have brought new partners into help fund critical ASNE programs. We want to continue that momentum.

This piece has been edited for brevity.

Allie Kirkman is a junior at Ball State University. She graduates in December 2018. Her email is aekirkman@bsu.edu.

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