Changing times

Early last month, I flew to Seattle to spend four days with fellow journalists from all over the country.

Most were breaking away from one of the busiest times of their careers as reporters and editors to come to this event. We left our jobs to participate in an annual conference on journalism, organized and hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists, a national organization that serves to protect the free press in our country.

In the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, there was much discussion among the groups’ membership and board of directors about canceling this year’s conference. A last-minute executive decision was made to hold the conference, unless a large proportion of the speakers cancelled.

That didn’t happen. In fact, the turnout this year was as high or higher than it had ever been.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my fear of stepping on a plane to travel to the West Coast so soon after the terrorist attacks, but, like hundreds of other journalists, I decided it was probably one of the most important times I could choose to renew my commitment to and understanding of journalism.

Not surprisingly, the program had been changed so that many of the professional development sessions were now focused on practical and ethical issues surrounding the coverage of the events emerging from the Sept. 11 attacks. Journalists spent most of their time sharing stories in formal and informal meetings of how they responded through their jobs to the events of the last few weeks.

The editor of the Washington Post‘s Sunday magazine told me how difficult it was to cover the Pentagon attack in a fresh manner after his daily newspaper had been reporting on it every day for the last several weeks. As the editor of a weekly magazine, he plans his articles at least two weeks in advance.

His solution was to send reporters out to ”shadow” a handful of Washington, D.C., residents and workers who had been affected by the crisis to see how they were getting back to their ”normal” lives.

At the conference, I sat and listened to the sensational stories that were being told, especially by the New York and Washington-area reporters who had to quickly set aside whatever they were doing to cover the events that changed the world. As the editor of a monthly business magazine that focuses on issues, not necessarily news, I didn’t feel I could share in those experiences. My job, I thought, hasn’t really changed.

I came home to wrap up our November issue and start planning for December, only to realize that my job has definitely changed, in some ways temporarily and in others probably permanently.

We may not report on the news that happened yesterday, but we do have an obligation to our readers to write about the issues that are affecting their workplaces today.

Stories about security issues and coping with severe revenue drops have replaced articles on finding great employees and travel tips. We’re seeing more compassion and humanity in local workplaces during these tough times.

Layoffs are occurring, but many employers are trying to cut costs other ways. Retailers in every industry are offering huge incentives to lure back customers.

These are just a handful of the issues we’ll be writing about this month and in the months to come. There are many more we are aware of and plan to cover, and some we may not know about yet.

I was reminded last month that my primary role as an editor is not to shape the news but to act as a conduit. You can help me with that responsibility by letting me know what issues you are now dealing with in your workplace.

SBN would like to share those stories with other business leaders to help everyone cope. Connie Swenson is editor of SBN Magazine. Reach her via e-mail at [email protected] or by fax at (330) 668-6224.