Ashe, president and chief operating officer of Media General, was
the special guest speaker at several School of Communications classes
Ashe is best
known as the news manager who recently oversaw the inception of
the nation's most visible media convergence project: a combination
newsroom for the Tampa
Tribune, WFLA-TV and TBO.com, an online operation.
about the difference in the media landscape between now and when
I was your age," he began. "Nobody had ever heard of cable
television, and the Internet wasn't even a dream. Today we have
a lot more choices and distractions. How do we cope with this new
world? At Media General, we are trying to reassemble the splintered
media audience. We all look at newspapers, use TV and use the Internet.
We want to reach people in ways that are convenient to them."
Ashe how young journalists can best prepare themselves for a future
in a news world that includes converged media.
important thing is to learn to be a good storyteller," he replied.
"If you have an interest in learning about working in multiple
areas of communications, do so, but it isn't necessary to survive.
We'll always have a need for the specialists in print or television
or online work. If you can branch out and learn more skills, it
can be to your benefit, but it's not required.
important skill for journalists is to learn how people in a community
relate to each other and to understand how to cover these relationships.
While you are at a university, learn economics, government, environmental
science; get a good background in all the areas you'll be covering."
Ashe, a Charlotte,
N.C., native, attended MIT in the 1960s to earn an engineering degree.
He found his life's work when he began to write for a college newspaper
and discovered journalism to be more compelling than electrical
engineering. His first newspaper job was as a reporter for the Washington
(N.C.) Daily News, and a few months later he was working for The
Jackson (Tenn.) Sun. At age 25, he became executive editor of the
32,000-circulation daily. At age 29, he was publisher. He was president
and publisher of The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle from 1986 to 1991, leading
the paper to a top-flight reputation as one of the nation's foremost
practitioners of civic journalism.
has always been a commercial enterprise, but today because it's
more competitive we have to pay more attention to what people are
interested in," he said. "We have to understand our community
and our shared concerns. We have to figure out ways to engage people
because there is so much more competition for people's attention."
He said there's
no need for the kind of around-the-clock coverage we have seen of
stories like the OJ Simpson trial and the death of Princess Diana,
but they are important because people are interested in them. "You
have to make choices intelligently and anticipate what will engage
people's attention," he said. "Know what will stimulate
that 'Whoa, look at this!' moment for the audience. We do have the
ability to give people all of the content they need and give them
variety and balance."
owns 26 TV stations and 76 print publications in the southeast region
of the United States. Many of these have online components, and
the company encourages convergence efforts in regions in which it
owns newspapers and television operations. Ashe pointed to variety
and blanket coverage as two of the advantages of converged media.
"If people don't want to read a newspaper, we can reach them
online or on television or on radio, " he said. He discussed
the strengths of various media.
can serve the shared concerns of people in the community,"
he said. They are generally the best-staffed news operations in
most cities, and they can specialize in getting depth of coverage.
Television can bring people to the scene of a story, he said, and
it excels in live coverage of breaking news. Online news operations
can present news in a variety of ways. "I don't think we know
yet just what's the best way to write on the web. We can embed links
to sidebars, include video footage, offer a long narrative or chop
a story up into smaller segments and organize it through hyperlinks."
He smiled when
asked about the value of his first job in journalism, as a reporter
in the small town of Washington, N.C. "The experience of working
in a small newsroom is a precious one that I wouldn't trade for
anything," he said. "You learn things that are essential
for your business that you can't learn anywhere else. It gives you
a ground-up perspective of our business. If you do it, it's an experience
you'll treasure for the rest of your life."