Excerpt from The American Editor, magazine of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, March 2005 issue. Column by Rick Rodriguez. Reprinted by permission.


It's been nearly 33 years since I walked into a newsroom to take my first job as a copy boy for The Salinas Californian.


It came during an exciting and turbulent time during California's labor history. Cesar Chavez and his United Farm Workers union were fighting to organize a largely immigrant workforce in the fertile fields of the Salinas Valley.


I knew the work — my paternal grandparents, my father, cousins, my brother and I had all worked at one time or another cutting lettuce, picking strawberries or gathering prunes.


I knew many of the growers through their children who were friends at Salinas High School. And because I knew Spanish, I quickly found myself out on the front lines, at first translating for seasoned reporters then writing stories myself.


Through those experiences, I learned early that there were multiple sides to a story, that everything wasn't black and white, good or bad. I learned the art of listening, the need to speak to anyone and to check out everything. And I learned that this was a business that I loved.


I was 18 years old then and I had a ringside seat to history in the making. It's a seat I never relinquished.


Now, I will be privileged to lead the American Society of Newspaper Editors as president. I will try to bring to this post the same passion that I've had for this business for three decades.


For my theme, "Unleashing the Watchdogs," I'm going back to what initially attracted me — and I'm sure many of you — to journalism. While so many things have changed in the business, the public's need and appetite for solid, fair and thorough investigative journalism hasn't.


What has changed is our standing in the public's eye. Too many people question the very foundation of our craft, our credibility, and we have ourselves to partially blame for that. We need to be even more scrupulous about our standards when we do watchdog journalism. We must work harder to be fair, we must be indisputably accurate, we must be exceedingly thorough in our reporting. If we fail, we lose more ground.


In May, The Poynter Institute will help ASNE launch the watchdog theme by hosting a conference in which teams of top editors and their publishers will share their expertise and debate the issues surrounding investigative journalism. It is my hope that we'll work with groups to hold similar conferences throughout the year.


Much of the committee work will support the investigative theme. We'll try to focus on giving aspiring young journalists in high school and college some help in instituting the proper journalism ethics and values early in their careers. We'll look to help develop the craft of editing investigative projects and the leadership skills needed to do them. Our Freedom of Information Committee will be busy working to ensure that our First Amendment rights don't continue to be eroded. At the same time, our Ethics and Values Committee will examine the use of anonymous sources and other investigative techniques. Our Awards Board will initiate a prize for the best local investigative story, which we hope will encourage well-written, aggressive watchdog journalism at every size newspaper.


I'll work with stellar organizations like the Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Society of Environmental Journalists to leverage our resources. Too often, journalism organizations have competed for the same shrinking pool of money instead of coordinating. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when our mutual goals are the same — to make positive changes in our communities through fair and accurate reporting.


Our Diversity Committee will work with Columbia University and New California Media to try to establish a pilot program in which a handful of newsrooms will work in tandem with reporters from local ethnic media outlets. Traditional newsrooms will benefit by gaining wider access and insight into communities that we often know too little about.


In turn, we hope our ethnic media partners will benefit from our journalistic knowledge. And, of course, the committee will continue to work with organizations of minority journalists to diversify our newsrooms.


Our Readership Committee will focus on trying to find solutions for the perplexing words we hear too often: "subscription canceled — too busy to read." Our International Committee will continue to stand up for reporters' rights around the world and will plan a fact-finding trip.


And if all of that sounds very serious, it is. But we also shouldn't forget letting our readers have fun — and editors, too. We plan to try to do some of that next year at our convention in Seattle, April 25-28. We'll have the opening reception at the Experience Music Project — which has the largest collection of Jimi Hendrix guitars as well as other musical treasures.


I'm looking forward to working with you. It's an important time in our history. Investigative journalism is something only we will do, unique content that only we will provide. It's time to rock with it.