Reporters need the protection of a federal media shield law, and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who sponsored shield legislation while in Congress, said he renewed his call for the protection after news surfaced about government monitoring of Associated Press phone calls.
"I really do believe that media shields are not about protecting reporters - it is about protecting the public's right to know," Pence said at the opening session of the national Associated Press Media Editors conference in Indianapolis.
"The ability to keep confidential sources confidential is an essential part of the news gathering process."
Pence said he wrote to House and Senate leaders following news that phone records from 21 AP reporters were subpoenaed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Pence said state shield laws already in place aren't enough.
"The First Amendment was always considered to be sufficient (previously)," he said. "I noted over the last decade a disturbing pattern of cases where reporters were being placed in a position to reveal confidential sources, and that's what motivated me to introduce the Free Flow of Information Act.
APME represents newspaper editors from across the United States and Canada. The theme of this year's conference is "Content Is King," a reference to the industry's efforts to monetize its flow of text, photos, video and other content across platforms.
Kay Coyte, The Washington Post managing editor, said the theme "Content is King" is about newsrooms digging deeper and going beyond a Google search.
Coyte pointed to a series The Washington Post produced about Washington D.C. homeowners losing their homes due to a faulty tax system.
The Washington Post exposed the problem through deep investigation and tracked down the homeowners. The articles drew strong responses and the mayor promised the problem would be resolved.
After the series was published, Coyte said The Washington Post did not relent on the issue, continuing to hold people accountable.
"We challenged the elected leaders in D.C.," Coyte said. "We kept at them, like terriers, at their heals."
The first session of the day dealt with a particularly thorny issue for mainstream media outlets access to sports events in the digital era.
John Cherwa, of The Los Angeles Times, said his newspaper has fought to retain access to players and coaches of the Lakers as the NBA team's owners increasingly grant greater access to the team's television media partners.
Recently, for example, the Lakers granted Time-Warner Cable greater access on a team trip to China.
" 'I can give you 5 billion reasons why we did it that way,' " Cherwa said, quoting John Black, the Lakers' vice-president of public relations. He said Black was referring to Time-Warner's $5 billion, 25-year TV contract with the team.
Pence said the media's work is essential in preserving freedom in the country.
"I want to thank all of you for the work that you do each and every day to make the theme of this conference a reality in your newspapers: 'Content is King.' And when you all are doing your job then the American people are better informed and better able to make informed choices about policies that affect their lives," the governor said.
Pence said local newspapers are vital to helping people make informed decisions about their communities. Like politics, he said, "All news is local."
"The news that is most important to most Hoosiers is that which bears most closely on their lives," he said. "I'm confident through changes in that marketplace, that we will continue to see local newspapers evolve and adjust. But at the end of the day, being able to flip open my computer or open a newspaper and be able to see what's going on at my community will always be enormously important."
Editors at newspapers everywhere are changing their focuses to adapt to new technology and what their audiences want.
For Danny Gawlowski, photo/video editor at The Seattle Times, it's all about content.
"If you want to become a destination people want to come to, we need to use all the media available to us," Gawlowski said. "We want a little bit 'wow,' we want engagement. We don't want to be just headlines."
Thomas Koetting, deputy managing editor at Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said it's important to remember content takes many forms.
"...It's video, chats, blogs, text," Koetting said. "We have to figure out a way to maximize our content."
Mitchell Paul, Indiana University, and Anna Ortiz, Ball State University, also contributed to this report.