According to a letter written by James A. Clendenin in 1982:
The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors evolved from an organization formed in November, 1955, as the Florida Society of Editors.
This group was organized at a meeting in Ocala called by James A. Clendinen, then assistant editor of the [Tampa] Tribune. Its stated purposed was ‘to improve the editorial page as a forum of informed opinion through the interchange of ideas and to advance the cause of responsible journalism generally.’ Its membership was limited to editorial page editors and editorial writers on daily newspapers. At that time the Florida Daily Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Association were the existing organizations for dailies, and they dealt almost entirely with news, business and production problems. The Florida Society of Editors was intended to give those involved in editorial writing and editing an organization covering their area of interest.
In the consideration of a proposed charter at the Ocala meeting, discussion led to a heated debate over what grounds were proper cause for expelling a member from the Society. R.N. (Bert) Dosh of the Ocala Star-Banner ended the debate with sage comment: ‘Look, fellows, we haven’t gotten any members in yet. It’s a little premature to talk about how we’re going to kick ’em out.’
Clendinen was the first president. Other officers and directors were William Wiley of the St. Petersburg Independent. R.N. Dosh of the Ocala Star-Banner, Marion Gaines of the Pensacola News-Journal, Herbert Davidson of the Daytona Beach News-Journal and Jeanne Bellamy of the Miami Herald.
The Society’s annual meetings included discussions of editorial page techniques, led in some instances by out-of-state editors of national reputation, and panels on state and national issues.
Among other projects, the Society established an annual Defenders of Freedom Award, to go to the public official judged to have made the most notable contribution to freedom of the press. The first award was made to Governor LeRoy Collins in 1960. Several years later it was discontinued.
In 1969, under the leadership of John McMullan of the Miami Herald, the Society was reorganized as the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, with membership broadened to include both news and editorial executives — following the pattern of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. McMullan was elected the first president. Other officers and directors were Earle Bowden of the Pensacola News-Journal, John Walters of the Florida Times-Union, Malcolm Johnson of the Tallahassee democrat, Don Baldwin of the St. Petersburg Times and Clendinen. The organization took place at Gainesville, in conjunction with the 90th annual meeting of the Florida Press Association.
One purpose of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors was to give news and editorial executives an organization independent of Associated Press and United Press affiliation and to broaden the program content of the semi-annual meetings. An important result, of course, was the Society’s takeover of responsibility for the annual newspaper contest formerly managed by the Associated Press.
The Society established in 1972 Florida’s top journalistic honor, the FSNE Distinguished Achievement Award, carrying a $500 cash prize and a plaque. The award most often has gone to investigative reporters for a series of stories exposing government corruption, negligence or injustice.
Today, FSNE presents the annual Paul Hansell Award for Distinguished Achievement in Florida Journalism. An individual who demonstrates excellence in reporting and writing, either news or editorials, is awarded a $500 cash prize. The FSNE Gold Medal for Public Service has been awarded for work of meritorious public service by a newspaper through distinguished reporting, writing and presentation. FSNE also created a Minority Scholarship Program to identify qualified minority students in accredited journalism and mass communications programs at Florida colleges and universities and encourage them to pursue careers in print journalism in the state.
Additionally, FSNE has been involved as a friend of the court in several freedom of information cases at the Appeal Court level. FSNE was the catalyst for the Florida Freedom of Information Newsletter published by the University of Florida Foundation. Also, along with the Florida Press Association and the First Amendment Foundation, FSNE began lobbying open-government legislation starting with the 2001 session.
The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors’ original purpose was to encourage excellence in the reporting and display of the news, information and photographs; provide public forums for members to exchange or receive information and/or ideas with each other and other persons who may attend; sponsor training seminars; promote ethical conduct among those associated with the newspaper industry; foster understanding of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 4, of the Florida Constitution; and encourage the extension of freedom of speech and press.
In 2009, the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors became the Florida Society of News Editors, and its purpose became “to advance the cause of responsible journalism.”