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Anstrom: A Real Champion

This week, several thousand cable executives will swarm New York to attend the industry's premiere fund-raising event, the annual Walter Kaitz Foundation's dinner to foster diversity in the workplace.

It's an honorable cause and a goal that no one will achieve by just buying a $10,000 table and calling it a day.

The dinner will — or should — force changes by establishing policies and implementing programs to accomplish that daunting goal.

And this year's honoree, Landmark Communications Inc. president and CEO Decker Anstrom, has actually done that — not only within his own company, but at every post he has ever served in the cable industry.

In his earlier role as the president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Anstrom had always played a major role — often quietly and behind the scenes — in helping shape the often controversial policies and practices of the Walter Kaitz Foundation.

To this day, many Kaitz supporters still think the organization has lost its way as it continues to reinvent itself in a new world. Next week, we should expect to see where the organization is going, or if it will even continue in its present role.

Anstrom had also served a term as chairman of the Kaitz Foundation, often a thankless position. He was there at another time when the organization was at a major crossroads, several years back. It had become a lightning rod for industry criticism over how it was allocating the donations it had received from the dinner.

Anstrom helped steer that organization to form a new strategy that would funnel the money from the dinner to industry organizations, rather than individual companies that had earlier hired fellows that Kaitz had recruited.

That plan, now under re-examination, was to dole out grants to groups like NAMIC and Women in Cable & Telecommunications, among others.

But that takes away absolutely nothing from the man who is being lauded at next week's dinner. Anstrom, now heading up Landmark, a privately held company which owns The Weather Channel and several TV stations and newspapers, has made diversity a mandate at that company.

Anstrom, a man who eschews the spotlight, will not like it when I tell you now that the Kaitz Foundation tried to honor him with this award several years ago, when he was still at the NCTA. To his credit, Anstrom did not think it was appropriate because he had never initiated a diversity program for a major company.

But now he has, and he is not alone. And this is good news for cable, which has made great strides in making its workforce more diverse.

Is cable's track record perfect? Far from it. But every major cable player out there has some sort of corporate diversity strategy and program underway.

That says a lot for cable and, perhaps, ultimately could say a lot for the future of the Kaitz Foundation.

So one might ask, now that cable companies have established their own diversity programs, do we still really need the Kaitz Foundation to raise money which it administers?

My answer is yes. Without Kaitz spotlighting the issue each year, it would be too easy for cable to put diversity on the back burner, where it had been for so many years.