Gilbert Bailon, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, won the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award for guiding his news organization through the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the tumultuous aftermath. See a collection of the Post-Dispatch's work here.The judges said: “If ever a newspaper and its editor faced a real-time stress test, it was the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and editor Gilbert Bailon.”
Drew Griffin, an investigative reporter for CNN, won an Everett McKinley Dirksen Award for Distinguished Coverage of Congress for a year-long project titled “Congress for Sale.” The series focused on questionable financial ties between lobbyists and Congress. One segment looked at a fundraiser for former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, hosted by some former staffers who are now lobbyists. “It’s a family affair,” Pelosi said. In another segment, the former president of Shell Oil said “I felt extorted” by members of Congress. Dirksen judges cited Griffin for “a profound series of pieces illuminating the dark side of elected officials and big business.”
George Stephanopoulos, ABC News chief anchor, won the Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism. The Taishoff judges cited his “extraordinary energy and insight for many years in covering news, politics and current affairs.” Among his latest scoops was an exclusive interview with Darren Wilson, the policeman at the center of the controversial shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. Stephanopoulos anchors every major news event for the network.
“I am an optimist.” These words from two speakers at the National Press Foundation annual awards dinner resonated with me.
The news business is rife with woe-is-me commentary so it takes an optimist to see beyond the wreckage of a disrupted business model and instead see possibilities.
Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Knight Foundation and a news industry veteran, described the full circle.
“In the space of about 10 years, newspapers went from cash cow monopolies to cost-cutters struggling to make a profit so they could continue to serve,” he said.
“So why am I optimistic?”
“Not since the dawn of the printing press has change been so radical, the possibilities so exciting. Chaos for some is opportunity for others -- to inform, reach, rouse the people so they can determine their own interests.”
Then Ibarguen summoned the Howard Beale character from the movie “Network.” “We should all be saying, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Ibarguen said journalists must embrace technology because it gives us the means to connect with our communities. “This new, digital age of communication -- all around us, in our pockets, on our wrists – is profoundly changing our economy, communities and lives. It’s moving fast. We may not know where it’s going, but let’s face it: The future is digital. That leads to one conclusion: If you care about journalism, you have to care about technology.”
Ibarguen received the W.M. Kiplinger Award for Distinguished Contributions to Journalism at the NPF dinner and also was interviewed for an NPF “Master Class” video.
His positive tone was echoed by Gabriel Snyder, editor of The New Republic, a century-old publication where a shift toward digital led to a substantial staff walkout. He noted the pain of recent restructurings, bankruptcies and layoffs across the industry.
“So why am I an optimist? Because it’s clear that the same technological disruptions that upended our business have uncovered massive new opportunities and vast new audiences for the kind of journalism we cherish. Far from being a dying art, we’re discovering that journalism is just getting started,” Snyder said.
Like most evolving news organizations, Snyder said TNR staff will work in multi-disciplinary teams of editors, writers, designers and developers who will produce “the best ways to tell each story.” That could be traditional lengthy features, fast news coverage for the website, live tweeting, interactives, podcasts and video.
Snyder noted that technology connects people today in ways that were pure science fiction a few years ago. “There are lots of doubts about whether the journalism that we have made our calling can survive and thrive in this new digital age. But I say of course it can – because it must. A vibrant, influential and independent press is vital to democracy.”
Ibarguen said his foundation has provided $90 million in grants over four years to fund experiments to help journalism survive.
“That’s a drop in the bucket compared to what Google or Facebook might spend on development. And, sure, I wish news companies had spent buckets on R&D when we made 20 percent or 30 percent profit,” Ibarguen said.
“But that was then, this is now – and we should be mad as hell and figuring out what to do next.”
Linda Topping Streitfeld
Federal budget season is here in Washington again, and the National Press Foundation has some help for journalists who seek to cover it. Steve Gettinger, Deputy Managing Editor of CQ Weekly, and NPR Senior Business News Editor Marilyn Geewax came in to talk about the budget. Their half-hour chat is here.
Geewax had some tips:
* Look for how the budget affects real people. Can you locate a household in which a new child-care tax credit would enable a parent to return to work? What road or bridge work is NOT getting done in your community because of uncertainty about funding the Highway Trust Fund? How would free community college benefit say, nursing students at a private school? And what do current students think about a possible influx into their already-crowded classes?
* Don’t be caught up in politically generated hysteria around the debt ceiling, “fiscal cliff,” or threats that the government will shut down. With rare exceptions, things are resolved.
* Talk to people who have been around for a while: members, committee staff, agency staff and knowledgeable lobbyists.
When writing about the annual budget process, remember that we’re only talking about a third of the complete national budget. The rest is spent on things that automatically renew, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.
Other topics: Annual spending, debt. vs. deficit, dynamic scoring, the sequester. Watch here.
Some historical context from Gettinger, whose notes are here. My favorite highlights:
* The U.S. government lived without a budget for 132 years, until passage of the 1921 Budget Act. Before that, agencies went straight to Congress to ask for money.
* Lyndon Johnson expanded his budget to account for all types of receipts and expenditures – including loans, fees, and special treatment for Social Security (which happened to help make the deficit from the Vietnam War look smaller).
* A weakened Richard Nixon was forced to sign the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. This set up what we know today as “regular order.”
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, now Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, has strong feelings about how far we have diverged from that process. I spoke to him via Skype, and you can see the conversation here. Hamilton also is a big fan of good journalism, though he laments how few journalists really understand the massive and complex federal budget.