By Sandy K. Johnson
Journalism matters. As National Press Foundation award winners accepted their honors Feb. 16, a common theme was the importance of journalism to American society. Especially today, when long-held values are under fire.
Here is a sampling of remarks from the award winners:
Martha Raddatz of ABC News, the Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism honoree: “There is a crisis of faith in this country, starting with us. Americans don’t trust each other anymore, they don’t trust their government or their institutions, and as many politicians and pundits will tell you, they certainly don’t trust us. That’s dangerous. If we cannot agree on the facts, we cannot agree on a response – and this country faces enormous challenges that demand a response. It’s on us, the much-maligned media, to win that trust back. And we do it by doing what we do day in and day out – thorough, honest reporting.”
She described journalists as a “team of rivals,” yet ones bent on common pursuit of the truth. “I'm so proud to be on this team. This is a great time to be a journalist – and such an important time. Now more than ever, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards – to study every detail, fact-check every statement, know every nuance. The stakes are high, the scrutiny is intense, and the margins for error are miniscule.”
Clark Hoyt, winner of the W.M. Kiplinger Distinguished Contributions to Journalism Award, referred to political efforts to discredit journalists.
“In the rich history of conflict between a free press and those in government power, we are seeing something extreme today, but the best among us are doing their jobs and holding those in authority to account, no matter how ugly the resulting blowback,” said Hoyt, a veteran of Knight-Ridder, The New York Times and Bloomberg. “In the face of a concerted effort to undermine their legitimacy, reporters, editors and their companies are standing tall, not as an opposition party but as journalists devoted to the facts.”
Samuel Granados, deputy director of graphics at The Washington Post, spoke on behalf of the team that won NPF’s Best Use of Technology in Journalism Award. Their work was a striking multimedia project on the tide of refugees washing up on Europe’s shores.
“Today, thousands are still leaving their homes because of violence from war, poverty or climate change and we have better tools than ever to report about it. We have the right and the duty to do so,” Granados told the 900 people attending the NPF dinner. Granados also thanked “all the news editors that believe in innovation as a way to reinforce the standards of journalism against rhetoric and fallacy.”
Steve Buttry, winner of the Chairman’s Citation, was too ill to attend but his three sons represented the veteran journalist who was an early advocate of embracing technology in journalism. “My dad believes journalism is a team venture and any award-winner in this field stands on the shoulders of colleagues and competitors who make individual success possible,” his son, Mike, said. “If the doctors are right, and they appear to be, Dad doesn’t have much more time in this business, but journalism fulfilled him as a profession and been his life’s passion. He’s humbled that you think he’s been successful in giving back a little of all that journalism has done for him.”
Jay Newton-Small won the Everett McKinley Dirksen Award for Distinguished Reporting of Congress. “I have covered Congress for the better part of 15 years and it is no exaggeration to say: I have never seen things this bad,” she said. “The system has been breaking for years. In 2011, after the failed Grand Bargain, I left the beat in disgust and went for a stint in London followed by some time in the Middle East. Studying those governments convinced me: Okay, we are less dysfunctional than Iraq and Syria.”
Peter Kovacs, winner of the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award, struck an upbeat note as editor of The Advocate in Baton Rouge, which is expanding its staff and coverage to New Orleans and beyond – rather than contracting.
“The Advocate is a unique success story, a newspaper that is thriving, supported by its community, and dedicated to the kind of shoe leather journalism every state needs,” Kovacs said. In 2016, Kovacs noted, “Louisiana once again needed the moxie and muscle of a daily newspaper” to report on historic flooding, the police shooting of a black man, and the rage that followed.