By Sandy K. Johnson
At the National Press Foundation’s journalism awards dinner Feb. 13, the hard work of journalism was illustrated by every award winner as they recounted their belief in journalism as a critical component of democracy.
Their remarks provided inspiration for journalists everywhere. A sampling:
Judy Woodruff, anchor of PBS NewsHour, and Albert R. Hunt, longtime Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal journalist, received the W.M. Kiplinger Distinguished Contributions to Journalism Award. Woodruff lamented the shrinking newspaper and local television reporting corps, but said,
“It’s important to note there is high-quality, smart journalism flourishing in this country and I want to celebrate that.” She also noted the audience for her show – the PBS NewsHour – has grown substantially as people seek out authoritative news sources.
Hunt took the podium from his wife and strongly criticized President Donald Trump’s constant berating of the news media. “It’s not new that journalists are being threatened, jailed or killed around the globe. It is new that the president of the United States is indifferent,” Hunt said. “Trump’s constant refrain of ‘fake news’ has been picked up by dictators around the world, from Syria to Hungary to the Philippines, and this gives them any further excuse they might need for brutal crackdown on journalists. The Russian foreign ministry has a fake news department. It’s amazing this insidious mantra has caught on across America.”
Lester Holt, who received the Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism, said NBC’s 70-year-old brand is built on a foundation of trust – “you can’t insult or tweet away that credibility.” The NBC News anchor said, “Recognizing that especially in this environment, our work is judged not just by whether we get it right, but by how we comport ourselves in pursuit of the truth. … Even as we carefully press forward in this incredibly news-rich environment, it must be with an attitude of satisfaction not smugness. Confidence not glee.”
Rick Hutzell, editor of the Capital Gazette, whose newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, lost five staffers to a gunman in June 2018: “I could talk to you about the importance of community journalism. I could say that what happened in Annapolis – refusing to surrender to violence intended to silence freedom of the press – and the support our community continues to demonstrate are a symbol of hope for the future of journalism. You already knew that.”
Hutzell quoted Benjamin C. Bradlee, the legendary editor whose name is on the editor of the year award that he received: “From the moment they died, I believe my staff and I have done what Bradlee said we should do. Show up, look for the truth in good conscience, and report it in fairness online and in print. Yet there have been consequences to what we do.”
Elisabeth Bumiller, Washington bureau chief for The New York Times, received the Chairman’s Citation. “Most journalists go into the business not to make money, but out of a sense of mission – to hold power to account, to expose injustice, to uncover corruption, to inform the public, to tell the truth. In the last two years, I think the Trump administration has brought that mission home to us. Yes, we’re under attack as ‘fake news’ and the ‘failing New York Times.’ But the reality is that we’re not failing, we’re thriving – and not just us, but some of our biggest competitors. Yes, there is a crisis in local news reporting across the country, something we all need to address and help to fix. But in terms of investigative work and accountability reporting at the national level, in many ways we’re in a golden age of journalism.”
Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu of Gizmodo explored the explosion of internet-connected devices in our homes, and the implications of that for privacy. Hill said, “My takeaway from this story is that every newsroom needs a technologist like Surya who can help reporters probe these technological devices and services that are increasingly controlling how we live, how we work, and how we socialize.”
John Donnelly, a CQ Roll Call reporter, won the Everett McKinley Dirksen Award for Distinguished Reporting of Congress, for investigative work on national security issues. “I also want to thank my sources – not just the deep throats, snitches, tipsters, whistleblowers and yes leakers who risk their careers to tell the truth. But also another group of even less heralded people. I’m talking about: the auditors, criminal investigators, congressional staff, researchers – people who make government officials tell Congress and the public things they need to know.”
Christopher Flavelle of Bloomberg News dug deep into climate change and its immediate impacts. He described his beat: “After two years, I’m even more convinced that the most captivating storyline in climate change isn’t what we’re doing to the planet; it’s what the planet’s doing to us. And if we ignore that part of the story – if we treat climate change as just an extension of the energy beat, or the environment beat, or the science beat – then too many of our readers and viewers will keep ignoring climate change altogether. And we’ll be letting them down.” Flavelle won the Feddie Reporting Award.