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Across the Board

Murrows Laud Excellence at Network, Local Levels

The Radio-Television News Directors Association gathers Oct. 13 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York to present the 2008 Edward R. Murrow Awards.

In addition to recipients of the 38th Murrow Awards, winners of the RTNDA/Unity Awards—which acknowledge news organizations’ commitment to covering issues of diversity in their communities—will be honored. Out of an initial pool of 3,459 entries, 54 news organizations are being honored with 77 awards.

“Everyone is proud of receiving an Edward R. Murrow Award,” said RTNDA President Barbara Cochran. “What I like about the event itself is that we recognize a lot of excellent local work as well as the best of the network work. Many awards tend to be dominated by the networks, but this is a great combination that shows the full range of excellence in news.”

RTNDA will present the Paul White Award to NBC News’ Tim Russert, the NBC senior vice president, Washington bureau chief and moderator of “Meet the Press,” who died June 13. NBC News’ Brian Williams will present the award, which will be accepted by Mr. Russert’s widow, Maureen Orth, and son, Luke Russert. The Paul White Award, established in 1956 to honor CBS’ first news director, recognizes an individual’s lifetime contribution to electronic journalism. Past recipients include Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw and Christiane Amanpour.

“I’m looking very much forward to the Paul White Award for Tim Russert,” said RTNDA Chairman Ed Esposito, who is VP of information media at Rubber City Radio Group. “Tim Russert, by far, was a major inspiration to people on ways to consider covering politics. The biggest challenge coming out of this presidential election is getting the media to understand we need to go beyond the scripted events, photo opps and satellite interviews. We’ve let reporting become an exercise in shallow sound bites, but Tim Russert didn’t let that happen. He asked questions real people asked, and stepped up the game in trying to understand how political processes worked so we asked better questions. It’s a great legacy, and he will be missed.”

In addition to Mr. Williams, other award presenters include NBC News’ Lester Holt, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, CBS News’ Maggie Rodriguez and ABC News’ Bob Woodruff. A few award recipients—ABC News President David Weston, “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric and Sirius/ XM Radio’s Bob Edwards—will address the attendees.

“The awards are reflective of the news year,” said Ms. Cochran, and the 2008 Awards are no different.

“One station is recognized for its coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, another for its coverage of the Minnesota bridge collapse,” she said. “We always hear that investigative reporting is an endangered species, but we have six strong winners in this category.

Documentaries continue to be well represented. The longer-form kind of journalism that takes a big investment of time and talent is being done and is being rewarded.”

Mr. Esposito agreed with the assessment of the quality of the 2008 winners. “I look back at 2007 and see that there was solid reporting that impacted people,” he said. “The winners of the Murrow Awards show why sometimes you need to listen to your journalist’s gut and not to the consultants about what the ‘hot’ stories are. They got out of the mindset of doing what everyone is doing.”

This year’s Edward R. Murrow Awards are taking place nearly concurrent with a special anniversary. “They’re being presented almost exactly on the 50th anniversary of Edward R. Murrow’s ‘wires and lights in a box’ speech, which challenged the TV industry to use this instrument to do journalism in the public interest,” said Ms. Cochran. “As an organization, we’ve spent the year thinking about the lessons Murrow taught and looking ahead of the future of electronic journalism, using the themes he set out in that speech.”

It’s fitting that Mr. Edwards, an award winner who will speak at the dinner, has written a biography on Mr. Murrow, Ms. Cochran noted. “And we might even hear Murrow’s words,” she said.

On the eve of the 2008 dinner, Ms. Cochran and RTNDA already are looking to how the Murrow Awards will evolve to keep pace with the changing forms of journalism. “We currently honor local and network-affiliated [stations’] Web sites as well as free-standing Web sites, and that’s something that will continue to evolve,” she said. “Next year we will broaden our rules to allow more competition especially for video and audio produced specifically for the Web—or any platform. After all, there are investigative series being produced for the mobile phone.”

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