Oct 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The evening of Oct. 13 promises to be among the more memorable of Andrew Heyward’s professional life. Not only did CBS lead among networks in winning eight of the Radio-Television News Directors Association’s Edward R. Murrow Awards, but the spoils of victory on a big night for the network include CBS News President Heyward delivering the keynote address.
CBS won three awards in radio news and four in television news, including one for its “9/11” documentary and the coveted award for Overall Excellence. The latter citation may be even more impressive, considering judges found strong competition from NBC News. NBC won six TV awards, including the Murrow for Best Newscast for a program that led with the arrest of the D.C.-area snipers last fall. NBC’s “Nightly News” won in spot reporting for its tornado coverage last year, and in continuing coverage for its “Skating Controversy” reports.
`Evening News’ Cited
But while CBS got its biggest wins for long-form journalism, “CBS Evening News” was also cited by the judges. In statements provided by RTNDA, the judges noted the presence of “Evening News” anchor Dan Rather and two news producers near a car bomb explosion in Jerusalem in April. “CBS News was where it needed to be-with experienced storytellers at the top of their game,” the judges commented.
The success of the CBS entries in the longer forms goes well beyond the network’s long-held reputation for hard news. “I don’t find the term `hard news’ terribly useful,” Mr. Heyward said. “We cover breaking news, and our coverage is fair, accurate and timely. But if you can bring special insight to stories like the [Pennsylvania] miners’ rescue, or “The Lost Boys” … the hallmark of our best work is its original reporting. `60 Minutes’ has a reputation of being tough-minded-truth against injustice.”
But Mr. Heyward added that the “60 Minutes” franchise is also known for its cultural reporting and entertainment profiles, “So the hard news-soft news distinctions seem meaningless.”
Typically, TV newsmagazines lean toward domestic stories. But in “60 Minutes II’s” story “The Lost Boys,” correspondent Bob Simon reported on the 15-year effort to resettle thousands of orphaned and abandoned Sudanese boys in the United States. Like Peter Pan’s lost boys, Mr. Simon said, these boys “fought off crocodiles and other dangers we can barely imagine.” They are now resettling, with some adjustment difficulties.
“When the invaders struck, many of the boys here were tending their herds. When they saw their villages burning, they started walking. Within days, streams of boys became rivers. Hundreds became thousands until an exodus of biblical proportions was happening. Where were they going? No one really knew. And no one could have guessed they would continue walking for years.”
Reminded of the initial reluctance to expand the “60 Minutes” franchise-including resistance from program creator Don Hewitt-Mr. Heyward called the award “another confirmation that `60 II’ has taken its rightful place” alongside the original program. “I’m proud that the program was started on my watch,” Mr. Heyward said, but he gave “the lion’s share of the credit” to executive producer Jeff Fager and his staff.
NBC’s impressive Murrow performance included an award for its long-form “Dateline” investigative piece “Mystery on Highway 47,” which found holes in a state police investigation into the murder of a state trooper’s wife and examined the victim’s mother’s belief that her daughter was killed by her trooper husband.
CBS’s Steve Hartman, whose “Everybody Has a Story” series has taken him to more than 100 cities based on the throw of a dart, was cited for his writing. With an economy of words, the judges noted, Mr. Hartman “eloquently shows us not just the story but the humanity in us all.”
CBS’s “9/11” documentary, which arose from film shot by French filmmakers and brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet, was also honored. “The 39 million people who watched that broadcast will not and should not ever forget it,” the Murrow judges said. “`9/11′ was so skillfully produced that it will likely be remembered as one of the most powerful examples of electronic journalism ever produced.”
Sept. 11, 2001, was not a part of the calendar year judged, but its continued effect was clearly reflected among this year’s entries and winners. “9/11 changed the atmosphere dramatically,” Mr. Heyward said.
By the end of the 20th century, Mr. Heyward said, phrases like `the end of news’ were being bandied about regarding his business. Many of the great conflicts of preceding decades were either resolved or well past their dramatic climax.
“We were in a period of prosperity and stability. And with the rise of news on cable, it looked like network TV news’ best days were behind them,” Mr. Heyward said. “Remember: The summer of 2001 was the summer of Chandra Levy and shark attacks.”
Sept. 11, he said, was a stunning reminder that “there are still huge issues in the world; that America’s relations with the rest of the world are important and that network television news still has an important role to play.”