By Lee Hall
Special to TelevisionWeek
News awards can be like news ratings-almost anyone can win an award for something, much like almost any station can claim to be No. 1 in some criterion if the research director looks hard enough.
Television news people and news managers place varying degrees of emphasis on the annual battle for plaques and statuettes. To some it’s considered a badge of honor to tout one’s achievements. Others believe awards can help them land their next job.
“I don’t think it hurts, but very few news directors pay a lot of attention to it,” said Rick Gevers, a talent agent and former news director.
Although awards don’t always impress the potential boss, some citations do get noticed, Mr. Gevers said.
“If it’s a national [Investigative Reporters and Editors] award, or a national Murrow or a Peabody, those things get folks’ attention. If it’s the local press club, not so much,” he said.
Rhonda McBride, a reporter at Zaser & Longston-owned KTUU-TV in Anchorage, Alaska, won a national award this year from the Society of Professional Journalists for her stories about rural life in the most remote areas of her state. Award competitions are worth entering, she said, if for no other reason than to receive another opinion on her work.
“It’s a kind of validation. I enter sometimes just to get the feedback from the judges, so you know whether what you thought was a good idea for a story really worked, or really fell flat,” Ms. McBride said. She also acknowledged that winning an award for a story that was a tough sell in the newsroom can engender an endorsement from reticent gatekeepers on future projects.
“It can have the … effect of having the assignment editor or the producer become more supportive,” she said.
What Makes a Winner?
Judges can be finicky. Craig Franklin, a photographer at Viacom-owned KPIX-TV in San Francisco, has received 17 regional Emmy Awards for photography, editing and production. Occasionally, work he considers to be among his best fails to impress. Such was the case for a 1981 package that involved his spending three days on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.
“To this day I still think it was one of the best things I ever shot-lots of action and great stories of young hotshot Navy pilots, long before ‘Top Gun’ became a movie. I thought it was a sure winner. It didn’t even get nominated,” he recalled in an interview in Off Camera, the publication of the Northern California Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Mr. Franklin suggests never approaching a story with the idea of winning an award. He calls it “bad karma.” Telling a good story, he said, is the goal. Tell enough good ones and you’ll win awards. He also recommends keeping entries as brief as possible, because most judges watch only a few minutes at most.
Back to School
Some journalists prefer to take another route to recognition. For Vince Patton, an environmental reporter for Belo-owned KGW-TV in Portland, Ore., reward came in the form of a nine-month Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan. The program offers midcareer professionals an opportunity to take a sabbatical for study and reflection.
“A friend who had been a journalist fellow at Stanford recommended that I apply for a couple of fellowships, and I was accepted,” Mr. Patton said.
Knight-Wallace fellows receive a stipend of $55,000 as well as paid tuition and university fees.
“It was the most incredible year one could imagine. You get to step away from the workplace and study for the sake of studying, learn for the sake of learning,” Mr. Patton said.
Do Viewers Care?
Some stations heavily promote their awards. Others ignore them, figuring the audience couldn’t care less. Still others eschew competitions altogether, preferring to expend tight resources in other areas.
“It really means a lot more to us and gives us some incentive to continue to put out a quality product,” said Randy Dixon, news director at Allbritton Communications-owned KATV in Little Rock, Ark., which won two national Edward R. Murrow Awards this year.