Cronkite Award Luncheon 2008

More from this show

ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication honored PBS icons Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil with the annual Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. HORIZON presents highlights from the award ceremonies at the Arizona Biltmore resort.

Ted Simons
>>> Tonight on "Horizon" Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil are honored here in phoenix for the Walter Cronkite award for excellence in journalism. We'll take you there in this special edition of "Horizon."

Ted Simons
>>> Good evening. Thank you for joining us on "Horizon" I'm Ted Simons. Each year, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Arizona State University honors leaders in journalism with the Walter Cronkite award for excellence in journalism. This year, it was the 25th award. It was presented to Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil. MacNeil retired in 1995. Lehrer continues to anchor The News Hour with Jim Lehrer seen here at 8:00 at 6:00 p.m. every evening. They were honored in the Biltmore Resort and Spa. We begin with Michael Crow presenting the award and then we'll hear from the two recipients. [ applause ]

Jim Lehrer
>> Cronkite award is the kind of Holy Grail for people like us who do television journalism to be honored in the name of the best Walter Cronkite is as good as it gets. And I'm grateful to everyone at the Cronkite School and many of my colleagues, past and present at the "News Hour," first and foremost, Robert MacNeil for making it all possible. I also want to thank everybody in the huge family of public television all over the United States for blessing us with the support and independence required to practice our kind of journalism. I don't have to tell any of you that we are in the middle of a revolution and the world, the work and the mission of journalism and I don't have to tell any of you that revolutions are sometimes difficult for those who are directly involved in them, the noises you hear from newsrooms and often on board rooms nearby are sometimes screams of panic, newspaper circulations are down, profits are down, so are the ratings of the nightly news programs. Sound the alarms! Cable news and the internet bloggers and the satellite and other radio talk shouters and the late night comedians are teaming up with Yahoo! and Googles and iPods and mp3 players and all kinds of other strange things to put us out of business. Well, as I have told more than one gathering of my fellow and sister journalists lately, I believe you may want to write this down -- I believe we have mostly fear itself to fear. I think we need to look at a few basic and critical issues. And basics about what this is all about. The bloggers are mostly reactors, commentators, not reporters. The talk show hosts are provocateurs, commentators, not reporters. The comedians are entertainers, commentators, not reporters. The search engines search but they don't report. And iPods and mp3's are mere machines as are cable television and satellite radio. All of them, every single one of them have top of the news -- have to have the news to exist and to thrive. Or to put it another way -- [applause] -- in the beginning, there must always be "the news!" David Letterman tells a joke just to make up something. Like say about Sarah Palin and her clothes. Or Joe Biden and his gas. No one's going to laugh if they don't already know about Palin and Biden. Jon Stewart reports a made-up news story. No one is going to get it unless they know the real news story that went before it. A blogger or a radio talker comes unglued about a lobbying scandal or a wild man from Iran or someone named Abramoff or Michael Brown or Donald Rumsfeld or Hillary Clinton or Valerie Plame or Ahmadinejad. They and their buried readers or listeners have to know what these people are or what the fuss is all about or it simply is not going to work. And whatever route it may take to the blogger, the screamer, the comedian, the cable TV opinionator, the search engine, whatever, it has to start with one of us, one of us real news people, one of us boring reporters. One of us journalists who was there who read the original document, who did the original interview, who got the original leak, who did the whatever it took to make it news in the first place and to bring it to the attention of all others in the information and reaction food chain. And thus -- and this is a very big "thus," I will admit -- we, the boring ones of journalism, must keep our eyes on the ball! We must not stray from some of the basics that make us unique, from all of those others. By going with stories before they're ready, by spicing them up a bit with a little over-the-line commentary, by raising the volume and worst of all, making entertaining people one of our purposes, I tell people all the time, you want to be entertained, go to the circus, for god's sake. Don't watch the "news hour". I never want anyone to confuse the news with entertainment or me with the clowns. Besides -- [ applause ] -- by sticking to our journalistic guns, we, in fact, have the nonclown, nonshout, pro-straight-reporting field of journalism all to ourselves. If we will just to coin another phrase, "stay the course." for the record, my colleagues and I at the news hour have a course to stay with. Awhile ago I was asked by some folks who do a seminar on journalism at the aspen institute if I had -- I wasn't the only one that was asked -- if I had any personal guidelines that I use in my own practice of journalism and if I did what I share -- would I share them with them? Here in part is what I sent them. My guidelines. Do nothing I cannot defend. Cover right and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me. Assume there's at least one other side or version to every story. Assume the viewer is as smart and as caring and as good a person as I am. Assume the same about all people on whom I report. Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise. Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label everything. Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously. And finally, I am not in the entertainment business. [ applause ] staying our course, the course in journalism doesn't mean we should not adjust to the new information environment. There are technological and cultural developments that really are in fact revolutionalizing the way our solid news is distributed. Most newspapers while sticking with their core mission to report the news are already, some in desperation, others in quiet acknowledgement of reality trying very bold things with enter the net and other technologies to amortize their news collecting costs and to spread their reach beyond the traditional ink-on-paper newspaper delivered to the front door or to a newsstand. You all are doing all of that kind of work right here at the Cronkite School. Television networks and news programs including our own are making segments on demand for iPods and all other kinds of pods also for instance. Partnerships between and among various media delivery modes are proliferating and more and more are to come because they must come. That is the way it must be. My point is simply this. That in the rush to modernize, to innovate and frankly to survive in the new environments that we do not lose sight of our purpose. That whatever the delivery system, the information platform as they call them now, whatever they're called, we, the journalists, are there to cover and report the news in a straight and professional way whether the news consumer is an old fogy reading the newspaper in front of the fire place or a 14-year-old getting the latest on a pink iPod with their name engraved on the case. The story, the first story, the straight news story, the investigative story from which all commentaries screams and jokes flow should be professionally and politically straight, because they originated in the eyes, ears, judgments and presentations of people who simply report the news for a living, if not a calling. I would only ask that you consider what you and most other Americans know about your world today. What's happening on the ground and about the ground Iraq and in Afghanistan? In the financial and economic crisis? At the White House? On and off the floor of the House and Senate in Washington and in the state capitals throughout the country and city halls, county courthouses and school board meetings -- also, political rallies, presidential races at the supreme court, the federal reserve, the departments of justice, defense and veterans affairs -- also, about electronic surveillance, civil and privacy rights, weapons of mass and small destruction, beliefs and faiths, mainstream and offbeat, global warming and carbon emissions, think literally about most everything out there in the world that matters, up close or very far away. Most straight knowledge of it all comes first and foremost from the people who simply report the news. And it's not all just about our reporting. There's also evidence that the role of the news gatekeeper is not only going away, it's coming back, big time. There's an increasing amount of news noise and noise about the news out there in the blogosphere, satellite, iPod and other spears. People are busy. They want an unagenda assistance in sorting through all to help determine what is important and what is not so important before they go off to the editorial page or the commentators to be shouted at or entertained about it. This is what we journalist haves always done. There's no question that the looks of the gatekeepers must change. Like that or not, for instance, there'll always be a need for animals or television anchors who announce the end of the television story. They won't be old, white men anymore. The major problem we main gatekeepers have now is the loss of the substantial capability to do our work effectively. Our arrogance among other things have gotten in the way. That's fixable. All of it is fixable. I happen to believe there's nothing wrong with the basic practice of journalism in America today that a little humility a lot of professionalism and a whole lot of transparency could not cure along with the realization or in most cases, the re-realization that journalism is still and always will be about "the story." Thomas Jefferson said our democratic society is contingent, is dependent on an informed electorate that means being dependent on us, the journalists, to report the information from which opinions and informed votes flow. It also may mean leaving huge profits to the search engines as well as the shouting and the shouters and the entertaining as well as shouting to the shouters and the entertaining to the clowns. Again, I'm honored to be honored in the name of Walter Cronkite. I want to thank all of you who are involved in this and in the school, the Cronkite School, and all of you for being here today. President Crow pointed out there was a time early in my life where I called the buses and the bus depot in Victoria, Texas, and I want to prove to you the power of education, that if you learn something early, if you learn it well, and it's totally irrelevant, you'll never forget it. [ laughter ] may I have your attention, please? This is your last call for Continental Trailways Throughliner to San Antonio now leaving from Anwan for Nursery Thomas, west off smiling Nixon, Pan Pandora, Southerly Springs, cross roads and San Antonio, connecting in San Antonio to Del Rio, Van Horn, El Paso, Las Cruces and Phoenix, all aboard. Don't forget your baggage, please. [ applause ]

Robert MacNeil
>> Thank you very much Aaron Brown for that very generous tribute. Lehrer refers to me now as the former Robert MacNeil and I tell him that occasionally I'm stopped on the streets in New York by someone who says, "how do you like retirement, Mr. Lehrer?" [ laughter ] When we began that little half hour program in 1975, we had -- it was run in the half hour immediately after the time slot for the network news programs in those days and so we had the temerity to take out tiny ads that said, "watch Walter Cronkite and then watch us." We now feel really honored to have our names legitimately connected with that of Walter. You could have chosen all those years ago no more illustrious name than Walter Cronkite to grace your school and I think the way the school has developed, tremendously impressive way the school has developed, um, is -- continues to fit the career and the achievements of Walter Cronkite. What distresses me is that in our own profession, some journalists are twisting the language to serve public relations purposes. For instance, um, the term "fairness" "balance" -- "balance and fairness" it is, um, journalists are trained to detect these things but "fairness and balance." I think Jim Lehrer's program is "fair and balanced." I think the cable news network that made it its slogan isn't fair and balanced by any objective. I'm talking about fox. I've said this to interviewers on the fox network. They have every right to do it, but I've said, "you call yourself fair and balanced but quite clearly, you have an agenda, a political agenda and the political agenda was to convince a lot of people that the other cable news networks, principally CNN whom they were competing with, was not fair and balanced. So by calling them fair and balanced, they can create the impression they were writing some balance." similarly, the expression, "in-depth" "the news hour" is an in-depth program it spends quite a lot of time on each story, as much time as it thinks that story is worth. Sometimes the whole hour. Sometimes 20 minutes. Sometimes five minutes. But when you hear at the end -- my old colleagues at NBC where I had a glorious seven years and I'm deeply grateful to the network and its traditions, but when you hear them say towards the end, "and now the story in-depth" and I would pull out my stop watch and time it and the in-depth story lasted 1:56 minutes, that news story isn't "in-depth!" similarly, very casually tossed around, "investigative reporting!" investigative reporting, everyone in the business knows and all of you students are learning that investigative reporting is an expensive, time-consuming business. You have to really investigate something. You have to spend a lot of time, put a lot of manpower on it with a lot of leg work and today, increasingly, a lot of very sophisticated brain power to unravel the complications in modern life, political, economic, whatever they are. But when you're in sweeps week, you say, "channel whatever it is news is going to do an investigation into prostitution," and it consists of five days a week taking murky pictures in the dark of ladies of the night skulking against buildings. That's not investigative reporting. We do face an extraordinary time of reduced credibility in many, many institutions on this country. Most recently, wall street, banks, mortgage lending companies, all of these things, but we have to share the same faith, we journalists, because our own professions, reasons that are sometimes hard for us to understand have greatly reduced credibility according to the polls these days. And we have -- part of it, I think -- is that we have allowed ourselves as journalists to be lumped in the expression "the media." which, of course is a per version of language that most of us long ago have stopped complaining about because it's hopeless and pointless. Media, of course, is plural. Each of us works in a medium. Media is so accepted now that what's his name, Marshall McClune would have to retitle his famous phrase "the media is the message," because now it is, "the media is ..." and it's a little absurd on the face of it. We're the victims of this verbal confusion. I mean, the media comprises "Entertainment Tonight," "Access Hollywood," "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer," "The National Review," "The Nation," "The Wall Street Journal", "The Times," movies -- and I'm leaving out lots of things. The "Tonight Show", Jon Stewart -- that is all the media. And I think we would be well advised if we want respect for what we call "journalism" for old-fashioned reporting to grow again in the minds of the public, if we could somehow rededicate ourselves to the values which differentiate us, exact ones that Jim Lehrer was talking about, which differentiate us from the media. Whatever new marvels occur in means of delivery -- I address this to the students that are here -- and they are marvels! They are absolutely extraordinary. At my age, I'm capable of understanding only a few of them, but remember, whatever the means of delivery, the facts that you're going to deliver, the story, the quality of the information remains the same. The fact that it is delivered on an iPod or an mp3 or a blackberry or whatever it is does not excuse you who are transmitting, the originator of the facts from following the values that you would follow if you were writing a story for the A.P. or for the "Arizona Republic" or for public television or whatever. I am having trouble reading my own scribbling here. I -- um -- great journalism -- that's what I wanted to say -- remember, there was great journalism practiced long before any of these new gadgets, before the internet, before satellites, before digitalization occurred, great journalism was practiced. And the man in whose name we come to this lunch today practiced most of it in his career before any of these modern developments. If you are to Jim Lehrer's values be true, thou canst not then be false to any man. Thank you. [ applause ]

special Eight programming

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

Three main characters from mystery shows premiering this summer

It’s the Summer of Mystery!

Graphic with the words
airs July 19

Psyche mission

James Percival Everett Joins the PBS Books Readers Club
July 31

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: