Ted Koppel: pre-eminent journalist, master of the art of the interview, toupee wearer. Yep, in case you didn’t know it, all doubts were, er, removed Monday night at the Radio Television News Directors’ gala in Las Vegas, where Koppel accepted the Paul White Award, the association’s highest award for distinguished achievement in the field of TV journalism.
In accepting the award, Koppel lamented news' chase for demos and warned that electronic journalism is forsaking context for speed.
Koppel was introduced at the gala with a taped message from Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, who, while praising Koppel also skewered him repeatedly about his bad hair. He referred several times to that "coon skin cap" atop the star journalist’s head and then broke into hysterical laughter at the thought that it could actually be human hair.
Anyway, good sport that he is, after Stewart was done with him, Koppel kicked off his acceptance speech with a "what the hell," and then adjusted the rug forward, out of place and then back into place for all the world to see, or at least the 800 or so newsies that were in attendance at the gala.
Koppel noted that Stewart’s new contract with the cable network to keep doing his faux news show "makes it unlikely that he’ll be replacing Nightline anytime soon." Two years ago Disney tried to lure David Letterman to ABC and Koppel’s time period at 11:30 p.m.
Turning serious, Koppel worried about the fact that young people today tend to get their news from entertainers like Stewart and Howard Stern, Don Imus and Jay Leno, but the industry only has itself to blame, he said.
In pursuit of profits, many news organizations forget the real mission, which is not just reporting the news but putting it into the most accurate context possible. "We have global coverage at the speed of light, twenty-four, seven," he said. Progress? "Would that it were." Unfortunately, the journalism side of the business has not matched the technological advances. Journalism, he said, is about "separating the wheat from the chaff; editing and context. Satellite technology is a remarkable tool but not a mandate."
TV news today bombards viewers with so much stuff that it has created "confusion between what just happened and what is important." At the same time, as news has pursued profits, the 18-49 demographic became the "holy grail," he said. News became tailored to the interests and tastes of the demo instead of telling people what was really important. "When we started taking news more lightly, they [viewers] started taking us more lightly."