Coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath was the focal point Monday night at the Radio-Television News Directors Association's (RTNDA) annual Awards Dinner, where the association honored the winners of this year's Edward R. Murrow award for journalistic excellence and the RTNDA/UNITY awards for celebrating diversity in the newsroom.
The 80 Murrow awards given to 55 news organizations and RTNDA/UNITY awards given to five news organizations are emblematic of "the best of what we do," proclaimed RTNDA Chairwoman Angie Kucharski. Award presenters included Soledad O'Brien of CNN's American Morning, Campbell Brown of NBC's Today, Kate Snow of ABC's Good Morning America weekend edition, Russ Mitchell of the CBS Evening News weekend edition and RTNDA President Barbara Cochran.
Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana was among the guests as New Orleans stations WWL(TV) and WWL(AM), along with WLOX(TV) Biloxi, Miss., received Murrow awards for their continuing coverage of Katrina.
WWL News Director Chris Slaughter recalled how station staffers came with a three-day supply of clothes, typical when preparing to cover a hurricane. "Three days later, for many of us, those clothes were all that we had left," said Slaughter, who, like several other Gufl region broadcasters, thanked the many volunteers who came to New Orleans to aid in the reconstruction effort.
"These were devastating events that still weigh on my mind," said Slaughter, who asked all news organizations to commit to "continuing to report on a city that is trying to rebuild."
Other winners in the Continuing Coverage category who were honored for their Katrina work included ABC News Radio, CBS Radio News and NBC Nightly News; that award was accepted by NBC anchor Brian Williams in a rousing speech.
Williams noted that the clips of Katrina coverage from various stations "made us angry all over again" and thanked the support of the countless NBC staffers who made the network's round-the-clock coverage possible. On a somewhat lighter note, Williams also recalled working at MSNBC with Adam Sharp, now Landrieu's communications director, during the network's coverage of the TWA Flight 800 crash in 1996. Since MSNBC had "limited graphics" at the time, said Williams, he was forced to point to a Rand-McNally road atlas to show viewers just where off the coast of Long Island the plane had crashed--a map that belonged to Sharp's girlfriend and which came from the trunk of his car.
Until Sharp went to work for Landrieu, quipped Williams, "that was the best moment of his life."
NBC News also won the award for Overall Excellence in network television news, which was accepted by NBC News President Steve Capus. In his speech, Capus said that viewers deserve excellence in news coverage, considering pressing issues like Iraq, the reconstruction in the Gulf States, terrorism, education and healthcare, and that news organizations need a federal shield law, which would protect journalists from being forced to reveal their anonymous sources.
"It's time for great reporting and a clearer line between fact and opinion...and it's time for a federal shield law, as RTNDA has made clear from Washington, D.C.," said Capus.
Capus added that he was proud of his profession.
"It is a public service, and indeed, it's an honoroble calling."
Other Overall Excellence awards went to television stations KING Seattle and KATV Little Rock, Ark.; radio network ABC News Radio; and local radio stations KCBS(AM) San Francisco and WATD(FM) Marshfield, Mass. RTNDA/UNITY Awards for promoting diversity in both news content and editorial staff went to WERN(FM) Wisconsin Public Radio; KNAU(FM) Flagstaff, Ariz.; ABC News Prime Time; WOOD(TV) Grand Rapids, Mich; and KTUU(TV) Anchorage, Ak.
Check out a complete list of winners here.