ABC News President David Westin received the First Amendment Leadership Award by the RTDNA (Radio TV Digital News Association) Thursday evening in Washington at the Ritz.
He spoke candidly of the importance of the First Amendment and of the trying times news organizations like ABC finds itself in today.
“In recent years we’ve seen pillars of our journalistic community go into bankruptcy,” Westin said. “We’ve seen our best institutions undergo cuts. And sometimes, wave after wave of cuts. People are asking whether some news organizations can survive at all. It’s against that backdrop that last week I announced a fundamental transformation of ABC News.”
He gave a serious shout out to D.C.-based correspondents.
“The First Amendment also asks that we employ beat reporters who develop their expertise and their sources over the years so that they can sort through the chaff and find and explain the kernel of wheat that no one else will find.
“Examples of these at ABC News right here in Washington are reporters like Martha Raddatz on foreign affairs and Jake Tapper on politics and the White House and Pierre Thomas on justice and Jonathon Karl on Capitol Hill and Lisa Stark on aviation and regulation and Terry Moran on the Supreme Court.”
Apart from Westin, award winners included: NBC’s Brian Williams, RTDNA President Emeritus Barbara Cochran, National Assoc. of Broadcasters Education Foundation President Marcellus Alexander, and Harvey Nagler, V.P. of CBS Radio News.
Too see all of the speeches from the dinner visit the RTDNA website here.
Read Westin’s full remarks after the jump…
An excerpt of Westin’s remarks:
“As we gather tonight, I can see no greater challenge to the First Amendment than the risks our news organizations – even some of our largest and most prestigious – face in maintaining the wherewithal to employ the reporters and spend the money required to cover the important stories of our day. These risks are greater than at any time in recent memory, perhaps greater than at any time since 1791, when the First Amendment came into being.
In recent years we’ve seen pillars of our journalistic community go into bankruptcy. WeÂ’ve seen our best institutions undergo cuts. And sometimes, wave after wave of cuts. People are asking whether some news organizations can survive at all. It’s against that backdrop that last week I announced a fundamental transformation of ABC News.
We spent several months taking a hard look at what weÂ’ve been doing and how weÂ’ve been doing it. And, yes, a fair amount of that review focused on our costs and how we could bring those costs into line with the revenues weÂ’re likely to earn over the next several years.
But if we leave it at that, if we make this just about the business, the revenues and the costs and the profits, we’ve missed the point. What this is really about is journalism. What is at the core of what we set out to do each day? What do we need to do to make sure we can continue to do it?
And that takes us back to where I began. We have the First Amendment to ensure that the people can be informed about their government and their world.
We must make changes, but we must choose those changes carefully to ensure that we will always be able to bring our audiences the truth about the things that matter to them.
We have to be in a position to do more than just reading the wires or showing the pictures everyone has or having someone live on the scene standing next to a dozen other TV reporters saying the same thing. We have to go beyond the talking heads and polemicists opining on the public condition.
To do the job that the First Amendment asks of us, we have to do enterprise journalism. We need investigative teams working over time to uncover what those in power – whether in government or in industry – would prefer the people never know.
The work of our investigative team led by Brian Ross on stories like the secret prisons in Eastern Europe is a good example of this.
The First Amendment also asks that we employ beat reporters who develop their expertise and their sources over the years so that they can sort through the chaff and find and explain the kernel of wheat that no one else will find.
Examples of these at ABC News right here in Washington are reporters like Martha Raddatz on foreign affairs and Jake Tapper on politics and the White House and Pierre Thomas on justice and Jonathon Karl on Capitol Hill and Lisa Stark on aviation and regulation and Terry Moran on the Supreme Court.
And the First Amendment asks that we produce long-form documentaries on important but under-reported subjects Â– a tradition at ABC News developed by Peter Jennings and carried on today by Diane Sawyer in reports such as her hour on poverty in Appalachia.
Now, IÂ’ve given examples of what weÂ’re doing at ABC News. ThatÂ’s because itÂ’s what I know best. I know that there is also great journalism being done daily at all our competitors Â– broadcast, cable, print, and on-line.
The point is that at this moment – despite all the difficulties and all the setbacks Â– we still have in this country an amazing array of powerful news organizations hard at work on behalf of the people we serve. All of us do our best to help the people make the informed, intelligent decisions on which all of our futures depend — and the futures of our children and our grandchildren.
We journalists, together, have a rare opportunity. An opportunity not given to many generations.
The opportunity to hold firm to the basic principles of the First Amendment even as we respond to harsh economic realities.
The opportunity to make sure that we continue to have powerful news organizations working hard on behalf of the American people.
And if we make the right choices, the opportunity to transform journalism. Transform journalism so that future generations can do what our founding fathers expected of us when they gave us the gift of the First Amendment some 220 years ago.
As I stand here tonight before you, I do not feel I fully deserve the award you’ve given me. I will do everything in my power to earn it, but in the meantime, I accept your award on behalf of all the journalists at ABC News with whom I have the privilege of serving.
Thank you very much.”