Awards Dinner Highlights Journalism’s Best


Newsboyweb.jpgLast night’s 23rd annual National Press Foundation dinner was a little different from the normal press dinners that blend together each spring into a giant blur of black tie, bad fish, and cheap white and red wine. There was no humor, none intended that is. There was no self-deprecating politician or flown-in comedian to entertain the crowd–instead the journalism awards that seem almost an afterthought at other black tie press dinners were front and center last night.

As most of the guests waited upstairs in the pre-reception, VIPs gathered in the Washington Hilton’s Georgetown room where CNN’s David Bohrman watched as honoree-to-be Ed Henry and CBS’ Joie Chen played with Henry’s son, Patrick, the irascible Ben Bradlee chatted with Bill Bennett, and Jack Germond held court in the back corner between the two bars.

Our take on the dinner and the awards after the jump. Others’ coverage here and here.

At the thousand-person dinner in the main ballroom, after the National Anthem and the appetizer of a piedmont slaad and warm gorgonzola tart, National Geographic Magazine started the evening with the award for excellence in online journalism award. After the rest of the meal of decidely so-so mizo glazed tilapia and a decadent raspberry chocolate marquis, Jimmy Magulies of the Bergen County Record won the Berryman Award for editorial cartooning and treated the crowd to a round-up of some of his best work, broadcast on the big screen.

Ed Henry–who missed the last press dinner two weeks ago because he was stuck in his tuxedo reporting on the nerve gas scare on Capitol Hill–nearly broke up during his thank you for the Dirksen Award for Distinguished Reporting in Congress. He said how his son wanted to be on CNN now (thanks to the Situation Room’s large and plentiful TV screens), and he thanked his mentor, Jack Anderson, who passed away earlier this year. He called himself the “luckiest man on the face of the earth,” and echoing a theme the crowd would hear from many speakers, challenged that the First Amendment was “under assault,” saying, “The government doesn’t own the news, the American people own the news.”

Susan Milligan of the Boston Globe shared the Dirksen Award, and gave an eloquent address on the freedom of the press, and called Congress her “little kindergarten class of 535.”

The center of the evening, though, was the tribute to the Gulf Coast journalists, represented last night by Jim Amoss of New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dave Cohen of WWL-AM radio, Stan Tiner of the Sun-Herald, Steve Cox of Mississippi Press, and Beaumont Enterprise editor Tim Kelly.

A moving video montage of the Times-Picayune’s task and coverage set to Bruce Springsteen‘s “City of Ruin” brought the crowd to their feet, and the Press Foundation announced a $50,000 grant to the Friends of the Times-Picayune Fund courtesy of the Annenberg School.

Amoss–who was honored by the Foundation in 1996 as editor of the year only, in the words of dinner chair George Condon of Copley, to find that his best work was still ahead of him–explained how his staff had pulled through the ordeal of Katrina and Rita and how people had “grabbed for the papers like food.”

Tiner picked up the theme saying anyone who believed the age of newspapers was passing should spend some time on the Gulf Coast, where the papers had served as a vital lifeline to residents in crisis. He said that as his staff distributed papers people would leave lines for water and ice to receive the news. He implored the crowd in closing, “Don’t forget us.”

Jack Germond received the Kiplinger Distinguished Contributions ot Journalism Award, and called it “icing on a cake that didn’t really need any further sweetening.”

Ben Bradlee stood up briefly after the Foundation explained that its traditional editor of the year award would now be named for the Post legend, and deadpanned, “All things being equal, this is an award I’d rather get than give.” The award went to Toledo Blade editor Ron Royhab, for the paper’s impressive investigative work including on Tiger Force and Coingate, and Royhab explained, “Good newspapers can do investigative features that change the way the government functions.” He too called on journalists to be watchful of the administration and its “staggering arrogance.”

CBS News “legend” Charles Osgood closed out the evening, graciously and warmly as would be expected, receiving the Sol Taishoff Award for Broadcasting Excellence. He regaled the crowd with stories from his early days–including his start at Washington’s WGMS and the hit song he wrote for Everett Dirksen many moons ago. He was greeted at the podium by a standing ovation–first on her feet was ABC radio legend Ann Compton and her husband Dr. Bill Hughes. “I can tell you when I take this award home, I will not think of a single thing I have done; I will think of what you all have done and what a noble, noble profession this is,” Osgood told the crowd.