RTDNF Honors Twitter, Siegel, Crowley, Dechard with First Amendment Awards

By Enid Calo, Broadcast Journalism, Emerson College

The Radio Television Digital News Foundation (RTDNF) awarded four honorees for their journalistic work on behalf of the First Amendment. This year marked the 23rd Annual First Amendment Awards Dinner, a black-tie event, which took place on Thursday, March 14 in Washington, D.C. at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

This year’s honorees included: Twitter, which received the RTDNF First Amendment Award; Candy Crowley, Chief Political Correspondent for CNN, who received the Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award; Lloyd Siegel, Vice President of NBC News Partnerships, who received the First Amendment Service Award; and Robert Dechard, President and CEO of A.H. Belo Corporation, who received the First Amendment Leadership Award. Here is what the honorees had to say about receiving their awards, along with the award presenters and RTDNF leaders.

The reception began with jazz and Caribbean inspired music by the group Steve Scott Project. Guests were then escorted into the dining room where the awards dinner kicked off with the national anthem and a Marine Corps color guard.

RTDNA/F executive director, Mike Cavender, welcomed guests and introduced the night’s award recipients and presenters.

RTDNF Chairman Kevin Benz gave his introduction before dinner was served. He surprised the crowd with a pop quiz asking, “How many freedoms are named in the first amendment?” It was no surprise that the majority of the crowd (which consisted of mostly journalists) answered correctly and said five.
After dinner, CBS News’ Bill Plante introduced the presenters and honorees.

The First Amendment Award went to Twitter, Inc. Gabriel Stricker, Twitter's Vice President of Communications, accepted the award, showing a video of Twitter's growing influence and comments from Chinese avctivist Ai Weiwei, who praised the micro-blogging serivice for giving people a voice.  To journalists and activists, he said, “We hear you… we stand with all of you and we will continue to fight for your voices to be heard.”

Not surprisingly, Stricker and other members of the audience tweeted about the event as it happened.

NBC News Senior Vice President Alex Wallace presented the First Amendment Service Award to Lloyd Siegel. The presentation was accompanied with a video outlining Siegel’s news career and reminders of his hard work on behalf of local television newsrooms across the country.  The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

The night’s third honoree was CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent, Candy Crowley.  PBS News Hour’s Senior Correspondent Gwen Ifil presented the Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award to her colleague, in an introduction filled with personal observations and humor. Ifil quipped that Crowley “likes to fact-check debaters in real time.” Another standing ovation welcomed Candy Crowley on stage and she referred to the award as “the perfect thing at the perfect time.”

The First Amendment Leadership Award was the final award of the night. It went to Robert Decherd, Chairman, President and CEO of A.H Belo Corporation. Presenter Michael Valentine, Belo's Vice President of Content, said that Decherd has helped shape journalism in Texas. Decherd was honored by the third standing ovation of the night and he said that he was “optimistic about the future of journalism.”

Emcee Bill Plante ended the night congratulating the winners and telling guests that he hopes to see them again next year.