It was an inspiring evening Monday night where a sold-out crowd packed the historic Gotham Hall, the energy and enthusiasm of more than five hundred journalists soaring with the hall’s stunning arched ceiling as the nation’s top journalists celebrated the work of their colleagues around the country at the 2018 RTDNA Edward R. Murrow Awards Gala.
The evening began on a somber note with a moment of silence for Washington Post correspondent Jamal Khashoggi, murdered October 2 at the Saudi consulate in Turkey, his final column published posthumously a call for free expression in the Arab world. It was a somber reminder that journalism today is “under near-constant attack – rhetorically, to be sure, but, sadly, in too many cases, also physically,” as RTDNA Executive Director Dan Shelley noted, a reminder that would be echoed throughout the night.
“You did your job and our democracy is better thanks to your responsible reporting.” – RTDNA Chair Jerry Walsh
The physical threats journalists face can come from nature, too, as the KHOU newsroom can attest after earning one of ten national Murrow Awards for TEGNA. It was a moving moment as Executive News Director Sally Ramirez accepted the award for breaking news coverage of Hurricane Harvey, during which the station building was flooded and yet the news team persisted in providing life-saving information and even rescuing a stranded trucker live on air. And, as RTDNA Chair Jerry Walsh reminded the crowd in his welcome, this isn’t a unique event, as journalists in the southeast continue to report in the aftermath of hurricanes Florence and Michael even as they and their newsrooms face losses themselves.
From extraordinary challenges to the everyday, the moment that arguably stole the show may be a first in the 47 years of the Murrow Awards as newborn Safia took the stage with her mom Shadi Rahimi, part of the AJ+ team accepting the award for Excellence in Social Media. It was a bright reminder to look toward the future even as we remember the legacy of Edward R. Murrow. As the evening showed with wins from young reporter Noel Anaya for YR Media (formerly Youth Radio), the student-run KOMU-TV, and five Student Murrow Award pieces, the next generation of journalists is making a powerful argument for a bright future for journalism.
Repeating last year’s wins for both network radio and network television, CBS News Radio General Manager Craig Swagler and CBS News Executive Vice President Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews both spoke to the strength of legacy, which weighs large at the network of Murrow himself. It’s up to today’s journalists to work every day to uphold the legacy of colleagues we’ve lost, like CBS News Radio’s Dave Barrett and, most recently, Jamal Kashoggi.
“CBS News journalists are reporting from across the country and globally, some in hostile environments, where the danger is overt, others in places where journalists are simply not welcomed,” Ciprian-Matthews, citing current work investigating the death of fellow journalist Jamal Kashoggi. “We have to be purposeful in reporting the stories taking place in regions where there is no such right to a free press,” she said bringing the evening back to its somber start and leaving the nation’s top journalists with a reminder not to take our First Amendment freedoms for granted.
“So in this moment, where we all feel as though we’re under scrutiny, or our jobs are being questioned, please know that I go home and I watch all of your work, and I enjoy it, and I think [it’s] more important than ever that we have each other’s backs. So this award is really for all of us.” – ABC World News Tonight Anchor and Managing Editor David Muir