Paul White: The man, the award and a wallet

December 14, 2017 01:30

By Bob Priddy, RTDNA Past Chairman

When RTDNA gave its highest honor, the Paul White Award, to Chris Wallace at 2013’s convention, White’s grandchildren, who had not known the organization had been memorializing their grandfather for more than fifty years, were thrilled to be in attendance.

Not far away, a fierce behind-the-scenes competition was underway on the exhibition floor for an important part of Paul White’s life—his RTNDA membership card and the wallet it was in. Only a few people knew about that.

The wallet given to White by CBS colleague Arthur Godfrey, later remembered for his daytime entertainment show on CBS Radio and for his “Talent Scouts” television program that was as big in the early days of TV as the various singing and dancing talent shows today.  Godfrey and White were pioneers in transforming radio talk and news in the 1930s and ‘40s.  Godfrey is a forgotten figure in many tellings of the transformation of broadcasting from its stiff and formal beginnings to the broadcasting that talked to listeners rather than lectured to them.  And except for RTDNA’s award, Paul White is a name unfamiliar to 21st Century broadcast and digital journalists, many of whom are unfortunately ignorant of the work and the sacrifices that have created the industry in which they work.

Let us therefore spend some words telling you why Paul White is so important that two separate groups of RTDNA members were determined to return his old wallet to RTNDA when it showed up on the SPJ First Amendment Auction table with its contents removed from its pockets and displayed: driver’s license, press cards, membership cards---the kind of stuff we all carry in our wallets today although the only credit card was a paper card for a department store called Whitney’s. It was White’s wallet when he died in 1955.  One of the cards showed he was a member of the Radio-Television News Directors Association.
This was the second time the wallet had been auctioned.  Paul’s widow, Peg, had donated it to then-RTNDA several years ago when the organization was holding its own auctions.  The wallet drew top dollar that day.  Three RTDNA members spotted it on the table in Anaheim and agreed to bid whatever it took to keep the wallet in our organization’s possession, splitting the cost of the eventual winning bid.  Our bid was soon topped.  Word was passed on to RTDNA Executive Director Mike Cavender who submitted a new high bid, noting it was “for RTDNA.”  A higher bid from a member of SPJ soon appeared.  Top RTDNA officers quickly agreed the organization would not be outbid and  huddled with that bidder and with SPJ officers to emphasize the importance of the wallet to us, clearing the way for Paul White’s wallet to return to RTDNA. In return, our officers contributed $600 to the SPJ First Amendment Auction.
The reason Paul White is so significant to our industry and to RTDNA goes back to the days when newspapers and the wire services declared war on radio networks. Newspapers began to fear broadcasting almost from the beginning of what is now commercial and public radio.  KDKA’s broadcasting of the Harding-Cox election returns in November, 1920 put a scare into newspapers because they realized people could get information instantly, as that term was recognized in those times.  Fifteen months later, the Associated Press asked its newspaper clients to prohibit radio stations from using stories from the newspapers, the AP arguing that the stories were its property because the newspapers were part of its cooperative.  The effort got limited traction because newspapers and radio stations could still get news from International News Service and United Press.  But when radio began broadcasting commercials, newspapers immediately perceived a threat to their advertising and began to tighten access to stories and promotion of commercially-sponsored programs.
And then Charles Lindbergh’s son was kidnapped.  CBS founder William S. Paley later wrote that many observers believe his network’s coverage of the event started the press-radio war.  CBS got an early tip and immediately started broadcasting coverage.  NBC waited until newspapers came out with the story.  By then CBS had broadcast bulletin after bulletin, alarming newspaper editors whose latest editions became outdated within minutes of coming off the presses.

Newspapers became even more alarmed when radio provided live coverage of the 1932 political conventions. Paley recalled CBS, which had all three wire services, and NBC, spent the entire night reporting the numbers, with CBS putting Franklin D. Roosevelt on the air before the nation’s newspapers put the election returns on the porches of America’s homes.  The Associated Press in early 1933 banned any AP-distributed news “regardless of sources, to be given to any radio chain or chains.”  The other two wire services followed suit.  CBS had tried to make peace but had warned, as Paley put it, “if the newspaper publishers cut off our source of news, within forty-eight hours we would set up a news-gathering agency of our own.”  When the newspapers took those steps anyway, Paley quickly set up the Columbia News Service which he described as “an unprecedented effort in broadcasting.”  The man chosen to set it up was Paul W. White, “a great, hard-working newsman.”  Paley called White’s work “remarkable” as he set up news bureaus in New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles and had bureau managers “line up stringers…in almost every city in the country with a population of more than 20,000 and in some other less populous locations.  NBC did not engage in any news-gathering operation.  We were alone in confronting the publishers and wire services.”
Paley was not entirely correct in asserting that NBC “did not engage in any news-gathering…” or that CBS stood alone against the newspaper publishers and wire services. NBC had hired former newspaper and wire service reporter A. A. (Abe) Schechter as a publicity specialist in 1932. It was Schechter who characterized the press-radio war as “They don’t speak to us and we don’t answer.”   Radio historian John Dunning notes, “In a real sense, the press had…trained its new enemy, and in Schechter and White had armed radio with two formidable soldiers.”  Schechter took a different approach to news gathering and is honored by RTDNA with a graduate study scholarship named for him.  His story might be grist for another article some other time.

Being a “publicity specialist” in those days was not what it is today.  Broadcasting had not yet created the phrase “news department.”  White had been hired as part of the CBS Special Events Department.  He and Ed Klauber became the foundation of what is today CBS News.

Klauber, a former night city editor of the New York Times, became Paley’s right-hand man in creating a news service. The two worked out the basic standards of their new operation--no editorializing during news broadcasts, balance in reporting. “If we gave one side of a controversy, we would give equal time to the other side,” Paley wrote. Commentaries would be separated from the straight news broadcasts. Klauber was the one who brought Paul White to CBS. Ed Bliss, a news-writer for Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite and later a favorite speaker on newswriting at RTNDA conventions, wrote that the “enforcer” of those standards was Paul Welrose White.

White was a native of the southeast Kansas town of Pittsburg, the son of a stonecutter. Bliss records White ran away from home rather than attend a business college and became a reporter for a newspaper in Salina, Kansas, before becoming telegraph editor of the Kansas City Journal. When word got back to his family in Pittsburg what he was doing, the family agreed to abandon thoughts of business school if White enrolled in a journalism school. White spent two years at the University of Kansas before enrolling at the Columbia University School of Journalism where his debate skills earned him a trip to England to debate students at Oxford. He failed to catch on with a New York newspaper but was hired by United Press, where he stayed for six years. He described his time at UP as “screwball years,” during which his deskmates included columnist Westbrook Pegler and humorist H. Allen Smith.  In time he became the UP United Features Syndicate editor.

Joe Persico describes him as a man of “intellectual brilliance…with a street-smart, tough guy façade…built like a bulldog, with a barrel chest, a round head, and as one colleague described him, ‘a pugnacious face and a chip on his shoulder.”  One-time newsman John Daley, who later became a TV game show host, remembered him in Persico’s biography of Edward R. Murrow as the kind of a reporter who would “worm your way into the house of the bereaved widow and while you’re there, you steal a picture of the deceased for the paper.”   Persico referred to White as “a wire service legend…brilliant, talented, ambitious, loud, flamboyant, and, by turns, amusing or obnoxious.”  Klauber’s assistant, Helen Sioussat, recalled “He had seen The Front Page too many times.”
Paul White created the network broadcasting system that remains the template for radio, television, and cable worldwide news gathering today. Onetime CBS correspondent Howard K. Smith said in his autobiography that White “took the medium away from announcers and entrusted it to reporters.  CBS bestrode the narrow world of electronic news like a colossus.”
The voice of CBS newscast in those early days was Robert Trout, who remembered the day in 1935 that he found a new person in a new department, the Talks Department.  White, by now the director of the Department of Public Events and Special Features, did not appear too happy with the new agency, saying he wanted no part of it. “Talks are a bore,” he told Trout. And he quickly spotted the head of the new department as a rival for influence in the CBS hierarchy. The new guy was Edward R. Murrow, who had lied his way onto the CBS payroll by claiming to be five years older than his 27, and who claimed to have majored in international relations and political science as a college student (he had majored in speech and had been on the debate team at Washington State College).  Numerous accounts indicate the relationship between White and Murrow was always uneasy at best although Murrow biographer A. M. Sperber says, “The truth was, they worked well together. Murrow respected White as a newsman; White noted just as quickly that the ‘educator’ had awfully good contacts in Europe and America, knew what he was talking about and was a generally useful fellow to have about the office.”
Murrow was dispatched to London in April, 1937 as the CBS European Director of Talks.  Later that year he convinced the powers-that-be in New York to expand its European operations. His first hire was William S. Shirer, hired although his audition broadcast from Berlin was so terrible that White and others listening in New York had no interest in him.   Stanley Cloud and Lynn Olson, co-authors of The Murrow Boys, report White finally backed away from his opposition when Murrow argued the network needed a reporter of Shirer’s credentials as war in Europe became inevitable.

CBS policy at the time refused to let correspondents Murrow and Shirer on the air, fearing broadcasts from the rapidly-worsening theatre could lead to partisan comments and editorializing, two things the network was sensitive about because of controversial remarks by correspondent Boake Carter.  They were, instead, to line up broadcasts of events.

Shirer was in Vienna lining up one of those broadcasts when the Germans moved in. Nazi troops would not let him broadcast the news back to New York.  By the time he got to London, an NBC correspondent had reported, live, what was happening. Paley was shocked and angered.  He called Klauber who called White who called Shirer in London.  “We want a European roundup tonight,” White told Shirer. In a matter of hours, Shirer and Murrow lined up other journalists in other European capitals and only a few hours after White’s call, Shirer started the first broadcast of World News Roundup, which remains on the air to this day. Within minutes after the groundbreaking broadcast ended, White called Shirer to report the program had been such a huge success, “so much so that we want another one tomorrow night—tonight your time.  Can you do it?”  The exhausted Shirer responded, “No problem.” 

When Paley decided to launch a Latin American extension of CBS, he and White went on a seven-week tour of Central and South America, returning  late in 1940 after signing up sixty-four stations Paley called “the most important stations in just about every country we visited.”  CBS was to provide the stations with news, entertainment, and cultural programs in Spanish and in Portugese.  President Roosevelt, who was concerned about Nazi propaganda influence in the region, paid close attention to the results of the trip.  In May, 1942, the government took over the network to distribute its own reports over those stations. 

Persico recounts White’s first wife had helped start “Bundles for Britain,” a program to round up money, clothing, and food to send to the besieged British. Sue White contacted Janet Murrow, then with Ed in London, to become the director of the program on that side of the Atlantic.  Janet Murrow and Clementine Churchill, the Prime Minister’s wife, soon became close associates.  

White’s concerns about objectivity grew when Cecil Brown returned to New York after he had reported from Singapore.  Brown’s fame went to his head and White grew increasingly concerned about his editorializing to the point that he had the editor of Brown’s nightly news program edit all opinions out of the script.  When Brown’s sponsor announced it was dropping the show because of Brown’s opinions, White threatened Brown with dismissal.  White later resigned, claiming he was being censored.  Cloud and Olson recount the resignation triggered intense criticism of CBS from writers and other network commentators, some of whom complained Brown was doing nothing more than Murrow in Europe and Eric Sevareid in Washington were doing. But White remained rigid.  A 1943 memo reminded network editorial employees they “were not privileged to crusade, to harangue the people, or to attempt to sway public opinion.”

In White’s view, the network was to give listeners information allowing them to make their own decisions, not allowing broadcasters “to make it up for them.”  Longtime CBS correspondent Alexander Kendrick, in his Murrow biography Prime Time, says White felt broadcasting opinion would be “a tragic distortion of radio’s function” for networks or commentators to “attempt to control democratic public opinion.”   White argued that analysts’ roles were “to marshal the facts and present them so as to inform, not persuade, his listeners.  In the case of controversial issues, the audience should be left with no impression as to which side the analyst himself actually favors.” Not even a disagreement from FCC Chairman James L. Fly, who felt opinion was acceptable if it was labeled as opinion, could sway White.  

Although there was no doubt an American invasion of Europe was coming, no one knew when it would be.  But White sent a memo to his European reporters reminding them of the home front impact their reports would have when the invasion came. He wanted them to remember that “mothers, fathers, wives and sweethearts of the men participating in this story” would be hearing their reports. He wanted his reporters to “aim for their confidence and remember that winning the war is a hell of a lot more important than covering the story.” He wrote in the CBS D-Day primer, “Keep an informative, unexcited demeanor at the microphone.  Give sources for all reports. Don’t risk accuracy for the sake of a beat.  Use care in your choice of words. Don’t say, ‘German defenses were pulverized’: say ‘German defenses were hard hit.’ When you don’t know, say so... Exaggeration and immoderate language breed dangerous optimism.” 

The division between White and Murrow had grown during the war.  When Howard K. Smith went to 485 Madison Avenue on his return to the states after V-E Day he discovered that “the CBS office was deeply riven into clear-cut camps: Paul White…versus Edward R. Murrow…the hard-bitten, lifelong newspaperman versus the handsome young man who chanced into the craft and quickly dominated it.”

The White men on the staff formed the “Murrow Ain’t God” club.  The club suffered a mortal blow when Murrow one day walked into a bar where the members were seated like sparrows on a telephone wire, and said he wanted to join.

White told the Institute for Education by Radio at Oklahoma State University in early 1946 that radio newsmen had learned in the few months since the end of the war that peacetime reporting was much more complex than covering a war. "The inherent drama of battle, plus an insatiable demand for news because of the public stake in the victory gave war reporters every advantage," he said.   But the advantage had been lost in a post-war world of "imponderables," such as the "bewildering statesmanship of nations jockeying for favored positions" and nuclear fission.   "Today's news gathering requires a lot more just plain fact-finding," he said.

White told the conference no discussion of the future of radio news could profitably ignore the technical developments "almost certain to come" in the fields of FM, television and facsimile. Of the three, he foresaw television having "tremendous possibilities...if and when it becomes available on a nationwide scale."  Television, he said, will give news a new dimension.  But White was not all-seeing. The place of the facsimile machine in the future news world, White said, was "more doubtful." 

William S. Paley and Murrow had formed a bond in the years both were in London. Paley had gone to England at the request of the director of the European branch of the Office of War Information to set up Allied radio stations in North Africa. When the war was over, Paley had decided Murrow would be his Vice-President for Public Affairs, a shift that Persico recalls “devastated” White.  White had felt he deserved to be given the next step up at the network.  But Paley said he wanted Murrow because he had determined Murrow was the better man. “Paul was a very experienced newsman. I don’t think he was a deep thinker, but he knew how to run people who were responsible for organizing the news…I had great respect for Paul White. But there was something special about Ed,” he said later. White, whose relationship with Murrow had become increasingly unharmonious, faced a reversal of roles, becoming Murrow’s subordinate. He spoke of the change in conciliatory but unconvincing phrases.  And associates noticed that his drinking habit grew worse. Some felt part of the increased alcoholism was an effort to find relief from the constant pain of arthritis.

A drunken White went to Murrow’s hotel in the middle of the night a few days after he had announced Murrow’s promotion to CBS affiliates, ranting and stumbling, an incident that left Murrow writing to his wife that he didn’t know what had happened to White but, “I know now what’s going to happen to him… it’s just a matter of timing.”   Murrow hated that possibility but he knew it was inevitable. 

Later that year, Murrow announced White's resignation from CBS. White, the winner of the 1946 Peabody Award for "outstanding reporting of news," was "retiring" to write a book based on his twenty-five years of news gathering, said CBS. 

Actually, Paul White was fired by Murrow who had returned from the war to become CBS Vice President of News and Public Affairs, a position close to Paley that White hoped would be his someday. Murrow’s appointment as White’s formal successor was more than White could accept after his years of building the system that made CBS a premier news-reporting organization and made Murrow and his "boys" stars.  White had taken to drinking heavily and was fired after a drunken appearance on the premier broadcast of CBS radio's "The World Today" in May. Howard K. Smith says Murrow suffered “lasting pain” because of what he had to do.

The book White wrote was a novel that never saw print. A year later his famous News on the Air was published and became a college textbook used for years.  Murrow, never comfortable in his administrative role, returned to active reporting that same year. White went into local radio at KFMB in San Diego. In time, the two men overcame their professional antagonisms, perhaps helped by White’s tribute to Murrow in News on the Air.
“It seems fantastic to recall such jobs as those turned in by Murrow during the Blitz and after his bomber flight over Berlin… his decision to abandon the microphone for executive work was a distinct loss to spoken radio.”
It was something of an apology to Murrow. White, who had retained the right of refusal over prospective stories filed by wartime corresondents, had opposed the bomber flight Murrow had made, not wanting to risk the loss of his leading correspondent.  He also felt the flight would be a foolhardy venture that would not produce useful news.  Murrow flew anyway, his third flight becoming the famous “Orchestrated Hell” broadcast in December, 1943 that won Murrow’s first Peabody award. Murrow continued to fly after that. White later observed, “There was no way to make him stop short of firing him.”
While both White and Murrow were dealing with the massive changes in their relationship, in their professional careers, and in their medium, others were beginning to coalesce around a mild-mannered much lesser-known news director from Portland, Maine.

A call went out in mid-1946 from John F. Hogan to create an organization of fellow news directors to meet, to exchange ideas about the developing post-war profession of radio news reporting and to form an organization that would promote ethical standards of broadcast news. That September, sixty-eight people met in Cleveland and formed the National Association of Radio News Directors.  The organization’s first newsletter, a seven-page mimeographed product, was published in April 1947, boasting the organization now counted seventy-six members, “which may not sound like so much---and frankly, it isn't."  One of the articles in the first edition of the NARND Bulletin recounted a meeting of the Iowa Association of Radio News Editors, at which former CBS news manager Paul White was asked if radio could do without wire services.  "No," said White.
But he thinks more service could be obtained by constant prodding.  Here are some other observations by White--"sloppy writing being filed on the wires...long and involved leads."  White thinks the old newspaper lead should be junked...and that no lead should be over twenty words in length.  White also posed this question...since most late news is usually in by seven p.m., why not entertain the listener at 10 p.m.?  Well, what do you NARND members think of this.  Do you think late evening news broadcasts are weak?  Do you think they serve no useful purpose?  Let us know.”
The May-June edition of the Bulletin continued the discussion. To White's assertion that much of the wire service writing was "sloppy," Fred Moore Hinshaw of WLBC, Muncie, Indiana, only partly agreed.
“He will find a lot of support for his statement that there's a lot of sloppy writing on the press wires, a lot of sloppy transmission...But the boys do get the facts through, they're writing against a deadline that's pretty rugged sometimes. And they can't be perfect. You do find a lot of good writing on the wires, too.  We have local editors and rewrite men to make up the deficiencies on the press wires.”
Hinshaw also took issue with White's idea of entertaining the audience at 10 p.m. instead of re-hashing previous news.      He acknowledged that “the late evening 5-minute shots are weak because they don't have time to rehash, summarize and include an occasional bulletin, an occasional feature.”  But, he maintained, “any fifteen minute newscast, at any time of day, can be entertaining FOR ITS NEWS VALUE.  Between the newscasts that wind up the supper hour at seven o'clock, and the big late-evening shows at ten and eleven, there's plenty to brighten up a newscast that is devoted to good, solid news coverage.”

Television was rapidly developing after the war and with it came the development of television news departments and program schedules. Although its presence was rapidly felt within the organization, NARND only slowly began to recognize its presence.  By 1952, however, NARND realized it could no longer be the National Association of Radio News Directors.  That was the year the group became the Radio-Television News Directors Association. Dropping the word "National" from the name also cleared the way for increased membership from Canada, Mexico and other countries.
As has happened repeatedly in radio’s history, early adopters of new technology—television in this case—were quick to forecast the doom of radio.  One of those who most emphatically rejected that idea was Paul White, whose 1954 convention keynote speech tore into those who were writing radio's obituary. It was a rallying cry for radio to aggressively improve rather than wait for television to overwhelm it. Although he ripped television for its theatricality and technical inadequacies, he recognized its threat to the more established medium.  White's station, KFMB, by then also had put its own television station on the air and White reported in was flourishing.  But radio was more than holding its own, with news its most important weapon.

He admitted television was able to tell a story "far more vividly, more excitingly, more grippingly, than the voice of any man" at pre-set special events such as conventions.  But he said television had severe limits.  While television could position several cameras at a scene, giving viewers a wide range of shots to watch, the decision of which picture to show was not left to "a man who has been trained for years in watching things happen and in describing them as they happen."  Instead, said White, "the selection is usually left to a director who may know pictures but doesn't know news." White said the answer was to put a newsman in charge of the direction of cameras, and more.
“I mean to let the newsman tear up the rule book when coverage demands it.  Let him "go to black" or "go to grey"--that is, no picture at all--if that's the quickest way to get the news to the public. Let him have his cameramen change lenses on the air if that's the best way.  Who cares if you don't have the best picture if you have the best coverage. But I'm afraid it's going to take a long and tedious process of education of management to bring this about.”
White told the audience there was little value in just watching a man read the news. In fact, he knew by personal experience that two of the biggest names in the business at the time, Ed Murrow and Elmer Davis resented television.  “Both have told me they consider the business of transmitting news a serious one,” he said. “They think their listeners are entitled to the most intelligent reading of a prepared script that they can give it.”  White said both felt television cameras intruded on that reading and had “an unhappy effect upon both delivery and understanding.”

"In general, there's no rush to television dials to watch the man who just sits and gives the straight news," said White.  "Television executives realize this and so they gimmick their news shows," he complained.
“They add newsreels and stills, charts and maps, animated art, clever drawings, other faces and voices.  In short, a 15-minute news show, which used to be dedicated to imparting information, is now dedicated to the great god of Slick Production.
The concept of Slick Production as practiced by the networks presenting the two most highly rated daily news shows on television is a simple one.  Clearly stated, it's not to bore the viewer at the risk of telling him anything important.”

 "Ideally, apparently, the camera should never stay on any one subject for more than 20 seconds at a time," White observed. "Lest ennui set in, the broadcaster should be constantly on the move, even if it's only shifting his eyes from one camera to the other.  He should get up, sit down, scratch his ear or fiddle with a pencil. He should light and smoke a cigarette, answer the telephone or wave a pointer at a diagram like a football coach."
“He should beam, grimace, simper, frown, grin and smile wryly.  The wry smile, especially is an absolute must. His copy doesn't seem to matter very much.  After all, it has to be carefully timed to suit the requirements of the film he's describing and anyone knows that when you have nine feet of film you should use 37 words.  Not 36 or 38, but 37…There have been other tricks in other media that make for sterility in writing, but nothing like this.”

White, who had been putting three newsreels a day on KFMB-TV considered newsreels "one of the best investments in public relations a television station can make."  But, he said, "The only thing missing in most newsreels is news."
“You'd be surprised and a little chagrined at how many beauty parades, surfboard riding exhibitions, new animals in zoos and baby contests are considered hot stuff by newsreel editors. For that matter, maybe they're right.  Sex, games, animals and babies are universal in interest and probably always will be. Except for money, health and food, what else is there?”
White said the problem of newsreels was that they couldn't be "freshed up" to meet new situations, leaving producers to go to the film morgues to find pictures from happier days when movie stars divorced, or to find stock footage of forest fires or train wrecks when new forest fires broke out or trains crashed. But he had to concede the ratings were showing television "makes a satisfactory news showing." 

Although White noted television's shortcomings, particularly in covering breaking news, he anticipated a time when technology would overcome many of them.  "I can foresee some kind of magnetic tape that will record both a picture and sound and can be rushed from the scene of action to a television studio--there to be replayed instantly with no involved processing necessary," he said.

While some of his listeners from radio might have been heartened by White's broad attack on television, White himself would not "promise survival to radio stations when television comes into full maturity. All I have done is to point out that in one bedrock stratum of the public interest, radio has many advantages over television.  Its methods of capitalizing on those advantages are what will matter from here on in." 

He put forth a five point action plan for radio: more local news, more use of people's recorded voices on the air, push for better writing from wire services and networks, editorialize, "and fifthly--this is so general that I don't quite know how to say it--do things!...Make people talk about you." 

"News coverage alone won't save radio if it turns out that radio has to be saved," he said. "But it seems to me it's the most secure fortress radio can choose to serve as the hub of a defense perimeter and from which, on many occasions, it can conduct attacking forays."
“We know that one of the two media definitely isn't going to stand still.  We know that television hasn't yet grouped anywhere near its ultimate forces and that it's going to reach out into any number of new geographical, technological and sociological areas....So it's no time for radio's commanders to sit and dream of past glories.  Instead, they should be getting up off their collective sitz platz and start moving.  They're going to need their best mortars--and news lobs a highly explosive shell.”

He urged radio newsmen to "check your ammunition and prepare to load, fire and give 'em hell!"
By 1954, many more radio news directors were facing the challenge of adding television capabilities to their staffs and their operations. The burdens were especially heavy for new RTNDA President Russ Van Dyke, KRNT-TV (now KCCI-TV), Des Moines, who was elected the organization’s President at the convention that year. The membership gave him some relief as far as the association was concerned by adopting a new constitution establishing three new offices: Chairman of the Board, and separate Vice-Presidents for radio and for television. The Chairman was elected by board members. Immediate past President Jim Byron became RTNDA's first Chairman of the Board.  Van Dyke became the President.  Harold Baker, WSM, Nashville, became the Vice President for radio and Charles Harrison, WFIL-TV, Philadelphia, became the Vice President for television. 
The constitution retained the office of First Vice-President whose chief responsibility was planning the next convention. Paul White, whose exit from CBS to become a local news director had let him become active on the RTNDA Baard of Directors, became the First Vice President. But his service was to be all too brief.

In April, 1955, President Van Dyke announced White was resigning his RTNDA office because of ill health.  White's letter said he was recuperating from acute anemia and degenerative heart failure.  "Convalescence is in no sense painful; it is merely slow," he wrote. Van Dyke had known of White’s situation for some time but said he delayed the announcement, hoping for a "near miracle."  Although White said his resignation was irrevocable, the board refused to accept it. Harrison and Baker, the TV and radio Vice-Presidents, took up the work of convention planning "during Paul's illness."

Paul White died in San Diego July 9, 1955 of emphysema and heart disease.  Many who knew of his towering reputation were surprised to learn he was only 52. He had asked friends to donate money in his memory to the San Diego Zoo instead of sending flowers to his family.  Thirteen months after his death, the Paul White Memorial Exhibit was opened.  It contained six Tasmanian Devils. 

A few days after White's death, Jim Byron wrote to President Van Dyke suggesting RTNDA honor White with "an annual be given to an individual for some specific outstanding service or services in the interest of broadcast news."  Byron wasn't sure what would be appropriate. He thought a scholarship would be worthy, but he was not confident RTNDA could finance it. 

Early in his term, new President Harold Baker appointed Past President Jack Shelley to chair a committee to plan an annual award in White's name.  Other members were Edward R. Murrow, CBS correspondent Robert Trout; NBC news executive Frank McCall; ABC's John Charles Daly, and Howard Chernoff, former manager of KFMB radio and television, San Diego.

The committee decided the award should go to the person who made "the most significant contribution to radio and television journalism during the 12 months preceding the RTNDA convention." Murrow endorsed the idea of a special committee of three or four news directors nominating "not more than three men, and then the membership to ballot." It wasn't the way the process ended up, and in later years it became the duty of a small committee of past Presidents and, later, Chairmen and Chairwomen who would make the nomination, with the board approving it.

A leader in the successful battle to admit cameras and recorders to Colorado courtrooms, Hugh B. Terry, became the first to receive the Waul White Award.  He was the president and general manager of KLZ radio and TV in Denver.  His energetic efforts were the most recent of many actions that caused him to be regarded as one of the most news-conscious station managers in the industry.  At the 1955 Denver convention, he had spoken on the "responsibilities of a news department and management to each other."

There was almost unanimous satisfaction, therefore, when the committee settled on Terry as the first winner of RTNDA's most distinguished recognition, The Paul White Award. Murrow, writing to selection committee chairman Jack Shelley, said he was "altogether delighted" with the selection.
"This, so help me, is the first award I have seen in a long time that reflects real understanding of the essential problems and duties of this medium. There were a hell of a lot of things that White and I disagreed about when we worked together, but we would have been united about this award." 
Terry received that first award at the 1956 convention in Milwaukee. The RTNDA board decided in 1963 the award should be based on lifetime contributions. CBS President Frank Stanton received the second Paul White Award, being recognized for his leading role in seeing that American audiences heard interviews with world figures, including Nikita Khrushchev of Soviet Russia; his management leadership in fostering initiative and imagination in news broadcasts; and his championship of the right of broadcasters to report the news freely, and to editorialize on the air. In his acceptance speech, Stanton praised White as “the pioneer of network news services.”
“In a large measure he set the standards which have shaped our course---not only in radio but in television as well...Paul was, above all, a first rate professional.  He knew his business and respected it and believed in it---heart and soul. He brought to the new, young free press of the air his devotion to the principles of top flight journalism so that we are in a very real sense inheritors of the traditions which were established down the long years by the courage, integrity and sacrifices of the great free press of the printed word. Paul White not only left his mark on us, but also on the whole field of electronic journalism.”
And that is why an humble billfold with a sixty-year old RTNDA membership card was so important to the professional descendants of Paul White at the 2013 convention in Anaheim.