Ann Curry – 56th Southern California Journalism Awards
June 29, 2014 at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A.
“So while a lot is changing, some things will remain: including that our credibility will only be as strong as the wall between reporters and advertising.” – Ann Curry
Thanks so much everyone. This is just tremendous. Thank you LA Press Club for this great honor. This moment feels a lot like coming home after a long and hard journey to an extended family and friends, and it’s very sweet to hear you say in this moment that I’ve done a good job. It is also great to be in the company of Khaled (Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, Courage and Integrity in Journalism) and Michael (Bloomberg, The President’s Award for Impact on Media), who’s not here but that’s OK and Matthew (Winkler, Bloomberg) and also our Maria (Shriver, Public Service Award for Journalistic Contributions to Civic Life) – all of whom we all greatly admire.
I do have a little problem with the words attached to this award, in particular for me, and those words are ‘Lifetime Achievement.’ I just want to be really clear that I have not actually lived a full lifetime though I recognize that people who have often look like they’re my age nowadays, especially here near Hollywood, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine. And I also notice and I acknowledge that a lot of these people, like me, can look a little Asian. So this is what you have to look forward to everyone. In the future, we’re all going to look a little Asian. So how about this? I accept this award of having my work so far being called having a lifetime achievement as long as you let me get started on a second lifetime’s work. I’m actually, as Colleen (Williams) will know, and everyone else who knows me will say I really am too driven to stop, especially when it comes to giving voice to the voiceless.
I love that this award is named for Joe Quinn (Joseph M. Quinn Award for Journalistic Excellence and Distinction), who made helping people in need one of his top priorities. He was a war correspondent and also an editor for a wire service – and if I may say so, the talented folks at the great wire services have often set the pace and they rarely get the credit – and we really cannot honor them enough.
I’m humbled to know that your previous Quinn awardees have included Walter Cronkite and Judy Woodruff and Tom Brokaw and Pat Harvey and Ted Koppel and Bill Stout: all are giants and personal influences and one in particular, the always unsmiling Bill Stout. That curmudgeon former CBS newsman covered Vietnam and sat in for Walter Cronkite and he became known as the Edward R. Murrow of our generation. I admired him so much when we were working together at KCBS that when at a company party he got bored and asked me to go outside and have a cigarette with him, I said yes even though I had never smoked a cigarette in my life. I really tried to be cool but I was so excited that Bill wanted to spend time with me that I did inhale and deeply. Which, for a nonsmoker, cannot only choke you up, it can actually make you feel a little high. And I’m not sure now if it was the nicotine buzz or the fact that I just idolized Bill that makes it impossible to remember exactly what he was saying all those years ago – except he was griping as usual about the latest, apparently, stupid decision by news management. I know none of us have actually ever done that. But what I do remember quite clearly was the absolute bliss of being in the presence of a man who stood for intelligent and responsible journalism for decades, and who was here before me still railing for it at the sunset of his career.
There are people where we work who make us stand taller, aim higher. Bill Stout was that for me. And in my tough moments at KCBS worrying about story choices and standards, I would look up at him and think if he can do it, I can do it. Maybe this is how quality journalism still survives the market pressures that have pushed it towards the lowest common denominator; it’s like a baton being passed from one generation to another. We each carry it wanting to be as good as the ones who came before. And if we are, we inspire the ones who come after us with the quality of our run, our focus on what journalism is and what it is not. This is worth thinking about now. As we now move closer to the cusp of a new and unpredictable, some say scary, frontier where the only areas clearly mapped have confusingly cute names like Twitter and Google and Yahoo! (exclamation point). Already they have emerged as significant and timely sources of information, especially when it comes to breaking news. For example, during the Boston Marathon bombing, my son stayed up all night monitoring multiple sites completely informed and riveted by the developments as they unfolded and he never once turned on a television set.
We are in a flood of change witnessing the very platforms of journalism being re-imagined. And a lot of people are reacting in fear by sort of running around looking for lifeboats, scrambling to figure out where the money is going to come from. But I wonder if too many of us are too concerned with protecting our interests and not paying enough attention to the interests of the people we inform. There is a real appetite, I would call it a hunger, for credible reporting – not just for news but for real journalism even about subjects that rarely make it into our newspapers and almost never on television. That hunger largely comes from young people growing up global. They want the world in addition to what’s local. They’re turning off their television sets not just because they want to watch on their own clocks, but because they want more than narrow casting to women ages 18 to 49. They want broader than broadcasting, and smarter and faster and more savvy.
My own children have asked me why haven’t I reported on the Rohingya, the ethnic group being persecuted by what people call genocide in Burma. Yes, this new generation does want to laugh at hysterical YouTube videos, who doesn’t? But this generation also wants journalism that is relevant, fathomless and fearless, but most of all pure and free from influences and motivations and things like where the money is coming from. So while a lot is changing, some things will remain: including that our credibility will only be as strong as the wall between reporters and advertising. We know, we know that a journalist’s job is not to worry about increasing the profit margins of our corporate parents. We know that it’s not about focusing on self-promotion or ego-gratification or branding. We know that it’s not and it should never be about selling soap. We know our job is about empowering people with the truth even, and especially, when it’s not pretty and not popular. It’s about shining a light in the darkest places, exposing human suffering, injustice and corruption and also being a mirror that also reveals what is beautiful and funny and sweet.
If anyone thinks that these core values for journalists have changed, let me say, reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated. And now we in this room, we are the bridge between the giants in press history and those who are still to come, some who have been awarded here this evening. We have a chance to shape this new world, to make journalism better. We can mentor young people to become wonderful journalists who can go on to do important work that changes our world. And we will finally realize that it’s not just the story that’s being told but also who’s telling it, whether the reporter has the perspective to understand the nuances including gender and race and economic disparities to ask the right questions because, if not, the pushback is instantaneous. This is our time to rise, to stand up for our core values and make sure that responsible, intelligent journalism carries on in the future and I know we will.
Thank you for this award.