I attended a fascinating awards ceremony in New York City on Tuesday night that clarified for me some of the generational differences in journalism and the way stories are communicated these days.
The Foreign Press Association Scholarship Fund Annual Awards Reception is always a humbling experience, both for the realization of the hardships suffered by the young recipients of the awards and the difficulty in doing journalism in their countries, and also because of the incredible passion and commitment they display in spite (or because?) of such adversity.
This year's recipients hailed from countries as diverse as Russia, India, Iran, Thailand, and even the UK.
Keynote speaker Steve Kroft, of CBS 60 Minutes fame, represented the other end of the journalistic spectrum, though with no less passion and certainly not ability. The 66-year-old Kroft is still doing the business story-wise and actually numbers his scoop last fall about members of congress trading stock on insider information as the most significant story of his long and distinguished career.
His career began at the Armed Forces Network in Vietnam, after a spell in the army, and continued at the Stars and Stripes military newspaper before he eventually landed at CBS in 1980. The insider trading story demonstrated the power that has made Kroft the de facto interviewer President Obama prefers to deal with, and the Stock Act was rapidly introduced into the Senate after the show aired.
This speaks to my piece last week about the viability and sustainability of investigative journalism in today's always-on, 24/7, social media-dominated news environment. As Kroft pointed out on Tuesday night, 60 Minutes' investigative approach works because people continue to watch the program in their droves and hence advertisers want to be associated with it.
Many a PR pro will certainly have spent significant amounts of time either navigating their clients' coverage on the show, or dealing with the fallout.
But Kroft is not immune to the perils of modern journalism. He bemoaned the fact that his editors can now reach him at any time and any place on the globe, which is far removed from the old days when he could pretty much march to the beat of his own drum. Like all other journalists, he is also exhorted to constantly update his Twitter and LinkedIn profiles.
There was one oddly jarring note when Kroft inadvertently referred to President Obama as “Osama” in his speech, something few people in the audience noticed. Perhaps that's because it's such a common mistake. When I got home I watched the repeat of Piers Morgan's CNN talk show from earlier in the evening, and his guest – conservative author and commentator Jonah Goldberg - also inadvertently made the same faux pas, this time picked up on by Morgan.
The winner of the FPA's first prize on Tuesday, Natalia Osipova, gave up her job on a Russian TV network, which attracted audiences of 94 million but was heavily censored, to attend graduate school in New York. It is to be hoped that this new generation of journalists carries on the tradition of role models such as Steve Kroft in the thoroughness and tenacity of their work.
A free society needs a robust and attentive media if it is to have the credibility to sustain itself.