Note: I asked Laurie Munn, Marketing & Member Communications, at Mercy Care Plan, to write the following post recapping her attendance at the annual Cronkite School of Journalism luncheon. Laurie and I first met when she was the assignment editor at KPHO-TV in Phoenix, nearly 30 years ago.
The day of the 2017 Cronkite School of Journalism awards luncheon, honoring excellence in journalism, I was three days back at work from a 10-day vacation to New York and Massachusetts. My friend Athia Hardt, herself an ASU journalism alumna and a former reporter for The Arizona Republic, who’d been told more than once that women didn’t belong in the newsroom, had invited me to sit at her table. I was thrilled to be asked. I’m a journalist, too. I spent nine years in television news as a producer, assignment editor, managing editor and special projects producer, most of it at KPHO-TV in Phoenix. Although I have not worked in a newsroom in 20 years (has it really been that long?) I still see myself as a journalist. I use my journalism skills in my job every day. It had been years since I’d attended a Cronkite luncheon and with the current political environment and the #MeToo campaign having sprung up over that weekend on social media, I wanted to be there.
There was a lot of catching up to do at work—important projects to pick up, new team members to be onboarded, coached and mentored, deadlines and expectations to meet. As Thursday drew closer, I found myself thinking “I’m not sure I should go—I have so much to do at the office, people are counting on me,” etc.
And then, on Wednesday, Oct. 18, the Attorney General of the United States made a comment to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that the administration would “not rule out jailing journalists.” That snapped me back to reality in a split second, and I moved the Cronkite luncheon to the top of my priority list for the next day. Because clearly, the administration had not read the copy of the U.S. Constitution that I and many others had sent to the White House back in January, and I was furious.
It was the best decision I made all week.
I met a young student journalist named Josie, who was clearly feeling out of her element in this huge crowd of people at the Downtown Phoenix Sheraton Hotel. When she hesitated after exiting the escalator, trying to figure out her next move, I smiled at her and said, “Come on, we’re going to get you checked in so you can find your table.” We got in line, introduced ourselves and I asked her, “Are you a student at the Cronkite School?” Her face lit up and she said, “Yes!” I told her, “Well, then, you’re going to need to learn how to fight crowds. Especially on election night.” And I shared with her my story of election night 1994, when Terry Goddard and Fife Symington were running for governor. I was a field producer for KPHO-TV that night and needed to get information up the stairs to our team that was about to do a live report from the ballroom. Getting to the escalator was going to take more time than I had, so I stated loudly and urgently, “Oh my God, my water just broke!” It was as if Moses had parted the Red Sea – people moved swiftly, I got to the escalator, ran up those stairs and delivered the information in time. It was my “Broadcast News” moment.
I saw old friends and made new ones. Some true trailblazers in local journalism were there, including Mary Jo West, Jana Bommersbach, and Monica Lee Goddard. The solidarity in that room was palpable and inspiring.
I’m a huge fan of Judy Woodruff and the late Gwen Ifill and was so happy to hear they’d been chosen to receive this year’s award. Ms. Ifill’s brother’s acceptance on her behalf was lovely. The award itself was a well-deserved tribute to a journalist who always made sure that under-represented voices were included in her reporting and in the editorial decisions made by PBS NewsHour, where she was co-anchor and managing editor.
Ms. Woodruff was then presented with her award and walked to the podium to deliver her remarks. We all waited with great anticipation. We were not disappointed. She talked about the changes in the industry, in technology, and how journalists’ commitment to telling the story hasn’t wavered. Even when the occupant of the White House refers to reporters as “the enemy of the American people.” With a voice challenged by laryngitis, Ms. Woodruff looked up at that packed room and stated emphatically, “I am not an enemy of the American people!” Several seconds of thunderous applause followed. She went on to say how much she loves this country, and so do her colleagues. You can see the entire speech here.
I have many friends who are current and former newspeople. Every day they get up with the best of intentions to go out there and fight the good fight. The past year in many ways has felt like an assault on the First Amendment. But the silver lining in all this has been a watershed moment in U.S. journalism, delivering excellence in reporting that we’ve not seen since Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein exposed the Watergate scandal. That’s something for which we should all be grateful.
Let’s hope it continues.