Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Reasons for concern, but also many reasons to cheer, as Kentucky honors Hall of Fame journalists

Honorees gave reasons for concern, and reasons to cheer, about journalism yesterday as the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame inducted new members.

Veteran farm broadcaster Jack Crowner of Louisville, left, said coverage of rural Kentucky has suffered "because of the consolidation of radio stations and newspapers," and recalled how he once did a weekly show for WAVE-TV from a farm owned by the station, illustrating where food and fiber came from Since then, he said, "We've had about two of three generations of food illiterates."

Crowner also recalled how the head of a large station in Chicago told him almost 40 years ago that "Radio is local, local and local," something else that has changed with satellite technology and consolidation of ownership -- and not just in radio. "My concern is we've lost the touch of locally owned radio and television and newspapers," he told a luncheon crowd in Lexington.

Virginia "Ginny" Edwards, editor of Education Week and president of Editorial Projects in Education, said nonprofit news outlets like hers are becoming more important, even as the Internet increases the number of news sources. "Very few of these new enterprises are engaged in original, in-depth reporting," she said, calling for more support "from the world of philanthropy" for nonprofit journalism.

Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit that owns the for-profit St. Petersburg Times, played off the earlier speakers and recalled his roots at a 250-watt station in Princeton, Ky. "There's been a lot of talk today about the demise of journalism," he said, proposing that the audience "do what we did in Caldwell County -- have a revival."

Tompkins, right, cited recent example after recent example of important investigative reports by newspapers and television stations and asked, "Is that good journalism?" The crowd responded with "Amen" to those examples and Tompkins' follow-up points: Journalists must "tell a better story" about the importance of their work. They must "fight for better access" to courts, records and meetings of public agencies. "We need to keep fighting because the blowback is unprecedented" from government, especially federal officials. And, Tompkins said, "Can we just cover the damn news," instead of the latest Britney Spears underpants story? "Let's knock off the foolishness."

To journalists and academics feeling burnout partly because they question the worth of their work, Tompkins cited the current environment of war, recession and a presidential election and asked, "Can you imagine a time in our lives when journalism was more important?" To watch a video of Tompkins' speech, click here.

Others joining the Hall of Fame yesterday were T. George Harris, founding editor of Psychology Today and award-winning executive at other magazines; Don Edwards, retired columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader; and two posthumous honorees: Kent Hollingsworth, longtime editor of The Blood-Horse, the premier Thoroughbred magazine; and William Ray Mofield, who developed broadcast journalism programs at Murray State University and Southern Illinois University.

The hall recognizes those who have made significant contributions to journalism and are natives of Kentucky or spent a significant part of their careers in Kentucky. It is overseen by the University of Kentucky Journalism Alumni Association and the School of Journalism and Telecommunications.

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