The Deadline Club inducted five illustrious journalists into the New York Journalism Hall of Fame at Sardi’s Restaurant on Nov. 16. The honorees entertained and enlightened the audience with anecdotes from their remarkable careers during a luncheon ceremony that played to an audience of more than 100 journalists.
The 2017 Hall of Fame honorees are Nancy Gibbs of Time Inc., N.R. “Sonny” Kleinfield of The New York Times, Steve Kroft of CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Terry McDonell of Time Inc. and Leslie “Les” Payne of Newsday.
As guests munched on crab cakes, sirloin steak and string beans with bordelaise sauce, they discussed the breaking news that Charles and David Koch were reportedly backing Meredith Corporation’s latest stab at purchasing Time Inc.
The Time Inc. table included two of the 2017 Hall of Fame honorees: Gibbs, the first woman to edit Time magazine, and McDonell, the longtime editor of Sports Illustrated. Edward Felsenthal, who succeeded Gibbs as the Time magazine editor in September, joined them at the company-sponsored table. Many current and former editors and writers from top Time Inc. titles — including Sports Illustrated, Time and Fortune — were scattered at tables throughout the room.
Gibbs, who will remain as the editorial director of the Time Inc. News Group through the end of the year, kicked off the alphabetically-arranged ceremony. She urged the guests in the room to focus on the future, and to invest in the stories that are “complex and subtle, and take time to tell.”
She said it was essential to get out of the “filter bubbles,” and to recognize that “outrage has become a business model, and that there is profit in polarization.”
McDonell, who retired as the editorial director of the Time Inc. Sports Group in 2012, spoke about the dramatic changes in the magazine industry. He said many of the guests had been chatting nostalgically about the perks of the good old days, but that that era was clearly behind them.
“The great innovative journalism that built the greatest media companies in the world is being, certainly challenged, if not replaced, by the idea that you can actually engineer quality journalism,” McDonell said.
He challenged the dominance of algorithms in newsrooms. “Data without insight,” he said, “is just that.”
Kleinfield, who chronicled the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and contributed to the “How Race is Lived in America” series that won a Pulitzer Prize and a Polk Award, talked about why he was drawn to covering the common man.
“I’ve rarely cared that much about the famous or the powerful. I’ve mostly been drawn to those who go unnoticed,” he said. “They’re commonly described as ordinary people, but I’ve always felt that’s too small an adjective. To me, they’re extraordinary people.”
Kroft, a 12-time Emmy Award winner, who has been a “60 Minutes” correspondent since 1989, held sway with an early career story about intimidation of the media during the Watergate era. While he was working at two local television stations in Florida owned by The Washington Post, he said, their licenses were “being challenged by a group of wealthy Nixon supporters who were trying to get back at the Post for their coverage of Watergate.”
“It taught me that things aren’t always what they seem,” Kroft summed up. “It taught me never to underestimate revenge as a motive.”
Payne was surrounded by former Newsday colleagues and friends from the National Association of Black Journalists. Before retiring a decade ago, he held roles as a Newsday reporter, editor and columnist. Payne also co-founded NABJ in 1975, and later served as the group’s fourth president.
Payne spoke movingly about his childhood impressions of racism and inequality in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and of his time on the staff of Gen. William Westmoreland, then the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. He said that a Washington Post story published while he was serving in Vietnam had turned his mind toward journalism. After the Post broke a story about some American G.I.s flying confederate flags on their trucks, President Lyndon B. Johnson called the general at 3 a.m. Saigon time to berate him.
“This Post story convinced me of the power of the revealed facts reported by a free press protected by the constitution,” Payne said.
Society of Professional Journalists President-Elect J. Alex Tarquinio, who also chairs The Deadline Club’s Hall of Fame, served as the ceremony’s emcee. The speakers included SPJ President Rebecca Baker, Deadline Club President Michael Arena and Deadline Club Past President Betsy Ashton.
- Les Payne, former Newsday editor, inducted into Deadline Club Hall of Fame, Zachary R. Dowdy, Nov. 16, 2017
- It’s Gonna Happen”: Time Inc. Braces for a Deal with the Devil, by Joe Pompeo, Nov. 17, 2017