Steve Kroft Speaks at The 2012 Awards Dinner

Steve Kroft, the long-time correspondent of CBS’s “60 Minutes,” spoke to a rapt audience of more than 230 journalists and their guests at The Deadline Club Annual Awards Dinner at the Waldorf on June 4, 2012. One of the country’s leading political television correspondents, who scored the first sit-down interview with President Barack Obama after his election, Kroft spoke about the presidential election and modern television coverage in a half-hour conversation with Stephen Shepard, the founding dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. They ended their conversation with a lively question-and-answer session with the audience. Watch the video to the left now, or read on to learn about the event.

Nearly a year ago, when the board members of The Deadline Club began planning the Annual Awards Dinner, they knew one thing for certain: they wanted to focus on the 2012 presidential election. At the time, of course, they could not have known that President Barack Obama would actually be upstairs, hosting a campaign fundraiser with none other than Jon Bon Jovi in the Waldorf’s Grand Ballroom. It added a touch of irony to the otherwise elegant occasion.

Kroft told the audience that President Obama is both distant and “totally engaged” during interviews. Although the president is always cordial, Kroft said, there’s “not a lot of small talk.” He said that Mitt Romney had not yet agreed to give “60 Minutes” an interview during the election season, although Romney had been one of the last interviews of Mike Wallace’s long career.

Kroft predicted that the general presidential election would be a “very nasty” campaign focusing on the core disagreements of how much to tax and spend that divide the electorate. He said that Europe was nearing a “Lehman Brothers moment,” as European politicians wrestled with how to deal with the debt crisis there, and that nothing “scares” the White House more than Europe now.

Shepard, a veteran editor at a string of magazines, including BusinessWeek, Newsweek and the Saturday Review, asked Kroft if he thought that TV news was becoming too opinionated. Kroft said that the U.S. media seemed to be “drifting towards the British model,” where news outlets express more opinions, and he hoped that “we didn’t go too far in that direction.” An audience member wanted to know if Kroft preferred to interview subjects that he liked or disliked. He said that with personalities, like singers or actors, he only did profiles if he liked them. On the other hand, he said that Don Hewitt, the founder of “60 Minutes,” always said that interviewers shouldn’t make the bad guys look like “complete jerks” because that enhances an interviewer’s credibility with viewers.

Kroft and Shepard were the latest in a string of celebrated journalists to speak at this annual event, including Tina Brown, the editor of both Newsweek and The Daily Beast, Robert Thomson, the editor of The Wall Street Journal, and Bill Keller, who was then the editor of The New York Times. And Kroft is not the first CBS correspondent to grace the podium. Bob Schieffer, the network’s chief Washington correspondent, and the late Andy Rooney, the “resident curmudgeon” of “60 Minutes” have both been among the guest speakers.

The conversation was followed by the presentation of the club’s coveted “Rube” statuettes. The late American artist Rube Goldberg designed these off-kilter sculptures to look like a “dead line.” The Deadline Club has bestowed them upon the winners of its annual awards for decades. This year’s contest was the most competitive in living memory, with 440 entries from more than 70 media companies. Writers, photographers and producers were recognized from outlets including print, broadcast and digital media. During the event, The Deadline Club awarded scholarships to three exceptional journalism students studying in New York. They each received scholarships worth $2,500 and were invited to attend the awards dinner as the guests of The Deadline Club. The scholarship winners were Melanie Hicken, a student in the NYU Graduate Business and Economic Reporting Program who expects to graduate in December, and Jeanny Gonzalez-Fajardo and Elizabeth Stuart, who are both part of the incoming class of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Each year, The Deadline Club honors someone who has made extraordinary contributions to journalism education in the greater New York metropolitan area. In 2012, the Excellence in Education Award went to Noreen Connolly, a teacher and journalism adviser at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey. She was one of the high school teachers that Nicholas D. Kristoff took with him to Africa last year. Her reporting from Niger in June of 2011 can be read at Kristoff’s New York Times blog, On the Ground

As always, the evening not only benefited the local journalism students who received scholarships at the dinner, but also provided important support for the events and programming produced throughout the year by The Deadline Club, which is the New York City chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Awards

The 2012 awards recognized work done in 2011.

Two articles pulled off “double hitters” this year. “Abused and Used,” by Danny Hakim and Russ Buettner of The New York Times, won the two most prestigious awards of the annual contest: The Daniel Pearl Award for Investigative Reporting and the Public Service Award. The article uncovered abuses of the developmentally disabled in New York State group homes. Likewise, Anne Kadet of SmartMoney won two awards for “Cashathon,” a magazine feature that examined the vast sums of money raised and spent on sports events for a cause. She picked up Rubes in the Magazine Personal Service category and the Business Feature category.

There were several new categories this year, including Reporting by Independent Digital Media, Headline Writing and Social Media. A notable trend this year was the wide array of small publications or Internet-only media among the finalists, including Asbury Park Press, City Limits, City & State, ProPublica and DNAinfo.com.

The New York Times had the most winners, with six, followed by the Associated Press, which had three wins. Kudos to ABC News, The Forward, Newsday, SmartMoney and Vanity Fair, which each took home a pair of trophies. The winners’ circle also included Asbury Park Press, Consumer Reports, DNAinfo.com, Fortune, Harper’s, News 12 Long Island, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, ProPublica, The Record, Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal and WNYC Radio.

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