Stations in Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California and Texas, and the Hearst-ArgyleGroup honored for their political coverage. Katie Couric, George Stephanopoulos and NOW on PBS win national awards.
Proving that good political coverage can make great television, the 2009 winners of the USC Annenberg Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism were announced today.
Local Broadcast Station
- KING Seattle, a third-time winner in this category, was recognized for its comprehensive coverage of candidates and issues, including a thoughtful report on an initiative legalizing physician-assisted suicide. With a full-time political unit, KING broadcast over 100 minutes of political coverage each week. Judges praised the station for demonstrating “a strong commitment to political coverage” and for “covering tough issues and presenting them clearly and in a way that is interesting to watch.”
- WGAL Lancaster, Pa., a first-time winner, used its eight fulltime staff members dedicated to political coverage to offer viewers thought-provoking and visually engaging stories about the presidential campaign, as well as congressional and state-level races. Judges made special note of the “surprisingly probing and revealing interviews with Obama and McCain” and the overall “entertaining, engaging and innovative reporting.”
Individual Achievement at a Local Station
Greg Fox, WESH, Daytona Beach, Fla., won his second award for excellent journalistic analysis and helping voters evaluate what candidates say in a “Truth Tests” series. Judges praised Fox’s work as “comprehensive, innovative, engaging and compelling” and added, “This should be sent out to every station as a model.”
Local Cable Channel
News 8 Austin, now a three-time winner, got top marks from the judges for impressive, well-edited and ethnically diverse political reports. Judges praised the “Voters’ Voices” series as “a refreshing approach to political coverage,” which challenged conventional wisdom and cultural stereotypes by inviting real people in four families to discuss key issues.
Wisconsin Public Television won its fourth award for covering issues via compelling stories about real people. The judges noted that the station “went above and beyond what many come to expect from public television” and called its campaign stories “as good as political coverage can get.”
Hearst-Argyle Television garnered its fifth consecutive award for its commitment to airing political coverage on all its 25 stations across the country. Hearst renews and revises its philosophy for each election cycle, in 2008 increasing “candidate-centered” coverage in prime newscasts to 10 minutes per day. Judges were impressed by the work of several stations, including a report on voters tricked into signing anti-affirmative action initiatives, and a how-to on hacking electronic voting machines.
National Network Program
- ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos was a second-time winner for its “On the Trail” series, which took the host out of the studio over a period of two years to interview all of the presidential contenders. Judges praised the incisive and compelling nature of the reports, as well as his thorough preparation.
- NOW on PBS was recognized for meticulous reporting and for seeing the issues through voters’ eyes and experiences. Judges mentioned the “excellent coverage” in the report “New Voters in the New West,” which showed how both political parties sought to attract and hold first-time voters on college campuses and among New Mexico’s large Hispanic population.
Special Achievement for National Impact on the 2008 Campaign
- Katie Couric, the anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News, was honored for her extraordinary, persistent and detailed multi-part interviews with Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin which judges called a “defining moment in the 2008 presidential campaign.” Commendation for Service to a Community
- Jo Wan, KTSF, San Francisco, was cited for her Mandarin-language reports on minority and female presidential candidates and the importance of Asian voters in the 2008 presidential election.
“These Cronkite Award winners prove that thoughtful, informative political coverage can also make for gripping television,” said USC Annenberg professor Martin Kaplan, director of the School’s Norman Lear Center, which has administered the biennial awards honoring the distinguished broadcast journalist and longtime CBS anchor Walter Cronkite since 2000.
“Americans may have more places to turn for political news than ever before, but television remains journalism’s largest public square,” Cronkite said. “These awards honor reporters, producers, news directors, stations and anchors who take advantage of that reach, and who live up to that responsibility. Especially when resources are painfully scarce, it’s important to celebrate journalists who use their skills at gathering and reporting a story to strengthen our democracy.”
The panel of eight judges was chaired by Geneva Overholser, director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. Entries were screened by 22 Annenberg faculty and alumni with experience in broadcast journalism.
The awards will be presented on the USC campus in Los Angeles on April 15.