Fager, Kalb Highlight RTDNA-SPJ Conference

For the second year, RTDNA and SPJ will jointly hold a journalism conference for all media. Slated for Sept. 20-22 in Fort Lauderdale, this year's Excellence in Journalism gathering is expected to draw up to 1,500 attendees. CBS News' Jeff Fager is expected to speak upon receiving RTDNA's prestigious Paul White Award. Former CBS newsman Marvin Kalb will lead a panel on the Murrow legacy. Hearst, Young and Scripps are planning meetings of news managers at the conference.

Radio Television Digital News Association Executive Director Mike Cavender says he is more optimistic about the professional society’s annual convention than he has been in years.

“With all the new media involved, it will never likely be the same as it was 10 years ago,” he said. “But after … several years of downsizing and layoffs and pay cuts, it has started to turn around.”

Excellence in Journalism 2012 is scheduled for Sept. 20-22 (Thursday-Saturday) at the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The conference, the second RTDNA is co-sponsoring with the Society of Professional Journalists, is expected to draw up to 1,500 attendees, more than last year’s 1,320, Cavender said.

“What I like is that we are bringing together a balance of journalists from all walks of life,” SPJ Associate Executive Director Chris Vachon said. “It doesn’t matter which platform you practice on. It’s journalism.”

Some TV station groups are using the conference as a venue to convene news staff from around the country. Among them this year are Scripps, Hearst Television and Young Broadcasting.

According to Cavender, CBS News has inquired about using conference facilities for a roundtable discussion among the CBS-owned stations, affiliate news directors and CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager, who will be at the convention to receive the Paul White Award, RTDNA’s highest honor.


That kind of activity is a bit of a boon for RTDNA, whose convention attendance had dropped dramatically before the group first partnered with SPJ last year.

The RTDNA conference began losing momentum in 2001 after organizers canceled that year’s event in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It was set to start Sept. 12.

Later that year, RTDNA accepted an invitation from the National Association of Broadcasters to hold its convention under the NAB umbrella in Las Vegas. RTDNA maintained that arrangement for the next 10 years, during which the group grappled with losing members and money as broadcasters tightened budgets and cut support for the organization.

As the 2011 conference approached, RTDNA leaders decided it was time for it to come out from under the NAB shadow and formed its partnership with SPJ.

RTDNA continues to have a relationship with NAB and plans to have a presence at its 2013 convention, just as it has at the previous two, Cavender said.

The RTDNA annual convention accounts for about 20% of RTDNA’s revenue.

Cavender would not specify the group’s annual operating revenue or what it made from last year’s convention.

When the RTDNA board holds its closing business meeting on Saturday, Sept. 22, Vince Duffy will officially become the board’s chairman. Duffy, who held the position of chairman-elect during the last year, is the news director of Michigan Radio, an Ann Arbor-based public radio station that reaches 80% of the state’s population through simulcasts.

Kevin Benz, the current chairman, will become the board’s past-chair and, as such, chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Foundation.

Workshops and sessions will be focused on the “nuts and bolts” of the business that are critical components of journalism across-the-board, Vachon said.  It’s what attendees wanted after a heavy focus last year on digital journalism, she said.

Said Cavender, “Our goal is to be as instructional as possible because that’s what members have said they want.”

One of the convention’s highlights will be Fager’s acceptance of the Paul White Award, which recognizes an individual’s lifetime contributions to electronic journalism, at 5:15 p.m. Friday. Fager, who is 60 Minutes executive producer in addition to CBS News chairman, is expected to speak at the ceremony. A reception will follow the ceremony,

At the same ceremony, Jorge Ramos, Noticiero Univision anchor and host of the public affairs show Al Punto will receive the John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes an individual’s contributions to journalism and freedom of the press.

On Saturday at 2:30 p.m., “A Special Edition of The Kalb Report: Why Murrow Matters” will take center stage. The session will explore Edward R. Murrow’s relevance in the digital age, and how Murrow’s innovations and ethics can be used today.

Veteran journalist Marvin Kalb, the last CBS News correspondent personally hired by Murrow, will moderate the discussion. Panelists include New York Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet, Bob Edwards, who in addition to being the former public radio announcer is a Murrow biographer, and Murrow’s son Casey, who is the executive director of Synergy Learning, a nonprofit organization based in Vermont.

Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia University’s first chief digital officer and a digital media teacher, will head a special session about leveraging digital technology in journalism and improving their use of social media on at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

Sreenivasan is a specialist in explaining technology to journalists and has written extensively on the subject for outlets including The New York Times and BusinessWeek. He also will also lead a session at 9 a.m. Friday in which he and others will critique attendees’ use of social media and suggest ways to improve it.

Fundamentals like writing, storytelling and creating narratives, as well as getting subjects to open up, are among session topics. So are subjects that reflect the new demands of the business. One session, for example, is designed to help print and online reporters use their “inner broadcast voice” so they can report on radio and TV.

The conference will offer more than 60 sessions, starting with several full-day and half-day workshops on Thursday before the convention officially kicks off at 5:30 that night.

One of those workshops will focus on video storytelling. Poynter’s Al Tompkins and CBS photojournalist Les Rose will lead the interactive session, scheduled for 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, emphasizing five keys that can make any story more interesting.

A six-hour news directors’ session is also scheduled for Thursday morning.  That workshop will explore issues affecting news directors, such as improving newsroom systems and how to create a newsroom culture that embraces change. Speakers include Sunflower Broadcasting President Joan Barrett; Kevin Benz, editor in chief of CultureMap Austin and current RTDNA chairman; and Chip Mahaney, Scripps’ director of digital content.

Rick Bragg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, will discuss the importance of writing in color, with drama and detail, even in this age of tweets and Facebook. That session is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday.

On Friday at 1 p.m., Jeff South, a journalism professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, will offer an introduction to Computer Assisted Reporting and how data available on the Web can turn into great stories.

At the same time, a session will look at how print and broadcast are working together to leverage content. Neal Bennett, assistant news director at Scripps’ NBC affiliate WPTV in West Palm Beach, Fla., will moderate the discussion.

Hofstra University journalism professor Bob Papper will discuss the current state of the TV industry and where it appears to be heading on Saturday morning. New technology and social media’s influence will be among the topics.

Hagit Limor, investigative reporter at Scripps ABC affiliate WCPO Cincinnati will help lead a session that looks at taking investigative reporting to the next level at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Plans already are well underway for the next two conferences — Anaheim, Calif., in 2013 and Nashville, Tenn., in 2014.

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