Home > Uncategorized > The View from the Dais

The View from the Dais

-first posted at RTDNA.org on March 9, 2010

I’ll close out the coverage of last week’s First Amendment Awards dinner with a few thoughts I collected from my vantage point looking out over the event.  I was on the rear left of the platform party, as viewed from the audience.  Check out the videos from the event and you’ll see me there behind Leon Harris in the front row.  My role on the dais was, as I joked to Bill Roswell, just to be a pretty face.  The RTDNA chairman has no official role at the First Amendment dinner.  For me, that will come next year when I take over the position of RTDNF chairman.  I was the only one on the platform without a speaking role, which left me free to look and listen all night.

What I saw and heard from my perch pleased me.  The room was electric that night.  There was, of course, the low roar of 500 people conversing and having a good time.  But there was more than that.  There was a sort of charged hum to it, too.  I think that sound was coming from so many people in tune in the same place on the same night.  It was a happy hum, and the hum was just the soundtrack to the visuals in the room.   With the full house that we had, I could see a sea of faces and shoulders and smiles sweeping all the way back into the dark recesses of the room.  I mention the smiles because there were so many, with candlelight and camera flashes reflecting back to me off all those exposed teeth.  These people were having a good time.

More than a couple of people at the event that evening said the feel in the room took them back fifty years to the old RTNDA dinner scene we all saw in “Good Night and Good Luck.”  The black tie, black and white dinner that opens and closes the film had the same vibe as the dinner last Thursday.  The movie shows a group of men and women at the convention in 1958 waiting to hear from Edward R. Murrow.  They laugh, talk, clink glasses, and set up the same sort of a scene as we had last week.  Perhaps the same electricity that accompanied Ed Murrow all those years ago was with us in the room as we honored today’s network TV and radio’s top names.

Now, one thing that was different—thankfully—from 1958 was the diverse nature of the crowd in our room.  Murrow’s audience was made up of mostly newsmen and their wives.  Ours was anything but that.  In every row and across the room, professional men and women shared the roles of boss and worker, reporter and producer, editor and writer.  News people of color populated the tables in a way not possible in 1958.  The combination of an old time feel with the modern advances in our business turned our scene into a mix of nostalgia and modernity.

As the speeches began, there was something else I could see that might have eluded the rest of the platform party and gathered diners.  Each honoree grabbed hold of the audience and did not let go the entire time at the microphone.  I could see their eyes light up as they leaned in the hear David Westin’s pledge to transform journalism to protect it for future generations.  I could see their expressions of solidarity as they listened to Barbara Cochran call on the Surpreme Court to allow cameras and microphones into its proceedings.  I could see their tears of joy as Harvey Nagler asked Cami McCormick to stand to the applause of the room.  I could see their nods of agreement when Marcellus Alexander proclaimed this is a great time to be a broadcaster.  And I could see their grins of glee as they chuckled through Brian Williams’ Bob Schieffer impression.  I saw it all.

The entire evening is one I will not soon forget.  I hope that everyone in the audience and the rest of the platform party, each with his or her own vantage point on the events of the evening, enjoyed the sights and the sounds as much as I did.  Next year I’ll be the emcee of the event and will see it in another way altogether.  I don’t know yet who the honorees will be that night, but I know our new association chairman will be sitting behind me in my old seat.  I’m going to advise him in advance to enjoy his view from the dais.

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