by Ken R.~ April 26, 2006
His first job in broadcasting was as a producer for RKO Radio Networks in 1966. In the ensuing 40 years, Charles Gibson has delivered major news stories into our living rooms. Since 1975, his award-winning reporting has emanated from the studios of ABC-TV where he currently co-hosts "Good Morning America" with Diane Sawyer.
On Tuesday night, RTNDA feted Gibson with the Paul White Award, presented by ABC News President David Westin and sponsored by ABC News.
When Gibson applied for his first job, he was terrified that no one would hire him, let alone pay him a salary on which he could support a family. That original gig paid $325 a month.
"I took the job and was glad to have it," Gibson said. "Three years later I was a news director and loving every day on the job."
In a speech that was both humble and cautionary, Gibson said when he was young, he realized his dream of becoming an anchor would be difficult.
"But that was the dream I had," he said. "Beyond dreaming was that I'd get to work with the extraordinary people I've known at ABC. I have never seen such a dedicated group of people. They drop their lives and go anywhere because they know there is a story on which they want to report."
Gibson noted that the average tenure of a local news director is about two years.
TWO YEARS AND OUT
"I want to change that and want [news directors] to be able to set down roots in your communities," he said.
The honoree took exception to the "winning ratings at all costs" mentality, which pervades both local and national news.
"All too often facts get lost in the intense and insane competition for ratings and profits in news divisions," he said. "The most important news is local and what truly matters to people are schools, garbage and hometown healthcare. That's more important than leading with a crime or a fire."
Gibson promised that if stations covered the less sensational topics well, news directors would be in town more than two years.
"You love all those minute-by-minute [ratings]," he said. "They are like news director crack, seductive and addictive. But ratings don't depend on a minute; they depend on weeks, months and years of good, solid civic coverage. That is what makes the work you do important."
Gibson said when he meets local anchors touring the ABC studios, he asks them how they are doing.
"Everyone one of them starts the next sentence with, 'Well, in the last book...' Tell me how your department is regarded. Tell me about your ratings for the last three or four or five years. If you live by the book, you die by the book."
He concluded his acceptance speech with a warning to news directors.
"You want to be the first draft of history in your community, not just the fire or police blotter," he said. "Recognize that you are a vital force for good in our democracy."
© 2006 NAB
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