It was a night that made many proud to be a journalist as TV and radio stations from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast were honored at RTNDF's 16th Annual First Amendment Dinner for their commitment and determination to stay on the air through Hurricane Katrina and their continuing efforts to tell the story of the area's recovery.
The dinner was held at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C. where Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor of PBS's Washington Week and senior correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, received the Leonard Zeidenberg Amendment Award and former NBC News executive vice president William "Bill" Wheatley received the First Amendment Service Award. There were more than 630 people in attendance, including Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) and Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.).
Brian Williams of NBC News emceed the evening and presented the award to Wheatley, whom he described was "the beating heart of our news division." Wheatley, who retired from NBC nine months ago, said that over the last few months, he had taken time to reflect and think about broadcast journalism and the challenges it faces and the important role of journalists today.
Wheatley said "as we celebrate the First Amendment and all that it means and as we honor some of the best of what we do, let us commit ourselves not only to fighting hard to protect our rights, but also to encouraging the kind of journalism that makes it clear that we understand that with those rights come responsibilities."
Cokie Roberts of ABC News, and a New Orleans-native, presented the First Amendment Leadership Award to the Hurricane Katrina honorees. The following accepted the award on behalf of their stations: Sandy Breland, vice president and news director for Belo Corp's WWL-TV in New Orleans; John Snell, anchor for Emmis Communication's WVUE-TV in New Orleans; Anzio Williams, news director of Hearst-Argyle Television's WDSU-TV in New Orleans; David Vincent, station manager and news director of Raycom Media's WLOX-TV in Biloxi, Miss.; Bob Noonan, news director of Tribune Broadcasting's WGNO-TV; Diane Newman, operations manager and program director at Entercom Communications' WWL-AM and Gabe Hobbs, vice president of News/Sports/Talk, for the nine Clear Channel Communications radio stations recognized.
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