As he was honored for his contributions to journalism and maintaining a free press at the Excellence in Journalism conference, CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper urged a room of reporters to work hard to “earn back the trust of the American people.”
“Being under assault by lying Twitter trolls and hostile foreign governments and juvenile officials in our own countries doesn’t mean we lower our standards,” Tapper said in his speech. “That means we raise our standards. This is potentially — and I think probably — a golden age of journalism.”
Tapper received the John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award, which the Radio Television Digital News Association awards yearly.
NBC Nightly News Anchor Lester Holt, who was unable to attend the awards ceremony because he was covering Hurricane Irma, was awarded the Paul White Award, RTDNA’s highest honor that recognizes lifetime contributions to broadcast or digital journalism.
“This is the pinnacle of journalism in the U.S.,” Kathy Walker, RTDNA chair, said. “We need to respect it and understand just how important it is to our freedoms — all of our freedoms — as Americans.”
Tapper said reporters should ensure they are being “equal opportunity skeptics” in their coverage or avoiding siding with partisan issues in their work and “cross every T and dot every I” before a story sees broadcast or publication.”
“As we stand up for facts and truth and basic human decency, we in the media now more than ever need to make sure that we are excelling at what we do,” he said.
Tapper has worked with CNN since 2013 and hosts The Lead with Jake Tapper, a one-hour weekday program that debuted in March 2013. Holt also hosts CNN’s morning show, The State of the Union. An author of three books, Tapper, who moderated two debates for the 2016 presidential election, has won awards for his coverage of the election on CNN.
Holt joined NBC as a reporter in 2000, hosting shows such as Dateline, Lester Holt Live and, later, the NBC Nightly News. He is noted as the first African American to be the lead anchor on weekday nightly newscast.
In his live-streamed message from Miami, Holt said reporters must understand the privilege of “having a front row seat” that comes with reporting; however, he said they must exercise caution and compassion when handling others’ stories.
“I’m reminded that so often we step into people’s lives in their darkest, most vulnerable moments,” he said. “Many of them will make news not for what they have done, but because of what they have suffered or witnessed or experienced.”
Standing in front of palm trees on a beach as the wind whipped his shirt, Holt said the “nature” of journalism is to “step into people’s lives” and then “rapidly step out.”
In the same vein as Tapper’s speech, Holt urged reporters to “tune out the noise” of people bashing the press.
“In our pursuit of answers and accountability by our leaders, we cannot slide down the dangerous slope of self-righteousness,” he said.
Previous Paul White Award recipients include Dan Rather, Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, who was also awarded the John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award.
Hear a snippet of his acceptance speech below.