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ABC’s Westin at RTDNA Dinner: ‘We must make changes, but we must choose those changes carefully’

westinRTDNA_3-5.jpg“As we gather tonight, I can see no greater challenge to the First Amendment than the risks our news organizations – even some of our largest and most prestigious – face in maintaining the wherewithal to employ the reporters and spend the money required to cover the important stories of our day,” said ABC News President David Westin at last evenings RTDNA First Amendment Awards dinner in Washington. Westin was there to receive the Radio-Television Digital News Foundation’s First Amendment Leadership award.

Westin said simply being at the site of breaking news or relying on “talking heads and polemicists” is not enough. “To do the job that the First Amendment asks of us, we have to do enterprise journalism,” he said. “We need investigative teams working over time to uncover what those in power – whether in government or in industry – would prefer the people never know. ”

Afterward, NBC News President Steve Capus, who was there presenting Brian Williams with the the Len Zeidenberg First Amendment award, said Westin had “spoken beautifully about the struggle to meet corporate-mandated budget cuts.”

FishbowlDC was there and has more.

You can see the speeches here or read an excerpt from Westin’s remarks after the jump.


As we gather tonight, I can see no greater challenge to the First Amendment than the risks our news organizations – even some of our largest and most prestigious – face in maintaining the wherewithal to employ the reporters and spend the money required to cover the important stories of our day. These risks are greater than at any time in recent memory, perhaps greater than at any time since 1791, when the First Amendment came into being.

In recent years we’ve seen pillars of our journalistic community go into bankruptcy. We’ve seen our best institutions undergo cuts. And sometimes, wave after wave of cuts. People are asking whether some news organizations can survive at all.

It’s against that backdrop that last week I announced a fundamental transformation of ABC News.

We spent several months taking a hard look at what we’ve been doing and how we’ve been doing it. And, yes, a fair amount of that review focused on our costs and how we could bring those costs into line with the revenues we’re likely to earn over the next several years.

But if we leave it at that, if we make this just about the business, the revenues and the costs and the profits, we’ve missed the point. What this is really about is journalism. What is at the core of what we set out to do each day? What do we need to do to make sure we can continue to do it?

And that takes us back to where I began. We have the First Amendment to ensure that the people can be informed about their government and their world.

We must make changes, but we must choose those changes carefully to ensure that we will always be able to bring our audiences the truth about the things that matter to them.

We have to be in a position to do more than just reading the wires or showing the pictures everyone has or having someone live on the scene standing next to a dozen other TV reporters saying the same thing. We have to go beyond the talking heads and polemicists opining on the public condition.

To do the job that the First Amendment asks of us, we have to do enterprise journalism. We need investigative teams working over time to uncover what those in power – whether in government or in industry – would prefer the people never know.

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